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.

There is nothing new about what happened to conservative evangelicals this week. But how will they respond?

metaxas-at-party

It was a rough week for conservative evangelicals in the United States. The president of the largest Christian university in the country resigned after a sex scandal. A popular evangelical radio host and author was caught on tape punching an anti-Trump protester. The vice-president of the United States gave a speech in which he replaced the words of the New Testament with references to American nationalism. The president of the United States, in an attempt to appeal to his evangelical base, gave a speech that celebrated Christian participation in Manifest Destiny.

None of this is new. Evangelical leaders have been part of sex-scandals before. Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, and Bill Hybels come immediately to mind. Fundamentalist churches have a history of sexual abuse. In the early 1970s, Billy James Hargis was accused of having sex with male and female students at his American Christian College.

Evangelicals and their fundamentalist heirs have acted violently toward their enemies before. Texas fundamentalist J. Frank Norris was charged with murder when he shot and killed a lumber worker who came to his office to complain about something Norris wrote in his religious newspaper.

Ministers and politicians have been twisting scripture to serve political ends since the American Revolution. I wrote an entire chapter about this in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Finally, presidential candidates have often blown racist dog-whistles, sometime disguised as history, to rally their white supporters. Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon all come to mind.

How will conservative evangelicals, especially those who support Donald Trump, respond to all this? Rather than seeing what happened this week with Jerry Falwell Jr., Eric Metaxas, Mike Pence, and Trump as part of a long history of hypocrisy and moral failure,  I am afraid most conservative evangelicals will ignore these issues, fail to see the continuity between past and present, and reject any claim that these events reflect deeper, more systemic problems within evangelical Christianity.  Instead, they will continue to believe that another four years of Donald Trump, a president who has exacerbated and exposed the darkest parts of American evangelical history, will somehow bring revival to the church and restore America to a golden age that probably never existed in the first place.

GOP Convention: Night 3

pence and trump at ft mchenry

Yesterday was my first day of face-to-face teaching since March. I am not yet in “classroom shape,” so I was exhausted by the end of the day. Mentally, I was still reeling from multiple technology failures (mostly due to my ignorance) and the panic (and sweat) that ensues when half of the class is watching you desperately trying to get the other half of the class connected via ZOOM.

This morning my youngest daughter headed-off to Michigan for her sophomore year of college, so we spent most of last night packing the car and spending a few hours together before the empty nest syndrome returns later today.

Needless to say, I did not get much time to watch the third night of the 2020 GOP Convention, but I did manage to see a few speeches and catch-up with the rest via news and videos.

Let’s start with American history:

  • In her speech, Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law (Eric Trump’s spouse), tried to quote Abraham Lincoln: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom,” she said, “it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” These are strong words. Lincoln never said them.
  • In his speech, Madison Cawthorn, a GOP congressional candidate from North Carolina’s 11th district, said that James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence. Here is the exact line: “James Madison was 25 years-old when he signed the Declaration of Independence.” Madison was indeed 25 in July of 1776, but he did not sign the Declaration of Independence. (He did serve in the Second Continental Congress from 1777 to 1779).
  • Clarence Henderson, who was part of the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworths, deserves the appreciation of every American. (Just to be clear, Henderson was not one of the famed “Greensboro Four“). He is free to vote for anyone he wants in November. But it is sad to see this civil rights activist buy into the idea that African-Americans should vote for Trump (or the GOP in general) because Lincoln freed the slaves and the Democrats (in the South) were the party of segregation. While this is true, it fails to acknowledge an important principle of historical thinking: change over time.
  • Finally,  Burgess Owens, a GOP congressional candidate from Utah (and former NFL player), talked about his father and World War II. He said, “mobs torch our cities, while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism that my father fought against in World War II.” Owens is confused. The socialists (communists) were actually on the side of the United States during World War II. The Nazi’s were opponents of Soviet-style socialism. This can get a little tricky because “Nazi” is short for “National Socialist.” Sort it all out here.

OK, let’s move on.

Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeated the popular mantra about liberals “removing God” from public schools and “erasing God from history.” A few quick thoughts on this:

  • From the perspective of Christian theology, I don’t think it is possible to remove God from public schools or anywhere else.
  • Ironically, McEnany’s statement about erasing God comes at a moment when American religious history is one of the hottest fields in the historical profession. We know more about Christianity’s role in America’s past today than at any other point in the history of the nation.

I want to spend the rest of this post on Mike Pence’s speech last night. Watch it:

I did not recognize much of the America that Pence described in this speech. He began with an attack on Joe Biden: “Democrats spent four days attacking America. Joe Biden said we were living through a ‘season of darkness.'”

In January 2017, Donald Trump used the word “carnage” to describe the United States. Is America any better four years later? 180, 000 are dead from COVID-19. Colleges and schools are closed. There is racial unrest in the streets. We are a laughing stock in the global community. Millions are out work. Less than half of Americans have any confidence in the president. And Pence has the audacity to say “we made America great again.”

Pence continues to peddle the narrative that the coronavirus derailed the accomplishments of Trump’s first term. This is partly true. But when historians write about this presidency, the administration’s handling of COVID-19 will be at the center of the story.  COVID-19 is not just an unfortunate parenthesis in an otherwise successful presidency. COVID-19, and Trump’s failure to act swiftly, will be this president’s defining legacy.

Like Kayleigh McEnany earlier in the night, Pence also made reference to the current conversation about monuments and their relationship to our understanding of the American past. “If you want a president who falls silent when our heritage is demeaned or insulted,” Pence said, “then he’s [Trump’s] not your man.”

It is important to remember that “heritage” is not history. Those who sing the praises of “heritage” today are really talking more about the present the past. The purpose of heritage, writes the late historian David Lowenthal, is to “domesticate the past” so that it can be enlisted “for present causes.” History explores and explains the past in all its fullness, while heritage calls attention to the past to make a political point. Since the purpose of heritage is to cultivate a sense of collective national identity, it is rarely concerned with nuance, paradox, or complexity. As Lowenthal writes, devotion to heritage is a “spiritual calling”–it answers needs for ritual devotion.

When Trump and Pence talk about defending an American “heritage,” they are selectively invoking the past to serve their purposes. Such an approach, in this case, ignores the dark moments of our shared American experience. This administration is not interested in history.  They reject theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.”

Pence’s speech was filled with misleading statements, half-truths, and blatant lies. He claimed that Joe Biden wants to defund the police. He said that Biden “opposed the operation” that killed Osama bin Laden.” He said that Donald Trump has “achieved energy independence for the United States.” He said Joe Biden wants to “end school choice.” He said Joe Biden wants to scrap tariffs on Chinese goods. He said that “no one who required a ventilator was ever denied a ventilator in the United States.” He said that Trump suspended “all travel from China” before the coronavirus spread. He said that Biden did not condemn the violence in American cities. He said that Biden supports open borders. All of these statements are either false or misleading.

Trump is a liar. So is Pence. But Pence is an evangelical Christian. How can anyone reconcile the peddling of such deception with Christian faith? It doesn’t matter if the Bible-believing vice president lies about his political opponent, as long as his lies are effective in scaring Americans to vote for Trump. Pence claimed that “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Of course this kind of fear-mongering has a long history in American politics. But when people claim the mantle of Christian faith and engage in such political rhetoric, we must always call it out.

Finally, Pence has proven to be a master at fusing the Bible with American ideals. Again, this is not new. The patriotic ministers of the American Revolution did this all the time. It was heretical then. It is heretical now. Such a rhetorical strategy manipulates the Bible for political gain.

For example, Pence said, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and that means freedom always wins.” Pence is referencing 2 Corinthians 3:17: “now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This passage has NOTHING to do with the political or “American” freedom Pence was touting in his speech. St. Paul spoke these words to encourage the Corinthian church to live Spirit-filled lives that would free them from the bondage sin, death, and guilt. Pence has taken a deeply spiritual message and bastardized it to serve partisan politics and this corrupt president.

In the same paragraph, Pence says, “So let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents, fix our eyes on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire. Let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom.”
Here Pence is referencing Hebrews 12: 1-2. That passage says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Again, see what Pence is doing here. Instead of fixing our eyes on Jesus, we should fix our eyes on “Old Glory,” a symbol of American nationalism. The “heroes” he speaks of are not the men and women of faith discussed in the previous chapter of Hebrews (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets), they are the “heroes” (as he interprets them) of American history. Jesus is the “author and perfecter” of our faith and [American] freedom.”

The use of the Bible in this way is a form of idolatry. My friend and history teacher Matt Lakemacher gets it right:

On to day 4!

What are the court evangelicals saying about day 3 of the DNC convention?

Trump Court Evangelicals 2

Last night we heard from Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, and Kamala Harris. So what are the court evangelicals saying?

Johnnie Moore, the man who describes himself as a “modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer“:

Moore tweeted the above Bible verse while Barack Obama was speaking last night.

On Monday night, as the DNC was talking about “rising up” for social, economic, environmental, and racial justice, Moore tweeted this:

It is worth noting that Psalm 20 also says “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

This is unrelated to the convention, but one court evangelical will no longer have a TBN television show.

Charlie Kirk continues to represent the Falkirk Center at Liberty University:

How long will Liberty University allow this to go on? Charlie Kirk will continue to spew this kind of stuff as long as evangelical churches, schools, and Christians give him a platform.

Here is Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow Sebastian Gorka:

Court evangelical Lance Wallnau is on the Eric Metaxas Show. Wallnau claims that he prophesied the idea of “Trump derangement syndrome” He continues with his “Hillary 2.0″ theory about Kamala Harris. He once again claims that Harris is a “chameleon” with a “Jezebel spirit” who has been “vetted” not by Biden, but by the devil. Metaxas calls her an “evil protean figure.” He adds that if Biden wins in November it will be “the end of America.”

At the end of the interview, Wallnau and Metaxas engage in some serious “America as a New Israel” language. Metaxas says that we have abandoned God’s “covenant” with America established by the Pilgrims. in 1620 and the patriots in 1776. This is all very bad American history and theology, but it’s the kind of message Metaxas (along with David Barton) has been pitching for a long time now. Take a look at my review of his book If You Can Keep It.

Michelle Obama’s DNC convention speech was deeply Christian

After the first night of the Democratic National Convention I tuned into Fox News. Laura Ingraham was on the air and, as might be expected, she was trashing the convention. I stopped watching after about forty minutes of analysis from Eric Trump, Ted Cruz, and other conservative pundits.

Cruz actually said that the reason the Democrats are pushing for mail-in-ballots and the funding of the United States Postal Service is because they know it leads to voter fraud.  Cruz has no evidence for this claim. Nor is there any evidence to suggest mail-in-voting leads to voter fraud. But I digress.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell was also on Ingraham’s show. He is a very patient man.

I was struck by the fact that none of the conservative, pro-Trump pundits mentioned Michelle Obama’s speech. They just couldn’t touch it.

Watch it:

Though Obama only mentioned “faith” and “God” a couple of times, this was a deeply Christian speech.

  • She talked about the inherent dignity of human beings.
  • She talked about truth.
  • She talked about the character of a leader.
  • She talked about health care.
  • She talked about care for the environment
  • She talked about racial justice
  • She talked about the evil of racism and white supremacy
  • She talked about empathy
  • She talked about caring for others
  • She talked about raising children with a strong moral foundation
  • She talked about the coarseness of our culture under Trump
  • She talked about selfishness
  • She talked about greed
  • She talked military violence
  • She talked about using the Bible for a photo-op
  • She talked about being a mother.
  • She talked about being a neighbor
  • She talked about meekness
  • She talked about confronting “viciousness” and “cruelty”
  • She talked about finding common ground based on the value of all human beings
  • She talked about the need to speak truth to power
  • She talked about family
  • She talked about compassion
  • She talked about grief

After covering Trump’s court evangelicals for the last four years, it was nice to hear such a Christian speech in this kind of public venue. I left the speech encouraged in my faith and hopeful for America’s future. Thank you Michelle Obama.

Saturday night court evangelical roundup

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Samuel Rodriguez is upset about the prohibition on singing in California churches.

Jim Garlow agrees with Rodriguez:

Here is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer would probably respond to Rodriguez and Garlow.

Meanwhile, court evangelical journalist David Brody loved Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech:

Here is Brody again:

I don’t think you need to be a “far left latte sipper” to be troubled by what happened last night at Mount Rushmore. It was a “big celebration” during a pandemic with no masks or social distancing on a weekend in which the CDC warned people about gathering in large crowds. We already know that Don Trump Jr.’s wife tested positive for COVID-19. And don’t even get me started on Trump’s use of the American past to divide the country on Independence Day. I wonder what Frederick Douglass would have thought about Trump’s speech. By the way, I am not “far left” and have probably had ten latte’s in my life. I prefer the $1.00 large McDonald’s coffee on my way to campus. 🙂

Charlie Kirk, an evangelical Christian, bids his followers to come and die:

Does anyone want to help Kirk, the co-director of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, reconcile the previous tweet (above) with the one below this paragraph? I am not sure he understands the meaning of “liberty requires responsibility.” As Christian moral philosopher Josef Pieper wrote, “It is the concern of the just man…to give others due rather than to obtain what is due him.” But what does Pieper, one of the great Christian intellectuals of the 20th century, know? He is not, after all, 26-year-old Trump wonder boy Charlie Kirk:

And then there is this:

Lance Wallnau is attacking another so-called “prophet” and, in the process, offers his own prophesy. He says the coronavirus, racial unrest, Christians “taking a knee,” and the tearing down of monuments are all judgments of God on America. If you have time, read the thousands of comments on the right of the video and then come back and let’s talk about my “fear” thesis.

Jenna Ellis, a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, is getting into the “America was founded as a Christian nation” business.

She also liked Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech:

I would like to hear how John Hagee uses the Bible to defend free speech, the right to assemble, the right to petition, the freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, etc.:

Like patriotic ministers have been doing since the time of the American Revolution, Hagee takes New Testament passages about liberty and freedom and applies them to political freedom:

Tony Perkins is engaging in the same type of scriptural manipulation:

Gary Bauer throws thousands and thousands of hard-working American history teachers under the bus by telling them that they don’t love their country:

Robert Jeffress is back on Fox News defending his Lord’s Day morning political rally with a non-social-distanced choir. His defense if whataboutism:

The day before, Jeffress made his weekly visit with Lou Dobbs. Pretty much the same stuff:

Focus on the Family is running an interview with Eric Metaxas about his book If You Can Keep It. I point you to my review of this seriously flawed book. If you want to take a deeper dive into this, here is a link to my longer review. I assume that this was taped a while ago (the book appeared in 2016).  As I listen to Metaxas’s radio show today, and compare it with this interview, it is striking how far Trump and the aftermath of the George Floyd killing  has pushed him even further into a Christian Right brand of Trumpism.

Franklin Graham is quoting the Declaration of Independence. Here is a question: Was Thomas Jefferson right? I think the Christian tradition certainly values life. It certain values spiritual liberty in Christ. But what about political liberty? What about the pursuit of happiness? Perhaps this is something to discuss with your friends and family over the holiday weekend.

Until next time.

Tuesday night court evangelical roundup

trump-with-evangelical-leaders

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Rudy Giuliani shares a tweet from a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center. Notice how Giuliani uses Jenna Ellis’s tweet of Psalm 27 to make a political statement. When he says “we all matter” I think we all know the message he is sending in the midst of our post-George Floyd moment. In a follow-up tweet, Ellis gives Giuliani an “Amen.”

As the coronavirus cases spike, Ellis retweets an anti-masker attacking California senator Kamala Harris:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center does not understand history. It’s tweet today seems like a defense of Confederate monuments. I am guessing Russell Kirk is taken out of context here. As I argued in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, history is always created from a dialogue the between past and the present. Sometimes the past is useful in the present. Sometimes the past is a “foreign country.” Ironically, the Falkirk Center and the rest of the Christian Right activists who talk about the past, have mastered the kind of cherry-picking Kirk may be warning against here.

What is the relationship between the following tweet and Jenna Ellis’s anti-mask retweet above? It seems that “rights” are a form of self-fulfillment, while concern for others is a form of self-denial. John MacArthur’s lesson might be useful for evangelicals as they think about masks and the spread of COVID-19.

Florida is seeing record numbers of coronavirus cases. Paula White is opening her church:

Wow: This is an amazing tweet from Trump’s #1 court evangelical:

Tony Perkins is hosting a video conference called “Arise and Stand.” You can watch it here.

Here is Gary Bauer’s Facebook post:

Kudos to my good friend Vice President Mike Pence!

Vice President Pence stood firm in the face of the media mob this Sunday, as well as the mob in the streets, by refusing to repeat the divisive slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” He was pressed to do so during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

Of course Black Lives Matter, as do Asian lives, Hispanic lives and Caucasian lives. That’s the truth. And it’s also a central Christian principle that the color of our skin is the least unique thing about us. What makes us special is that we are made in the image of God, and the vice president strongly believes that. 

Read the rest here.

I’ve said this before, this pivot toward “all lives matter” is simply a way for those on the Christian Right to avoid tough conversations on race in America following the killing of George Floyd. When Pence refused to say “Black Lives Matter” on television he was sending a message to the Trump base.

all lives matter cartoon

It’s all about the Supreme Court justices for Ralph Reed.

Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran have a nice response to Reed’s way of political thinking:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resources families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marion icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

Read the entire piece here.

Ralph Reed, perhaps more than any other member of the Christian Right, is responsible for what Hauerwas and Tran call a “failure of political imagination” among evangelicals.

According to Robert Jeffress, the “eventual collapse of our country” is now certain:

And last but not least, David Barton is on the Eric Metaxas Show today. When activists indiscriminately topple and deface monuments, it just provides ammunition and fodder for Barton’s Christian Right view of the past.

Barton defends a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a white supremacist who helped found the KKK. He seems to think that such a statue is essential to his ability to teach history. This comment even makes Metaxas squirm: “I think we all would agree that lines can be drawn, we don’t have a statue to Adolph Hitler.” In this sense, Metaxas’s obsession with Godwin’s Law serves a useful purpose.

When Metaxas says that debate over monuments is “complicated,” he reminds me of something I wrote at the end of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?:

In 2010 the political commentator Glenn Beck devoted an entire television program to a discussion of George Whitefield, the eighteenth-century evangelical revivalist and the precipitator of the event known as the First Great Awakening. Near the end of the show, Beck’s conversation with his guests–two early American religious historians–turned to the topic of slavery. Beck wondered how Whitefield could inspire anti-slavery advocates in England such as John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” while at the same time owning slaves. Befuddled by this paradox, and clearly at a loss for words, Beck turned to the camera and said, “Sometimes history is a little complex.”

Barton peddles an unbelievably dumb theory about the origins of slavery and race in America. He says “out of Jamestown” came “slavery and intolerance and classism and racism.” But out of Plymouth came “liberty and freedom and constitutional government, bills of rights, etc.” His source is an uncritical use of an 1888 wall map showing these “two strands of history, one bad and one good.”

Apparently, Barton has never studied New England’s Native American history or the intolerance the Puritans showed to the likes of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. But wait, it gets better. Barton says that “both of those groups were Christian, but Jamestown was not biblical. They [just] professed Christianity. That’s much of what we see in America today. 72% of the nation professes Christianity, only six percent have a biblical world view.” Slavery started in Jamestown, Barton argues, because the settlers didn’t “know the Bible.” This is interesting, since during the early 19th-century Virginians used the Bible to justify slavery. I guess they were more biblically literate by that time. 🙂

Barton seems to suggest that New England did not have slaves. Wrong again. Even Jonathan Edwards, one of Barton’s heroes, a man who Barton would probably say had a “Christian world view,” owned slaves. Granted, New England did not have a slave-based economy, but slavery was not illegal prior to the American Revolution. If you want to learn more, see Richard Bailey’s Race and Redemption in Puritan New England. and Joanne Pope Melishs’s Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860

Barton goes on to say that today “we look at past generations through today’s filter and today’s lens and you really can’t do that.” This is rich coming from a guy who has built his entire career around cherry-picking from the founding fathers and then applying such cherry-picked passages to contemporary Christian Right politics. (See my comments about the Falkirk Center’s tweet about Russell Kirk).

He then uses this argument to reject systemic and institutional racism. Here is Barton:

So all the notion that America is institutionally racist–you gotta see what the atmosphere was like in that day–we were leading the world in the right direction that day. Now we can look back where we are today and say we weren’t perfect…but we’re not the racist nation everyone is trying to make us out to be. When you know history, you see that all clearly.

Barton speaks as if the Civil War–a war over slavery in which 700,000 people died–never happened. Is this “leading the world in the right direction?” Heck, he sounds as if slavery never existed in the United States. He dismisses four hundred years of slavery and racism by saying, “yeah, we weren’t perfect.” Barton is not a historian. He only cares about the parts of the past that advance his political agenda. Read this recent post to see the depths of racism in the evangelical church or grab a copy of Believe Me.

And finally, Metaxas praises Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address as a great moment of national unity. He says that Lincoln showed “graciousness” toward his enemy. He said that because of this graciousness, Lincoln and Grant allowed the Confederate monuments to stand. Barton says that Lincoln’s “zealous” Christian faith is why he tried to reconcile with the South after the war. He says that Lincoln took seriously Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 about “reconciliation.”

There are so many problems with this part of the interview that it is hard to know where to start.

  1. Lincoln did want to the bring the Union back together and he tried to use his Second Inaugural Address to do it. But let’s remember that this address was delivered after victory in the war was all but secured. The Union won. Whatever reunion needed to take place, Lincoln believed, must happen on his terms. The idea that he would allow Confederates to continue to celebrate their slave-holding “heritage” with the erection of monuments does not make sense.
  2. Metaxas seems to think that these Confederate monuments were erected during the days of Lincoln. Most of them were built in the early 20th-century as a way of defending the Confederate’s “Lost Cause”–a commitment to white supremacy. Lincoln had nothing to do with them.
  3. Lincoln was not a Christian. Nearly all Lincoln scholarship is clear about this.
  4. 2 Corinthians 5 has nothing to do with the Civil War or nationalism.
  5. But most disturbing is the fact that Barton and Metaxas seem to be endorsing a white romanticized idea of reunion and reconciliation that left out African Americans. The best book on this subject continues to be David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

Until next time.

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.

American Bible Society names its next president

Bible Cause Cover

Bob Briggs is the new president and CEO of the American Bible Society. Briggs is a good guy. While I was working on my book on The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society, I interviewed him at a Barnes & Nobles outside of Philadelphia. He was very helpful and was one of a few ABS leaders who seemed supportive of the way I was telling the story. I don’t know what he thought about the finished product, but I got the sense that he did not look upon my work with suspicion. I look forward to seeing where he takes the Society.

Here is the press release:

PHILADELPHIA, June 23, 2020: American Bible Society, one of the nation’s most enduring nonprofit organizations, announced today that Robert L. Briggs has been appointed as president and CEO of the 204-year-old Bible ministry. Briggs, who served most recently as interim president and CEO following the retirement of Roy L. Peterson has served at American Bible Society through various leadership roles for nearly 20 years.

“Robert’s time at American Bible Society has been marked by a deep love of Scripture and a passionate commitment to global Bible ministry,” said American Bible Society Chairman of the Board Jeff Brown. “Not only does he bring a wealth of experience and knowledge of the organization to the role of president, but he also has the ardor, hard-earned wisdom and grace to truly make a difference in the lives of thousands of people as he leads American Bible Society’s ministries in trauma healing, Bible translation, and Bible engagement.” 

Briggs steps into his role as president with a rich history in the transformative ministry of Bible access. Briggs has served American Bible Society in a variety of leadership roles, including senior vice president of U.S. Ministry and vice president of advancement. Prior to that, he led the Global Ministry team and served internationally as a member of the Global Council of United Bible Societies, chairing the nominations committee. He is a founding member of the steering committee for Every Tribe Every Nation, an alliance which brings together the largest Bible agencies in the world that are working to ensure that 100 percent of the world’s population have access to Scripture.

Briggs

Bob Briggs

“I am deeply humbled that the Board of Directors of American Bible Society has trusted me to step into this role. My commitment runs deep to serve those who hunger for the truth and healing that God delivers through the words of Scripture,” says Briggs. “Particularly in this moment in our history, a moment of anguish and pain for so many, the authentic message from the God of the Bible offers the hope and healing we all yearn to experience. May God help us in these days.”

American Bible Society is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded by many of the same leaders who founded the United States, including Elias Boudinot, president of the Continental Congress, and John Jay, first chief justice of the United States Today, the organization is living out its mission to see all people experience the life-changing message of God’s Word through a variety of programs, including global Bible translation and distribution, Scripture provision to armed service members, Bible-based Trauma Healing and the launch of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center.

Drawing on decades of experience, Briggs steps into the role of CEO at a time when the message of the Gospel has never been more urgent, but Bible engagement is on the decline. American Bible Society believes in the transformative power of the Scriptures to heal oppression and discouragement and bring justice and restoration. At this critical moment in our nation’s history, the need for the Bible is paramount. American Bible Society seeks to continue its legacy of innovation and ensure all have access to the Bible in a format they can understand and afford so that all people can experience its life changing message. 

Briggs and his wife Susan live in Philadelphia. They have five adult children and six grandchildren. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri and prior to joining American Bible Society, he held leadership roles with the American Diabetes Association and co-founded Cityhill, a Christian publishing company.

Tuesday night court evangelical roundup

COurt Evangelicals

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Franklin Graham is on the stump for Trump. This is from his Facebook page :

In the last presidential election in 2016, I reminded people across the country that the election was not about Donald Trump’s previous lifestyle or Hillary Clinton’s lost emails, but it was about the courts—Who do you trust to appoint conservative judges to the courts? Donald J. Trump won the election, and in the next few days he will be making his 200th judicial appointment. That’s more than any president in the last four decades during the same time frame. Thank you Mr. President! This will be a legacy that truly will keep on giving—in the lives of our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

And Twitter:

Al Mohler is questioning science and COVID-19 experts and promoting a Trumpian populism:

Charlie Kirk is running a “Students for Trump” convention in Arizona featuring Donald Trump.

A few observations:

  • In the opening prayer of this convention, the minister thanked God that “All Lives Matter.” The prayer was filled with Christian nationalism, law and order, and Trump talking points. The crowd cheered during the prayer at the appropriate points.
  • Ryan Fournier, the founder of Students for Trump, calls the event “the most aggressive political outreach movement in political presidential campaign history.” Wow!  That’s specific.
  • Florida Matt Gaetz spoke. So did Donald Trump Jr.
  • Trump said nothing new to the 2000 students who showed-up. It was just another campaign rally.

Eric Metaxas interviews one of his “mentors in terms of thinking of race in America,” conservative talk show host Larry Elder. Elder talks about his new documentary film “Uncle Tom.” Elder makes the common claim that the Democrats opposed the 13th Amendment (ending slavery), 14th Amendment (equal protection under the law for African.Americans), and 15th Amendment (African American right to vote). This is largely true, but he fails to consider that the Democratic Party of the 1860s and 1870s is not the Democratic Party of today. See Princeton historian Kevin Kruse’s debate (if you can all it that) with conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza. This entire argument ignores a fundamental element of historical thinking: change over time. Metaxas totally endorses Elder’s approach, claiming that Americans “don’t know the facts.” Elder and Metaxas are peddling some really bad history here.

Elder claims that racism “is no longer a problem” in American life. This reminds me of a family member who recently told me that I was “living in the past” by suggesting that the history of racial discrimination in America might have something to do with race in America today.

In his second hour, Metaxas and his crew argue that the division in the country is the work of Satan, “the accuser.” Metaxas has the audacity to say that Satan “takes things that are true and twists them into a lie.” Wait, I thought Metaxas supported Trump! 🙂

Metaxas wants a view of history that celebrates all that is good in America. He extols all the Bible-believing Christians who were abolitionists. Yes, this is true. There were many good Christians who fought against slavery. But the present always shapes how we think about the past. As the country is trying to come to grips with racism–both individual acts of racism and the deeper problem of systemic racism–now is the time to take a deep, hard look at how we got here. That will mean taking a hard look at the dark moments of the white evangelical past. This is not the time to get defensive and engage in whataboutism. (Hey, what about Harriet Beecher Stowe!).

Metaxas then interviews Jenna Ellis of the Liberty University Falkirk Center.  In this interview, Metaxas says that “the only reason we abolished slavery is because of the Bible.” This is not entirely true, as I argued in Believe Me.  Slaveholding southerners actually used the Bible to justify slavery and accused northern abolitionists of not being biblical enough. As multiple historians have shown, the Bible was used to fortify racial discrimination to a much greater extent than the Bible was used to end slavery or advance racial justice in America. But Metaxas doesn’t care about that. He needs a usable past. Everything else can be conveniently ignored.

Speaking of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University:

And Lance Wallnau brings the fearmongering:

Until next time.

Pence says he did not walk with Trump to the Bible photo-op at St. John’s Church out of an “abundance of caution”

Pence Liberty

If you thought Vice-President Mike Pence did not walk with Donald Trump on June 1 because he disapproved of the president using the Bible for a photo-op, think again.

Here is CBS News:

Vice President Mike Pence didn’t join President Trump for the walk to St. John’s Church “out of an abundance of caution,” he told CBS News Radio in an interview Friday.

He told CBS News correspondent Steven Portnoy that he was “encouraged” not to go, describing the situation as volatile. Presidents and vice presidents are sometimes discouraged from being at the same place at the same time.

“I was at the White House. And I was actually encouraged to stay at the White House out of an abundance of caution. It was obviously a — a volatile environment at moments, and so I was encouraged to remain. But I would have been happy to walk shoulder to shoulder across Lafayette Park with President Trump,” Pence told CBS News Radio in an interview that took place in Pittsburgh. 

Read the rest here.

Franklin Graham on Trump Waving the Bible: “I was encouraged”

Trump Graham

I missed this in my previous roundups of court evangelical responses:

From his Facebook page:

Our country has erupted in chaos. Everyone agrees that what happened to George Floyd was a terrible tragedy that should not have happened and should never happen again. But what has taken place with these riots is also a heartbreaking disaster for so many and for our nation.

I was asked if I was offended by the President walking out of the White House, which is his back yard, and walking over to St. John’s Church. Offended? Not at all. This made an important statement that what took place the night before in the burning, looting, and vandalism of the nation’s capital—including this historic house of worship—mattered, and that the lawlessness had to end.

And I’m not offended that he held up the Bible—as a matter of fact, I was encouraged! I appreciate it. I believe that God’s Word is the only hope for each individual and for our nation. The problem we are facing in this country is a spiritual and moral problem. New laws and more government give-away programs are not the answer. It’s a heart problem, and only God can change the human heart.

I’m disappointed that some of the President’s harshest critics about going to the church were clergy. They have publicly (to the media) criticized the President for walking to the church and for holding up the Bible. That’s unbelievable. They should be thanking him rather than criticizing him! They are nitpicking his gesture, also saying he should have prayed while he was there. So critical. Well, maybe they should invite him back and pray for him as he leads this country through a very difficult time in our history.

I call on all pastors, regardless of denomination, race, or political persuasion, to join hands and join hearts in praying for our nation, that God would give wisdom to our leaders—our mayors, our governors, our President Donald J. Trump, and also our law enforcement. The God of the Bible is our only hope.

Michael Gerson: “Blessed are the brutal, for they shall dominate the battlespace”

Trump Bible St. Johns

By this point, you all know the story. Former George W. Bush speech-writer, evangelical Christian, and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has weighed-in.

A taste:

The problem with symbols, however, is that they don’t interpret themselves. In other settings, holding up Holy Scripture might have been the president’s way of saying: “BIBLE GOOD!” But the context here is more sinister. Following the brutal clearing of Lafayette Square, Trump seemed to be using the Bible as a symbol of conquest. It was a bit like planting the flag at Iwo Jima — except without the courage, honor or patriotic purpose.

Christian symbols have been used this way before. In 312 A.D., on the night before a decisive battle for control of the Western Roman Empire, Constantine claimed to have the vision of a cross of light in the sky bearing the command, “In this sign, you will conquer.” Few seemed to notice the irony of using a symbol of sacrificial love as a battle standard. And a dangerous precedent was set of applying religion as a tool of tribal conquest.”

Trump is our cut-rate Constantine. He seeks to employ the sacred as a means of political influence. And more than that, he is now using the Bible to sanctify the physical abuse of peaceful protesters. It is a strategy that doubles as blasphemy. Trump is, in effect, proposing his own bent Beatitude: Blessed are the brutal, for they shall dominate the battlespace.

Read the entire piece here.

Conservative White Working Class Evangelical in Alabama on Trump’s Photo-Op With the Bible: “It made me want to throw up a little bit.”

Trump St. Johns

Matthew Teague is doing some really interesting local reporting at The Guardian on the way southern white evangelicals have been responding to Trump’s photo-op with the Bible on Monday. Yesterday, he introduced us to a woman in Tallahassee, Florida who said that Trump’s walk to St. John’s Church was a “Jericho Walk.”

In today’s piece, we meet Daphne Kidd. Here is Teague:

So while evangelicals lifted Trump to power by voting together, they may prove his undoing if a contingent breaks away. In which case his campaign might shudder to hear of evangelical believers like Anthony Kidd in Daphne, Alabama.

During the week Kidd works at a salvage yard, and on weekends he does audio work during church services. He’s conservative. 

“The past few years he has done things that are good for Christians, I’ll grant that,” he said. But when he saw Trump lift the Bible outside St John’s, he said, “It made me want to throw up a little bit.”

Read the entire piece here.

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.”

Museum of the Bible Chairman: “The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified”

Museum_190920_190835

The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. will return 11,500 antiquities to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments.  Read Gordon Govier piece at Christianity Today.

Here is the press release from the museum’s founder and chairman Steve Green:

Washington, March 26, 2020 – Museum of the Bible’s Chairman of the Board, Steve Green, makes the following statement on past acquisitions:

In 2009, when I began acquiring biblical manuscripts and artifacts for what would ultimately form the collection at Museum of the Bible, I knew little about the world of collecting.  It is well known that I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years.  One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased. 

When I purchased items in those early years, dealers would make representations about an item’s provenance, which the consultants I employed would say was sufficient.  As I came to understand taking a dealer at his or her word was not good enough, I cut ties with those consultants.  When I engaged with new advisors, I acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance and we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes.

For the past several years, the many dedicated curators at Museum of the Bible have quietly and painstakingly researched the provenance of the many thousands of items in the collection.  That work continues. 

While this research was proceeding, beginning in late 2017, we also engaged with officials in several countries, including Egypt and Iraq, to open a dialog regarding items that likely originated from those countries at some point, but for which there was insufficient reliable provenance information.  Those discussions have been fruitful, and continue to this day.    

I long ago made the decision that when our research revealed another party had a better claim to an item, I would do the right thing and deliver such items to that party.  We have already proactively made several such returns. 

Today, I am announcing that we have identified approximately 5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects with insufficient provenance that we are working to deliver to officials in Egypt and Iraq respectively.  As discussions with officials in Egypt and Iraq continued, we also engaged with officials in the U.S. government to determine the best way procedurally and logistically to make the deliveries, and are appreciative of their assistance.  We are working to finalize the deliveries in the near future.  We also hope to finalize agreements with organizations in Egypt and Iraq that will allow for us to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property.

These early mistakes resulted in Museum of the Bible receiving a great deal of criticism over the years.  The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified.  My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world.  That goal has not changed, but after some early missteps, I made the decision many years ago that, moving forward, I would only acquire items with reliable, documented provenance.  Furthermore, if I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items. 

I understand established museums, universities, and other institutions have evolved over the years and developed sound protocols for dealing with cultural property with insufficient provenance.  I intend to continue to learn from the collective efforts and wisdom of those institutions, and support every person and organization possessing such items to continue their research into the provenance of their items.

Steve Green
Chairman of the Board
Museum of the Bible

What Does the Bible Say About the Antichrist?

Anti-Christ-Luca-Signorelli2

I spent most of my late teens and early twenties getting schooled in dispensational theology.  We spent a lot of time trying to figure out when the rapture would come, the nature of the Great Tribulation, and the signs Antichrist’s coming.  I haven’t thought about this stuff in a while, but I have been struck lately by how many people–smart religious people–have been talking about the Antichrist.

A friend recently sent me a blog post by theologian Benjamin Corey, a self-identified member of the Christian Left with an masters degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Corey dug through the Bible and found every prophecy on the Antichrist.  Whatever you think about biblical prophecy, his list is very interesting, entertaining, and perhaps even revealing.

Here are a few characteristics of the Antichrist:

  • The Antichrist will be a leader of a nation that is a military superpower with the ability to trample and crush the entire earth. (Daniel 7:23)
  • The Antichrist will be a man who is exceptionally arrogant and will be known for giving boastful speeches. (Daniel 7:8, Revelation 13:5)
  • The Antichrist will be someone known for making a lot of public threats against the people (Revelation 13:2, Daniel 7:4)
  • The Antichrist will be a political outsider with despicable character and a contemptuous personality who wins an election that no one expects him to win. (Daniel 11:21)
  • The Antichrist will give speeches where he speaks “great things” and then about things that are even “greater.” (Daniel 7:20)
  • The Antichrist’s rise to power will seem like a miracle that God performed, tricking people into following Satan instead of God without even noticing. (2 Thess. 2:9)
  • Once in power the Antichrist will reveal that his heart wants to make alterations to the “appointed times” that are in current laws. (Daniel 7:25)
  • The Antichrist will make fake news popular and will be a chronic liar.  His followers will believe his delusions because they hate the truth. (Daniel 8:25, 2 Thess.2:10)
  • The Antichrist will draw strong support from many Christians as if they are willfully blind and outright delusional (Matt 24:24, 2 Thess 2:10)
  • The Antichrist will appear to receive a wound he can’t recover from, but will survive to put down the first attempts to remove him from office. (Revelation 13:3)
  • The Antichrist will worship the god of border walls. (Daniel 11:37-38)

Read the rest here.