GOP Convention: Night 3

pence and trump at ft mchenry

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

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

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

Let’s start with American history:

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

OK, let’s move on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to day 4!

What is the National Association of Christian Lawmakers?

Christian nation

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers looks like another group of Christian Right politicians who want to create laws in the United States based upon a “biblical world view.” Here is the mission:

Our nation is on the brink because of leaders who have capitulated on our convictions for far too long.

Meeting regularly to discuss and debate major issues, proposing model statutes, ordinances and resolutions for introduction in jurisdictions to address major policy concerns from a Biblical worldview. NACL offers a unique national forum for local, state and federal elected officials to address the major issues of our day.

America was built on a foundation of faith, and our founding fathers understood our rights are given to us by God, not by government. When faith dies, freedom follows.

I am not opposed to the idea of a “biblical worldview,” but when these people use the phrase it essential means the promotion of a narrow Christian Right understanding of the Bible and American history. It has everything to do with

  • Overturning Roe v. Wade as the primary way of ending abortion in America.
  • The defense of religious liberty as understood by white evangelicals. We rarely hear these lawmakers articulate how laws based on a “biblical world view” apply to people who do not share their evangelical faith.
  • Having access to political power.
  • The passing of laws to prevent gay marriage.
  • Opposing anyone who says that racism is a structural or institutional problem.
  • The defense of free-market capitalism.
  • Building walls to prevent non-white immigrants from entering the country even thought these migrants share their Christian faith.
  • The belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and needs to be restored as such.

This group appears to be holding a face-to-face conference next month in Florida.

Several members of the Christian Right are part of the Board of Advisers:

Huckabee:

One of the great values of being part of an organization that brings Christian legislators together is the power of the fellowship and relationships formed across the nation to serve not just as an intellectual resource, but a spiritual encouragement in knowing, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Arkansas state senator Jason Rapert:

I know what it is to fight for what is right and I want to ensure that other conservative Christian leaders are properly equipped to withstand the extreme Left’s harassment tactics designed to wear Christian leaders down in the public arena. The time is now to take a stand before our Judeo-Christian foundation is forever lost in the nation.

Former Congressman Bob McEwen slips socialism into Exodus 18:21:

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people, leaders such as fear God, lovers of truth, hating covetousness (socialism). NACL is a gathering of Exodus 18:21 leaders.

Court evangelical Tony Perkins:

This is an organization whose time has absolutely come. We need an unwavering entity in the political arena where lawmakers encourage one another as they are guided by their biblically centered faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible was key in the successful founding of our Republic, and it remains key to successfully maintaining it today. The National Association of Christian Lawmakers is a tremendous initiative, and as a former elected official, I am honored to be a part of it.

David Barton‘s son, Tim:

America was built on the foundation of Biblical principles. Throughout our rich history we have wavered and missed the mark on many occasions but, by God’s grace, there were always principled leaders who fought to correct the mistakes and promote Godliness. Our nation needs, now more than ever, people of principle who will stand up for Biblical truth and righteousness.

Engaging with the latest stuff on race and the founders coming from Liberty University’s Falkirk Center

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Not all Christian colleges are the same. Some of you may recall a post in which I compared Messiah University to Liberty University. If you have a child considering a faith-based college I encourage you to read that post.

Liberty University recently established something called the Falkirk Center. In previous posts I called it a “think tank,” but after watching this organization develop over the last several months I now think it is more of a propaganda machine for Christian Trumpism.

In the last few days, the Falkirk Center Facebook page has been posting on race in America.

Here is a post from last night:

Woke Christianity is a manipulation of the Gospel. It intentionally twists the Bible to accommodate and achieve leftist political aims and purposes. This has been evidenced in past cries of “Jesus was an illegal immigrant!” Or “Jesus was a socialist!” Now, it is shifting to an idea that Jesus would have praised and been part of the Black Lives Matter organization. The Gospel is the free offer of salvation based on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the cross at Calvary. The Gospel tells us we are all sinners and we will all likewise perish unless we repent and believe in Christ. As Christians, we must preserve the Gospel and proclaim the truth until his coming. We must also speak out against heresy both inside and outside the church which includes Woke Christianity, Social Justice, Critical Theory and Intersectionality.

Thoughts:

  • There is no such thing as “woke Christianity.” The Christian scriptures do not endorse a particular political program–Left, Center, or Right. The Christian scriptures do not endorse capitalism or socialism. Fair-minded Christians around the world have used the scriptures to argue for both of these economic systems.
  • Would Jesus have been a member of Black Lives Matter? I have no idea. But Jesus would have certainly endorsed the idea that black lives matter. Do you see what the politically-charged Falkirk Center is doing here? They focus all of their attention on the official Black Lives Matter movement as a way to avoid talking about why black lives matter. If they can convince everyone that Black Lives Matter is a direct and immediate threat to our democracy they can get Trump re-elected and advance their political agenda. Don’t let Jerry Falwell and Charlie Kirk manipulate the teachings of Jesus for political gain. Don’t let them take the New Testament and filter its teachings through a Christian Right lens. It’s all politics.
  • The Falkirk Center says, “As Christians, we must preserve the Gospel and proclaim the truth until his coming.” Amen. So how does a belief in the proclamation of truth relate to the Falkirk’s support for the pathological liar in the Oval Office? How can an organization with a platform such as Liberty Univeristy fail to speak out about this? How long will evangelicals send their tuition money to a place whose leadership remains silent on this most basic moral issue? The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love, justice, and compassion. The citizens of this kingdom–the scriptures call them a royal priesthood– are in the business of announcing the arrival of this Kingdom to those in power.
  • Don’t be fooled by all these references to “Woke Christianity,” “Social Justice,” “Critical Theory,” and “Intersectionality.” They are big words used to scare ordinary Christians. Followers of Jesus Christ, as citizens of his Kingdom, will always fight for justice in the world. They will oppose both individual acts of injustice and systemic acts of injustice. They will fight for the poor and oppressed. American history teaches us that there white people have always oppressed Black people and stomped on their human dignity. This oppression is now embedded in our social institutions and it must be considered when Christians think about how to engage the world.  We can uphold these things without necessarily embracing every dimension of “critical theory” or “intersectionality.” Frankly, I think these words are just distractions. They prevent Christians from getting-on with the business of building the Kingdom. But let’s remember that they are meant to be distractions.

Here is another Falkirk Center post from yesterday:

The founding fathers worked tirelessly to create the most just and free nation in human history. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their ingenuity. Rather than be grateful for America and appreciate her system of government, however, the left has chosen to spite the founding fathers and all that they created, showing no appreciation for the price that has been paid for them to live in America and use their very freedoms to destroy the country that protects them. Leftist thinking is detrimental to a free and just society and is rotten at its core. We must do everything in our power to preserve the true story of the founding fathers, the noble history of America, and teach future generations of the sacrifices necessary to preserve, protect, and defend freedom and liberty in America.

  • The nation that the founders created in 1776 was not just. It was built upon universal Enlightenment principles such as “liberty,” but these principles were not applied to all people. In this sense, it is very difficult to say that the founders wanted to establish some kind of “Christian nation.”
  • The nation’s founders left a legacy of freedom and liberty that was eventually applied to most citizens. But by the time American leaders got their act together and started applying these ideals to African Americans and others, certain systemic injustices were already baked in the national cake, the product of decades of failure.
  • All of this has led to much debate among historians. No good historian would reject the idea that the founders were products of their time. The debate is over how rapidly the ideals of the white male American Revolution found their way into the mainstream of national life. Some say that the American Revolution was “radical” because it set the stage or prepared the way for women’s rights, the emancipation of slaves, civil rights, etc. Others argue that the Revolution was not radical because it failed to apply these ideas immediately. The founders made deliberate choices to keep injustice in place when they could have chosen the opposite course.  These debates are good for American democracy.  Let’s keep having them. Neither of them should be “canceled.”
  • This is our country. Let’s tell the story honestly.

And then there is this from a day or two ago:

Unfortunately, the faith that used to unite our country and carry it through its darkest hours, is now viewed as superstition and a detriment to society. Secular leftists are working, daily, to to infringe on religious liberty by prohibiting religious exercises or expressions and forcing groups to hire people whose beliefs do not align with that group’s religious convictions. As Christians- now more than ever- we must be attentive to and engaged with political and cultural events. Failure to do so is an abandonment of our duty to be good citizens of our country and it leaves the liberties this country was created to protect at risk of being taken away by those whose end goal is tyranny.

  • The first sentence presumes that the founders were trying to found a nation united by Christian faith. This is a problematic assumption that I have spent the better part of my career as an American historian trying to address. Start here.
  • Many white evangelicals are very upset that governors are shutting down churches due to the prevalence of COVID-19. These evangelicals believe that these local officials are curbing their right to worship. Is the prevention of Christian worship in a time of pandemic a violation of the First Amendment? That is an issue for the courts. But many of the founders thought that republics survived when people were willing to occasionally sacrifice their “rights” for the greater good of their neighbors. This is one of those moments when Christians can lead by example. Instead, many evangelicals, like the Falkirk Center, have chosen to mount a rights-based attack on masks, social distancing, and science that most of the founding fathers would fail to recognize. I don’t think the first-century church would recognize it either. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: “In the right confrontation with the world, the Church will become ever more like to the form of its suffering Lord.”
  • I am sympathetic to some of the religious liberty concerns mentioned in this post. I hope the Supreme Court will continue to defend religious institutions to hire according to their deeply-held theological convictions.  This, it seems, is a mark of a healthy pluralism.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

COurt evangelicals

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

They are still coming for Jesus:

Graham is responding to this tweet by Mike Huckabee:

I was listening to CNN when Lemon said that Jesus “wasn’t perfect.” I think this was more of a simple theological misunderstanding by Lemon, or perhaps he really doesn’t believe Jesus was perfect. We live in a religious diverse country after all. Don Lemon is free to believe that Jesus was not perfect. (By the way, do Jewish conservatives on Fox News believe Jesus was perfect?) In other words, I did not see this as an attempt to attack Christianity. Lemon was trying to show that our founding fathers were not perfect. He was even calling out liberals. Watch for yourself:

Apparently Robert Jeffress is not happy about this either. But this should not surprise us. He has long believed that we live in a Christian nation, not a pluralistic democracy.

According to Jeffress, anyone who does not believe Jesus was perfect is peddling “fake news.”

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network agrees:

Again, the point here is not to argue whether or not Jesus was perfect. That is a theological discussion. 3 points:

  1. The court evangelicals do not care about the larger context of Lemon’s statement because the context does not suit their political agenda.
  2. It is fine to tweet that Lemon does not understand the beliefs of Christianity. I am criticizing how his views (or his mistake) were turned into culture war tweets.
  3. The court evangelicals do not believe in a pluralistic society. The idea that Jesus was imperfect may be a “lie” to all serious Christians, but this is not an exclusively Christian nation. Jews, Muslims, atheists, and people of all kinds of religions watch CNN. Non-Christians work at Fox News (I think). The belief that “Jesus was perfect” is an article of faith and it is perfectly fine in a democracy for people to disagree with this claim. As a Christian, I believe in the incarnation, but I am not offended that Don Lemon may not. These kinds of tweets just make Christians look foolish.

Gary Bauer is using his Facebook page to share an article on the American Revolution that appeared yesterday at The Federalist. Jane Hampton Cook’s essay is a historical and theological mess. It blurs African slavery, political slavery, and the biblical idea of liberty from sin. But at least she was able to take a shot at the 1619 Project! That’s all that really matters. Bauer writes:”>Rather than teaching our children a lie — that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery as the 1619 Project falsely claims — this is what our children should be learning in school.”

Hey Ralph, all you need to do is say “Happy Anniversary.” That’s it:

Eric Metaxas is trying to get his book If You Can Keep It in the hands of “every high school history teacher in the country. Before your school adopts Eric Metaxas’s book, please read this article and this series of posts.

Tonight David Barton will be making a case for why Washington D.C. should not be a state. I don’t have time to watch it, but I am guessing it has something to do with Christian nationalism.

Seven Mountain Dominion advocate Lance Wallnau is at it again. He also wants to destroy public education.

Is it really true that Democrats don’t care about law and order or the Constitution? Jenna Ellis of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center thinks so:

Is the United States of America in the Bible?

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Short answer: NO.

Bible scholar Pete Enns explains:

America is not in the Bible.

In no way, shape, or form.

Not a hint. Not a whiff.

America is not in the Bible, not even here:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

This verse gets cited a lot in American politics. But “my people” refers to the people of Judah, the survivors of the 6th century BCE Babylonian Exile, who have returned to their homeland and are humbly seeking God to rejuvenate their kingdom.

This passage has nothing to do with America or any political entity other than the ancient theocracy of Judah.

It is not proof of God’s stamp of approval on our political actions, no matter how many speeches end with “God bless the United States of America.”

It cannot leap over the millennia and simply be mapped onto American democracy.

It is not a blueprint for how to ensure that God will “Make America Great Again.”

It is not justification for privileged Evangelicals to impose their moral vision through political means.

It is not an invitation to perpetuate tribal thinking and see ourselves as closer to God than, say, Canada or Mexico.

If anyone wants to bring this passage into the present, let it be on the level of their own lives and the life of their church (if I may restrict my comments to the Christian tradition).

See this passage as a call for followers of Jesus and public Christian leaders to be humble, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from their wicked ways. Let it be, in other words, a call to inner spiritual transformation.

When that inner work is taken to heart, it will be hard indeed to see how anyone could ever countenance thinking that the Infinite Creator of the infinite cosmos could be pinning the divine hope on one small landmass in the western hemisphere that decides to write itself into an ancient Jewish story.

Read the rest here.

*Salon* Covers “Christians Against Christian Nationalism”

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Check out journalist Paul Rosenberg’s piece at Salon on this statement.  Here is a taste:

The statement was released along with brief additional statements from 19 prominent endorsers, six of them Baptists, but—true to its Baptist origins—it’s not conceived as a top-down organization. “This is a grassroots movement, spreading through word of mouth and social media,” Tyler told Salon. “We had signers from all 50 states and more than three dozen denominations in the first eight hours of the campaign,” she said, with a total of more than 10,000 additional signatories in just over a week. “Anyone who self-identifies as Christian is invited and welcome to join us,” she said. “Our goal is not just to gather signatures, but to start conversations about what Christian nationalism is and how it shows up in our society today.”

To help further that conversation, BJC launched the above-mentioned podcast series, and EthicsDaily.com, a partner in the project, has published a series of opinion pieces from signatories.

Rosenberg also drew on some of my own writing on this subject:

On his blog, evangelical historian John Fea, who signed the statement, pushed back against critics who claimed there was no such thing as Christian nationalism, a subject he’s written a whole book on. “Christian nationalism not only exists, but it is a view of church and state that drives a significant part of the Donald Trump presidency,” Fea wrote. “As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, some of the fastest-growing evangelical groups in the United States embrace Christian nationalism.”

Read the entire piece here.

Christians Issue a Statement Against Christian Nationalism

Christian NAtionA group of Christians have written a statement opposing Christian nationalism, or the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and continues to be a Christian nation.  Such a view, as I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introductionhas a long history.  Today this idea drives much of the political agenda of the Christian Right.

Here is the statement, which I have signed:

As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy. Today, we are concerned about a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy — Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

 As Christians, we are bound to Christ, not by citizenship, but by faith. We believe that:

  • People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.

  • Patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions.

  • One’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community.

  • Government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.

  • Religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other religious institutions and families.

  • America’s historic commitment to religious pluralism enables faith communities to live in civic harmony with one another without sacrificing our theological convictions.

  • Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

  • We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.

Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.

Most of the original endorsers are affiliated in some way with the Christian left: Tony Campolo, Michael Curry, Melissa Rogers, Jim Wallis, and the leaders of several mainline Protestant denominations.

But where are the thoughtful moderate and conservative evangelicals?  Where do they disagree?  I read the names of every signer and see very few evangelical names that I recognize.

David Barton’s New Book

Garlow and BartonBarton has a new book out.  I have not read it yet.  It is co-authored with court evangelical Jim Garlow and is titled This Precarious Moment: Six Urgent Steps that Will Save You, Your Family, and Our Country.  I would be happy to review it here if Salem Press would send me a review copy.

Here is the summary:

America is at a crisis point. We have a limited amount of time to get it right. The nation must get “back on track” or be forever derailed. That is not melodrama. That is fact. Only Biblical truth can save our country. Some don’t seem to care that it is saved. But many of us do care. For our children, grandchildren, and future generations. There are six serious problems – racial strife, a massive immigration disaster, failure to understand Israel’s role in the world, millennial thinking, misunderstanding of the nature of government, and a church that has capitulated to culture – that are screaming for solutions. And the good news is: there are steps we can take. In this book, Pastor James Garlow and evangelical political activist David Barton present fellow Christians with six steps America needs to take to prevent chaos at this precarious moment in history. 

And here is the Table of Contents:

INTRODUCTION: The Time is Now

SECTION ONE: Racial Healing

  • Chapter 1:Establishing a Foundation
  • Chapter 2: Definitions According to the Bible and Other Leaders
  • Chapter 3: Progressivism’s Destructive “Identity Politics”
  • Chapter 4: American Slavery
  • Chapter 5: Racism is without a Primary Color
  • Chapter 6: No Bitterness Allowed
  • Chapter 7: Tell the Whole Story
  • Chapter 8: The No. 1 Predictor of Major Cultural Problems
  • Chapter 9: The Key Issue
  • Chapter 10: From Stats to the Streets
  • Chapter 11: Complex yet Solvable Problems

SECTION TWO: Immigration

  • Chapter 12: Can We All Just Take a Deep Breath?
  • Chapter 13: A Broken System
  • Chapter 14: Immigration and the Bible
  • Chapter 15: The Melting Pot: A Dream Worth Keeping
  • Chapter 16: The Founders on Immigration
  • Chapter 17: Early Immigration
  • Chapter 18: Early Immigration Laws
  • Chapter 19: A Snapshot of the United States Now
  • Chapter 20: Christians or Muslims?
  • Chapter 21: How Did This Happen?
  • Chapter 22: Why Have Borders at All?
  • Chapter 23: A Way Out
  • Chapter 24: The Greatest Opportunity

SECTION THREE: Israel

  • Chapter 25: Public Opinion Toward Israel
  • Chapter 26: Rampant Anti-Semitism
  • Chapter 27: Genesis 12:1-3
  • Chapter 28: Israel: From Jesus to the Twentieth Century
  • Chapter 29: The Twentieth Century: The Advent of Zionism
  • Chapter 30: Finally, a Land for the Jews
  • Chapter 31: The Modern Rebirth of Israel
  • Chapter 32: The Miraculous Six-Day War
  • Chapter 33: The Rise of Anti-Semitism Among Christians
  • Chapter 34: Heretical Replacement Theology
  • Chapter 35: Friends of Israel
  • Chapter 36: The Elephant in the Room

SECTION FOUR: Millennials

  • Chapter 37:  Who are these Oft-Maligned Individuals?
  • Chapter 38: Sexuality
  • Chapter 39: Presuppositions and Values
  • Chapter 40: Hope on the Horizon
  • Chapter 41: Reality No. 1: Millennials Breathe a Different Atmosphere
  • Chapter 42: Reality No. 2: Millennials Are Not Traditional
  • Chapter 43: Reality No. 3: A New Type of Education
  • Chapter 44: Reality No. 4: No Boundaries and Few Facts
  • Chapter 45: Reality No. 5: Their World is Filled with Weak Examples
  • Chapter 46: Reality No. 6: No Concrete Reality
  • Chapter 47: Reality No. 7: Millennials are Highly Relational
  • Chapter 48: Advice to Millennials and Older Generations

SECTION FIVE: A Biblically Founded Nation

  • Chapter 49: A Nation Founded on Judeo-Christian Principles
  • Chapter 50: What the Experts Believe
  • Chapter 51: Evidence of America’s Christian Foundation
  • Chapter 52: So-Called “Evidence” America Was Not Founded on Christian Principles
  • Chapter 53: America: Exclusively Christian or Pluralistic?
  • Chapter 54: The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence

SECTION SIX: Let the Church be the Church

  • Chapter 55: What Happened to Biblical Christianity in America?
  • Chapter 56: The State of the Church
  • Chapter 57: The Church in Cultural Change, Chaos, and Realingment
  • Chapter 58: Paying Attention
  • Chapter 59: Looking Backward to See the Way Forward
  • Chapter 60: Keeping First Things First
  • Chapter 61: Solutions
  • Chapter 62: Good News

CONCLUSION: This Precarious Moment

ENDNOTES

Eric Metaxas Was in Chicago Last Week. So was I.

Seminary Coop 1

Check out Emily McFarlan Miller’s Religion News Service piece on our recent visits to Chicago.  Metaxas was at Judson University, a Christian college in Elgin.  I was at the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore at the University of Chicago.

Here is a taste of Miller’s piece:

Historian John Fea is skeptical of Metaxas’ views on American history and his support of the current administration.

A couple of days before Metaxas spoke at Judson, Fea was in Chicago to talk about his new book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” during a taping of the “Things Not Seen” podcast Monday at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore on the University of Chicago campus.

Though he teaches American history at Messiah College, an evangelical school, he rejects the idea, popularized by evangelical writers such as Metaxas and David Barton, that America was founded as a Christian nation. Countering that claim is a difficult task. But, he said, it’s important for evangelical Christians to see a different view of early American history from a fellow evangelical.

“Because, you know, frankly, Barton and Metaxas especially are much more popular than people like me who are trying to push back,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.  As some of you know, I spent a lot of time reviewing and critiquing Metaxas’s book If You Can Keep It.

Christian Nationalists Love Guns

Guns and Bibles

A team of sociologists have published a study arguing that those who believe America is a Christian nation are less likely to support gun control.  Anyone who studies evangelicalism knows this instinctively, but thanks to Andrew Whitehead, Landon Schnabel and Samuel Perry we now have evidence that our hunches are true.

Here is a taste of their piece in The Washington Post:

In our newly published and freely available study, the connection between Christian nationalism and gun control attitudes proves stronger than we expected. It turns out that how intensely someone adheres to Christian nationalism is one of the strongest predictors of whether someone supports gun control. One’s political party, religiosity, gender, education or age doesn’t matter.

You could be a mainline Protestant Democratic woman or a highly educated politically liberal man — the more you line up with Christian nationalism, the less likely you are to support gun control.

Read the entire piece here.

Mike Pence Tells Pastors to “Share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Pence

Yesterday Mike Pence appeared before a group of court evangelicals and Christian nationalists and exhorted them to “share the good news of Jesus Christ.”  Here is a taste of a Christian Broadcasting Network piece on Pence’s appearance at the Watchman on the Wall Conference:

In a last second surprise appearance before a pastors conference in Washington DC, Vice President Mike Pence outlined how the Trump administration has championed causes important to the evangelical community and implored them to continue to, “share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

“Other than the service of those who wear the uniform of the United States especially our cherished fallen, the ministries that you lead and the prayers that you pray are the greatest consequence in the life of the nation,” the vice-president told those attending the 2018 Watchman on the Wall conference sponsored by the Family Research Council.

“Keep preaching the good news. Keep preaching in season and out of season as the Bible says. Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have,” he continued.

So just what did Pence mean by “the good news of Jesus Christ?”  Here are some possible options:

  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim Donald Trump as God’s anointed messenger sent to restore America to its Christian roots.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim that America was founded as a Christian nation.
  • Go ye into all the world and continue to teach people to live in fear rather than hope.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim and peddle nostalgia for some of the darkest moments in American life.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim the right not to bake cakes for people you don’t like.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim the need to fight for your rights.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim the need to elect the right candidates in the next election.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim the need for victory in the culture wars.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim that the man in the oval office is a serial liar.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim the need to call immigrants rapists and murderers.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim and defend that guy who said that there were “good people” on both sides in Charlottesville.
  • Go ye into all the world and proclaim support for a politician who has committed adultery with a porn star and Playboy playmate.

Unfortunately, the real message of the Gospel–the “good news”–has been corrupted in the minds of so many Americans because of Mike Pence, Donald Trump, and the kind of people who gathered at the “Watchman on the Wall” event.  These men and women have exchanged the Gospel for political power and at the very least have funneled the “good news” through the lens of partisan politics.  Their gospel is Christian nationalism and it is best preached with a healthy dose of fear, power, and nostalgia.

And as long as we are at it, let’s name some of the names of the people who spoke at this event:

Kay Arthur

Michelle Bachmann

David Barton

Lt. Gen. William Boykin

Jim Garlow

Bishop Harry Jackson

Josh McDowell

Tony “Mulligan” Perkins

Todd Starnes

*Washington Post* Reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey Joins a Christian Nationalist Tour of D.C.

Providential HistoryHere is a taste of her report:

The girls in red, white and blue plaid skirts and boys in khaki pants climbed aboard the bus with their parents before it pulled away from the Red Lion Inn in Arlington, Va.

The 46 Mississippi sixth-graders from Tupelo Christian Preparatory School were headed to the Mall for a conservative “Christian history” tour — a theme that stands out in largely liberal, diverse Washington, even given the city’s role as host to tours for practically every interest.

“We are a nation founded by people who put their trust in God,” said Stephen McDowell, co-founder of the Providence Foundation, the right-leaning Christian educational nonprofit group in Charlottesville that sponsors the tours.

“What’s our motto?” McDowell called out to the students.

“In God We Trust!” they yelled back in unison.

“America is exceptional,” McDowell continued. “This nation was unlike any in history.”

The tours attempt to explain the buildings, monuments and symbols in the nation’s capital through a Christian lens, as visible proof of religious foundations upon which the country was built.

And here is my small contribution to the article:

Many historians takes issue with the idea of a tour that focuses at looking at national history solely through a conservative Christian perspective.

“People like McDowell get some facts wrong, but my real issue with them is the way they try to spin the past to promote their present-day political agenda,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College, a Christian school in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “They cherry-pick. … This is not how historians work.”

The political leanings of the Christian history tour group were apparent.

For example, the students and parents watched Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) give an address in the Senate chambers about labor rights for Native Americans and his opposition to Trump’s stance toward Russia and the recent tax reform law.

“He sounded like he was from somewhere in the North,” Julia Jane Averette, 12, said over lunch. “I wish a Republican had been talking when we went through.”

Averette said she is inspired to become president some day. “I would lower taxes and spend money on things that are useful, like protecting the country, not what Obama did,” she said.

Read the entire article here.

*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.”

Christian Nationalism and Evangelical Support for Donald Trump

RevisedI wish I would have seen this study when I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  It provides statistical evidence for an argument I have been making ever since Trump announced his presidential candidacy.

Sociologists Andrew Whitehead, Joseph Baker, and Samuel Perry have found that evangelical support for Donald Trump is directly related to the belief, common among conservative evangelicals, that the United States is a Christian nation.

This supports my argument that evangelical support for Donald Trump is based on some pretty bad history.  As many of you know, I have been writing about this bad history for a long time.  A good place to start is my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.

Here is a taste of Whitehead’s, Baker’s, and Perry’s piece in The Washington Post:

The more someone believed the United States is — and should be — a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote for Trump

First, Americans who agreed with the various measures of Christian nationalism were much more likely to vote for Trump, even after controlling for other influences, such as political ideology, political party and other cultural factors proposed as possible explanations…

No other religious factor influenced support for or against Trump

Second, we find that Americans’ religious beliefs, behaviors and affiliation did not directly influence voting for Trump. In fact, once Christian nationalism was taken into account, other religious measures had no direct effect on how likely someone was to vote for Trump. These measures of religion mattered only if they made someone more likely to see the United States as a Christian nation.

Read the entire piece here.

These sociologists used the following questions to decipher the ways that evangelicals think America is a Christian nation:

  • “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation”
  • “The federal government should advocate Christian values”
  • “The federal government should enforce strict separation of church and state” (reverse coded)
  • “The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols in public spaces”
  • “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan”
  • “The federal government should allow prayer in public schools”

Now here is how people like David Barton and other Christian nationalists try to historicize these questions:Believe Me JPEG

  1. The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation because it was founded as a Christian nation and secular liberals have been steering it away from its Christian roots since the mid-20th century.
  2. The federal government should advocate for Christian values because the founding fathers advocated for the role of Christianity as a way of bringing morality and order to the republic.  (This, I might add, is only partially true).
  3. Separation of church and state is a myth because it is not in the Constitution.  The doctrine of separation of church and state was created by the Supreme Court in 1947 when Hugo Black said that there is a “wall of separation” between church and state and it is “high and impregnable.”
  4. The federal government should allow the display of religious symbols because America has always allowed for such symbols.  Just look at the Rotunda of the Capitol building or coins.
  5. America is exceptional because God is on its side more than He is any other nation.  The United States is the New Israel–a chosen people.  And because George Washington and other founders talked about God’s providence this must be true.
  6. The Federal Government should allow prayer in public schools because prayer has always been part of the American education system, separation of church and state is a myth, and many of the Founding Fathers were men of prayer.

There are, of course, serious historical problems with all of these statements, but my point here is that all of these points must be addressed from the perspective of American history.  They must be pulled-up from the roots.  In many ways the evangelical support for Donald Trump is a historical problem and the failure of evangelicals to study it. This is something akin to Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

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!

A Christian Nation or a Nation of Liberty? (You Can’t Have it Both Ways)

More from Glenn Tinder:

When Christians accept liberty they accept the possibility–a possibility that is almost certain to become a reality–of a world unformed and ungoverned by faith.  The natural inclination of faith is to build a sacred order–to reconstruct the world in its own image.  In granting liberty, it abandons that spontaneous project  It acquiesces in secularism–life unrelated to God and unstructured by faith.  Acknowledging the right of human beings to be free, it allows for a repudiation of faith…Granting liberty is making way for sin.

The Political Meaning of Christianity, p. 102.

ADDENDUM:  Several readers who are not familiar with my work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home seem to think that Tinder is arguing on behalf of a Christian nation.  Actually, Tinder is arguing for liberty rooted in the human dignity of all human beings and, as a result, a kind of pluralism.

Here is more context:

…when Christians commit themselves to liberty there follows an enormous complication of Christian morality; they deliberately refrain, in some measure, from resisting evil.  They allow the tares to grow with the wheat.

Gerson: Roy Moore Embraces the “Shabby, Third-Rate Gospel of Stephen K. Bannon”

MooreIn his most recent column, Michael Gerson, the conservative evangelical columnist at The Washington Post, explains the Christian nationalism of Judge Roy Moore:

But Moore represents a peculiar challenge to the GOP future. He holds to a particularly rigorous vision of a Christian America, ultimately ruled and legitimated by “biblical law.” In his conception, the freedom of “religion” in the First Amendment is limited to the Christian (and presumably Jewish) version of the creator God. So the protections of the Constitution do not extend to, say, Buddhism and Islam. “Buddha didn’t create us,” explains Moore. “Muhammad didn’t create us. It’s the God of the Holy Scriptures.”

The absurdity of this claim is just stunning. Moore is contending that when the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the document was actually intending to establish a religion. This indicates a type of zealotry willing to call night day and day night.

Stunning indeed.  I need to do some checking, but I think Moore’s position is an even more consistent Christian nationalism than the stuff peddled by David Barton.

Gerson argues that Moore is less theonomist and more Bannonist:

It is easy to imagine Moore sleeplessly considering American decadence, because his version of biblical law is ceaselessly violated. It is worth asking: What is his limiting principle in enforcing the voice of Heaven? The Ten Commandments set aside the Sabbath for rest. Should that be mandated? How about Old Testament recommendations of the death penalty for adulterers, apostates, blasphemers and incorrigible children? Why not enforce the Apostle Paul’s admonition against “foolish talk”? But that would leave Moore speechless.

No, Moore is not really a theonomist. The boundaries of his worldview, it turns out, almost exactly coincide with those of the Breitbart agenda. Moore’s study of divine law has led him, in the end, to the shabby, third-rate gospel of Stephen K. Bannon.

Read the rest here.  I also wonder how much longer we should call Gerson an “evangelical” or a “conservative.”

Public History and the Church (or why I do what I do)

Why Study History CoverIn the last few days, several folks have asked me why I get so “bent out of shape” about the likes of David Barton and the “court evangelicals.”  One noted American religious historian regularly implies on Twitter and in blog comments that I am “obsessed” with Trump.

I get so “bent out of shape” because I believe that part of my vocation as a historian is to bring good United States history to the church–both to the local church and the larger American church.  (And especially to evangelicalism, since that is my tribe).  I wrote about this extensively in the Epilogue of Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  When I speak at churches–and I do this often–I see it as a form of public history.

My critique of the court evangelicals is a natural extension of my ongoing criticism of conservative activist Barton and other Christian nationalist purveyors of the past.  It is not a coincidence that First Baptist-Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress often preaches a sermon titled “America is a Christian Nation.”  In this sermon he says. among other things:

We don’t restrict people’s right to worship [they can] worship however they choose to worship.  But that doesn’t mean we treat all religions equally.  This is a Christian nation. Every other religion is an impostor, it is an infidelity.  That is what the United States Supreme Court said.

Someone can correct me, but I think First Baptist–Dallas is the largest Southern Baptist church in the world.  Jeffress is an influential figure.  He goes on Fox News and claims to represent American evangelicals.  His profile has risen immensely since he announced his support of Trump.

It’s important to remember that Jeffress’s political theology (if you can call it that) is based on a false view of American history.  And it is not very difficult to trace it to the teachings of Barton.

In the aforementioned sermon, Jeffress comments on a recent Barton visit to First Baptist–Dallas.  He then says, referencing the prince of Aledo, Texas, that “52 of the 55 signers of the Constitution” were “evangelical believers.” This is problematic on so many levels.  First, only 39 people signed the Constitution.  Actually, I think Jeffress might be referring here to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Second, to suggest that most of them were “evangelicalRevised believers” is a blatant misrepresentation of history.  In fact, Jeffress doesn’t even get Barton right here.  Barton says (wrongly) that nearly all of the signers of the Declaration had Bible school and seminary degrees.  Jeffress is confused about his fake history. 🙂  But that doesn’t matter.  People in his massive congregation applaud and cheer when he preaches this stuff.

Jeffress and the court evangelicals support Trump because they want to “make America great again.”  Jeffress’s congregation even sings a song about it.  Let’s remember that “Make America Great Again” is a historical claim.  The nation is “great,” Christian nationalists like Jeffress argue, when it upholds the Christian beliefs on which it was founded.  Christian Right politics, the same politics that carry a great deal of weight in today’s GOP, thus starts with this dubious claim about the American founding. From there it can go in all sorts of directions related to immigration, race, church and state, marriage, abortion, religious liberty, etc….

My approach to critiquing Jeffress, the Christian Right, and the court evangelicals is structural in nature. It is fitting with my vocation as a historian.  Theologians and pastors are probably better equipped to make a direct biblical case for why Jeffress’s Christian nationalism is idolatry and harmful to the witness of the Gospel. Greg Boyd, Richard, Hughes, John Wilsey, and others have already made such a case. I encourage you to read their books.  But early American historians are best equipped at taking a sledgehammer to the foundation of Christian nationalist politics.

So yes, I do get “bent out of shape.”  Maybe I am obsessed.  Somebody has to be.  We need good American history more than ever. Christian historians have a public role to play in such a time as this.