James Dobson in September 1998 vs. James Dobson in September 2020

Court evangelical James Dobson just released his monthly newsletter. It is worth comparing what Dobson said about presidential character in 1998 with what he is saying today about presidential character.

Here is 1998 (italics mine):

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.

Read the entire statement here. The president at the time was Bill Clinton

Here is his most recent newsletter:

How will Americans, and how will you, decide who to vote for as our Chief Executive Officer? I have heard from dozens of friends and acquaintances in recent weeks who tell me they will base their decision solely on a candidate’s rhetoric, tone, style, or likeability. Does that describe your thinking process? … This vote has awesome implications for future generations and the nation we love. It is about our Constitution and the immutable, God-given rights it protects. It is about values, and truth, and greatness, and hope. That is why the notion of choosing a president based on frivolous personality characteristics is so unfortunate.

Read the entire letter here.

I think I will just leave it there.

What are the court evangelicals saying about the DNC convention?

We have now had two nights of the DNC convention. Let’s check-in on the court evangelicals:

I think this must have been taped before the convention, but watch Eric Metaxas and John Smirak mock Kamala Harris’s first name. And then they compare Harris to Jim Jones and Jonestown. Finally, they take more shots at Biden’s faith and the Catholic church.

Metaxas continues to cash-in on the Trump presidency. Today on Facebook he is promoting his new book in the “Donald the Caveman” series. It is titled Donald and the Fake News.

Fake news metaxas

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about the convention.

Robert Jeffress is countering the DNC convention with something called “Faith Week.”

“Faith Week” includes:

Pastor Jack Hibbs:

Let’s end tonight’s roundup with the Liberty University gang at the Falkirk Center:

Charlie Kirk does not seem to have recovered from Monday night’s meltdown:

And here is Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow Jenna Ellis:

This Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow is getting excited about the Republican National Convention:

And these:

Christian politics at its best (worst).

Who is Tending to Trump’s Soul?

Trump rain

When Bill Clinton was going through his impeachment ordeal in the late 1990s, he turned to several spiritual advisers to help him get through it. In September 2019, I wrote a piece at The Washington Post on how Tony Campolo, Gordon McDonald, and Philip Wogaman tended to the president’s soul during his time of crisis.

I thought about Clinton, his ministers, and my Post piece when I heard Donald Trump answer a question during yesterday’s coronavirus press conference.

The reporter asked:

I’ve got a follow up on the mask, sir. But first you mentioned Franklin Graham, talking to him. As you know, his father, Billy Graham, was a trusted spiritual advisor and friend of many presidents, a lot of your predecessors in times of national emergency reached out to pastors and other spiritual counselors. Have you done that during this national [crisis].

This reporter wanted to know if Trump was drawing upon his religious faith in these troubling times.

Here was Trump’s response:

I never say that, but Franklin Graham is somebody that’s very special. I have many very special people and a very many special in the evangelical, evangelical Christian community. You could talk rabbis, you can talk a lot of … I have tremendous support from religious leaders and Franklin Graham, I just spoke to him today for an extended period of time. I told him what a fantastic job you’re doing, and he does this. He loves doing it. He loves helping people, and he loves Jesus. Then I can tell you. He loves Jesus. He’s a great gentleman. Go ahead.

Trump obviously did not understand the question. Frankly, I am not sure how capable he is of understanding it. His response was the same kind of response he would give at a rally when he talks about his evangelical supporters and how much they support him.

I hope I am reading this wrong. I hope that Trump is getting serious and regular soul care during these troubling days.

What Should a President Say to Americans Who are Scared?

Today an NBC reporter asked Donald Trump this very question. Watch:

The reporter, Peter Alexander, later said that he was “pitching Trump a softball question.”  Watch:

If my memory serves, there was also a president who tried to calm the fears of the American people:

Here is another one:

Here is conservative commentator on Matt Lewis on Bill “I Feel Your Pain” Clinton:

 

What Did Theologians and Ethicists Say About Bill Clinton’s Impeachment in 1998?

Impeachment trial

Today I was talking to a reporter about impeachment and recalled a statement issued in 1998 by prominent American theologians and ethicists.  A really interesting mix of evangelical and non-evangelical moral philosophers signed this statement.  I have copied it below.

Could we bring such a coalition of thinkers together today as we watch another POTUS  impeached?

Why are we not getting the same kind of ecumenical statements of moral clarity today?  Legal scholars have commented on the legality of the entire Trump impeachment affair.  Historians have weighed-in as well.  Where are the ethicists?  Here you go:

Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org

To be released on 13 November 1998

As scholars interested in religion and public life, we protest the manipulation of religion and the debasing of moral language in the discussion about presidential responsibility. We believe that serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage. The resulting moral confusion is a threat to the integrity of American religion and to the foundations of a civil society. In the conviction that politics and morality cannot be separated, we consider the current crisis to be a critical moment in the life of our country and, therefore, offer the following points for consideration:

1. Many of us worry about the political misuse of religion and religious symbols even as we endorse the public mission of our churches, synagogues, and mosques. In particular we are concerned about the distortion that can come by association with presidential power in events like the Presidential Prayer Breakfast on September 11. We fear the religious community is in danger of being called upon to provide authentication for a politically motivated and incomplete repentance that seeks to avert serious consequences for wrongful acts. While we affirm that pastoral counseling sessions are an appropriate, confidential arena to address these issues, we fear that announcing such meetings to convince the public of the President’s sincerity compromises the integrity of religion.

2. We challenge the widespread assumption that forgiveness relieves a person of further responsibility and serious consequences. We are convinced that forgiveness is a relational term that does not function easily within the sphere of constitutional accountability. A wronged party chooses forgiveness instead of revenge and antagonism, but this does not relieve the wrong-doer of consequences. When the President continues to deny any liability for the sins he has confessed, this suggests that the public display of repentance was intended to avoid political disfavor.

3. We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

4. We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

5. We urge the society as a whole to take account of the ethical commitments necessary for a civil society and to seek the integrity of both public and private morality. While partisan conflicts have usually dominated past debates over public morality, we now confront a much deeper crisis, whether the moral basis of the constitutional system itself will be lost. In the present impeachment discussions, we call for national courage in deliberation that avoids ideological division and engages the process as a constitutional and ethical imperative. We ask Congress to discharge its current duty in a manner mindful of its solemn constitutional and political responsibilities. Only in this way can the process serve the good of the nation as a whole and avoid further sensationalism.

6. While some of us think that a presidential resignation or impeachment would be appropriate and others envision less drastic consequences, we are all convinced that extended discussion about constitutional, ethical, and religious issues will be required to clarify the situation and to enable a wise decision to be made. We hope to provide an arena in which such discussion can occur in an atmosphere of scholarly integrity and civility without partisan bias.

The following scholars subscribe to the Declaration:

1. Paul J. Achtemeier (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

2. P. Mark Achtemeier (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

3. LeRoy Aden (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia)

4. Diogenes Allen (Princeton Theological Seminary)

5. Joseph Alulis (North Park University)

6. Charles L. Bartow (Princeton Theological Seminary)

7. Donald G. Bloesch (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

8. Carl Braaten (Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology)

9. Manfred Brauch (Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary)

10. William P. Brown (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

11. Don S. Browning (University of Chicago)

12. Frederick S. Carney (Southern Methodist University)

13. Ellen T. Charry (Princeton Theological Seminary)

14. Karl Paul Donfried (Smith College)

15. Richard Drummond (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

16. Jean Bethke Elshtain (University of Chicago)

17. Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (Calvin College)

18. Gabriel Fackre (Andover Newton Theological School)

19. Robert Gagnon (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

20. Joel B. Green (Asbury Theological Seminary)

21. Robert H. Gundry (Westmont College)

22. Scott J. Hafemann (Wheaton College)

23. Roy A. Harrisville (Luther Theological Seminary)

24. Stanley M. Hauerwas (Duke University)

25. Gerald F. Hawthorne (Wheaton College)

26. S. Mark Heim (Andover Newton Theological School)

27. Frank Witt Hughes (Codrington College)

28. Robert Imbelli (Boston College)

29. Robert Jenson (Center for Theological Inquiry)

30. Robert Jewett (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

31. Jack Dean Kingsbury (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

32. Paul Koptak (North Park Theological Seminary)

33. John S. Lawrence (Morningside College)

34. Walter Liefeld (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

35. Troy Martin (Saint Xavier University)

36. James L. Mays (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

37. S. Dean McBride (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

38. Sheila E. McGinn (John Carroll University)

39. John R. McRay (Wheaton College)

40. Robert Meye (Fuller Theological Seminary)

41. David Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

42. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

43. Carroll D. Osburn (Abilene Christian University)

44. William A. Pannell (Fuller Theological Seminary)

45. Jon Paulien (Andrews University)

46. John Piper (Bethlehem Baptist Church)

47. Stephen Pope (Boston College)

48. J. E. Powers (Hope College

49. Mark Reasoner (Bethel College),

50. John Reumann (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia)

51. David Rhoads (Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago)

52. W. Larry Richards (Andrews University)

53. Daniel E. Ritchie (Bethel College)

54. Joel Samuels (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

55. David Scholer (Fuller Theological Seminary)

56. Keith Norman Schoville (University of Wisconsin)

57. J. Julius Scott (Wheaton College)

58. Mark Seifrid (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

59. Christopher R. Seitz (St. Andrews University)

60. Klyne Snodgrass (North Park Theological Seminary)

61. Max Stackhouse (Princeton Theological Seminary)

62. W. Richard Stegner (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

63. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

64. R. Franklin Terry (Morningside College)

65. David Tiede (Luther Theological Seminary)

66. Reinder Van Til (Eerdmans Publishing Company)

67. Warren Wade (North Park University)

68. J. Ross Wagner (Princeton Theological Seminary)

69. David H. Wallace (American Baptist Seminary of the West)

70. Timothy P. Weber (Northern Baptist Theological Seminary)

71. Merold Westphal (Fordham University)

72. Jonathan R. Wilson (Westmont College)

73. Edward and Anne Wimberly (Interdenominational Theological Center)

74. Harry Yeide (George Washington University)

Trump’s Narcissism is Again Revealed as the House Announces Articles of Impeachment

Image: US-MEXICO-CANADA-TRADE

This morning the leaders of the House of Representatives stood in front of a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 “Lansdowne portrait” of George Washington and announced, for only the fourth time in United States history, articles of impeachment against the President of the United States.

The President, of course, is tweeting about it:

 

These are the desperate cries of a man who has committed high crimes and misdemeanors against his country.  He has abused his power and obstructed the House impeachment investigation.  Trump’s tweets remind me of this scene from November 17, 1973:

Nixon understood the gravity of his impeachment in the larger context of American history.  So, it seems, does Bill Clinton.  They both admitted (eventually) that they had done something wrong.  Clinton even described his behavior as “sin.”

Trump, on the other hand, thinks he has done nothing wrong.   Some people believe that Trump knows he is guilty, but continues to tell the American people that he is innocent because he wants to remain in power and preserve his legacy.  There is a lot of evidence to support this theory.

But what if Trump believes he is innocent because he has absolutely no understanding of American history, the U.S. Constitution, or the meaning of impeachment?  Here, again, is what I wrote about the relationship between narcissism and American history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

But the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them.  His approach to history also reveals his narcissism.  When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story.  As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of non-violent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”  Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.”  The columnist is right:  Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself.  Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office.  Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind.  This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it.  Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity….

Is Trump capable of understanding the gravity of what is happening to his presidency right now?

The Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton Articles of Impeachment

Impeachment

With two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump set to be released tomorrow (Tuesday), I thought I would offer some historical context by providing the articles of impeachment for Clinton, Nixon, and Johnson.  (Only Clinton and Johnson were impeached.  Nixon resigned before the Senate trial).

Clinton Articles of Impeachment:

RESOLVED, That William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors . . .

Article One: In his conduct while President of the United States . . . in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of the President . . . has . . . undermined the integrity of his office . . . betrayed his trust as President . . . and acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law by:

  • willfully corrupting and manipulating the judicial process of the United States for his personal gain and exoneration
  • willfully committing perjury by providing false and misleading testimony to the grand jury in relation to his relationship with an employee
  • willfully committing perjury by providing false and misleading testimony to the grand jury in relation to prior perjurious testimony in a civil rights action brought against him
  • allowing his attorney to make false and misleading statements in the same civil rights action
  • attempting to influence witness testimony and slow the discovery of evidence in that civil rights action

Article Three: . . . has [in the Paula Jones Case] prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice by:

  • encouraging a witness to give a perjurious affidavit
  • encouraging a witness to give false testimony if called to the stand
  • allowing and/or encouraging the concealment of subpoenaed evidence
  • attempting to sway a witness testimony by providing a job for that witness
  • allowing his attorney to make misleading testimony
  • giving false or misleading information to influence the testimony of a potential witness in a Federal civil rights action
  • giving false or misleading information to influence the testimony of a witness in a grand jury investigation

 

Nixon Articles of Impeachment:

RESOLVED, That Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. . . .

Article One: [for] making false or misleading statement to delay, cover up, or conceal evidence relating to the Watergate break-ins by:

  • making false and misleading statements to the government and the people
  • withholding information
  • allowing/encouraging witnesses to give false or misleading statements
  • attempting to interfere with FBI and other investigations into the break-ins
  • allowing secret payments to influence witnesses
  • attempting to misuse the CIA
  • leaking information about the investigation to help the accused
  • insinuating that people who refuse to testify against him or who give false testimony will receive favors

Article Two: . . . [for having] engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens . . . and impairing the due and proper administration of justice . . . by:

  • using confidential tax return information to initiate tax audits in a discriminatory manner
  • misusing the FBI, Secret Service, and other government employees by allowing their information to be used for purposes other than national security or the enforcement of laws
  • allowing a secret investigative unit within his office
  • using campaign contributions and the CIA in an attempt to sway the fair trial process
  • has failed in faithfully executing the law
  • knowingly misusing the executive power by interfering with agencies within the executive branch

Article Three: . . . has willfully disobeyed the subpoenas of and failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and information for the House Judiciary Committee . . . assuming to himself the functions and judgments given to the House of Representatives by the Constitution.

Andrew Johnson Articles of Impeachment

Read all 11 articles here.

Today’s Piece at *The Washington Post*: Clinton’s Evangelical Advisers vs. Trump’s Evangelical Advisers

Clinton I have sinned

A taste:

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Read the entire piece here.

Jake Tapper: Evangelical Support for Donald Trump is Similar to Feminist Support for Bill Clinton

Lewinsky

Here is a taste of Peter Rothpletz’s interview with the CNN anchor at The Yale Politic:

I think Trump and Trumpism is a manifestation of many different parts of American popular cultural and societal evolution including the increasing importance of celebrity, the lack of faith in experts, the populist distrust of intellectualism, the moral compromises made by supporters of Bill Clinton. I think today you see Evangelicals making compromises about President Trump similar to how in the 90s we saw feminists making compromises about Bill Clinton. He and his personal behavior were reprehensible to everything that they stood for in terms of feminism but by the same token he was taking many feminist, progressive, capital D Democratic actions… The same can be said when it comes to President Trump with conservative Evangelical Christians.

Read the entire interview here.

What Franklin Graham Said About the “Private Sins” of Bill Clinton in 1998

graham_c0-220-4869-3058_s885x516

Earlier today we did a post on Franklin Graham’s statement that Donald Trump’s adulterous affair with Stormy Daniels was “nobody’s business.”  His views on these things have apparently changed.  This 1998 piece is really revealing:

From the Wall Street JournalAugust 27, 1998:

Few people have lived a more public life over the past 50 years than has my father, Billy Graham. I can assure you that the Billy Graham you see in public is the same one we children have seen at home. He has spent a lifetime making sure that his public ministry is confirmed in his private behavior.

The topic of private vs. public behavior has emerged as perhaps the central moral issue raised by Bill Clinton’s “improper relationship” with Monica Lewinsky. Much of America seems to have succumbed to the notion that what a person does in private has little bearing on his public actions or job performance, even if he is the president of the United States.

Last week Mr. Clinton told 70 million Americans that his adulterous actions with Ms. Lewinsky were a “private” matter “between me, the two people I love the most–my wife and our daughter–and our God.”

But the God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter. Mr. Clinton’s months-long extramarital sexual behavior in the Oval Office now concerns him and the rest of the world, not just his immediate family. If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?

Private conduct does have public consequences. Some of Mr. Clinton’s defenders present King David of the Bible, one of history’s great leaders, as an example as they call on us to forgive and forget the president’s moral failings. Since God pardoned David’s adulterous act with Bathsheba, the reasoning goes, we should similarly forgive Mr. Clinton.

But forgiveness is not the end of David’s story. Huge consequences followed immediately. The prophet Nathan confronted David with the news that while his life would be spared, the life of his child would be extinguished after just seven days on earth. Bathsheba’s husband and others were killed in an attempt to cover up the illicit affair. David, who confessed his sin when confronted by Nathan (perhaps God’s special prosecutor), also witnessed a bloody coup attempt by his own son, Absalom. He was never the same king.

The private acts of any person are never done in secret. God sees and judges all sin, and while He seeks to restore the offender with love and grace, He does not necessarily remove all the consequences of our sin. As a boy I remember my mother telling me of the consequences of sin. Like a boat, whose wake can capsize other boats, sin leaves a wake. Just look at how many have already been pulled under by the wake of the president’s sin: Mr. Clinton’s wife and daughter, Ms. Lewinsky, her parents, White House staff members, friends and supporters, public officials and an unwitting American public.

Mr. Clinton’s sin can be forgiven, but he must start by admitting to it and refraining from legalistic doublespeak. According to the Scripture, the president did not have an “inappropriate relationship” with Monica Lewinsky–he committed adultery. He didn’t “mislead” his wife and us–he lied.

Acknowledgment must be coupled with genuine remorse. A repentant spirit that says, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I won’t do it again. I ask for your forgiveness,” would go a long way toward personal and national healing.\

The scandal of Mr. Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky has forced us to examine the morality of public and private behavior with new intellectual and spiritual vigor. There needs to be no clash between personal conduct and public appearance. Throughout my life, I have seen consistency of the two in the Graham house. I pray this will also be true in the White House.

Thanks to Kyle Mantyla for sending this my way.

Franklin Graham is not the first court evangelical to forget about what he said in 1998.

Click here for James Dobson

Click here for Gary Bauer

 

Who Do Evangelicals Trust on Politics?

Trump Beleive me

A recent poll has found that almost fifty percent of evangelicals say a Donald Trump recommendation would make them more likely to vote for a candidate.  Meanwhile, fifty-four percent of evangelicals said a Hillary Clinton endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidates.

Here is the list of evangelicals’ most-trusted celebrity endorsers:

  1. Donald Trump
  2. Mike Pence
  3. George W. Bush
  4. Paul Ryan
  5. Barack Obama
  6. Michelle Obama
  7. Oprah
  8. Joel Osteen
  9. Bernie Sanders
  10. Jerry Falwell Jr.

Here is the list of evangelical’s least-trusted celebrity endorsers:

  1. Hillary Clinton
  2. Kim Kardashian
  3. Nancy Pelosi
  4. Bill Clinton
  5. Kanye West
  6. Barack Obama
  7. Michelle Obama
  8. Beyonce
  9. Ellen DeGeneres
  10. Bernie Sanders

Kate Shellnut has a story on this survey at Christianity Today.  Read it here.

A few quick observations:

  • Joel Osteen is the only minister who made the top ten.
  • Evangelicals trust Oprah more than ministers to offer them political advice.
  • The Obamas and Bernie Sanders are on both lists.
  • Evangelicals do not take political advice from Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Beyonce, and Ellen, but the fact they they made the “least-trusted” list shows that they are clearly obsessed with these celebrities.

Court Evangelical James Dobson Calls for a Day of Prayer for Trump

Listen to court evangelical James Dobson speaking to a group called Intercessors for America:

Bill Clinton also had “many opponents.”  James Dobson was one of the most vocal of those opponents.  Where was Dobson when Clinton needed fasting and prayer?  Dobson says “that the Lord played a role in the election of Donald Trump.”  Did the Lord play a role in the election of Bill Clinton?

Click here to learn what James Dobson said in 1998 about the essential role of presidential character.

Let’s play Dobson’s game of providential history for a moment.  Perhaps Bill Clinton’s impeachment was ordained by God because God knew people like James Dobson and other leaders of the Christian Right would say things about Clinton that would later be raised during the Trump era to show the Christian Right’s hypocrisy.  In other words, Clinton was part of God’s divine plan to reveal the hypocrisy of the Christian Right and call His evangelical followers to stop trying to advance His Kingdom through electoral and partisan politics. 🙂

I should also add that many evangelicals are starting to see the hypocrisy inherent in the church on matters related to politics.  I talked to several of them yesterday at church.  One member of my evangelical congregation, who I met for the first time yesterday, described it this way: “We elected Satan in order to get a Supreme Court justice.”

Stay tuned.  I discuss much of this, including Dobson and the rest of the court evangelicals, in my forthcoming Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The good folks at Eerdmans Publishing tell me that pre-orders are very important for getting the message of this book to a wide Christian audience.

 

Today’s Court Evangelicals Once Believed That “Character is Destiny”

Gary Bauer

At the time Gary Bauer wrote this he was the president of American Renewal, a public policy organization that promotes family, faith and freedom.  He was also the president of the Family Research Council..  Today he is a prominent court evangelical.

A taste:

The highly educated people who daily hold forth at our nation’s universities, on the editorial pages of major newspapers, and in network television studios could learn a great deal if they would stop and listen to the wisdom of children. Take, for example, the children who recently gave the New York Times their reaction to the scandal swirling around President Clinton.

Eleven-year-old Keith Lynch of the Bronx said, “He’s lying to people who love him and trust him. That’s no President to me. He should be ashamed of himself for teaching kids bad things.” Tyrone Strother, 15, also of the Bronx, said, “He went to lie school, not law school.”

Cory Hinojosa, a Houston seven-year-old, knows that lying is wrong. When he lies, he says, he gets a “time-out.” Says Cory, “They should give a punishment like not to be President the rest of the year.”

The point here is that children inhabit a moral universe. There is a law, St. Paul says, “written on the hearts of men” that gives us a sense of right and wrong. These kids know right from wrong. Dare we reeducate them to believe that there is no truth, that there are no consequences for bad behavior?

On inauguration day 1993, Bill Clinton led a children’s parade across the Memorial Bridge into Washington. He sought to symbolize his leadership of this new generation. He would be the President to lead all of us into the 21 st Century.

Children, at least those who have already been born, have been at the center of countless Clinton pronouncements during the past six years. Now, however, his bridge to the 21st Century is crumbling, and the children are at grave risk.

These children cannot be set adrift into a culture that tells them that lying is okay, that fidelity is old-fashioned and that character doesn’t count. Every American parent’s job has been made more difficult by this debacle. The virtue deficit has grown.

Day after day, children hear adults saying that it doesn’t matter if the President lied. After all this is just about sex. Everyone lies about sex, they are told. These messages are abominable, and the messengers must be vigorously rebuked.

Our nation has reached a disturbing pass when the mass of allegations and evidence swirling around our President requires parents in every part of the country to clutch the TV remote for fear that some news about the highest official in the land will reach their children’s ears.

The seamy facts under public discussion are shameful enough. But fascination with this story should not be allowed to obscure the deeper lesson these incidents impart. That lesson is this: Character counts–in a people, in the institutions of our society, and in our national leadership.

In character is destiny. Our founders believed and set down in their own words that only a virtuous people could remain free.

Edmund Burke reminded us that people who are enslaved to their passions only “forge their own fetters”–they cannot be free. Those moral chains, in a world where self-government is eroded, swiftly become physical chains of iron.

There are those who say that we must recognize absolute boundaries between public and private behavior. If all that matters is the quality of the job an individual does, then it is the concern of no one that a corporate executive sexually harasses every woman in his vicinity. Or that a securities expert beats his wife. And the lawmaker with his hand out for a bribe is home free, too, so long as he brings back the pork or the local economy hums.

Whatever we believe about these things, we must recognize this: Our nation’s founders believed otherwise. They understood that the fate of the nation they established was mortally linked to the character of the people who inhabited it.

They called such character indispensable. They knew the human truth that private deeds spill over into public philosophy and public actions. And they also knew that the mixture of power with corrupt character was nothing short of deadly.

Samuel Adams, in a letter written in 1775, told a friend, “He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard for his country.”

Source:  Gary Bauer, “Clinton Corrupts Our National Culture,” Human Events, September 25, 1998. (Cover story).

This article is not online, but you can look it up through Academic Search Complete if your institution subscribes.

Here is Bauer in the Oval Office earlier this year.  He is standing to Paula White’s right.  (White is in the red dress).

What Did Christian Scholars of Religion and Public Life Say About Bill Clinton in 1998?

Clinton Tix

Tickets to the Clinton Impeachment Trial (Wikimedia Commons)

One of my Facebook followers recently called my attention to a 1998 document that has some implications for our present moment.  The “Declaration concerning religion, ethnics and the crisis in the Clinton presidency” was signed by religious leaders and scholars seeking to bring some moral clarity to the nation during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

Look closely at the people who signed this statement. The signers include Catholics, theological liberals, mainline Protestants, progressive evangelicals, evangelicals who might be described as theologically “conservative,” and everyone in-between.

There are parts of this statement that are still useful as we deal with our current president.  I am struck that the writer of this statement is reflecting on how to deal with a president–Bill Clinton–who has asked forgiveness for his indiscretions.  How does this statement hold up today with a president who does not believe in asking for forgiveness?

Here is the entire document:

Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency

POSTED ON NOVEMBER 16, 1998 BY ADMIN IN PRESBYTERIAN NEWS AND ANALYSIS

Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org

To be released on 13 November 1998

As scholars interested in religion and public life, we protest the manipulation of religion and the debasing of moral language in the discussion about presidential responsibility. We believe that serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage. The resulting moral confusion is a threat to the integrity of American religion and to the foundations of a civil society. In the conviction that politics and morality cannot be separated, we consider the current crisis to be a critical moment in the life of our country and, therefore, offer the following points for consideration:

1. Many of us worry about the political misuse of religion and religious symbols even as we endorse the public mission of our churches, synagogues, and mosques. In particular we are concerned about the distortion that can come by association with presidential power in events like the Presidential Prayer Breakfast on September 11. We fear the religious community is in danger of being called upon to provide authentication for a politically motivated and incomplete repentance that seeks to avert serious consequences for wrongful acts. While we affirm that pastoral counseling sessions are an appropriate, confidential arena to address these issues, we fear that announcing such meetings to convince the public of the President’s sincerity compromises the integrity of religion.

2. We challenge the widespread assumption that forgiveness relieves a person of further responsibility and serious consequences. We are convinced that forgiveness is a relational term that does not function easily within the sphere of constitutional accountability. A wronged party chooses forgiveness instead of revenge and antagonism, but this does not relieve the wrong-doer of consequences. When the President continues to deny any liability for the sins he has confessed, this suggests that the public display of repentance was intended to avoid political disfavor.

3. We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

4. We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

5. We urge the society as a whole to take account of the ethical commitments necessary for a civil society and to seek the integrity of both public and private morality. While partisan conflicts have usually dominated past debates over public morality, we now confront a much deeper crisis, whether the moral basis of the constitutional system itself will be lost. In the present impeachment discussions, we call for national courage in deliberation that avoids ideological division and engages the process as a constitutional and ethical imperative. We ask Congress to discharge its current duty in a manner mindful of its solemn constitutional and political responsibilities. Only in this way can the process serve the good of the nation as a whole and avoid further sensationalism.

6. While some of us think that a presidential resignation or impeachment would be appropriate and others envision less drastic consequences, we are all convinced that extended discussion about constitutional, ethical, and religious issues will be required to clarify the situation and to enable a wise decision to be made. We hope to provide an arena in which such discussion can occur in an atmosphere of scholarly integrity and civility without partisan bias.

The following scholars subscribe to the Declaration:

1. Paul J. Achtemeier (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

2. P. Mark Achtemeier (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

3. LeRoy Aden (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia)

4. Diogenes Allen (Princeton Theological Seminary)

5. Joseph Alulis (North Park University)

6. Charles L. Bartow (Princeton Theological Seminary)

7. Donald G. Bloesch (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

8. Carl Braaten (Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology)

9. Manfred Brauch (Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary)

10. William P. Brown (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

11. Don S. Browning (University of Chicago)

12. Frederick S. Carney (Southern Methodist University)

13. Ellen T. Charry (Princeton Theological Seminary)

14. Karl Paul Donfried (Smith College)

15. Richard Drummond (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

16. Jean Bethke Elshtain (University of Chicago)

17. Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (Calvin College)

18. Gabriel Fackre (Andover Newton Theological School)

19. Robert Gagnon (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

20. Joel B. Green (Asbury Theological Seminary)

21. Robert H. Gundry (Westmont College)

22. Scott J. Hafemann (Wheaton College)

23. Roy A. Harrisville (Luther Theological Seminary)

24. Stanley M. Hauerwas (Duke University)

25. Gerald F. Hawthorne (Wheaton College)

26. S. Mark Heim (Andover Newton Theological School)

27. Frank Witt Hughes (Codrington College)

28. Robert Imbelli (Boston College)

29. Robert Jenson (Center for Theological Inquiry)

30. Robert Jewett (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

31. Jack Dean Kingsbury (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

32. Paul Koptak (North Park Theological Seminary)

33. John S. Lawrence (Morningside College)

34. Walter Liefeld (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

35. Troy Martin (Saint Xavier University)

36. James L. Mays (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

37. S. Dean McBride (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

38. Sheila E. McGinn (John Carroll University)

39. John R. McRay (Wheaton College)

40. Robert Meye (Fuller Theological Seminary)

41. David Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

42. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

43. Carroll D. Osburn (Abilene Christian University)

44. William A. Pannell (Fuller Theological Seminary)

45. Jon Paulien (Andrews University)

46. John Piper (Bethlehem Baptist Church)

47. Stephen Pope (Boston College)

48. J. E. Powers (Hope College

49. Mark Reasoner (Bethel College),

50. John Reumann (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia)

51. David Rhoads (Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago)

52. W. Larry Richards (Andrews University)

53. Daniel E. Ritchie (Bethel College)

54. Joel Samuels (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

55. David Scholer (Fuller Theological Seminary)

56. Keith Norman Schoville (University of Wisconsin)

57. J. Julius Scott (Wheaton College)

58. Mark Seifrid (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

59. Christopher R. Seitz (St. Andrews University)

60. Klyne Snodgrass (North Park Theological Seminary)

61. Max Stackhouse (Princeton Theological Seminary)

62. W. Richard Stegner (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

63. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

64. R. Franklin Terry (Morningside College)

65. David Tiede (Luther Theological Seminary)

66. Reinder Van Til (Eerdmans Publishing Company)

67. Warren Wade (North Park University)

68. J. Ross Wagner (Princeton Theological Seminary)

69. David H. Wallace (American Baptist Seminary of the West)

70. Timothy P. Weber (Northern Baptist Theological Seminary)

71. Merold Westphal (Fordham University)

72. Jonathan R. Wilson (Westmont College)

73. Edward and Anne Wimberly (Interdenominational Theological Center)

74. Harry Yeide (George Washington University)

What Did James Dobson Tell the National Association of Evangelicals When It Invited Bill Clinton to Its “Annual Event?”

Brantley Gasaway, an American religious historian at Bucknell University and author of the excellent Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justicetweeted this letter today in response to my Washington Post piece on the court evangelicals. It comes from the archives of the National Association of Evangelicals at Wheaton College.

The letter is written from James Dobson of Focus on the Family to Robert “Bob” Dugan Jr., the director of the NAE’s Office of Public Affairs.  Dobson is worried that if President Bill Clinton was invited to this NAE event it would “divide the evangelical community.”

Yes, times have changed.

Here is a transcription:

Feb[ruary 26, [19]94

Bob, My Friend

I think NAE has made a serious costly mistake by inviting the President to your annual event.  He wants to divide the evangelical community. NAE just helped him do it.  I’m disappointed!  Jim.

Dobson.jpg-large

Does anyone know if Clinton came to this “annual event?”

Should “Trump-Loving” Evangelicals Apologize to Bill Clinton?

TRUMPBILL-facebookJumbo-v2

James Dobson made a strong case for the moral character of the President of the United States during the Clinton impeachment crisis in 1998.  You can read about it here.

So did Wayne Grudem.  You can read about it here.

It has now been well-chronicled that Dobson and Grudem have come out in support of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

So does moral character still matter?

Writing at The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt calls attention to what seems to be the hypocrisy of these “Trump-Loving evangelicals.” He demands that “Trump-loving evangelicals should either apologize to Bill Clinton or admit, after all these years, that they too, have a character issue.”

He adds:

“Character counts.” That was evangelicals’ rallying cry in their all-out assault against Bill Clinton beginning in 1993. In response to what they perceived as widespread moral decline, some religious groups had become aligned with the Republican Party during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. To them, the allegedly draft-dodging, pot-smoking, honesty-challenged womanizer symbolized everything that was wrong with America.

More than two decades after Clinton’s first inauguration, many evangelical leaders of that era have endorsed the draft-dodging, foul-mouthed, honesty-challenged womanizer named Donald Trump for president. Only a handful refuse to follow suit, including Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the Clinton years, he regularly argued in mainstream media outlets that the Arkansan was morally unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president,” Mohler says, “I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”

At least Mohler is consistent, which is more than can be said for some of his peers in leadership. While prominent evangelicals tied Bill Clinton to the public whipping post for nearly a decade to make him pay penance for his character defects, they now celebrate a reality-television star who is at least as flawed. As Mohler said, if these Christian leaders want to endorse Trump, they should apologize to Bill Clinton…

…Evangelicals during the ’90s were not merely concerned with Clinton’s private behavior; they were worried about its effect on a society they felt had already abandoned traditional values. In September 1998, James Dobson of Focus on the Family sent a letter to 2.4 million conservative Christians claiming Clinton should be impeached because his behavior was setting a bad example for our children about “respecting women.” Dobson’s apparent concern for women back then feels like a partisan political move now that he’s given Trump an enthusiastic endorsement.

While Clinton, at least, hid his indiscretions, Trump has paraded his affairs down Broadway for decades. In The Art of the Deal, Trump actually bragged about bedding multiple married women. He’s slept with so many women that he called his ability to avoid STDs “my personal Vietnam.” He’s objectified or insulted the women he hasn’t married, divorced, or slept with, labeling those he finds unattractive with terms like “fat pig,” “dog” or “slob.” In numerous interviews with Howard Stern, he talked in graphic detail about his sexual exploits and discussed which female celebrities are worth a “bang.” How exactly do evangelicals reconcile this behavior with claims that they value respect for women?

Read the entire piece here.

OK, now some thoughts for my evangelical and Christian readers:

There have been a lot of arguments in the evangelical community about whether one should or should not support Trump.  As I argued yesterday, the pro-Trump argument centers on his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. But I hear very little conversation within evangelical circles about how support for Donald Trump impacts Christian witness in the United States and beyond.  No one is talking about how a Trump-loving evangelical bears testimony to his or her faith with unbelievers.  (Last time I checked evangelism was a fundamental tenet of evangelical belief).

Whether we like it or not, or whether it is fair or not, we live in an age when religious conviction and politics are closely linked in the minds of many Americans. If you are an evangelical who supports Trump you are going to have a lot of explaining to do when unbelieving friends and acquaintances ask you how you claim the name of Jesus Christ and still affiliate with the immoral candidate that Merritt describes above.  Somehow I don’t think “well, Hillary is a lot worse” or “we need to win the Supreme Court” is going to be an adequate answer.

What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998

grudemI am guessing a lot of my readers have never heard of Wayne Grudem.  He is an evangelical theologian and the author of a very popular one-volume treatment of evangelical systematic theology. He is also well-known within evangelical circles for defending a “complementarian” view of gender roles in the church and society.

Grudem is the quintessential evangelical insider.  He speaks and writes for evangelical churches and rarely ventures out of this subculture to engage a broader American public. This is why most people outside of evangelicalism have never heard of him.

When I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1989-1992) I took a theology course with Grudem.  I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that Grudem spent a lot of time talking about his work on the Biblical idea of prophecy. (I also remember having to read all of Calvin’s Institutes!). He would eventually argue that today’s Christians needed to reclaim the gift of prophecy.  If I remember correctly, he argued that the Holy Spirit could bring divine revelation to a believer’s mind.

During my time at Trinity I attended a major conference called “Evangelical Affirmations.” The purpose of the conference was to draw clearly defined theological boundaries around the word “evangelical.”  Leading evangelical theologians and pastors (mostly conservative evangelicals who upheld the doctrine of biblical inerrancy)  gathered on the Trinity campus in Deerfield, Illinois to try to figure out who was “in” and who was “out.”

One of the most heated debates focused on whether one could truly be called an “evangelical” if he or she did not believe that hell was a literal place–a place of fire and brimstone where unbelievers would spend eternity suffering for rejecting the Christian gospel.  I am guessing that most of the delegates to the Evangelical Affirmations conference would have affirmed the existence of such a place of eternal torment, but whether its literal existence should serve as a defining marker of evangelical faith was complicated by the beliefs of one man: John Stott.

Next to Billy Graham, John Stott is probably the most important and well-respected evangelical of the post-war era.  Even New York Times columnist David Brooks has sung his praises as a thoughtful, wise, humble, and respectable voice of modern evangelicalism.

Stott did not believe in a literal hell.

When the majority of delegates said that a true “evangelical” must believe in a literal hell, someone stood up (I can’t remember who it was) and begged, quite passionately I might add, that the group not define evangelicalism so narrowly that someone as influential as Stott would be excluded. (Stott was not present at the meeting).  Debate raged

Midway through this heated discussion about hell and John Stott, Wayne Grudem stood up.  I remember it vividly.  Grudem recognized Stott’s evangelical faith and his contribution to global evangelicalism, but he also articulated his strong conviction that the evangelical movement must, Stott or no Stott, affirm a belief in a literal hell.

I remember Grudem speaking with a great deal of certainty that day.  Frankly, I could not interpret his words apart from what he was teaching in his class about the so-called gift of prophecy.

I thought about this moment, and Grudem’s views on prophecy, when I read his recent article endorsing Donald Trump for President of the United States.  You can read it here.  I am not going to use this post to argue with his political views.  Later this week I will be a guest on a Christianity Today podcast that, from what I understand, will be using Grudem’s piece as a framing device for a larger discussion on evangelicals and the 2016 election. I will probably offer some history-informed commentary there.  I also appreciate the responses to Grudem’s piece written by Jonathan Merritt, Thomas KiddWarren Throckmorton, David French, Beth Allison Barr, Scot McKnight, Randal Rauser, David Moore, and John Mark Reynolds. Check them out.

In his argument in favor of Trump, Grudem wrote:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

It seems like Grudem wants to ignore these character issues when it comes to Trump’s candidacy.  But back in 1998 he thought that the character of the POTUS was important. Here is a taste of a statement that evangelical leaders signed in response to the moral indiscretions of President Bill Clinton:

We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

(Thanks to Katie Manzullo-Thomas and Devin Manzullo-Thomas for digging up this statement when I was writing in June about James Dobson’s support of Trump).

I am not sure which Wayne Grudem to believe–the 1998 anti-Clinton version or the 2016 pro-Trump version.  Perhaps Grudem has changed his mind about presidential character.

Whatever one thinks about Grudem’s views of prophecy, it is worth noting that he does think that prophets are human and sometimes may be wrong. On page 69 of his book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today he writes: “The prophet could err, could misinterpret, and could be questioned or challenged at any point.”