Monday night court evangelical roundup

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

Greg Laurie is still suggesting that the United States was “born out of a revival.” I addressed the many problems with this view here. In fact, religious attendance and membership was at an all-time low during the Revolution.

Johnnie Moore, who calls himself a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” loves Trump’s idea for a “National Garden of American Heroes.”

I wrote about this proposed garden here.

Moore also believes that “primary sources” exist in a vacuum. Most first-year history majors can debunk this approach to reading:

Ralph Reed, as always, is sticking to the playbook:

David Barton and his son Tim are on the Jim Bakker Show talking about monuments. For years, Barton ignored the parts of American history that did not fit with his Christian nationalism. Now he is talking about how we need to see the “good, the bad, and the ugly” of American history. At one point, David Barton compares himself and his son to the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha. He praises Tim for training young people to go to their campuses and convince their professors to reject “cultural Marxism” and “cancel culture.” I have now said this several times–the small number of people who are tearing down non-Confederate monuments are providing fodder for this kind of stuff.

Any history teacher who watches this video, and hears the Bartons attack the “dumb” and “stupid” ideas being taught in schools, should be offended. I wonder how many times either David or Tim Barton have set foot in a public school history classroom.

This video is a clear example of the Barton’s Christian nationalist mission. And they are well-funded.

The Bartons came back for a second day on the Jim Bakker Show and basically told viewers that if they don’t vote for Trump the United States will become socialist. The fear-mongering continues. In this interview, they double-down on the idea that anyone who does not vote for Trump is not “thinking biblically.” According to Tim Barton, only about 10% of self-professed Christians are actually “thinking biblically.” The rest “love Jesus” but are ignorant.

Eric Metaxas is still playing to the extremes in order to scare his listeners. Most people in the United States are not engaged in the tearing down of monuments. Most local governments are not trying to remove non-Confederate monuments or erase history.  He plays to these extremes because he wants Trump re-elected and he needs to keep his show on the air. This is what cultural warriors do.

Metaxas keeps pushing his seriously-flawed book If You Can Keep It. He says that the American history kids are getting in schools today is making them ignorant. As I said above in relation to David and Tim Barton, this is a sad attack on hard-working history teachers who are teaching students how to read primary sources, weigh evidence, detect bias, think contextually, appreciate complexity, and grasp how things change over time. When was the last time Metaxas talked with a K-12 history teacher or visited a history classroom?

The fear-mongering continues with Metaxas’s guest John Zmirak. Their discussion of the history of the French Revolution takes so many liberties with the facts that I am not sure where to begin with my critique. Perhaps a European historian can listen to this and comment. Zmirak then refers to political scientist Mark David Hall’s book defending a Christian founding. I haven’t read this book, but you can see a discussion of it here.

The Metaxas-Zmirak conversation moves to a full-blown rejection of systemic racism and a defense of Robert E. Lee monuments. The kind of hate that is now propagated on the Eric Metaxas Show–a show on “Christian” radio–looks nothing like the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don’t understand how Metaxas could have read so much Bonhoeffer and still engage in this garbage. I’ll stick with Charles Marsh on Bonhoeffer: here and here. I would also encourage you to read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and compare his words with what you hear on the Eric Metaxas Show.

In one of the more ironic lines of this episode, court evangelical Metaxas criticizes the Democratic Party for refusing to “stand against the madness.”

That’s all for today. Until next time.

Wednesday Night Court Evangelical Roundup

Court Evangelicals at Table

Since my last update, a few things have changed in court evangelical land. Neil Gorsuch, one of two Donald Trump Supreme Court nominees, has defended LGBTQ rights and has proven he may not be the best court evangelical ally when it comes to questions of religious liberty. I imagine some evangelicals who are looking for a reason to reject Trump at the ballot box in November may have just found one.

Police reform and debates over systemic racism continue to dominate the headlines. On the COVID-19 front, more and more churches are opening this weekend and Donald Trump is preparing for a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What do the court evangelicals have to say?

In an interview with Charisma magazine, James Dobson writes:

In an outrageous ruling that should shake America’s collective conscience to its core, the U.S. Supreme Court has redefined the meaning of “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Not only was this decision an affront against God, but it was also a historical attack against the founding framework that governs our nation.

Dobson says nothing about Trump or how Gorsuch burned white evangelicals on this decision.

I don’t know if Louie Giglio supports Trump, but he is now apologizing for his use of the phrase “White Blessing”:

The apology seems honest and sincere.

Jenetzen Franklin praises Trump as a great listener and defender of law and order.  But Trump’s police reform speech failed to address the systemic problem of racism in America. It attacked Obama and Biden and it defended Confederate monuments. Is this big action?

Johnnie Moore, the guy who describes himself as a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” is doing the same thing as Jenetzen:

Greg Laurie interviewed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on police reform. Scott talks about the “character” of police officers and shows a solid understanding of the Bible, but the issues of racism in America go much deeper than this. I encourage you to listen to Gettysburg College professor’s Scott Hancock upcoming interview at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

The Laurie-Scott conversation is a step in the right direction, but it focuses on striking a balance between law and order (Scott quotes Romans 13) and individual acts of racism.  The real conversation should be over to have an ordered society and address systemic racism. Today, for example, Scott said that the United States is not a racist country.

Robert Jeffress is “thrilled” to have Mike Pence speak at his church for “Freedom Sunday.” Expect fireworks. Literal fireworks! Once again, it will be God and country on display.

Here is another view of Pence.

Last Sunday, Jeffress addressed the Floyd murder and its aftermath with his congregation at First Baptist-Dallas. He summarized his response to our current moment in three statements:

1. God hates racism. Jeffress FINALLY admits that First Baptist Church was on “the wrong side of history” on matters relating to race. This is a huge step! It would have been nice to have this history included in the church’s 150th anniversary celebration, but I don’t think I have ever heard Jeffress say this publicly.  Let’s see where this goes. First Baptist-Dallas has some reckoning with the past to do.

2. God hates lawlessness. Jeffress says that there is “nothing wrong” with peaceful protests, but he condemns the looting and riots. He does not say anything about the root cause of the riots. One more question: Does God hate Christians who disobey unjust laws? I think Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about that. So did most of the patriotic pastors during the Revolution. You know, the guys who created America as a “Christian nation.”

3. Racism and lawlessness is not the problem, the problem is sin. Agreed. The sin of racism pervades every institution in America. In order to address the problem of racism we need to go beyond mere calls for personal salvation. American history teaches us that some of the great evangelical revivals led to abolitionism and other forms of social justice. At the same time, some of the great evangelical revivals led to a deeper entrenchment of racism in society. Jeffress’s church, which celebrates its history of soul-winning, is one example. Also, let’s remember that when Frederick Douglass’s master got saved during an evangelical revival, he became more, not less, ruthless in his treatment of his slaves. We will see what happens this time around, but individual spiritual regeneration does not always solve the deeply embedded problems of race in America.

Now I want to hear how this generally good, but also insufficient, message applies to Jeffress’s support of Donald Trump.

James Robison is right. But so is Jurgen Moltmann when he said that Christians must “awaken the dead and piece together what has been broken“:

Tony Perkins is talking with David Brat, the dean of the Liberty University School of Business, about law and order and the breakdown of K-12 and higher education. Perkins thinks the real problem in America is a “lack of courage.” I did a post about courage a few weeks ago.

Brat wants Christians to be “prophets, priests, and kings.” Yes. Here is something I wrote last month about such royal language:

What does it mean, as Scot McKnightN.T. Wright, and Matthew Bates, among others, have argued, that Jesus is King? What role do Christians play as a royal priesthood, proclaiming the truth of God to the darkness and, as Wright puts it, “reflecting God’s wisdom and justice into the world.”And there’s the rub. Reed’s Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God as understood by many conservative evangelicals, looks the other way when a ruler from another kingdom (so to speak) practices immorality. They do not seem to take their citizenship in this Kingdom as seriously as they take their American citizenship or, at the very least, they seem unwilling to say more about the tensions between the two. (There is, of course, a deep history behind the conflation of these two kingdoms).

Gary Bauer just retweeted this:

Perhaps he should have made a caveat for Christians in prayer. But let’s face it, the court evangelicals don’t do nuance very well.

Ralph Reed is fully aware of the fact that Gorsuch and Roberts have betrayed him and his followers. Yet don’t expect him to throw out the Christian Right playbook anytime soon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is ready to retire and Reed will no doubt try to make the 2020 election about the Supreme Court:

Rob McCoy, the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Thousands Oaks in Newbury Park, California, invited Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonderboy, to preach at his church last Sunday. McCoy introduced him by quoting Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever it admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Kirk then got up and gave a fear-mongering political speech that ripped evangelical pastors who have participated in anti-racist protests. At one point, Kirk told the Christians gathered on this Sunday morning that if the Left “takes him down” he “will be on his feet” not “on his knees.” This was an applause line. If you want to see hate preached from an evangelical pulpit, watch this:

And let’s not forget Charles Marsh’s twitter thread exposing Eric Metaxas’s use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to attack Black Lives Matter.

Until next time.

Charles Marsh unleashes a devastating assault on court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s misuse of Bonhoeffer as it relates to Black Lives Matter

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Court evangelical Eric Metaxas wrote a popular biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that was  panned by Bonhoeffer scholars. University of Virginia theology professor Charles Marsh wrote a biography of Bonhoeffer that was praised by Bonhoeffer scholars.

When Metaxas invoked Bonhoeffer to justify his rejection of the Black Lives Matter movement, Marsh responded.

You may recall that Marsh is the scholar who gathered the Bonhoeffer quotes we published as “Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity.”

Here is Metaxas’s tweet:

Metaxas BLM

The Washington Times article Metaxas tweeted is here.

Here is Marsh’s twitter thread:

For the continuing debate over Bonhoeffer’s legacy, I recommend Stephen Haynes’s The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump. Haynes also has an essay in the recently released The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity

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Thanks to Bonhoeffer biographer and theologian Charles Marsh for bring these words to my attention.  You can apply them this morning as you see fit.

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force.”

“Against stupidity we are defenseless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one.”

“It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.”

“The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.”

“The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.”

“The Bible’s words that the ‘fear of the Lord God is the beginning of wisdom’ teaches us that a person’s inward liberation from foolishness and decision to live responsibly and intelligently before God is the only real cure to stupidity.”

Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years”, Letters and Papers from Prison

What It’s Like to Talk With Pro-Trump Evangelical Family Members

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A gathering of court evangelicals

Check out Alex Morris’s Rolling Stone essay “False Idol–Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump.”  Morris talked to a lot of the right people, including commentators Greg Thornbury, Randall Balmer, Peter Montgomery, Charles Marsh, and Diana Butler Bass and court evangelicals Robert Jeffress and Eric Metaxas.

The most telling part of her piece is her description of a conversation with her pro-Trump evangelical mother.  Here is a taste:

In a dimly lit room, with a bottle of red wine, my mom, my aunt, and I pull our chairs close. I explain that I’m taping our conversation, that I love and respect them, and that I want to discuss why my Christianity has led me away from Trump and theirs has led them to him.

For a while, we just hit the typical talking points. There’s some discussion of Trump being a baby Christian, some assertions that the lewd behavior of his past is behind him, that in office he would never actually conduct himself as Bill Clinton had. But when I really double down, my mom and aunt will admit that there are flaws in his character. Though not that those flaws should be disqualifying.

“I don’t think he’s godly, Alex,” my aunt tells me. “I just think he stands up for Christians. Trump’s a fighter. He’s done more for the Christian right than Reagan or Bush. I’m just so thankful we’ve got somebody that’s saying Christians have rights too.”

But what about the rights and needs of others, I wonder. “Do you understand why someone could be called by their faith to vote against a party that separates families?”

“That’s a big sounding board, but I don’t think that is the issue,” says my mom.

“But it’s happening, and I’m not OK with it.”

My mom shakes her head. “No one’s OK with it.”

“If that’s your heart, then vote your heart,” says my aunt. “But with the abortion issue and the gay-rights issue, Trump’s on biblical ground with his views. I appreciate that about him.”

“As Christians, do you feel like you’re under attack in this country?” I ask.

“Yes,” my mom says adamantly.

“When did you start feeling that way?”

“The day that Obama put the rainbow colors in the White House was a sad day for America,” my aunt replies. “That was a slap in God’s face. Abortion was a slap in his face, and here we’ve killed 60 million babies since 1973. I believe we’re going to be judged. I believe we are being judged.”

Read the entire piece here.  Morris’s conversation with her family is almost identical to some of my conversations with Trump supporters over the past several years.

University of Virginia Theologian Charles Marsh is Quoted at the Royal Wedding

Beloved CommunityBishop Michael Curry, the head of the American Episcopal Church, preached the sermon at the royal wedding this morning.  During the sermon Curry quoted Charles Marsh’s book The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice from the Civil Rights Movement to Today.

Ruth Graham has it covered here.  A taste:

The scripture he quoted included the Old Testament prophet Amos, a favorite passage of King’s: “Let justice roll down like a mighty stream, and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.” The lyrics he chose included the black American spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” which he introduced by noting that slaves in the American South had sung it “even in the midst their captivity.” The official transcript of Curry’s sermon does not include the mention of slavery, suggesting he was riffing just a bit—not unusual for a preacher, but notable considering Curry riffed in the direction of referencing slavery in front of the queen, not to mention hundreds of wealthy British dignitaries, some of whose family fortunes surely were built on the backs of enslaved people.

The scholars he referenced included the 20th-century Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whom the Vatican has long held at arm’s length. Curry also quoted Charles Marsh, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia. “Jesus had founded the most revolutionary movement in human history,” Curry quotes Marsh writing, “a movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world and the mandate to live that love.” The quote comes from Marsh’s 2005 book, The Beloved Community, which traces the influence of faith on the Civil Rights movement and argues that the spiritual underpinnings of that movement can serve as a source of moral energy today.

Marsh’s book is essentially an argument for the enduring power of progressive Christianity. So was Curry’s sermon, whose central argument was the world-transforming power of love….

Read the entire piece here.

Charles Marsh: “The call to an armed laity is beset with problems”

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The court evangelical Robert Jeffress says that 25-50% of the members of his First Baptist Church–Dallas carry guns to church and are prepared to use them.

Charles Marsh, a professor of theology at the University of Virginia, is rightly bothered by this. In “The NRA’s Assault on Christian Faith and Practice,” he asks conservative evangelicals to rethink their position on guns.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion & Politics:

Evil cannot be completely eradicated; gun violence cannot be reduced to zero. The world is fallen; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yet there are reasonable measures that would decrease the number of gun deaths and mass shootings: universal background checks, limits on the size of magazines, closing the private sale and gun show loopholes, and empowering federal agencies and the CDC to share critical information and compile data on gun violence in public health are all sensible measures that save lives.

On issues related to gun violence, safety, and regulation, evangelicals clearly need, and deserve, a more theologically robust discussion. A good start might be formulating questions for reflection and study, such as: Are there aspects of American gun culture that contradict or confuse the message of the Gospel? (If so, let’s name them.) Have evangelicals sought to understand gun violence in America under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with prayerful discernment of practical solutions? How can followers of Jesus preserve the distinctive speech and practices of Christian witness from the religion of the NRA, whose distinctive speech and practices cluster around the promise of overwhelming force? Under what conditions, if any, should the Christian lay down his or her arms? Does the support of the American gun lobby bring glory to God?

My father is a conservative Southern Baptist minister who for 40 years served parishes in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. In his theological and social convictions and most other respects, he would be called a Russell Moore evangelical. The one major exception is guns. On this issue, my father’s deep loyalty to the global ecumenical church and his experiences in missions through evangelical congregations in Europe and Africa have time and again brought him into conversations with people for whom the American gun loyalty remains a stumbling block to faith. Though he is very much a social conservative, my father believes that a Christian’s commitment to the Gospel must chasten the person’s cultural and political preferences—and for this reason, he admires the counter-cultural ecumenism of Baptists like Clarence Jordan and Carlyle Marney.

In a letter written in the spring of 2007 after the mass killing of 33 people at Virginia Tech, my father spoke of the tragic alliance of evangelicals and guns and its effects on Christian conviction. “Church people in the United States are getting their signals from political ideology and the NRA lobbyists,” he said. “There is no rational connection between the 2nd Amendment and stock piling of semiautomatic rifles and ammunition. What should the church’s role be? Teach the people to take seriously the teachings of Jesus. When He talked about refusing to be people of violence, that is what He meant. If I want what is best for my fellow beings, if I really desire to see a society of order, security, and freedom, then I should have no problem in seeing the connection between GUNS FOR ALL and the prevailing tragedies of war and mass killing that follow. The prophets had a vision of the kingdom where swords would be beaten into plows. I hope and I pray, that we in the church will capture that vision.”

Read the entire piece here.

Charles Marsh on the “Bonhoeffer Delusions” of Eric Metaxas

a6441-marshAs some of you know, evangelical writer and culture warrior Eric Metaxas has invoked 20th-century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer to buttress his argument that evangelical Christians should vote for Donald Trump in November.

Metaxas is not the only Bonhoeffer biographer out there.  Charles Marsh of the University of Virginia has also recently published a biography of Bonhoeffer.  Over at Religion & Politics Marsh has responded to Metaxas’s use of the German theologian in the debates over how evangelicals should vote.  Here is a taste:

WHAT MIGHT BONHOEFFER make of his “Moment” in American politics? Born in 1906 into a prodigiously humanist family, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had rarely discussed politics in his university years; when he had, it was mostly in response to his brothers, who, radicalized by the Great War, never missed an opportunity to butt heads concerning the finer points of the Weimar government or the morality of its democratic reforms. A university friend complained of Bonhoeffer’s inclination to escape into ethereal regions of “comprehensive” ideas and thus “avoid the murk and mists of boiling-hot politics.” Indeed, during Bonhoeffer’s postdoctoral year at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, there is not even mention in his notes or letters of what was the lead item in the Times on the day of his arrival: “Fascists Make Big Gains in Germany.”

This changed during that transformative year in America. Between August 1930 in May 1931 Bonhoeffer would journey into new regions of experience: into the tenement buildings of New York, into the Harlem Renaissance, into the Deep South weeks after the Scottsboro Boys went to trial, into a six-month immersion in the black church in Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem. He spent time with the National Women’s Trade Union League and the Workers Education Bureau of America; he wrote notes on the labor movement, poverty, homelessness, crime, and the social mission of the churches. He met with officials from the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s premier defender of civil liberties, which after its founding in 1920 had focused heavily on the rights of conscientious objectors and on the protection of resident aliens from deportation. After returning to Berlin, he told his older brother that Germany needed an ACLU of its own. And in the spring of 1931, Bonhoeffer took a road trip through the heart of the Jim Crow South, after which he wrote that he had heard the Gospel preached in “the church of the outcasts of America.” In these unfamiliar regions, among a nearly forgotten generation of American radicals and reformers, Bonhoeffer found the courage to reexamine every aspect of his vocation as theologian and pastor and to embark upon what he would call “the turning from the phraseological to the real.” No other thinker in the modern era crosses quite so many boundaries while yet remaining exuberantly—and one must always add—generously Christian. This is why his story has attracted both liberals and evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Jews, church-goers and secularists alike, people of all faiths. What all admire is Bonhoeffer’s indisputably authentic witness to the dignity of life.

In the end, Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer resembles no one so much as Metaxas.

Read the rest here.

2105 *Christianity Today* Book Awards

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, but especially the winner and runner-up in the field of history.

Winner: Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Award of Merit: Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

Want to learn more about Marsh’s book?  Check out our Author’s Corner feature on him.  (In other words, he and this book were famous well before this award!).