Joe Biden’s Bible

Biden will be sworn in on Wednesday with his hand on an old family Catholic Bible. Kamala Harris will use Thurgood Marshall’s Bible.

Here is a taste of Dan Silliman’s piece at Christianity Today:

Presidents are not required to take the oath of office on a Bible—and some haven’t. Lyndon Johnson swore to “faithfully execute the Office of the United States” and “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” on a Catholic prayer book. The missal was the most holy text his aides could find on the airplane back to Washington DC, after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

But almost all the US presidents have taken their oath on a Bible, and frequently they have chosen a historically significant copy. Kamala Harris will be sworn in as vice president on the Bible owned by Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice on the US Supreme Court. Trump was sworn in on Lincoln’s Bible and Obama used Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bibles.

Biden likely had his choice of historically significant copies, ranging from the one used by Kennedy, the first Catholic elected president, to the one owned by Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist leader who risked re-enslavement more than a dozen times to lead scores of people to freedom. One popular choice among American presidents has been George Washington’s copy of the Scripture. Briggs said when presidents choose that, they’re creating a connection with the country’s founding and renewing a commitment to the principles of the Bible.

“The oath of office links us all together as Americans. And it represents the reality that we are drawing together, by way of the president, as one nation under God, on principles of pursuing justice, proclaiming liberty, and loving your neighbor,” he said.

The choice of a family Bible points to another kind of connection too, according to Paul Gutjahr, professor of English at Indiana University and author of An American Bible.

“Biden strikes me as a guy who is very interested in underlining the communities that were formational for him,” he said. “Family. Church. The towns he’s lived in. The continuity seems really important to him. He wants to show the longevity of his rootedness.”

Read the entire piece here.

Mike Pence quotes Ecclesiastes; says it is time for the nation to heal

Last night the House of Representatives asked Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment. He refused to do it.

Here is the letter he sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:

The next to last paragraph caught my attention. Pence quotes part of Ecclesiastes 3. He writes, “The Bible says that ‘for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to heal…and a time to build up.'”

Here is the entire passage:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace

There are a lot of ways one could manipulate this passage. For example, one could say that it is time to “uproot” this president and “tear down” his administration so we can “build up” democracy. Or perhaps this verse is telling us that it is a time to “weep” and “mourn” for what Trump put the nation through during the last four years. For Pence and the GOP, maybe the last four years was a “time to speak” instead of a “time to be silent.” And so on. This is why I hate it when politicians try to use Bible verses to justify their specific political decisions.

Pence goes on: “In the midst of the global pandemic, economic hardship for millions of Americans, and the tragic events of January 6, now is the time for us to come together, now is the time to heal.”

But is it really?

Pence’s call for healing rings hollow. It comes from a man who stood faithfully behind Trump for four years. The Trump administration, including Pence, had a lot to do with the spread of the global pandemic, the economic hardship Americans are now facing, and the events of January 6.

Yes, we need to heal, but first we must remove Trump from office and crush his ability to get back into the political arena, a place where he can continue his divisive and disruptive ways. If Pence is serious about healing, he would do his part to cast Trump into the dustbin of history and make sure that his attempts to propagate a “lost cause” movement are weakened.

Remember that Lincoln’s conciliatory Second Inaugural Address took place after the Confederacy was all but defeated.

When it comes to presidents quoting scripture and spiritual writers, Joe Biden may surpass Barack Obama

In 2012, I asked readers of my now defunct Patheos column if they would vote for a man who:

…gives praise and honor to God before a public audience?

…wants to seek God’s face with other believers?

…admits that prayer humbles him?

…extolls the benefit of turning to our Creator and listening to Him?

…is motivated by faith and values in the midst of troubled times?

…wakes up every morning and prays, reads the Bible, and has “devotions?”

…is being spiritual mentored and discipled by evangelical pastors?

…claims that his Christian faith motivates him as a leader?

…tries to practice God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves?

…believes in Jesus’s words: “for unto much is given, much shall be required”?

…tries to follow the biblical call to care for the “least of these.”

…quotes C.S. Lewis in speeches?

…believes that Christians should be “doers of the word and not merely hearers?”

…wants to work toward building the kingdom of God on earth?

…is a loving husband and supportive father?

…prayed with Billy Graham?

…believes the Holy Spirit intervenes in his life, prompting him toward action?

I continued:

If you answered yes to a majority of these questions, you might consider voting for Barack Obama in November. Check out his recent remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. It’s all in there.

Obama may be the most explicitly Christian president in American history. If we analyze his language in the same way that historians examine the religious language of the Founding Fathers or even George W. Bush, we will find that Obama’s piety, use of the Bible, and references to Christian faith and theology put most other American presidents to shame on this front. I think there may be good reasons why some people will not vote for Obama in November, but his commitment to Christianity is not one of them.

Read the entire column here.

Joe Biden may give Obama a run for his money.

Here is Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service:

President-elect Joe Biden marked his Electoral College win with a religious flair, citing Scripture and the Prayer of St. Francis during his victory speech.

Members of the Electoral College voted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on Monday (Dec. 15), formalizing Biden’s 306-232 win over incumbent Donald Trump. 

The president-elect marked the moment with a speech in Delaware, where he declared “the rule of law, our Constitution and the will of the people prevailed” over multiple efforts by Trump and his allies to challenge the results of the election. 

Biden’s rhetoric took a turn for the spiritual near the close of his speech, when he made reference to the biblical passage of Matthew 16:18.

“As we start the hard work to be done, may this moment give us the strength to rebuild this house of ours upon a rock that can never be washed away,” he said.

Biden, a Catholic, then invoked the Prayer of St. Francis by name, saying, “for where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith, where there is darkness, light.”

Read the rest here.

This year Biden also quoted Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 28, referenced a song based on Isaiah 40, and said that human beings are created in the “image of God.” Not a bad start.

John Gehring of Faith in Public Life thinks there is more to come:

What Matthew 4 REALLY says about Christians and power

Recently an evangelical pastor who was a college of classmate of mine wrote to me praising Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court. He seemed very excited about the nomination and was surprised when I was not as excited as he was.

As I have argued, I think what McConnell did was wrong in 2016 when he refused to give Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing and a vote in the Senate. As many of you recall, McConnell claimed that since it was an election year the American people, through the ballot box, should decide who would replace the late Antonin Scalia on the bench. Trump won in 2016 and he nominated Neil Gorsuch. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him.

2020 is an election year. In fact, the election will take place in about a month. McConnell now seems to have no problem with confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He is hard at work pushing Barrett through the system.

This evangelical pastor friend did not see any problem with McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy. Actually, I don’t even think he understands what McConnell did as a form of hypocrisy. As my old college acquaintance put it in his note to me, we now have a Republican president and a Republican Senate and “elections have consequences.”

Based on other exchanges I have had with this pastor, I highly doubt he would have said “elections have consequences” if the same thing happened with a Democratic president’s nominee and a Democratic-controlled Senate. He would instead be making an appeal to the Constitution or perhaps the scriptures. But I digress.

The GOP is licking its chops to confirm Barrett. Its members thus need some kind of argument to save face and explain that they are not hypocrites. Most of these GOP Senators and pundits believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based upon the original intent of the framers. But they are not consistent in this belief. They only claim original intent when it meets their needs. There is nothing in the Constitution that says a Supreme Court nominee in an election year can only get a Senate hearing if the president making the nomination is of the same political party as the party controlling the Senate. The GOP just made this up.

And if the GOP really believes the original intent of the founders is important, they should be talking about how the founders would be appalled at the rank partisanship driving this whole nomination and confirmation process.

But perhaps most revealing is the way this pastor reconciles 2016 (Obama and Garland) and 2020 (Trump and Barrett) with an appeal to raw power. Again, notice that he did not appeal to the Constitution, the Bible, or some other moral code to defend McConnell’s decision. The exact words he used to justify Barrett’s nomination were “Republicans in power. Elections have consequences.” In a single sentence he confirmed a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Of course Jesus had a chance to obtain worldly power as well.

I recall that passage in Matthew 4 when Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if he would just bow down and worship him. When Jesus turned down Satan’s offer (“away from me Satan!”) God sent angels to attend to him. Jesus rejected worldly power and God was there to offer comfort and assurance in the form of the angels. The rest of the Gospel story, of course, is God showing how he would carry out his plan in another way–The Way–a way that did not require the kind of earthly power Satan was offering to Jesus.

But most people don’t know that in the 1980s Jerry Falwell Sr., while conducting a Moral Majority Holy Land tour, discovered early manuscripts of the Matthew 4 that show Jesus actually taking Satan’s deal. According to these ancient manuscripts, Jesus drove a hard bargain with Satan. In this manuscript Jesus specifically defined the “kingdoms of the world” as the future United States and demanded that Satan bring “splendor” to this kingdom by one day raising-up a morally bankrupt pagan leader (similar to King Cyrus of old) who would have the opportunity to appoint three Supreme Court justices. Satan agreed to deal, but fitting with his cunning spirit, took over 2000 years to fulfill his promise to Jesus.

What? You’ve never heard this before? It’s all there in the Lynchburg scrolls. The reason people don’t know about these scrolls is because the fake media won’t report on them.

🙂

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center meets all expectations at its “Get Louder” event

Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.

If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:

This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.

Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:

The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:

Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.

And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.

Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:

Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.

As November approaches, Trump releases his “greatest” hits album

Trump Tulsa

The coronavirus is spiking again. The country is in the midst of what might be an unprecedented conversation about race. And polls show that Donald Trump is trailing Joe Biden by a considerable margin.

Trump is desperate. If he loses in November, he will limp back to New York as arguably the worst president in United States history.  His growing sense of hopelessness and despair is leading him to double-down on the issues that got him elected in 2016. It’s like a Trump greatest hits album.

It’s going to be a really bad album, but a lot of people will buy it between now and November.

Some Thoughts on the American Bible Society’s Response to Trump’s St. John’s Church Photo-Op

Trump St. Johns

When Trump went to St. John’s Church on Monday he held-up a Bible. He did not read it. He did not even open it. We still don’t know exactly why he did this, but we have some pretty good ideas. My view is that Trump was holding up the Bible for political reasons. He wanted to show that God endorsed the message he had just delivered about “law and order” in the White House Rose Garden. He believed that such a public display would fire-up his base–a group of white evangelicals who get very, very excited whenever the president gets close to a Bible. Why do they get so excited? This is a story I unpacked extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

I cannot think of a time in American history when a United States president brandished a Bible in this way. Most American presidents have gone to church. Most American presidents have, at one point or another, cited the Bible. And many American presidents have used Christianity for political purposes.

But Trump waved the Bible as a kind of talisman–a material object waved as a symbol of spiritual and political (the two are often inseparable in the minds of many white evangelicals) power. The words of the scriptures were not important. They never have been to Donald Trump:

Trump and BIble

I don’t think Trump really believes that the Bible has any spiritual power in the way that his evangelical base believes that it does. (Think about it–have you ever seen Trump reading from a Bible?) But he does believe the Bible, as a material object, is a book enchanted with magic political powers. On Monday he used this magical book as a prop in a public performance of Christian nationalism. (On Bible “performances” see Seth Perry’s excellent book Bible Culture & Authority in the Early United States).

And now on to the American Bible Society.

Whitney Kuniholm, senior vice-president of the American Bible Society in Philadelphia, has issued an official statement about Donald Trump’s use of the Bible during his St. John’s Church photo-op. Here is Kate Shellnut at Christianity Today:

In this time of pandemic fear and social isolation, in this time of racial injustice and senseless violence, in this time of economic uncertainty and generational pain, we should be careful not to use the Bible as a political symbol, one more prop in a noisy news cycle,” said Whitney T. Kuniholm, senior vice president of the American Bible Society.

“Because, more than ever, we need to hear what’s true. ‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ (Amos 5:24 NIV). ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…’ (Ps. 23:4 KJV).”

What should we make of this statement?

First, it is worth noting that the American Bible Society would never have made such a statement prior to the 1990s. Until recently, the Society did not interpret the Bible. (More on this below). If Christians couldn’t decide whether the Bible should be employed to promote social justice or uphold law and order, the American Bible Society stayed out of the debate. The Society did not even take a stand against slavery in the Civil War. Southern slaveholders needed Bibles too. It also tried to rise above the sticky doctrinal

Bible Cause Cover

Society publications were fond of using the phrase “the Bible doing its work” to describe the effect the book had on sinners and potential converts. These publications are filled with stories of Bibles that would not burn when unbelievers tried to destroy them by fire and Civil War soldiers who claimed that a pocket Bible stopped enemy bullets. Even if the Bible was never read or opened, it was enchanted and could thus serve a divine purpose.

If Trump’s stunt at St. John’s Church occurred in the 19th-century, I have no doubt that the Society’s magazine would print testimonial letters written to the “Bible House” in New York City by people who had a spiritual experience from witnessing the Bible brandished by such an important person in such an important setting. Again, the agents of the America Bible Society got the book in the hands of the right people and then simply let the Bible do its work. The correspondence proved it.

Second, it is worth noting that the Society’s statement about Trump’s visit to St. John’s church suggests that the Bible should not be used as a “political symbol.” On one level, Whitney Kuniholm’s statement is consistent with the history of the organization. The American Bible Society has never endorsed any political candidates or entered into specific political debates.

But on another level, the American Bible Society has always championed the kind of Christian nationalism that Trump displayed at St. John’s Church. To be fair, the Society never saw the promotion of Christian nationalism as a “political issue.” The claim that America was a Christian nation in need of the word of God was an uncontested one for much of the Society’s history.

Here is more from The Bible Cause:

The ABS never let its constituency forget that it was the American Bible Society. The Society never operated from the fringes of American life. While it has been willing to work with any Christian body interested in promoting the Bible, the ABS has always gravitated toward the particular expression of Christianity that its board and staff believed to be the moral guardians of America’s status as a Christian nation. This was rather easy in the nineteenth century, a time when evangelical religion held cultural power. But in the twentieth century, particularly after the Fundamentalst-Modernist controversies of the 1920s, this required more of a conscious decision. As we will see, for most of the twentieth the ABS made its peace with the Ecumenical Movement as embodied  in the National Council of Churches, but with American presidents, businessmen, and celebrities who were associated with these historic denominations. Since the 1990s, as the power of mainline Protestantism to shape the culture waned, the ABS cast its lot again with evangelicalism.

The evangelicals who cheered Trump’s use of the Bible at St. John’s Church believe that he was doing his part to bring the sacred text to the heart of American political and cultural life. He was not only proclaiming the divine authority of the Bible, but he was also affirming the idea that the United States is a Christian nation. By merely displaying the unopened Bible before the cameras, Trump was telling the world that the nation’s most cherished values–in this case law and order–stem from this book. The ABS–for good or for bad–has always embraced a similar view and they have struggled in recent decades to adapt such a view to a more diverse and pluralistic society.

Third, if recent history is any indication, the American Bible Society should actually celebrate, not condemn, Trump’s use of the Bible. Let me explain.

For much of its history, the American Bible Society measured success in terms of how many Bibles it was able to send around the world. Insiders called this the “tonnage” approach to Bible work. One of the criticisms of the tonnage approach was that it was impossible to gauge the spiritual impact of the scriptures on people’s lives apart from the anecdotes and stories told through the correspondence of colporteurs, agents, and constituents. It was one thing to spend millions of dollars producing and distributing Bibles, Testaments, and scripture portions, and quite another thing to know if those scriptures were simply placed on a shelf, treated like a family talisman, or actually read. While the Society had always accepted this as a valid critique of its organization, there was never any serious attempt to try to respond to it apart from something akin to the mantra “let the Bible do its work.” Ship Bibles and let God do the rest.

This all began to change when the American Bible Society moved from a mainline Protestant organization to an evangelical one. I wrote about this shift, which occurred in the 1990s, in the final chapter of my book The Bible Cause, but I also published a shorter version of the story here. Under the leadership of President and CEO Eugene Habecker, the Society stopped measuring success by tonnage and started measuring success through something that was eventually called “scripture engagement.” (As noted above, they also did away with the “no note or comment” policy).

Today, scripture engagement is at the center of the Society’s mission. The end goal of scripture engagement is to expose people to the Bible in the hope that they will pick-it up, read it, be transformed by its life-changing message, and then work to restore the Christian fabric of American culture that has been ripped apart by the forces of secularization. The first step is exposure. Though ideally, a full engagement with the Bible would require a person to actually open-it-up and read the text, a simple encounter with the closed book, whether on a television show or through museum glass at a place like the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C., could get the ball rolling. (I wrote about this in the context of the Museum of the Bible in a chapter of this book). The advocates of scripture engagement are confident that “the Bible will do its work.” This idea of scripture engagement is at the heart of the Society’s new Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, which will open soon on the Independence Mall in Philadelphia.

So needless to say, it surprised me that the American Bible Society came out so strongly against Trump’s photo-op. Why aren’t they pleased that Trump has the entire nation talking about the Bible? The Society could not have asked for a better “scripture engagement” moment. In fact, Christianity Today is reporting that the Society is taking the opportunity to give away free Bibles.

When Trump stood before St. John’s Church’s and lifted a copy of the Bible, he was proclaiming that the law and order of the United States was based on the Old and New Testament scriptures and that he would be God’s agent to advance such a view of American life. Millions of people around the world were “engaged” with the Bible on Monday. The folks at American Bible Society may not like Trump’s style, but they have been endorsing this kind of thing since 1816.

Tonight in the Rose Garden and at St. John’s Church, Trump Announced His 2020 Re-Election Strategy

Trump St. Johns

It’s hard to know where to start writing about what we all just witnessed earlier this evening.

Donald Trump was scheduled to speak in the Rose Garden at 6:30pm. Shortly before his speech, Attorney General Bill Barr came out to inspect the crowd. Then federal police used tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets to drive-out peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square Park, located across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

Trump’s speech was short. He said that he was an ally of all peaceful protesters. This is another Trump lie. I wrote about that here, but the act of driving these protesters out of the park today was a sign that he does not support peaceful protesters. More on this below.

His speech did not address the racial tensions in America that led to these protests. There was no empathy for the plight of African-Americans in the United States. Trump is incapable of this.

Trump rightly condemned the destruction of property and the outside rabble-rousers who, by all reports, are causing this damage. But rather than trying to bring the country together, he blamed state governors for the riots and destruction in major urban areas.  (He did the same thing on a call with governors this morning). At one point in the speech, Trump said that he wants “healing” not “hatred.” Please look in the mirror Mr. President. You are an agent of hate in this country. There is nothing you have done in your presidency thus far to bring any kind of national healing whatsoever.

When Trump said “America always wins,” he was not referring to a much-needed victory over the evil of racial injustice, but was rather referring to the use of military force and violence to stop the riots. This, for Trump, is the only way he understands a “win” for America. Trump plans to mobilize the U.S. Army in cities around the country through the use of the 1807 Insurrection Act (I will write more on this in another post) to “dominate the streets.” He also sent a dog-whistle to his base by referencing his protection of Second Amendment rights. Some will no doubt see this as the president telling them to take matters into their own hands.

When Trump talked about justice in this speech, he meant quelling the riots through force. He did mention justice for George Floyd, but these words have no meaning until his presidency reverses course on the issue of race. Trump must not only stop the race-baiting, but must support policies that will address systemic racism in America. I don’t see this happening because Trump does not understand the true meaning of justice.

I wrote about justice this morning, with the help of 20th-century German moral philosopher Joseph Pieper: “…the claim implicit in the principle of justice [is that we] must confirm the other person in his otherness and procure for him that which is due.” Justice starts with empathy and understanding, but Trump is a narcissist and he does not read.

Throughout the speech, Trump kept saying that he is a “law and order” president. This is another dog-whistle. Here is what I wrote about this phrase in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

For most Americans, “law and order” is associated with Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. According to historian Michael Flamm, “law and order was the most important domestic issue in the presidential election and arguably the decisive factor in Richard Nixon’s narrow triumph over Hubert Humphrey.” As might be expected, the need to bring law and order to American streets was a response to a significant rise in crime during the 1960s, particularly among African Americans and juveniles in American cities. The high crime rate among black men brought fear to white working-class Americans. Flamm notes that “by the late 1960s, white Americans overwhelmingly associated street crime with African Americans, who were more than seventeen times likely as white men to be arrested for robbery. The worst fears of white Americans materialized in the summer of 1967, when race riots broke out in Detroit and Newark. The violence continued in 1968 following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daly ordered his police officers to shoot looters on sight in the street. In Washington D.C. , race riots, led by black activist Stokely Carmichael, came within blocks of the White House, prompting President Lyndon Johnson to dispatch federal troops armed with machine guns to quell the violence. Later in the year, the Chicago police used tear gas to control protesters at the Democratic National Convention.

The Nixon campaign capitalized on the chaos. Nixon promised that, if elected, he would end the riots–using force if necessary. His campaign blamed the lack of law and order on the Democrats and portrayed his opponent, Hubert Humphrey, as weak on crime. Nixon consistently denied he used the phrase “law and order” to send a message to white voters who feared African American violence, but many of his conservative supporters clearly heard the message. Nixon walked a fine line on matters related to race. He was aware, from watching his independent opponent, George Wallace, that calling attention to racial difference worked very well in presidential campaign, especially in the South. Yet Nixon was not Wallace: he opposed segregation and supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Still, when he was not in front of the cameras, he was not reticent about his disdain for the “damn negroes.” He confided to his counsel, John Ehrlichman, that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs would not help African Americans because “blacks were genetically inferior to whites.” After filming a campaign advertisement calling for law and order in public schools, Nixon said to his aides, “Yet, this hits it right on the nose…it’s all about law and order and the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there.

Like Nixon, Donald Trump claims that his use of the term “law and order” has nothing to do with race. Yet when he combines the phrase with a steady drumbeat of attention to “Muslim terrorists” or illegal Mexican immigrants that he claims were committing violent crimes, he is sending a message to his largely white working-class constituency that he hears, shares, and prioritizes their fears. Trump wants to restore law and order to America much like Nixon promised to do in the 1960s. Is this what he has in mind when he says he wants to make America great again?

After Trump’s speech, he walked out the front door of the White House to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church. It is known as the “Church of the Presidents” because every American president, beginning with James Madison, has attended the church (presidents sit in pew 54). During some of the protests on Sunday night (March 31) a fire started outside the church and spread into the basement of the parish house. It was extinguished quickly and there was no major damage. The words “The Devil is across the street” was sprayed on the church in graffiti and windows were smashed.

Trump walked to St. John’s for a photo-op. The church did not know he was coming and both the Episcopal bishop of Washington D.C. and the rector of the church have condemned the visit.

Trump stood before the church and held-up a Bible. When a reporter asked him if he was holding his Bible, Trump said it was “a Bible.” He then invited several members of his cabinet and staff to join him. (Interestingly enough, Mike Pence was not present).

And that is all he did. He stood there, held-up the Bible at a couple of different angles, and then left. He did not pray. He did not offer words of comfort or healing. He did not pray for the coronavirus victims. The message was clear. Trump’s law and order response–an approach with deep roots in racism and violence–is somehow informed by the Old and New Testament. (Once again, let’s remember that Trump’s favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye”). Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a U.S. president who has used a Bible–a material object representing the word of God–in this way.

Here a good rule of thumb. Whenever a public official uses the Bible to justify law and order during times of unrest, expect the worst. I think history offers some good lessons on this front, from politicians in the antebellum South to Nazi Germany. One should also be concerned when a president uses tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades to remove peaceful protesters in front of a church for the purpose of using this sacred space to fortify such a show of power.

What we witnessed today was the president using this moment of racial strife and social unrest to announce his November 2020 campaign strategy. He will present himself as a strongman who will protect fearful white people. In this sense, he is like the Savage in C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regressa Nietzschian warlord who tells Vertue that “If I am to live in a world of destruction let me be its agent and not its patient.” And he will justify all of this using the Bible–a direct appeal to his fearful white evangelical base who believe Trump is their divinely-appointed champion. It was all staged, not unlike a reality television show.

The court evangelicals, as expected, support what Trump did today. If you believe that America is a Christian nation and needs to be reclaimed as such, then anytime the president lifts a Bible, and especially if it is done at a historic church, it is a great thing.

Here is Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas:

Fox News has Robert Jeffress lined-up for an early morning appearance:

Expect Jeffress to talk about this.

Tony Perkins just retweeted:

Here is Marc Burns:

I am reminded of a quote I added to the Commonplace Book this morning:

All moral laws derive from one law: that of truth” [Goethe]…A person who is incapable of viewing things impartially, uninfluenced by the affirmations or negations of the will, a person who is incapable, for a time, of simply keeping silent and perceiving what is there, and then of converting what he has seen and learned into a decision, is incapable of achieving the good, or in other words is incapable of performing an ethical act in the full sense of the term.  —Joseph Pieper, “The Art of Making Right Decisions,” *Civitas* (1970) in The Weight of Belief: Essays on Faith in a Modern Age, 212.

For the sake of the country, Trump needs to keep silent and start “perceiving what is there.”

“It is part of the inalienable task of God’s people…to speak the truth to power.”

Wright God in PublicI have been reading a lot of N.T. Wright lately.   The Anglican New Testament scholar and theologian has been helpful as I try to think about how to speak faithfully in our current political moment in the United States.  In his book God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power TodayWright offers what he calls a “rough sketch of a Christian political theology.”  His sketch includes four points:

First:

…the creator God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic. The order in question is to be a human order: that is to say, God intends that there should be human structures of government.  God does not want anarchy.  Just as God intends the world of plants and crops to work under human management, so God intends that human societies should be wisely ordered under human stewardship.  This pattern, of delegated authority if you like, goes all the way back to the human vocation to be God’s “image bearers.” It corresponds to the pattern of God’s actions in and through Jesus Christ.  That is what Paul says in Colossians 1:15-17.

Colossians 1:15-17: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Second:

…if God intends that there should be power structures; if he wills that humans should find ways of running the world and bringing it to wise order–then, within a world in rebellion, this call to power translates all too easily into a temptation to the abuse of power.  As soon as you make someone a steward of creation…you challenge them to navigate past the temptation to use that power for their own advantage, to become, in other words, part of the problem to which they are supposed to be part of the solution….

Third:

…it is part of the inalienable task of God’s people, of those who worship the creator God, whom we see in Jesus and know through the Spirit, to speak the truth to power.  This calling will mean reminding governments, local councillors, authorities in every sphere, including church leaders, of their calling to selfless stewardship. It will mean pointing our fearlessly (but also humbly: arrogance will spoil the whole thing) where this trust is being abused, in whatever way. Once more, God is not nearly so interested in how rulers get to be rulers as he is in how they behave as rulers. That is why the church has the vital task of reminding them of their proper vocation and of calling them to account.

Fourth:

…it is the task of the followers of Jesus to remind those called to authority, in whatever sphere, that the God who made the world intends to put the world rights at the last. It isn’t simply a matter of reminding the authorities of duties they have always had.  It is a matter of calling them to acts of justice and mercy which will anticipate, in the present time, God’s final setting of all things to rights, God’s wiping away of every tear from every eye. This calling–which many authorities and rulers dimly recognize, though many alas glimpse it and turn away to more seductive options–is, whether people recognize it or not, the call to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Wright summarizes:

The doing of justice and mercy in the present time by those called to power locally, nationally and globally is thus to be seen within the framework of the historical victory of Jesus in his death and resurrection and of the future, coming, final victory of God over all evil, all violence, all arrogant abuse of power.

And this:

It’s no good saying “Jesus is telling you to do this” to someone who has no time for Jesus. But if the church can translate what we believe Jesus would say into the language, and the coherent argument, of the wider world then such obedience can become a possibility.

The Use of Biblical Typologies for Political Gain

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Over at Baptist News Global, Rob Sellers, professor of theology and missions emeritus at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, Texas, offers a nice overview of the way that Trump’s evangelical supporters use biblical typologies (King Cyrus, King David, Caesar, Jesus) to advance their political agenda.  (Click here for some background on the image above.  For some reason Bob Smietana’s byline is on this article).

Here is a taste of Sellers’s piece:

Efforts to give Trump the standing of Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan are strained, if not nonsensical, yet they don’t come close to matching the illogical contortions required to compare the president to positive, or even heroic, models in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. This growing tendency should concern all Americans who claim to revere the Bible and desire to live into its vision.

These biblical comparisons to Trump fall into two categories. One, not surprisingly, is those human figures who in their lifetime were a king, emperor or even a queen. Is it only coincidental that all of these counterparts are elite, wealthy and powerful royalty? Where are the ordinary, middle-class citizens, much less the impoverished, marginalized and powerless commoners, with whom this president is identified?

As if to correct the perception that Trump can only reflect the “top one percent” of ancient society, the other, much more startling typology is Jesus himself – a suffering servant “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3), yet whose person and work were acclaimed in messianic phrases, both confessional and laudatory. These references especially satisfy Trump, who sees himself, especially during the impeachment proceedings, as a persecuted victim who is absolutely worthy of adoration and praise.

Read the entire piece here.