First Baptist Dallas “Christian America” Billboard Comes Down

Jeffress Billboard

Last week we wrote about the billboard in Dallas advertising Robert Jeffress’s upcoming sermon at First Baptist-Dallas: “America is a Christian Nation.”  Read our post here.

The billboard company pulled the signs down.

Here is a taste of Tre Goins-Phillips’s piece at Independent Journal-Review:

Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch pastor and one of the Trump administration’s evangelical advisers, is facing criticism over billboards his church erected declaring America a “Christian nation.”

In fact, after a bit of online outrage, including an editorial from The Dallas Morning News, the billboard company contracting with the church, Outfront Media, decided to pull the signs down, describing the declaration — “America Is a Christian Nation” — as “anger provoking,” according to a statement from the church that was obtained by IJR.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a Democrat, seemed to take issue with the billboards, too. In a statement to the newspaper, Rawlings said he doesn’t mind people “being proud of the Christian tradition in America” but added it’s important for the faith-based community to promote “a city of love versus a city of hate.”

And Metroplex Atheists, a branch of the national group American Atheists, is staging a protest at First Baptist Church to confront Jeffress’ patriotic message.

Read the rest here.

If a baker is allowed to deny services to same-sex couples, then I guess a billboard company can reject a message that they find offensive.

In my opinion, this billboard should come down because it makes a claim based on bad history.  It is fake news.  I wrote a book about this a few years ago and some of these themes will also appear in my latest book:

Believe Me Banner

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress’s “Freedom Sunday” is Coming

It’s that time of year again.  Time for Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and a prominent court evangelical, to hold his annual “Freedom Sunday.”  This year’s celebration of God and country will take place on June 24.  Last year’s celebration got a lot of attention.

Robert Wilonsky writes about the city of Dallas for the Dallas Morning News.  He took the above picture while sitting in traffic.  And then he wrote an article about Jeffress at the Morning News.  Here is a taste:

The newly planted billboard touts a “Freedom Sunday” worship service June 24 at the downtown church and hosted by the man who serves as one of President Donald Trump’s main spiritual advisers — a job that appears to be part propagandistpart contortionist. According to a video Jeffress prepared for Freedom Sunday, there will be “inspiring patriotic worship” and “a salute to our armed forces,” followed by the Fox News’ commentator’s “special message” advertised on that billboard. 

There will be indoor fireworks, too, which is not how they concluded the Last Supper. And first-time visitors to First Baptist will receive a copy of Jeffress’ book Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Days Can Be Your Best Days, a grim piece of work about “the coming collapse of our nation,” according to Mike Huckabee’s foreword.

Consider this your semi-regular reminder that Jeffress, Fox News’ go-to religious authority, is among this city’s most divisive voices. Nothing he says shocks me anymore. I mean, this is a preacher — a follower of Christ — who actually said, “America is not a church where everyone should be welcomed regardless of race and background.” 

Which is the opposite of Hebrews 13:1. And, I think, the rest of the Bible. 

Read the rest here.

Yes, I am Biased!

Watch this:

At about the 3:40 mark, one of the hosts on The View asks Tapper if he has a liberal bias. Tapper says: “I am absolutely biased against lies.  When there are people lying, I am absolutely 100% against it.”

In some small way I can relate to what Tapper said here.  In case you haven’t noticed, I occasionally take some heat for criticizing my fellow evangelicals who ardently support Donald Trump.   So am I biased?  Yes.  To paraphrase Tapper, I am biased against politicians who use bad or misleading history to win political points.

The entire Trump evangelical coalition is built on the dubious claim that America was founded as a Christian nation.

I know I have been promoting my forthcoming book on evangelicals and Donald Trump, but I wrote this book in 2011 and a second edition was republished in 2016.  It may be more relevant than ever.

was-america-kindle

*Was America Founded as a Christian Nation* (Revised Edition) is Now Easier to Find

RevisedSeveral of you have mentioned that it was hard to find the revised edition of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction on Amazon.  We have fixed the problem and the book is now easily accessible through an Amazon search.

Here is a description of the book:

John Fea offers a thoroughly researched, evenhanded primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title’s question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. This updated edition reports on the many issues that have arisen in recent years concerning religion’s place in American society—including the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, contraception and the Affordable Care Act, and state-level restrictions on abortion—and demonstrates how they lead us to the question of whether the United States was or is a Christian nation. Fea relates the history of these and other developments, pointing to the underlying questions of national religious identity inherent in each.

“We live in a sound-bite culture that makes it difficult to have any sustained dialogue on these historical issues,” Fea writes in his preface. “It is easy for those who argue that America is a Christian nation (and those who do not) to appear on radio or television programs, quote from one of the founders or one of the nation’s founding documents, and sway people to their positions. These kinds of arguments, which can often be contentious, do nothing to help us unravel a very complicated historical puzzle about the relationship between Christianity and America’s founding.”

Trump and Huckabee Do American History

I am not really sure where to begin with this video.

Let’s take, for example, the scene of Lee and Grant shaking hands at Appomattox.  How can this be interpreted apart from Trump’s famous “very fine people on both sides” line after Charlottesville?  I think David Blight might have something to say about this.

What about the ominous music when Trump talks about “our media culture?”  This is yet another appeal to fear, the kind of appeal common among totalitarian rulers and strongmen.

Learn more about Mike Huckabee’s bad attempt at revisionism here.

(Thanks to Brenda Schoolfield for bringing this video to my attention).

Thank You “Otter”

RevisedI recently read this Amazon review of my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation”: A Historical IntroductionIt is written by someone who goes by the name “Otter.” He or she titled the review “Equal Opportunity Disorientation.” I have no idea who this is, but I think “Otter” captures well what I was trying to do in this book:

If you’re anxious to score debating points in the debate about whether America was founded as a Christian nation, avoid this masterful book.

If you want to appreciate the complexity of the issue, and if you prefer the truth to zinging your opponents, this is your one-stop shop.

With terrific scholarship, Fea makes sure that neither side of the debate comes out without rethinking itself.

Most helpfully, Fea surveys the abuse of the historical evidence by those who would seek to either return America to its “Christian roots” or to minimize America’s religious heritage. The book aims at a thorough and meticulous understanding of America’s relationship with religion, especially in the Colonial and Revolutionary periods: what did the early European-Americans think about religion and the state? What did they see as religion’s relationship to Revolution, or to civil law? What’s the best understanding between religious rhetoric and institutional commitments? Fea draws on a wide range of sources to paint a picture of enormous depth and complexity.

Secularists will be satisfied to learn that Fea, an evangelical, is by no means convinced by Dominionist arguments; evangelicals will be delighted to know that Fea refuses the axiom that religion in early America was an accidental and unimportant feature of the 18th century, irrelevant to our understanding of the past. Neither side will be entirely happy to find that he calls them to a higher level of discussion than is usual.

For those who read Fea, this whole thing is going to take a lot more work.

Thanks!

Trump’s “God and Country” Language in National Prayer Breakfast Speech

Trump prayer

I offered my take on the speech here. I also contributed to Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s piece at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

In some ways, Trump’s speech fit the types of prayer breakfast speeches given by presidents in the past, said John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College. Trump spoke about the role America has to play to create a more just world, an idea President Barack Obama would have promoted as well.

“There are Christians both on the left and the right who see America as a force for good,” Fea said.

However, Trump went a bit further, he said, where American exceptionalism was implied. “This is something that gets the Christian right … very excited,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

“Passion of the Christ” Sequel to Feature Jesus Helping Founding Fathers Establish America

Passion

The Babylon Bee continues to deliver the satire.  A taste:

HOLLYWOOD, CA—According to industry sources, director Mel Gibson’s highly anticipated sequel to The Passion of the Christ will center around the resurrected Jesus traveling to the Western Hemisphere to help the Founding Fathers establish the United States of America—God’s chosen nation.

Read the rest here.

Understanding David Barton’s Political Influence

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Check out Tara Isabella Burton‘s excellent piece on David Barton: “Understanding the fake historian behind America’s religious right.”  I am glad Burton found The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog useful in her research.

Here is a taste:

Barton is still cited as an expert by a number of GOP lawmakers. Another is Rick Saccone, the Pennsylvania Republican congressional candidate running in a special election to replace Tim Murphy, who resigned following allegations of an extramarital affair and asking a woman he was involved with to have an abortion.

Saccone’s tacit endorsement of Barton — he chose Barton to introduce him at a rally in early 2017, signaling Saccone’s wider political and religious views — should come as no surprise to those who have been following his career in politics. Saccone’s rhetoric as both a state lawmaker and on the campaign trail centers around Bartonian ideas of America as a foundationally Christian nation.

His own book, God in Our Government, seems straight out of the Barton playbook, arguing, as Barton does, that secularists have conspired to obfuscate the Christian history of the United States. Historian John Fea, a longtime critic of Christian nationalism, refers to Saccone on his blog as “one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters….”

The founders double as hero-saints to Barton. Central to the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation is the idea that America was founded unproblematically; that only a return to this mythologized past will somehow solve perceived problems of structural inequality. “Real” America, in other words, is above criticism.

Of course, it’s worth saying that all accounts of history — left-wing or right-wing, secular or Christian — can also be, in a sense, a form of propaganda. Any narrative of America’s foundation will, of course, be mediated by the specific biases and concerns of the teller. (Historian Fea does a great job pointing out that the secular counterpart to the Barton narrative, that all founding fathers were non-Christian, deist secularists, is also wrong).

Read the entire piece here.

“Christian Politics?”: Week Two

Falwell

Yesterday I taught the second of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Read my summary of Week One here.

If you recall, in Week 1 I explained five ways in which Christians have thought about politics–past and present.  We discussed Anabaptism, Lutheranism, the African-American Church, Calvinism, and Catholicism.

This week we asked: “How have American evangelicals practiced politics, especially in the last fifty years?

We began by defining evangelicalism using the Bebbington Quadrilateral: Biblicism, Crucicentrism, Conversionism, and Activism.  This proved to be a very fruitful conversation.  I taught about 120 people this morning (in 2 sections) and nearly all of them believed in the theological tenets of the Bebbington Quadrilateral.  But only a small percentage ( roughly 25%?) use the word “evangelical” to describe their faith.  In both hours I had people ask me to distinguish between an “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.”

I then offered a quick history lesson focused on why so many conservative white evangelicals in the 1970s began to worry about the decline of Christian culture.  We touched on the separation of church as defined by the Supreme Court in 1947Engel v. Vitale (1962), Abington v. Schempp (1963), changes to American immigration policy (Hart-Cellar Act of 1965), the relationship between segregationism and evangelical libertarianism, Roe v. Wade (1973), Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), and the religious liberty debates of the last twenty years (“Merry Christmas,” Johnson Amendment, Ten Commandments in courthouses, etc.).

I then introduced the political playbook devised by the Religious Right in the 1970s to deal with these social and cultural changes.  The playbook teaches:

  1. America was founded as a Christian nation
  2. America’s status as a Christian nation is in jeopardy
  3. We must “reclaim” or “restore” America to its Christian roots
  4. We must do this through electoral politics by electing the right people who will, in turn, pass the right laws and appoint the right judges
  5. We will win back the culture for Christ
  6. If this happens, we’re not really sure what we will do next, but we do know that God will once again be happy with the United States.

When I talked about #6 above I emphasized how evangelicals have not thought very deeply about politics.  Many evangelical leaders have no idea what they will do if the proverbial dog catches the proverbial bus.  This, as Ronald Sider described it, is the “scandal of evangelical politics.”

Here is what I told the class they could expect in Week Three:

  1. The current evangelical political playbook, as written over the course of the last fifty years, privileges fear over hope, power over humility, and nostalgia over history.
  2. We will then ask: “Are these healthy or biblical ideas (fear, power, nostalgia) from which to build a truly evangelical approach to politics?

Stay tuned.

CBC News on the Museum of the Bible

RNS-BIBLE-MUSEUM i

Canadians are apparently interested in this week’s opening of the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.  I was happy to help Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Matt Kwong make some sense of this museum.  Here is a taste of his piece at CBC News:

A museum attraction on the second-floor Impact collection called Washington Revelations is feeding evangelical scholar John Fea’s doubts. The multi-sensory “4D” ride takes visitors soaring over D.C. landmarks to highlight scripture inscribed on landmarks, such as the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and the Lincoln Memorial.

To Fea, who teaches history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, the idea mirrors evangelical activist David Barton’s WallBuilders movement, which promotes a view the United States was founded as a Christian nation. A signature program of the WallBuilders is to bring ministers and state politicians on tours of Washington to show them places bearing biblical verse.

“There’s a temptation there to send the message that America is a certain kind of nation, a Christian nation,” Fea said. “A nation where the Bible should be important and prominent in shaping public life. In other words, [suggesting] we were a Bible nation from the beginning.”

Though he admires the museum project in concept, he questions whether the building just three blocks from Congress will service a conservative vision of American Christian nationalism.

Read the entire piece here.

More on Judge Roy Moore

MooreRoy Moore is going to keep people like me busy.  If he wins the Alabama Senate seat in December he will go to Washington and continue to make his historically misinformed Christian nationalist claims.  But in terms of politics, I don’t think it really matters that Moore is probably going to the Senate instead of Luther Strange.  Both men will vote the same way on most issues.

Here is a taste of Rachel Chason’s Washington Post piece on Moore’s brand of Christian politics:

Roy Moore’s reading of the Bible has long informed the way the former chief justice of Alabama interpreted the law, and it promises to continue to do so now that he has won the Alabama Republican primary.

Moore, unlike any other Senate candidate in recent history, made his belief in the supremacy of a Christian God over the Constitution the cornerstone of his campaign.

“I want to see virtue and morality returned to our country and God is the only source of our law, liberty and government,” Moore said during Thursday’s debate with incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was backed by President Trump and the Republican establishment.

The central argument of Moore’s campaign, The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer reported, is that removing the sovereignty of a Christian God from the functions of government is an act of apostasy, an affront to the biblical savior as well as the Constitution. He even carries a pocket pamphlet that he published with a legal theory of God’s supremacy.

Read the entire piece here.

“Faith Facts” on Roy Moore

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

He may be the next senator from Alabama.  Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron provides five quick “faith facts” about Roy Moore:

  1. He is a Christian nationalist
  2. He was removed twice as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because of conflicts between his religious convictions and the law
  3. He is a Southern Baptist
  4. He believes Islam is a “false religion.”
  5. He does not believe in evolutio

See how Shimron unpacks these points here.

I was happy to contribute background to Shimron’s piece, especially on point #1 above.

Alabama Republicans May Have Just Sent a Christian Nationalist to the Senate

Judge_Roy_MooreIf Judge Roy Moore is able to defeat his Democratic opponent in December, his ticket to the United States Senate will be punched.  Last night Moore defeated Luther Strange in an Alabama special election to fill Jeff Sessions’s old Senate seat.  The election has been getting a lot of attention because Donald Trump backed Strange, the GOP “establishment” backed Strange, and most of Trump’s supporters in Alabama supported Moore.  But let’s also remember that Moore believes that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a Christian nation.

Moore made national headlines in 2001 when he was removed from his position as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because he refused to take down a monument of the Ten Commandments.  Moore was elected to Alabama’s highest court again in 2013, but was suspended in 2016 when he told probate judges under his authority to continue to enforce the state ban on same-sex marriage.  He resigned in April 2017 and soon after started his Senate campaign.

In August 2017, VOX reporter Jeff Stein interviewed Moore about his God and country beliefs.  Here is a taste of that interview:

Jeff Stein:

…Where should the limits be between religion and public life if you could?

Roy Moore:

You have to understand what religion is — the duties you owe to the creator.

And then it starts there first. You have to understand it was the duty of the government under the First Amendment, according to Joseph Story who was there for 37 years and wrote the stories on the Constitution.

It was the duty to foster religion and foster Christianity. He said at the time of the adoption of the Constitution that “it was the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America that Christianity ought to be favored by the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience.”

Read the entire interview and Stein’s accompanying article here.

Baylor University Surveys Trump Voters

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Read the entire report here.

Trump voters:

  • say they are very religious
  • see Muslims as threats to America
  • view the United States as a Christian nation
  • believe in an “Authoritative God” (a deity who is highly engaged and highly judgmental)
  • value gender traditionalism

The report notes:

This collection of values and attitudes form the core ethos of what we might call Trumpism. It is a new form of nationalism which merges pro-Christian rhetoric with anti-Islam, anti-feminist, anti-globalist, and anti-government attitudes.

New Review of *Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?*

RevisedRobert Weir of the University of Massachusetts reviews the revised edition at the website of the Northeast Popular Culture Association.  Here is a taste:

In a careful analysis of Founders such as Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Witherspoon, Fea employs the very important concepts of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, that is, adherence to Christian doctrine and practice of its precepts. Although he agrees with those who deny that Franklin and Washington were Deists and that Jefferson was an atheist, all three flunk the orthodoxy test, and most slaveholders resorted to selective Bible reading to justify the practice and come up short on the orthopraxy standard. Moreover, it takes more to be called a Christian than merely seeing it as admirable or useful for keeping public order. Attempts to make Jefferson into a Christian, therefore, must be seen as sophistry; Jefferson did, after all, slice all references to Jesus’ divinity from his personal Bible.

Then again, when was the United States “founded?” Did it come into being under the Declaration of Independence? If so, the Declaration indeed mentions God and makes appeals to the guidance of Providence. Fea finds this at best anecdotal evidence, as those references do not specify the Christian God and the document’s overall intent was exactly as embedded in its title—to serve as a political treatise justifying rebellion. If “founding” came with the adoption of the Constitution, all ambiguity disintegrates, as it does not contain any mention of a deity.

But what if the nation was founded through the practice of democracy? What is meant by a “nation?” Had 19th century Americans been polled, they would have asserted that the United States was indeed founded as a Christian nation. Christianity was the prevailing belief of nearly every Euro-American of the day, and few would have imagined a “wall” between church and state. Jefferson used that term, but within the context of forbidding the establishment of any official church. The Founders feared the sort of exclusivity that precipitated Europe’s wars of religion or Puritan bigotry, but most would have viewed some variety of Protestantism as necessary for public morality and a healthy body politic. Moreover, until the Civil War settled the question, the republic was often referenced as these, not theUnited States. The U.S. Constitution did not mention God, but state constitutions uniformly did so and meant the Christian God. Even after the Civil War, there is little in the historical record to challenge evangelical beliefs that America was founded as a Christian nation until the Supreme Court did so beginning in the 1960s.

Fea is willing to concede the evangelicals’ view that this has been a Christian nation, but he also shows how moments in history have forced a broadening of what that means. For example, the post-World War II period has seen the Cold War evangelicalism of Billy Graham, the Americanized Catholicism of John Kennedy, the activist Christianity of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the political born-again movements that have coalesced around conservative Republicanism. Consider how markedly the materialism of the last of these departs from the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century or the Jesus Freaks movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Frances FitzGerald’s new book, The Evangelicals, argues that modern evangelicals have essentially merged Christianity with capitalism as if Adam Smith had become an honorary member of the Trinity. I wish Fea had tackled this. Because he avoids siding with anyone, the bulk of his post-Civil War analysis centers on evangelical belief rather than orthopraxy. FitzGerald shows the deep roots of evangelical materialism, leading me to wonder how Fea would explain Christian Donald Trump voters, given that Trump doesn’t pass muster as either an orthodox believer or as a Christian practitioner. I also wanted to hear from liberal Christians like Jim Wallis or Randal Balmer. Lea sometimes falls into the trap of saying that a thing is true if enough loudmouths say so. Not so if orthopraxy is the ultimate Christian sniff test.

Read the entire review here.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress: Trump Should Not Apologize for Charlottesville Statements. “He Did Just Fine”

Here is court evangelical Robert Jeffress on Fox Business News last night.

He rightly condemns racism, as he has been doing all along.  This is good.  But he also defends the POTUS,  saying that Trump wants to condemn “all racism.”  I’m not sure what he means here by “all racism.”  Is he somehow referring to “racism against whites?”  Is he suggesting that there was racism on both sides in Charlottesville?

Jeffress again takes on the “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, Republicans, and the “religious establishment”) that wants to “take this president down for various reasons.”

Then he begins suggesting (with the help of the host) that the members of this “axis of evil” want to erase American history and the “Judeo-Christian foundations of this nation.”  He repeats the historically dubious claim that “no president in history has done more to stand of for religious liberty than Donald Trump.” (See my comments on this claim here).

Finally, he advises Trump not to apologize for his handling of Charlottesville.  According to Jeffress. “he did just fine.”  It looks like we are finally getting a sense of what the court evangelicals are whispering to Trump in those secret meetings.

“He did just fine.”