Trump launched his 2020 campaign tonight. Not much has changed since 2016.

Trump Tulsa

Earlier this evening, Donald Trump started his campaign with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma is rising. Most of those who did attend the rally were not wearing masks. With the exception of U.S. Senator James Lankford, none of the politicians Trump asked to stand and be recognized–Senators James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, Representatives Jim Jordan, Debbie Lesko, and Elise Stefanik, and Governor Kevin Stitt–were wearing masks. Six of Trump’s rally staff tested positive for coronavirus this week.

The millions of attendees that Trump promised this week did not show up. It looked like he had a decent crowd in Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center (BOK), but it was much, much smaller than what the Trump team estimated. As I watched on television (C-SPAN), I saw a lot of empty seats. Trump and Mike Pence had to cancel an outdoor speaking event today because no one came.

Trump chose to say nothing about the country’s race problems. He did not bring-up George Floyd, Juneteenth, the country”s racial unrest, or the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. His silence spoke volumes.

I live-tweeted and retweeted the rally

This is what we mean by Christian nationalism. Pence uses this verse all the time and applies it to the United States. I wrote about the way the Christian Right uses 2 Chronicles 7:14 here and here. Russell Moore has a nice piece on this here.

Much of the material in the link above comes from my discussion of “law and order” and Nixon in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

For those who can’t access the link in the above tweet, you can find it here. During the speech, Trump continued to extol his two Supreme Court justices, although he did not mention either of them by name. Readers will recall that we also looked at the Bostock case this week from the perspective of religious liberty and historical thinking.

I would love to know what was going through the mind of James Lankford during this rally. He does not seem like the kind of guy who likes these kinds of events. As we noted earlier this week, Lankford was behind Trump’s decision to move the Tulsa rally from June 19, 2020 (Juneteenth) to June 20, 2020.

Here is what Americans think about how Trump handled, and is handling, the coronavirus. His lies, mistruths, and partially true statements (at least before April 9, 2020) about the pandemic have been compiled here. The Associated Press reported that Trump “wasted” months before preparing the country for the virus. One could make a good case that Trump’s “America First” policy was to blame.

It is hard to pick the most disgusting thing Trump said tonight, but the above statement would be near the top. It reveals the inner-workings of Trump’s mind. Only a narcissist, who interprets everything through the lens of how it benefits his ambitions, would say publicly that there is a political downside to coronavirus testing.

The last five tweets cover the darkest moments of Trump’s speech

As noted above, Trump said nothing about race in America or Tulsa. Yet he spent a considerable portion of the speech talking about this:

John Gehring nails it. Court evangelicals, cover your ears:

Great observation from Kedron Bardwell:

Let’s remember that in 2016, Trump announced a list of  Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society judges. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were on that list. Trump’s promise of a new list, of course, is a direct appeal to the white evangelical base. Trump knows that evangelicals vote for a president based predominantly on his or her promises of conservative Supreme Court appointments. Gorsuch’s majority opinion in the Bostock case will not change anything here. Trump is hoping this strategy will pay off again in November.

Matt Lewis may be correct, but I am pretty sure Trump will give it his best shot.

If you can’t read the link in the above tweet click here.

Here Trump seems to be making a statement about the self-interested nature of humanity and his constituency’s inability to rise above such selfishness. He is essentially saying something like: “I dare you to place your morality and what is right over a strong economy.  You don’t have the guts.” It all reminds me of his “I can stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” line.

For more on John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, click here.

And the campaign has begun!

Os Guinness’s Appeal to the Past is Deeply Problematic

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Watch Christian speaker and author Os Guinness deliver a speech titled 1776 vs. 1789: the Roots of the Present Crisis. It is part of an event hosted by the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.  Someone sent it to me recently.

I have benefited from Guinness’s books, but this particular talk is deeply problematic.

Guinness makes the case that both the English “revolution” of 1642 and the American Revolution were somehow “biblical” in nature. I am not sure how he relates this claim to verses such as Romans 13 or  1 Peter 2:13-17, but I am sure if he had more time he would find a way.  Let’s remember that Romans 13 not only says that Christians must submit to governmental authority, but they must also pay their taxes. I wrote extensively about this in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction. I point you to my discussion there.

Guinness also makes the incredibly simplistic and ahistorical claim that the ideas of the American Revolution flowed from the Bible to John Calvin to John Winthrop and to New England Puritanism. No early American historian would make this claim. The America as “New England-writ large” interpretation has been thoroughly debunked. What is important to Guinness is the “city upon a hill”–the vision of American exceptionalism as extolled by cold warriors (JFK , for example) and popularized by Ronald Reagan and virtually every GOP presidential candidate since.

Guinness also seems to suggest that because America was founded as a Christian nation, and Christianity is a religion of forgiveness, then America should look forward and forget the sins of its past. He even takes a quick shot at the reparations for slavery movement. This reminds me of John Witherspoon, one of Guinness heroes.  In his 1776 sermon, The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Menthe Scottish born patriot and president of the College of New Jersey made the case that America was morally superior to all other nations, including England. “I cannot help observing,” he wrote, “that though it would be a miracle if there were not many selfish persons among us, and discoveries now and then made of mean and interested transactions, yet they have been comparatively inconsiderable in both number and effect.” The colonies, Witherspoon believed, offered relatively few examples of “dishonesty and disaffection.” This myth of American innocence has been around for a long time. It has blinded people like Guinness from taking a deep, hard look into the dark side of the American past and developing a Christian view of cultural engagement that takes seriously the nation’s sins.

The French Revolution, Guinness argues, was anti-Biblical because it was hostile to religion and informed by the atheism of the French Enlightenment. This is also a very contested claim. As historian Dale Van Kley argued in The Religious Origins of the French Revolutionthe French Revolution had “long-term religious–even Christian–origins.” Guinness’s view also seems to imply that the Enlightenment had nothing to do with the American Revolution. Such a monolithic and reductionist approach to 1776 ignores half a century of historical scholarship. Guinness sounds just like David Barton and the rest of the Christian nationalist historians. He also sounds a lot like his mentor, the late Francis Schaeffer, a Christian thinker who was roundly criticized by an entire generation of evangelical historians, including Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Nathan Hatch. (I cover this story in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation, but I also recommend Barry Hankins’s biography of Schaeffer).

Guinness then argues that the political and cultural divisions in our culture today are explained as a battle between those who follow the spirit of the “biblical” American Revolution and those who follow the spirit of the anti-biblical French Revolution. In order to make such a claim, Guinness needs to simplify and stereotype the character of both revolutions. He fails to acknowledge that there has never been an official or uncontested interpretation of the meaning of the American Revolution. We have been fighting over this for a long time and it is arrogant for Guinness to suggest that he has it all figured out. Just listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. Elementary school kids understand that Jefferson and Hamilton understood the American Revolution differently and had some pretty nasty verbal exchanges as they debated its meaning.

In order for Guinness to offer the cultural critique he tries to make in this video, he must take the Hamiltonian/anti-French side of the 1790s debate and reject the American vision of Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, James Monroe, and many others. Perhaps he needs to read some books by Gary Nash, Woody Holton, and Edward Countryman. I doubt these social and neo-progressive historians will change his mind, but they might at least convince him that one can study the American Revolution and draw different conclusions about what it set out to accomplish. Heck, even the neo-Whigs like Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn, and defenders of Lockean liberalism like Joyce Appleby, did not go so far as to suggest that the American Revolution was “biblical” in nature.

In one of the stranger moments of his presentation, Guinness tries to connect the three ideals of the French Revolution–liberty, fraternity, and equality–with the rise of Marxism, postmodernism, the secularism of the academy, and the American Left. Guinness is not wrong here. But he also seems completely unaware that ideals such as liberty, fraternity, and equality also motivated American reformers who believed that these ideals were part of the legacy of the American Revolution. Anti-federalism, abolitionism, workers’ rights movements, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movements, American utopian movements, and many others preached liberty, fraternity, and equality.  But for Guinness, these ideals have “nothing to do” with the legacy of American Revolution “and its biblical roots.”

We should be very, very wary of Guinness’s use of the past. In fact, he is not doing history at all. Guinness takes two highly contested claims–that the American Revolution was Christian and the French Revolution was not–and uses them to build his critique of the American hour. He is using the past to advance a cultural and political agenda and doing it badly. He comes across as just another partisan.

Is the Christian Right to Blame for the Coronavirus?

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As some of you know, earlier this week I participated in a conversation with Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationism.  I think you can still watch the conversation here.

Today at The New York Times, Stewart has a piece titled “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals.”

Here is a taste:

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an “apostle” and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” he said.

Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies” and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church “when the rapture is taking place.” In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”

By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.

A couple of quick thoughts:

First, most op-ed writers do not write their own titles. The title of this piece is misleading. As Stewart noted in our conversation this week, and repeats in the Times piece, she is writing about a particular kind of evangelical, not all evangelicals.  Her focus is on the anti-science, Trump-loving parts of the Christian Right.

Second, those who are upset by Stewart’s piece should get a copy of Mark Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Stewart is essentially making the same argument about evangelical anti-intellectualism.

Here is conservative writer Rod Dreher:

 

I don’t think Stewart is scapegoating anyone. If one reads the piece carefully, it is hard to argue with the fact that people like Guillermo Maldonado, Rodney Howard Browne, Tony Spell, Jerry Falwell Jr., and others have been reckless. I think it is also fair to say that the white evangelicals who empower Donald Trump bear some of the indirect blame for his bungling of this crisis. Dreher obviously has a beef with The New York Times, but Stewart’s piece, and much of her book Power Worshippers, is pretty accurate.

A Great Night “At” the Midtown Scholar Bookstore

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Here is a taste of Yaasmeen Piper’s piece at The Burg:

However, that didn’t stop Midtown Scholar Bookstore from bringing its famous book talks to the community. They just had to get a bit more creative.

On Wednesday evening, Midtown Scholar hosted its very first virtual book talk. The new series kicked off with New York Times bestselling author Katherine Stewart and fellow author and American history professor at Messiah College, John Fea.

Our event series is such a foundational piece of what we do here at the Scholar,” said Alex Brubaker, bookstore manager. “We couldn’t let it die simply because we couldn’t meet in person. If we can contribute some semblance of normalcy to our lives at this moment, it’s worth it.”

Almost 200 people tuned into the bookstore’s Crowdcast, a live video platform used for webinars, Q&As and more. Some audience members were streaming the book talk from places outside Harrisburg, as far away as Chicago and even Canada.

Stewart discussed her latest book, “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.” Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” led the discussion surrounding religion, politics and their intersection with religious nationalism.

“It’s not just about evangelicals,” Stewart said. “[The religious nationalism movement] includes many evangelicals, but also excludes evangelicals and includes a variety of both Protestant and non-Protestant forms of religion.”

Stewart’s book dives into how America’s religious conservatives evolved into the Christian nationalist movement, which, she said, is better funded and more organized than many people realize. She reveals how the movement relies on think tanks, advocacy groups, pastoral organizations and even other religious nationalists around the world.

Both authors and Brubaker sat in their own rooms, with books lining the walls and dim lighting, almost giving the feeling of being back in the bookstore. Aside from very few technical hiccups, the conversation flowed smoothly. Audience members were able to chat amongst themselves using the live chat on the right-hand side of their screens.

Read the rest here.

I’ll Be Live With Katherine Stewart on Wednesday Night “at” the Midtown Scholar

Stewart FeaOur face-to-face book event got canceled, but the Midtown Scholar Bookstore has moved us online!  Here is the announcement:

We’re thrilled to announce our very first virtual event! Join authors Katherine Stewart and John Fea via Crowdcast as they discuss The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. In the book, Stewart pulls back the curtain on the inner workings and leading personalities of a movement that has turned religion into a tool for domination, exposesing a dense network of think tanks, advocacy groups, and pastoral organizations. The Power Worshippers is a brilliantly reported book of warning and a wake-up call. Stewart’s probing examination demands that Christian nationalism be taken seriously as a significant threat to the American republic and our democratic freedoms.

Register here!

With Katherine Stewart at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore

The Power WorshippersOn March 12, 2020, author Katherine Stewart will be at the Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg to discuss her new book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.  I will be interviewing her at the event.  Learn more here.

Here is a description of The Power Worshippers:

For too long the Religious Right has masqueraded as a social movement preoccupied with a number of cultural issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But in her deeply reported investigation, Katherine Stewart reveals a disturbing truth: America’s Religious Right has evolved into a Christian nationalist movement. It seeks to gain political power and to impose its vision on all of society. It isn’t fighting a culture war, it is waging a political war on the norms and institutions of American democracy.

Stewart shows that the real power of the movement lies in a dense network of think tanks, advocacy groups, and pastoral organizations, embedded in a rapidly expanding community of international alliances with like-minded, anti-democratic religious nationalists around the world, including Russia. She follows the money behind the movement and traces much of it to a group of super-wealthy, ultraconservative donors and family foundations. The Christian nationalist movement is far more organized and better funded than most people realize. It seeks to control all aspects of government and society. Its successes have been stunning, and its influence now extends to every aspect of American life, from the White House to state capitols, from our schools to our hospitals.

The Power Worshippers is a brilliantly reported book of warning and a wake-up call. Stewart’s probing examination demands that Christian nationalism be taken seriously as a significant threat to the American republic and our democratic freedoms.

I hope to see some of you on March 12 in Harrisburg.

The Annual Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment Gives Way to Glenn Beck

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According to this article at Penn Live, the 2020 reenactment at the Battle of Gettysburg has been canceled because Glenn Beck is hosting an event called “Restoring the Covenant on the Sacred Land of Gettysburg.”

Beck’s event will “reflect on our spiritual foundations and renew our covenant as one nation, under God.  Over three days, you’ll enjoy keynote addresses, break-out sessions with headliners, special dinners, fireworks, and a Sunday service.”  For a $5 donation you can “keep your place in line.”  Speakers have not yet been announced.  I think it’s safe to say David Barton, the GOP operative who used the past to advance his political agenda, will be there.  He has a long relationship with Beck.

Gettysburg tourism officials seemed thrilled that 20,000 to 30,000 Beck followers will converge on the town over the July 4th holiday to celebrate Christian nationalism.

Here is a taste of Steve Marroni’s piece at Penn Live:

Beck’s organization is hosting the event in Gettysburg from July 3 to 5, the same weekend as most of the major battle-commemoration events in town.

Calls and emails to the organization were not returnedbut its website says, “This special occasion promises to be a chance to join with like-minded people to reflect on the spiritual foundations of the United States of America and renew our covenant as one nation, under God.”

It will feature keynote addresses, breakout sessions, dinners, fireworks and talks by headliners, including Beck. It will be held at a variety of locations in and around Gettysburg.

When the event was announced, potential attendees could make a $5 donation to reserve their spot for when tickets became available.

It was unclear on the website what the cost of the tickets will be, or if the $5 donation covers admission. But the site advertised packages that include lodging and range from $7,500 per person to $200. Some discount passes with no listed pricing options appear to be available, as well. The premier package starts with several days in Boston, taking in some historic sites there before traveling to Gettysburg.

Although the reenactment won’t happen, Beck’s organization is expected to bring plenty of visitors. Estimates range from 20,000 to 30,000 people, and that’s OK by Destination Gettysburg.

“Our core mission is to attract visitors to Adams County each year,” said spokeswoman Natalie Buyny. “We work with many corporations and national groups that want to come to Gettysburg.”

While attendees will be busy with a whole slate of activities -– many of which have not yet been revealed — she said there will be downtime for Beck’s visitors. That’s time when they can stop by Gettysburg’s restaurants, its shops and, of course, the historic sites in town and on the hallowed grounds of the battlefield.

Gettysburg is prepared to handle such an influx of visitors. Restoring the Covenant is expected to be big, but not as big as the 150th anniversary of the battle in 2013, when Buyny said they saw an estimated 150,000 visitors over a 10-day period with no major issues.

She added Restoring the Covenant organizers have been working with the municipalities to alleviate some of the traffic concerns.

While the reenactment may be missed this year, she acknowledged reenactments are not the draw they used to be.

The average, non-anniversary year would see about 15,000 people attending the reenactments, a number that dropped to an estimated 9,000 in 2019, she said. On anniversary years — such as the 150th in 2013 – it’s not unusual to see between 40,000 and 60,000 attendees over three days.

Read the entire piece here.

It appears that a reenactment will take place on a nearby farm.

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center Says “Turning the Other Cheek” is No Longer Sufficient

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We have blogged about Liberty University’s Falkirk Center before.  The more I learn about this center the more I am convinced that it does not represent the teachings of Christianity.   Recently someone on Twitter pointed out this paragraph in the Falkirk Center mission statement:

Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough, and turning the other cheek in our personal relationships with our neighbors as Jesus taught while abdicating our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield is no longer sufficient. There is too much at stake in the battle for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic action and initiative is needed, which is why we just launched the Falkirk Center, a think tank dedicated to restoring and defending American ideals and Judeo-Christian values in all aspects of life.

You read that correctly.  Jerry Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk, the leaders of the Falkirk Center, are suggesting that we should ignore Jesus’s teaching to “turn the other cheek.”  Just for the sake of clarification, Jesus said, “You  have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (Mt. 5:38-40).

Any why are the words of Jesus “no longer sufficient?” Because the “soul of the nation”–the United States of America– is more important.  Later in the mission statement, Falwell and Kirk say that the Falkirk Center was created to defend “Judeo-Christian” principles.  What is more Judeo-Christian than the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me”? (Exodus 20:1-3).

ADDENDUM (8:50 pm, January 16, 2020):

Several smart people have suggested that I may have misread Liberty University’s statement.  They have said that the Falkirk Center was not denying that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for individuals.  Instead, the Falkirk Center is saying that we should not “abdicate” (the key word here) our responsibilities to engage on the “culture battlefield.”

I think this is a fair criticism, and I indeed may have misread the statement.  For that I am sorry.  But I don’t think I want to back away too strongly from what I wrote above.  While several have correctly pointed out that Liberty University is not saying Jesus’s command to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for individual Christians, the Falkirk Center does seem to be suggesting that it is “insufficient” for culture engagement.

A few thoughts:

First, it appears that Jerry Falwell and Charlie Kirk believe that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for engaging the larger culture.  If I read them correctly, they are saying that we should “turn the other cheek” in “our personal relationships with our neighbors,” but we should “not turn the other cheek” on the “cultural battlefield.” This assumes that our interaction with “neighbors” does not count as cultural engagement, as if the people we encounter everyday at our workplaces and in our communities are not part of culture.

Second, some have suggested that Falwell and Kirk are promoting a “2 Kingdoms” view of the relationship between the church and government.  Those who espouse this view might say that we cannot expect the government to act in accordance with the Sermon in the Mount.  In other words, according to this view, the idea of “turning the other cheek” is something individual Christians should do, but certainly not governments.

But even if we allow for such a 2 Kingdoms view, we must remember that such a view, which is often associated with Martin Luther, is about the relationship between Christians and GOVERNMENT.  Liberty University’s Falkirk Center IS NOT the government.  It is the product of a private Christian school–Liberty University.

Third, and finally, is it possible to engage public life in such a way that upholds the spirit of “turning the other cheek?” The statement’s use of the term “cultural battlefield” seems to champion an approach to public life–for an individual Christian or a group of Christians such as the Falkirk Center–that is antithetical to Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

Don’t get me wrong–I am not making an argument here against public engagement. Instead, I am making an argument here for a kind of public engagement that might take seriously the idea of “turning the other cheek.”  (I will let the Christian political and moral philosophers wrestle with what this might look like).  I am not sure if I am willing to “abdicate” the idea of “turning the other cheek” as a useful idea for Christians engaging in public life.

Nationalism and Worship

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Nationalism and Worship Panel (Left to right): Wright, Maiden, Hummel, Bivins, Haberski and Turek

Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City.  Enjoy his latest post.  –JF

This morning at ASCH I chaired a roundtable on Nationalism and Christian Worship. This gathering was my idea. It forms part of a project I am working on this year funded by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. The grant is given as part of the CICW’s new Teacher-Scholar grant program that encourages scholars to find ways to connect their discipline, the study of Christian worship, and the practice of local worshipping communities. I have been doing various things during the grant year including reading good books on worship and nationalism, and starting to write a book of my own on Evangelicalism and Nationalism. I have also been working with Dr. Jim Samra, pastor of Calvary Church, Grand Rapids, to lead a church-based study group on the history and practice of nationalism and worship.

As a scholar whose main research interests focus neither on nationalism nor the United States I wanted to conduct a fact-finding mission to learn from experts in the field. The roundtable this morning was the result. I was very pleased with the top-flight team who assembled, and I learned much from their lively and multi-dimensional responses to my questions.

Lauren Turek (Trinity University, San Antonio TX) explored how Evangelicals have appropriated the internationalist language of human rights to serve nationalist ends, particularly in regard to construing the global campaign for religious freedom as a refraction of their own allegedly embattled place within American culture. Jason Bivins (North Carolina State University) picked up this theme of the imagined marginality of American Christians, and I look forward to his new book Embattled Majority which plots these issues in detail. Bivins also gave arguably one of the most passionate orations I have heard at an academic conference about the need for scholars to be plain-speaking prophets for these perilous times. Raymond Haberski Jr. (Indiana-Purdue University) reflected on the link between rhetoric and “operationality” of religious nationalist discourse, thinking particularly about the way in which Catholic just war theorists engaged the public sphere in the 1980s against a tendency toward ecclesial withdrawal from public life in the wake of the  Vietnam era.

Dan Hummel (University of Wisconsin-Madison) opened up the multivalent connection between worship and nationalism in regard to Christian Zionism, in particular the adoption of Jewish liturgical practices by Evangelical Christians. But he also wanted to warn against seeing Christian Zionism as simply a refraction of American nationalism, pointing us to the international nature of the Christian Zionist movement. Ben Wright (UT Dallas) explored the issue of national formation in the antebellum era, and affirmed the point made by some other panelists that nationalism differs across space and time, and is, to some extent, always a site of contest and evolution in which Christian communities have played strategic and varying roles. John Maiden (Open University, UK) offered a British perspective, arguing that the British Evangelical community has in one sense lost its older commitment to national religion (the 27% of Evangelicals that voted for Brexit stand in marked contrast to the 81% that voted for Trump), while retaining some of its imagery, particularly in regard to Britain’s special status and anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Several overarching themes emerged which I will want to reflect on further. First, a hunch I had developed going into this project received some affirmation. Nationalism, while on the one hand belligerent and self-satisfied, is in many ways fragile and uncertain. Indeed, its most strident manifestations may come from positions of weakness – or imagined weakness – as much as from strength. Second, the question was raised at several junctures concerning for whom the discourse of Christian nationalism is intended. Is Christian nationalist rhetoric primarily aimed at the Christian community, or is it directed to achieving defined goals within the nation-state? Third, I was interested in the relationship between individualism and community raised in the discussions, especially as this seems a very germane link with issues of worship. Is nationalism, especially in the American context, something experienced (ironically) in isolation or, at best, as a kind of personal experience of a cultural mood or sentiment? Or is it genuinely about community and civic engagement? This seems important as it connects with a standard critique of Evangelical worship that privileges sentiment and individual experience over the formation of an ekklesia. This leads me to the fourth reflection, which is the sense of moral imperative that several participants conveyed for the church to do better at helping Christians think and act well about these issues. Much of the literature on worship and liturgy stresses the educative function of worship. The question my whole project is asking this year is (a) whether churches are equipped to fulfill this function in a way that sufficiently addresses and overcomes the other powerful liturgies that form Christian identity and community within the national-state, and  (b) if, as I suspect, the answer is often not, then what role can Christian thinkers — including us Christian historians—have in helping the church “imagine the Kingdom” and “unmask the powers” more fully.

One question after the panel from an audience member reminded me of a question I also still want answered: are there any historical studies of when the flag when into the sanctuary, or when and why it left the building? Flags in sanctuaries seem to be a great example of what Michael Billig calls “banal nationalism” – the slow and almost unnoticeable daily drip-feed of national identity symbols. My only answer to the question is anecdotal. Perusing the minutes of a church in Grand Rapids I found that this particular church raised the flag in 1976—a symbolic date that requires no explanation. But it would be interesting to know if this was the start or just a renaissance of the flag in the sanctuary, and to explore the mechanisms that encouraged churches to hoist the flag in this year. Was there a concerted national campaign, or was it spontaneous local initiative? As the audience member suggested, it would be useful for those trying to encourage the removal of the flag from the sanctuary if historians could show the context and reasons it went in.

More on the Liberty University’s Falkirk Center and How It Will Approach American History

Here is Charlie Kirk and Jerry Falwell Jr. on One News:

So it looks like the Falkirk Center:

  • Will attack the work of outstanding public school history teachers, the kinds of teachers I have worked with over the years through my relationship with the Gilder-Lehrman Institute and elsewhere.
  • Will attack teachers unions.
  • Will oppose an approach to American history as taught, to quote Falwell “as some sinister, you know bourgeois, white man, taking advantage of everybody else.”  (Yes, that is an exact quote). Falwell claims that this view of history is “totally opposite of what happened.”
  • Will be a center to promote Christian nationalism, the “intersection” of the Gospel with the American founding.
  • Is a culture war institution, not an educational institution.
  • Will apparently be teaching students that Alexis de Tocqueville visisted America “in the 1700s” (Toqueville visited America in 1831).

See our previous posts on the Falkirk Center here and here.

Liberty University’s “Falkirk Center” Will Focus on American History

What is the Falkirk Center? Get up to speed here.

Watch Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk talk about their new center on Fox News.

Falwell Jr. says that the center will teach “History 101” because such American history “has not been taught in recent decades.”

Perhaps David Barton, the GOP activist who uses the American past to promote his political agenda, will be the first visiting scholar at the Falkirk Center.

I also wonder what the Liberty University History Department, which recently started an online Ph.D program in history, has to say about this center?  Were they consulted? Will they be involved in any way?  How does Falwell Jr.’s comments relate to the claim that the Liberty University Ph.D program will teach students how to “apply a Christian worldview to the study of history?”  I can’t imagine that Falwell’s blabbering will help Liberty history students–undergraduate and graduate–in their attempts to find jobs in the field.

At the end of the interview, Fox host Ainsley Earhardt says, “The Atlantic says that “Christianity is in crisis” so we need you guys.”  I am assuming she is referring to Peter Wehner’s July 2019 Atlantic piece titled “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity.”  Perhaps Earhardt or her producers should have read the subtitle of this piece: “Support for Trump comes at a high cost for Christian witness.”  In other words, the piece she is referencing is an anti-Trump, anti-court evangelical piece.  This is just one small example of how Fox News manipulates the facts and reveals its incompetence.

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.

My Review of the Netflix Documentary “The Family”

The FamilyMy review is online today at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

Historians of American Christianity were hard at work trying to convince academics and the general public that evangelicalism was a religious movement, not a cover for a nefarious attempt to create a 17th century Puritan theocracy. The efforts of these historians, of course, did not come easy during the Age of Reagan, the Moral Majority and the so-called culture wars. Sharlet’s book didn’t help the cause.

But much has changed in the past decade. In fact, Moss and Sharlet’s documentary, which devotes the bulk of its coverage to developments in “The Family” after 2010, is quite timely. The Christian Right has found renewed energy since President Trump’s election. Christian nationalism, the idea that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation and needs to return to its religious roots, is on the rise. Many pundits and scholars wonder if the evangelical movement can be separated from the agenda of the Republican Party.

It’s time to examine Sharlet’s work (and now Moss’ work) with fresh eyes and for this reason alone, “The Family” is must viewing.

Read the entire review 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.

Is There a Relationship Between Christian Nationalism and White Supremacy?

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Two reporters contacted me this week to talk about Christian nationalism and the shootings in El Paso and Dayton.  I told both of them that Christian nationalism does not necessarily have to result in white supremacy.  As I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, much of the civil rights movement and the social gospel movement believed that the United States was a Christian nation.  The abolitionists and social reformers of 19th century believed that the United States was a Christian nation.  (Of course their understanding what it means to be a “Christian nation” looked very different from the current manifestation of Christian nationalism espoused by the Christian Right).  It is also true that throughout American history Christian nationalism fueled white supremacist groups such as the KKK and the Confederacy.

The first reporter I engaged was Carol Kuruvilla of HuffPost.  Here is a taste of her piece, “How a Nationalist Strain of Christianity Is Subtly Shaping America’s Gun Debate“:

“For Christian nationalists, human attempts to fix social problems (like gun control legislation) without addressing the underlying ‘moral decline’ of the nation are misguided and an affront to the Christian God,” [Clemson sociologist Andrew] Whitehead said. 

John Fea, a historian at Messiah College who studies Christian nationalism, said that this belief is evident in how some of Trump’s top evangelical advisors responded to the recent mass shootings. 

Pastor Greg Laurie, who leads the evangelical Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., and Pastor Jack Graham, of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, taped an Instagram video on Sunday where they talked about how “something bigger” was at play: Rather than blame the availability of guns, the pastors claim that what happened in Dayton and El Paso was the result of a “spiritual battle.”

“The Bible tells us that the final hours of human history, that perilous times will come, difficult, dangerous times will come,” Graham said in the video. “Not to minimize what’s happened, because it’s a tragedy … But we need to remember that ultimately, it’s a spiritual solution. We can’t politicize this.” 

“Many evangelicals, not just Christian nationalists, indeed believe that the *real* problem is a spiritual one. In order to solve the gun problem in America we must evangelize more,” Fea told HuffPost in an email. “By saying that ‘we can’t politicize’ this, [Laurie] and Graham are sending a message to their followers that gun control will not help these problems.”

And my conclusion:

“I cannot think of anything that would make them open to gun control measures,” he wrote. Christian nationalists believe “these are rights that are ENSHRINED in the Constitution by God.”

Read the entire piece here.

And here is a taste of Micah Danney’s piece at Religion Unplugged: “What is Christian Nationalism? Shootings Spark Renewed Debate“:

If the debate about what Christian nationalism is, or whether it exists, inevitably leads to the intent of the country’s founding, history doesn’t uncomplicate things. John Fea, a historian at Messiah College, wrote the book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

“It’s a complicated question, but largely it’s a very hard case to make that the founding fathers of this country wanted to privilege Christianity over all other religions,” Fea said.

Demographically, Christianity certainly was dominant well into the 19th century, and it did shape the culture, he said. It is still the largest religion. Yet legal bulwarks against its codification in public life were part of the nation’s founding. The First Amendment is clear that there is to be no established religion, and Article 5 of the Constitution prohibits any religious test for those serving in government. 

Richard Gamble, a historian at Hillsdale College, said opposing views of Christianity’s role in public life actually share a key characteristic. “Both sides of the debate have understandings of Christianity that are very politicized,” he said.

What used to be a debate about how churches engage in politics has given way to a broad consensus that churches must take an active role in society. Historically, there was a louder argument for staying focused on maintaining religious traditions. 

Read the entire piece here.

Christian Nationalist Homeschool Curriculum: The “Globalist Left” Hates You and Your Children

ChristendomAre you “tired of being told you and your children are the cause of all of America’s problems?

Are you “tired of paying top dollar for homeschool curricula only to have to filter out a lot of anti-American, politically correct, multicultural material?

If the answer is “yes,” you may want use “The Christendom Curriculum“.  It is a self-proclaimed “Christian nationalist” curriculum.  (Yes, Christian nationalism does exist).

But wait, there is more:

They Hate Your Children Because of Who They Are

The Globalist Left grows more insane and enraged every day. They are convinced that the people of America—and all the European peoples of Western Civilization—are the source of virtually all the evils in the world.

They hate you—they hate your children—just because of what you look like, who your ancestors were, who you are.

The answer is to give your children an education in the Bible and the great books of Western Civilization: the Civilization of America and the peoples of Europe….

At Last…A Christian Nationalist Homeschool Curriculum

In an era that despises and dishonors our fathers in the faith, the fathers of our people, The Christendom Curriculum was created to provide a homeschool experience that honors our fathers and mothers, as the Scriptures command.

This is a thoroughly Christian Nationalist homeschool curriculum: that means we embrace God’s intention, as described in the Bible, to raise up many nations in the earth, each with its own unique culture and language, to glorify Him in their own unique ways.

We understand that God stands against all anti-nationalist, or Globalist, schemes, whether it is the Tower of Babel, the United Nations, or the European Union.

And The Christendom Curriculum honors the civilization that produced the unique cultures of America and the West, not as the only valid civilization in the world, but as our civilization, the one God gave us, and our fathers built for us.

Learn more here.

Pastors Preaching Politics: It was Bad in 1776, it is Bad Today

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400 evangelical pastors are heading to Liberty University this week to participate in an event sponsored by the American Renewal Project.  The goal of the closed meeting is to mobilize pastors for the 2020 election.  Speakers at the event include former Virginia congressman (now Liberty professor) David Brat, Christian nationalist David Barton, and Christian Broadcasting Network political analyst David Brody.  (I am guessing that they are not mobilizing pastors to vote for a Democrat :-))

The American Renewal Project is run by David Lane, a Christian Right politico who wants pastors to preach political sermons, run for political office, and use their ecclesiastical authority to convince parishioners to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. We wrote about him here and here.

Here is a taste of Brody’s article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website:

“The Pastor and Pews events have been extremely valuable in mobilizing church-going voters and illuminating critical issues for elections,” said former presidential candidate and Fox News Contributor Mike Huckabee. 

Huckabee, a former pastor himself, has spoken at these events many times before and understands their value. 

“I am convinced that the pastor and pews model was instrumental in the 2016 election of President Trump and has been instrumental in numerous statewide elections for congressional, US Senate and gubernatorial races.”

President Trump won 81 percent of the white conservative evangelical vote in 2016 and during it all, the American Renewal Project was on the ground and extremely active. In the 60 days before the General Election, ARP spent $9 million in six battleground states, including some big prizes like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.  Now they’re back at it looking for a repeat. 

“It is the single, largest, most cohesive voter bloc in the last election,” said Doug Wead, a noted historian, and best-selling author and advisor to two U.S. Presidents. “Now its all about voter ID and turnout.”

With all the extra vitriol, animosity and energy aimed at Trump this time around, the president will need a similar showing or even better to win in 2020.  

Read the rest here.

Lane and other Christian nationalists and court evangelicals believe that they are a modern-day “Black Robe Brigade,” a name given to revolutionary-era pastors who supported American independence in 1776.

The appeal to the Black Robe Brigade reveals a fundamental problem with these kind of history-based Christian Right arguments.  Lane, David Barton, and others give a moral authority to the past that is almost idolatrous.  In other words, if pastors used their pulpits to promote a political agenda in 1776, then they must have been right.  If it happened in the eighteenth-century it is somehow immune from any moral or theological reflection today.  Thomas Jefferson said that our rights come from God, so Christian nationalists conclude, with little theological reflection on whether or not Jefferson was correct, that our rights indeed come from God.  This leads them to make all kinds of wackadoodle arguments that the amendments related to quartering soldiers, trial by jury,  excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment are somehow rooted in biblical teaching.

At the heart of all this is the belief that the American Revolution was ordained by God.  If this is true, then any attempt at promoting this significant moment in providential history–whether it be carried out by preachers or patriots–must be good. The Black Robe Brigade mixed religion and politics and so should we.  There is very little deep thinking about how the mixing of religion and nationalism in the church–whether it happened in 1776 or 2019–harms the witness of the Gospel.  Perhaps this explains why church attendance was at an all-time low during the American Revolution.

The Endorsers of “Christians Against Christian Nationalism” Speak Out

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Many of you are familiar with “Christians Against Christian Nationalism.” I signed the statement and wrote about it here and here.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz calls our attention to a podcast in which some of the endorsers of the statement talk about their opposition to Christian nationalism.  Here is a taste of Chris’s post:

But if any readers are skeptical about the statement, I’d encourage them first to read signer John Fea’s response to such concerns — and then to check out a new series of podcasts on Christian nationalism from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

In the first episode, BJC director and statement organizer Amanda Tyler alludes to “some troubling signs that Christian nationalism may be stuck at high tide.” While she’s bothered by violent attacks on individuals and houses of worship, she warns that “Christian nationalism also reveals itself in less dramatic ways” — e.g., as bills in state legislatures that would require biblical literacy courses in public schools and post the statement “In God we trust” in such public spaces. The Christians Against Christian Nationalism initiative, she explains, “is not in response to any one of these incidents, but rather as a way to counter what we view and perceive as a growing threat.”

In the remainder of that first episode, listeners hear from five of the initial twenty endorsers of the statement. It struck me that most of them not only talked about current events, but appealed to religious history. In different ways, all drew on their particular Christian movements’ historical experiences as religious minorities who learned that “[c]onflating 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.”

Read the entire post here.