Is the Founder of The Veritas Forum Behind an Anti-Muslim Facebook Campaign?

Jullberg

What is going on with Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder of the Veritas Forum?  Here is a taste of Asysha Kahn’s piece at Religion News Service:

Fact-checking website Snopes linked the network to Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder and president of The America Conservancy, whose aims, as Kullberg has described online, are “advancing Biblical wisdom as the highest love for people and for culture.” All 24 Facebook pages had financial ties to Kullberg directly or organizations she helps lead.

Posts on the network decry “Islamist Privilege and Sharia Supremacy” and claim that Islam is “not a religion”; that Islam promotes rape, murder and deception; that Muslims hate Christians and Jews; that Muslims have an agenda to “spread Sharia law and Islam through migration and reproduction”; and that resettling Muslim refugees is “cultural destruction and subjugation.”

The tactics seem to mirror the playbook of Russian troll farms, with page titles purporting to originate with diverse demographic groups like “Blacks for Trump,” “Catholics for Trump,” “Teachers for Trump” and “Seniors for America.”

Snopes found that Kullberg and her associates’ agenda appeared, at least in part, to be working to re-elect President Donald Trump in 2020. The “astroturfing” campaign — referring to efforts made to look as if they come from legitimate grassroots supporters — was at least in part funded by right-wing political donors, including a prominent GOP donor who served as a fundraiser and campaign board member for 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I was happy to contribute to the Khan’s report:

“If you would have told me about this investigation 20 years ago I would have been very surprised,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College and author of the book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” But given Kullberg’s more recent politics, he said, it’s hardly shocking.

Once a mainstream evangelical Christian figure, Kullberg is the founder of the The Veritas Forum, a prominent non-profit organization that partners with Christian college students to host discussions on campus about faith. The discussions attract non-evangelical, non-Christian and secular speakers as well as leading mainstream evangelical voices.

Her 1996 book “Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians” topped bestseller lists. Now based in Columbus, Ohio, she has served as a chaplain to the Harvard Graduate School Christian Fellowship and spent time as a missionary in Russia and several Latin American countries.

Most recently, Kullberg appears to have shifted further right politically, taking what Fea described as a “pro-Trump, Christian Right, culture war posture” laced with anti-social justice rhetoric. The American Association of Evangelicals, for which Kullberg is the founder and spokeswoman, is “essentially a Christian Right organization whose supporters read like a list of evangelical leaders who have thrown their support behind Donald Trump as a savior of the country and the church,” he said.

“She seems obsessed with the influence of George Soros on progressive evangelicals and believes that social justice warriors have hijacked the Gospel,” Fea noted.

Read the entire piece here.

While running the Veritas Forum, Kullberg worked with Christian speakers such as Francis Collins, Robert George, Os Guinness, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, Madeleine L’Engle, George Marsden, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Alister McGrath, Richard John Neuhaus, Alvin Plantinga, John Polkinghorne, Dallas Willard, Lauren Winner, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and N.T. Wright.  She put some of these speakers into dialogue with the likes of Anthony Flew, Christopher Hitchens, Nicholas Kristof, Steven Pinker, and Peter Singer.

In her new role with the “The American Association of Evangelicals” she works with court evangelicals and pro-Trump evangelicals such as Eric Metaxas, James Garlow,  Everett Piper, Tim Wildmon, Wayne Grudem, Steve Strang, David Barton, and Lance Wallnau (the Trump prayer coin guy).

The divisions in American evangelicalism are widening.   The American Association of Evangelicals (AAE) is now the conservative, Christian Right alternative to The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Here is how it understands its relationship to the NAE:

Kullberg is also a leader with Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (EBI) a more conservative evangelical immigration group that appears to be an alternative to the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).  While the EBI includes many of the culture warriors I mentioned above, the EIT includes people like Leith Anderson (President of the NAE), Shirley Hoogstra (President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities), and Russell Moore (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission).

New alignments are forming.  Evangelicalism is changing and fracturing.

What Hath Trump Wrought?

trump fake news

Over at The Week, Damon Linker interprets the culture war under Trump.  Here is a taste of his piece:

On one level, [the Trump presidency] is a dream come true for the religious right — the prospect of it achieving a long-sought victory on an issue that helped to galvanize the social-conservative movement more than 40 years ago. Yet on a deeper level, it represents a retreat from the high hopes that originally inspired that movement. Those hopes were rooted in a vision of politics as a form of proselytizing. The goal was to win the war, to take back the culture by converting people of good will to the cause of defending innocent human life against the infliction of lethal violence. That would make America a more decent place, a more moral country, and a more Christian nation.

What we have instead is a different and far less decisive form of victory — one in which the Supreme Court may soon permit a dozen or so states to all-but-ban abortion outright, but also where many more states, including most with much larger populations, will move in the opposite direction, entrenching abortion long past fetal viability.

And that tells us something important about the culture war under Trump.

Rather than ending in a decisive victory for the left or the right, it has metastasized, with points of division multiplying and new fronts constantly being opened up. Immigration, guns, Israel, trade policy, violent crime, climate change, tax rates, government regulations, free speech, college tuition — seemingly every point of political disagreement has been recast as a cultural clash pitting comprehensive and incompatible views of the world against each other. It’s a full-spectrum smackdown between the liberals and the fascists. The effort to hash out a compromise, to reach consensus, is over. In its place is tribal warfare, an endless series of zero-sum conflicts over inches of ideological territory.

Instead of aiming to divide and conquer, the Trumpian right seeks to divide and then divide some more — in the hope that doing so will keep its own voters maximally energized to vote and provoke the other side into overplaying its hand, rendering itself unappealing to the few who have yet to join a side.

Read the entire piece here.

Liberty University Took Some of the Old Southwestern Seminary Stained Glass Windows

Stained glass

Watch this video.

Last month I wrote a post titled “Big Changes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.”  I wrote about the Fort Worth, Texas seminary’s decision to remove stained glass windows devoted to two architects of of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention: Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler.  Both men were accused of sexual misconduct last year and Patterson was ousted as president of the seminary.   Jacob Lupfer wrote about this here.

In addition to Patterson and Pressler, there were also stained-glass windows removed with images of Jerry Falwell Sr. and Jerry Vines, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a member of the conservative resurgence.  Jerry Falwell Jr. now has the Falwell Sr. and Vines windows.  They are on display at Liberty University.

In the video, Falwell Jr. praises the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist convention and mocks the “new regime” at Southwestern Theological Seminary who removed the windows.  He even calls the new administration a Southern Baptist “deep state.”

As Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary tries to move beyond a horrendous year in which multiple cases of sexual harassment were revealed, the authoritarian leadership of Paige Patterson was exposed, and financial difficulties rocked the school, Jerry Falwell Jr. wants to keep that legacy–the darkest parts of the conservative resurgence in the SBC– alive and well at Liberty University.  Is it only a matter of time before the Patterson and Pressler stained glass window make their way to Lynchburg?

Here is a taste of a Liberty University press release:

At Liberty University’s Baccalaureate Service on Friday night, President Jerry Falwell made a bold statement to the Southern Baptist Convention when he displayed two stained-glass windows that were recently removed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel. The windows feature Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and Dr. Jerry Vines, who delivered the Baccalaureate address.

The two windows were part of a larger collection that honored the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches. Installed only a few years ago, the Falwell window was made possible by financial contributions from Liberty University.

 In a SWBTS press release from 2015, the seminary stated: “In order to pass along the story of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, Southwestern has dedicated stained-glass windows in MacGorman Chapel to those who played a major role in turning the convention back to a high view of Scripture.”

But on Friday, just moments before black drapes were removed, revealing the two large windows behind him on the stage, President Falwell said that “unfortunately, a new generation has taken the Convention away from those values in many ways.” He said the windows have been “removed by the new regime.”

Falwell demanded that SWBTS return the money donated for the windows and sent a plane to Fort Worth, Texas, this week to retrieve them. They will go on display in the Jerry Falwell Museum on campus.

Commencement at Liberty University

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address on Saturday at Liberty University, a school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Court evangelical and Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. was the master of ceremonies (Why didn’t he wear a robe like most college presidents?)  At one point in the ceremony he made his wife stand up to model the black and orange flame (as in Liberty Flames)-patterned dress she was wearing.  Falwell convinced her to wear it because she was the “hottest first lady at any college in the country.” Again, context is everything here.

Surgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson also spoke. He urged the graduates not to conform to the “forces of political correctness” that “want you to shut up and not express what you believe.”  He extolled the apparent Judeo-Christian founding of the country and told the graduating class that they were our best hope to “save America.”

When Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced Mike Pence, he praised the Vice-President for doing such a great job despite constant attacks from a “hostile press.”  He described him as one of the greatest Vice Presidents of all time.

Early in Pence’s speech some folks in the crowd starting chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A, U.S.A.” This is an odd thing to chant at a Christian college graduation, but there seems to be no big difference between Christian education and patriotism at Liberty University.

Pence wasted no time turning his commencement address into a Trump rally.  He praised the Trump economy, reminded the audience that “America stands with Israel,” talked about abortion, and attacked Barack Obama for his supposed threats to religious liberty.  Like Carson’s brief speech, Pence’s speech was filled with the typical victimization rhetoric and fear-mongering that one often hears from conservative evangelicals these days.  Pence cannot seem to move  beyond the culture wars–this is how he sees the world.  It is “us” vs. “them.”  The crowd loved it.

At one point in the speech, Pence gave a moving testimony about his conversion experience. I appreciated it.  But in the context–both in terms of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s politicization of Liberty University and Pence’s connection to the Trump administration–he seemed to suggest that an evangelical conversion will naturally lead to Christian Right politics and the unrelenting support of an immoral president.  It does not.

A commencement address should be a celebration of the graduates.  A commencement speaker must put down the self and offer words of encouragement and some wise advice about life after graduation.  To his credit, Pence did some of this. But even his words of exhortation to the graduates sounded like a Trump stump speech for 2020 and a warning to watch out for the progressives lurking in the shadows ready to undermine Christian America.  This was a message of fear, not hope.  But that is how they do things at Liberty University.

I am sure we will hear similar things from Pence next week at Taylor University.

The Fox News Crowd Doesn’t Like Obama’s Use of the Phrase “Easter Worshippers”

Here is Obama’s tweet in the wake of the attacks on Sri Lankan Christians who were worshipping on Easter Sunday:

Apparently, some conservatives have a problem with Obama’s use of the phrase “Easter worshippers.”  Here is Ruth Graham at Slate:

To most people, former President Barack Obama’s tweet about the brutal terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday read as standard post-presidential material: correct, sensible, and essentially anodyne.

But then some right-wingers noticed that other prominent figures on the left, including Hillary Clinton and Julián Castro, had used the phrase Easter worshippers too. Soon, a suspicion arose: “Easter worshippers” is a euphemism used by “people who don’t want to say ‘Christians.’ ” “We’re actually called Christians not ‘Easter worshippers’ wouldn’t hurt to maybe just say that,” a National Review writer tweeted. Obama and friends “could not bring themselves to identify the victims of the attacks as ‘Christians,’ ” Breitbart huffed, deeming the phrase a “Sympathy Snub.” An op-ed in the Washington Times called Obama and Clinton “anti-Christian.”

Some went further, interpreting the term Easter worshipper as a false claim that Christians worship the holiday of Easter. “We don’t worship Easter,” Laura Ingraham tweeted. “We worship Jesus Christ.” Others, including One America News Network host Jack Posobiec, claimed to have never heard the term Easter worshipper before Sunday.

Read the rest here.

And then there is this:

Easter worshippers

Historian John Haas tells us what is really going on in this picture.  Here is his recent Facebook post:

Can’t imagine anything better designed to advance the Kingdom of God.

Let us count the ways this is so Christian:

a) uses claims about Christianity for partisan political purposes

b) leverages a petty complaint in the service of self-interested grievances

c) claims one of the seven deadly sins as a constituent characteristic for the movement

The Mueller Report and the Trump Evangelicals

Mueller Report

I spent part of the weekend reading the Mueller Report. Nothing I have written below is new if you have been following the news coverage of the report or read it for yourself, but I thought I would use this space to jot down some of my notes as I processed it.

  • The Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.  In other words, it is possible that Donald Trump won in 2016 because of Russian help (Vol. 1:1).  Future historians should put an asterisk next to Trump’s victory in 2016.  We may never know how the Russians helped Trump, but they clearly interfered.
  • There are “numerous links” between the Russian interference in the U.S. election and the Trump presidential campaign (Vol 1:1).
  • The Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities (“collusion” is not a legal term), but it certainly came close.
  • The Russian Facebook campaign played to American fears.  These Russian-authored social media accounts and ads were promoted through retweets and responses to tweets by Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Michael Flynn.  (Vol I: 26-27).  In other words, these people helped make the Russian interference effective.  (Of course none of these people knew they were retweeting and promoting the work of Russians).
  • The report presents the Trump campaign as chaotic and disorganized.  Several members of the campaign were working with Russia to help Trump get elected.  Some lied about it and got caught.  Others seemed to just get lucky that they did not do anything reaching the level of criminality.  Those who told the American people that there were no links between the Trump campaign and Russia included Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Trump himself.  (Thanks to Lawfare Blog for identifying these names and providing links).
  • It seems like most Trump supporters stopped reading the report after Volume 1.
  • Mueller says up-front that he respected the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and agreed not to indict a sitting President.  Yet he also says his office uncovered “potentially obstructive acts related to the Special Counsel’s investigation itself.” (Vol. 2:1)
  • Mueller reminds the readers that “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”  Why would he put that in the report if he did not think a legitimate case of obstruction could be made against Trump? (Vol 2:1). Perhaps the answer comes on p. 2:2: “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.  Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.  The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.  Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In other words, Mueller may have found evidence of a possible indictment for obstruction, but could not bring an indictment because of the OLC guidance.  As several scholars have shown, including historians Julian Zelizer and Yoni Appelbaum, this is Mueller’s way of suggesting that it is the job of Congress to handle such behavior.  (Also 2:156-182).
  • Volume 2:3-7 reads like Mueller’s case for impeachment:
    • Trump lied about contacts with Russia
    • Trump tried to intimidate former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into  Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian government. According to Mueller, there is “substantial evidence” to support Comey’s side of this story.  Trump denied that he asked everyone in the room to leave so he could pressure Comey to drop the investigation.  He lied about this.
    • Trump tried to get Jeff Sessions and several other members of the federal government to bring an end to the ongoing Russia investigation.  How is this not obstruction?
    • Trump fired FBI director James Comey and tried to make it look like he was fired for incompetence unrelated to the Russia probe. We now know that Comey was indeed fired because Trump did not like the Russia probe, despite the fact that the FBI director insisted that Trump was not under investigation.
    • Trump tried to get White House attorney Don McGahn to remove Mueller as Special Counsel.  McGahn told Trump that such a request was “silly” and “not real.” He would not do it.  Trump then told McGahn to deny press reports confirming that the president ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed. (2:114)
    • Trump tried to get Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare that the Mueller investigation was “very unfair” to him.  Trump also wanted the probe limited to future election interference, rather than focus on the Russian election interference in 2016.  Lewandowski asked White House aid Rick Dearborn to get the message to Sessions.  Dearborn never delivered it.  This is one of many examples of Trump’s staff protecting an out-of-control and incompetent president motivated by his own narcissism, self-image, and personal vendettas.
    • Trump edited Donald Trump Jr.’s statement about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton to make it appear that the meeting was about adoption.  He and his personal lawyer then lied about the fact that he did this.
    • Trump pressured Jeff Sessions, on more than one occasion, to unrecuse himself from heading the Mueller investigation because he thought Sessions might fire Mueller.
    • After Flynn began cooperating with the Special Counsel, Trump tried to get Michael Flynn to give him a “heads up” about any “information that implicates the president”
    • Trump tried to manipulate Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen’s testimony before the Special Counsel. (2:138, 146)
  • On pages 2:9-12, Mueller lays out the five kinds of obstruction of justice under the heading “The Legal Framework of Obstruction of Justice.”  Wow!  It seems like Trump violated all five of these forms of obstruction.

The Bottom Line:

Donald Trump is a liar who clearly obstructed justice.  He has forced others to lie to the American people on his behalf.  Some, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed evangelical Christian, lied for the president on multiple occasions.  (That is a lot of slips of the tongue). Others refused to lie for him. The Mueller report reveals that Trump’s presidency lacks a moral center.  He should be impeached.

And what about the court evangelicals and all of those other white evangelicals who still support Trump?  They will double down in their support for the president.  He is God’s chosen instrument and his evangelical supporters will invoke biblical examples of how God’s anointed instruments will always suffer persecution.  They will claim that the Mueller Report is biased (except, of course, the parts that say there was no collusion).  They will continue to stoke the “witch hunt” metaphor.   They will continue to take their marching orders from Fox News and claim that the report proves that Trump did not commit a crime.  They will argue that the country should simply move forward as if nothing happened.  They will ignore the parts of the report that show Trump’s immorality and lies.  Court evangelicalism blinds one to the truth.  For example:

What document are these guys reading?  It can’t be the Mueller report.  🙂

But perhaps a few pro-Trump evangelicals will see the light and finally realize, like Billy Graham eventually did with Richard Nixon, that Trump is not worthy of their support

Is Pete Buttigieg’s Religious Rhetoric Any Different Than the Rhetoric of the Christian Right?

Buttigieg

Peter Wehner makes a pretty good case at The Atlantic.  Here is a taste:

..And yet, precisely on the question of religion as an instrumental good, there is real cause for concern about Mayor Pete. His insistence that “Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction” is a bright-red flag, and ought to worry Christians regardless of their politics.

To say that Christianity points you in a progressive direction is in effect to say that Christianity and progressivism are synonymous. They aren’t. Neither are Christianity and conservatism. Christianity stands apart from and in judgment of all political ideologies; it doesn’t lend itself to being put in neat and tidy political categories. That doesn’t mean that at any particular moment in time a Christian ethic won’t lead people of faith to more closely align with one political and philosophical movement over another. But the temptation, always, is to politicize faith in ways that ultimately are discrediting.

Read the entire piece here.

Wehner’s piece is similar to the argument of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  Hunter calls out both the Religious Right and the Religious Left for turning to electoral politics to advance their missions.  He offers another way defined by “faithful presence.”

Today’s *Washington Post* Piece on Trump and Evangelicals

Trump court evangelicals

If Pew Research is correct, Donald Trump is more popular among white evangelicals who regularly attend church and less popular among those who do not.  I tried to explain this in a piece at today’s Washington Post “Made by History” column.  Here is a taste:

Many white evangelical churchgoers now see the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade as equivalent to their call to share the Gospel with unbelievers. They subscribe to the message that the only way to live out evangelical faith in public is to vote for the candidates who will most effectively execute the 40-year-old Christian right playbook.

The movement’s message is so strong that even when pastors oppose the politicization of their religion, the message is not likely to persuade congregants. Indeed, many white evangelical pastors do not preach politics from their pulpit. Some speak boldly against the idolatrous propensity of their congregations to seek political saviors.

But these pastors cannot control the messaging their flocks imbibe after they leave church on Sunday. And a massive Christian right messaging machine targets these Americans with precision. Ministries and nonprofit organizations, driven by conservative political agendas, bombard the mailboxes, inboxes and social media feeds of ordinary evangelicals. Many of these organizations appeal to long-standing evangelical fears about cultural decline or provide selective historical evidence that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a “Christian nation,” even though this never was true.

Evangelicals filter what they hear during weekly sermons through Fox News and conservative talk radio, producing an approach to political engagement that looks more like the Republican Party than the Kingdom of God.

None of this is new. People in the pews (or in the case of evangelical megachurches, the chairs), have always been selective in how they apply their pastor’s sermons in everyday life. Evangelical Christians, from the Puritans to the present, have always mixed traditional Christian teachings with more non-Christian sources as they cultivate their religious lives. Today, however, cable television and social media expose white evangelicals to ideas that come from outside the church but that claim to be driven by Christianity at an unprecedented rate.

Read the entire piece here.

Free Excerpt from *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dWhat is perhaps most disturbing about [Dallas megachurch pastor Robert] Jeffress’s [book] Twlight’s Last Gleaming is the way in which his deeply held passion for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others is neutralized by his political agenda.  The book begins with a foreword by former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: “If you are looking for a sweet little ‘bookette’ that is politically correct and safe to read and share with staunch unbelievers so as not to offend them, then put this book down and keep looking.”  In the first sentence of the first page, Huckabee alienates unbelievers and, in the process, undermines everything Jeffress says in the book about the importance of evangelism.  But Jeffress proves in the pages that follow that he does not need Huckabee’s help in weakening his gospel witness.  Jeffress urges his readers to give up on the culture wars and focus on their “unprecedented chance” in these final days of humankind to “point people to the hope of Jesus Christ.”  Then he spends the rest of his book teaching readers how to more effectively win the culture wars.  At one point in the book Jeffress attributes the steep decline in the number of new converts baptized in the Southern Baptist Church to spiritually weak church members who are afraid to offend anyone with the claims of the gospel.  Jeffress may be correct.  But the possibility that the decline in baptisms is related to the fact that most Americans now associate the gospel with partisan politics does not appear to have even crossed his mind.

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, p. 128-129.

I Knew It! The British are Behind the Mueller Probe!

If Christian Right radio and television host Rick Wiles is correct, this song from the Broadway musical Hamilton explains everything:

That’s right. The British let the colonies go and they are still angry about it.  They are SO angry that they are secretly working to undermine Donald Trump.  (HT: Kyle Mantyla).

By the way, the 1960s “British invasion” is also part of this.

Here’s Wiles:

White Evangelicals: An Unmovable Political Force

39673-falwell-tinky-winky

Over at Roll Call, Nathan L. Gonzalez reminds us that white evangelicals are one of the most reliable voting blocs in America.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Amid all the talk about shifting demographics and political changes over the last decade, one key voting group has remained virtually unchanged: white evangelicals.

According to one evangelical leader, a record number of white evangelicals voted in the 2018 midterms after an inspired turnout effort.

“This is the most ambitious and most effective voter education, get-out-the-vote program directed at the faith-based vote in a midterm election in modern political history,” Faith & Freedom Coalition President Ralph Reed said the day after the November elections.

But since turnout was up across the board, white evangelicals made up the same percentage of the electorate as they always do.

After ticking up from 23 percent of the electorate in 2004 to 24 percent in 2006 and 26 percent in 2008, the share of the white evangelical vote has been unshaken at 25 percent in 2010, 26 percent in 2012, 26 percent in 2014, and 26 percent in 2016. And in last month’s midterms, white evangelicals made up, you guessed it, 26 percent of the electorate, according to the exit polls

Read the rest here.

As I have been saying over and over again on the Believe Me book tour, Jerry Falwell Sr. may be the most important political figure in post-World War II America because he taught millions of white conservative evangelicals how to execute a particular political playbook and they have been executing it faithfully for almost forty years.

 

Did George H.W. Bush Enable the Christian Right?

Bush and Falwell

Yes.

Check out Neil J. Young’s piece at The Washington Post:

Following Wednesday’s state funeral for George H.W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral, the former president’s casket will be flown to Houston where a memorial service will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church the following day.

Unlike his son George W. Bush, the elder Bush, a lifelong Episcopalian, was less known for his religious faith. He was certainly not thought of as a champion of the religious right, the powerful political movement most associated with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Yet it was Bush, the moderate establishment Republican whose family helped found Planned Parenthood, who secured the religious right’s permanent place in American politics. While historians largely credit Reagan’s presidency with helping religious conservatives move from the shadows of American public life into its spotlight, it was the Bush presidency, particularly its disappointments and defeat, that entrenched the religious right as the center of the Republican Party and guaranteed its ongoing influence.

From the moment he entered the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, Bush drew the ire of religious right leaders — so much so that people like Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell objected to Reagan’s selection of Bush as his running mate. Conservative organizations tracked Bush closely throughout the primaries, scrutinizing his conservative credentials, reviewing his record and documenting his every misstep. Bush’s questionable history included having written the foreword to a 1973 book advocating the benefits of family planning in developing countries. As a congressman from 1967 to 1971, Bush’s enthusiastic support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups was so well-known it had garnered him the nickname “Rubbers.”

Read the rest here.

Jeff Sessions and the Christian Right

jeff-sessions

Jeff Sessions is out as Attorney General.  Donald Trump has asked him to step down.   As Tara Isabella Burton has recently noted, Session helped to create “Trump’s brand of evangelical patriotism.”  Here is some of our coverage of Sessions’s stint as AG:

Jerry Falwell Jr. apparently told Trump to fire Sessions a few months ago.  He also wanted Sessions to “rot in jail.”

Sessions tried to help the administration define “religious freedom.”

Sessions quoted Romans 13 to justify Trump’s immigration policy separating children from their parents.  (Also here).

Alan Jacobs suggested Sessions’s views on government are not “formed” by Christian teaching.

Sessions often attended a Bible study of cabinet members led by a former UCLA basketball player.

Addendum:  In this piece at The Atlantic, Emma Green reminds that the court evangelicals were never big fans of Sessions.

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

I am happy to contribute to this video posted today at The New York Times.

Retro Report spent over an hour interviewing me at Messiah College back in August.  I was apparently not as engaging as Cal Thomas, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Randall Balmer since I only got a quick soundbite.  (They even made me go home and change my shirt because it had too many stripes and did not look good on the camera!)

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece:

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006182547

The Court Evangelicals Will be Out in Force this Weekend at the Values Voter Summit

Believe Me 3dThe Values Voter Summit, an annual political gathering of Christian Right activists, will meet this week in Washington D.C.  The speaker lineup is filled with court evangelicals.  Here are the names of the conference speakers that I mentioned in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Michelle Bachman

Gary Bauer

Ben Carson

Tony Perkins

Mike Pence

Lance Wallnau

Other speakers include Ben Sasse, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pompeo, Oliver North. Matt Bevin, Dean Cain, Everett Piper, Sebastian Gorka, Todd Starnes, Laura Ingraham, Bill Bennett, George Barna.

The event is sponsored by the Family Research Council, the American Family Association (who recently put out an “Action Alert” about me), American Values, Christian Healthcare Ministries, Inspire Investing, and United in Purpose.

More Evangelical Nostalgia

Metaxas at PartyOver at NBC News, Christian author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove reminds us, as I did extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, that white evangelicals are very nostalgic people.

Here is a taste:

Trump’s use of nostalgia has helped maintain connections between the Trump administration and a conservative faith community shaped by decades of culture wars. The religious right, which traditionally emphasized “family values,” has nonetheless lined up to support a thrice-married, Casino-owning playboy who flaunts morality and marital fidelity. When asked, Trump’s religious backers consistently point to his support for their issues. But the issues that the religious right taught white evangelicals to focus do not spring from a Biblical concern for widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor. They are instead the white cultural values of order, respect for authority and traditional gender roles.

Prophetic stands and moral outrage are well and good.  I respect Wilson-Hartgrove and others.

But if Christians want to do something to end the nostalgic longings of white evangelicals, they need to consider the long view.  A false view of American history, propagated by the likes of David Barton and Eric Metaxas, is the foundation of this nostalgia-fueled politics.  We must do better at teaching Christians about American history, the history of the Christianity, and historical ways of thinking about the past.  We must throw our money behind these efforts.  If we do not, we will be fighting these battles against evangelical nostalgia for a long, long time.

Not All Liberty University Students are Happy about the “Trump Prophecies” Film

Trump prophecies

You are a film program at a university that aspires to be the “evangelical Notre Dame.”  You want to show that evangelical Christians can make high-quality films on subjects that will reach a wide audience or perhaps serve the common good.  You want your program to be respected in the film industry.

What do you do to advance these aspirations and goals?

You make a film about a guy who prophesied the election of Donald Trump?

Liberty University film students and alumni are speaking out again.  Here is a taste of Tyler O-Neil’s piece at the conservative PJ Media:

“Who wants to go to a school that glorifies such a controversial man?” the anonymous film student asked. “Additionally — politics aside — it’s a terrible story! The whole year they harp on telling a good story, but I have yet to see why this is a good story and one that needs to be told.”

“For the university, by stamping our name on this film, we are telling the world that this is what we believe: radical prophecies about a controversial man make him a Godsend,” the film student concluded.

Indeed, marketing for The Trump Prophecy seems rather explicit in suggesting that not only was the fireman’s “word from God” legitimate, but that Trump’s election was some kind of divine miracle, guaranteed by the prayers of the faithful.

“My view is that The Trump Prophecy film is poorly conceived, poorly timed, and (based on the promotional materials) executed with a total absence of craft,” Doug Stephens IV, a Liberty grad who now attends Harvard Law School, told PJ Media.

Read the entire piece here.  And court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. says that his personal support of Donald Trump does not effect the life of his university.

The Millennial Evangelicals

millennials

While on the road speaking about evangelicals and Donald Trump, I am often asked if support for Trump among evangelicals is a generational phenomenon.

The average Donald Trump voter was 57.  I don’t know the age of the average evangelical Trump voter, but I think it is safe to say that many of them, if not most of them, learned how to merge faith and politics in the 1980s under the influence of Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, and the Christian Right.  This means that abortion, marriage, and the Supreme Court are all that matters when one enters the voting booth.

Most of the younger evangelicals I know (My daughters are 20 and 17 and I teach a lot of evangelical students) do not seem to be following the Christian Right playbook.  They are pro-life on abortion, but they extend their pro-life convictions to issues such as climate change, immigration, the death penalty, care for the poor, universal health care, and other social justice issues.  Many of them are open to same-sex marriage.

Over at The New Yorker, writer Eliza Griswold has a piece on the millennial evangelicals.  Here is a taste:

For younger evangelicals, the political fights waged by previous generations no longer hold the sway they once did. Many told me that their focus in reading the Bible is on broader questions, such as, How shall I live? “Young evangelicals don’t have any skin in the game when it comes to fights over Biblical literalism,” Jonathan Merritt, the author of the recently published “Learning to Speak God from Scratch,” told me. Merritt, a journalist who writes for The Atlantic and the son of James Merritt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is accustomed to acting as a translator between the faith-based and secular worlds.

He calls for Christians to stop relying on old, culturally conservative terms, like “lost,” to define people who have different beliefs from theirs, and invites his fellow-evangelicals to reconsider the feminine aspect of God. After all, being “born again” invokes feminine imagery: only mothers can give birth to children, and yet “born again” Christians often consider God solely masculine. Merritt’s most controversial argument revolves around homosexuality—a word in traditional evangelical circles often encoded by “brokenness.” According to P.R.R.I., fifty-three per cent of evangelicals between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine now support same-sex marriage, but the theological debate over homosexuality is still a fraught one. Merritt was outed in 2012 after having a homosexual encounter with a gay blogger. He doesn’t believe, however, that being called “broken” defines his complex sexual orientation or that of thousands of other Christians like him. “Being called ‘broken’ is a source of shame,” Merritt said. It implies that something needs fixing when, Merritt argues, it doesn’t.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas Continues to Play Fast and Loose With American History

Eric Metaxas is one of the court evangelicals in attendance tonight at the White House.  Here he is with Mike Pence:

Metaxas at Party

Earlier tonight, Metaxas tweeted this:

Metaxas Tweet

I am thankful to several folks who sent this tweet to me.  Eric Metaxas blocked me from seeing his Twitter feed after I wrote a multi-part series criticizing his fast-and-loose (and mostly erroneous) use of American history in his book If You Can Keep It.  You can read that series, and Metaxas’s dismissal of it, here.

Just a few quick responses to this tweet

1. There were some founding fathers who might be described as “evangelical.”  They included John Witherspoon, John Jay, Roger Sherman and Samuel Adams.  But just because a given founder was an evangelical does not mean that he was indispensable to the American Revolution or that his evangelical faith informed the quest for independence from Great Britain.  I have written extensively about the myth of an evangelical founding in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  But perhaps Eric Metaxas is suggesting, as he did in If You Can Keep It, that there was a direct correlation between the First Great Awakening (an evangelical revival in the 1740s) and the American Revolution.  I critiqued that view here.  The bottom line is this:  The American Revolution would have happened with or without American evangelicals.

2. Evangelicals were very active in the abolitionist movement, but so were non-evangelicals.  The question of whether abolitionism would have happened without evangelicals is a debatable point.  For a nuanced picture–one that treats religion fairly–I suggest you read Manisha Sinha’s excellent book The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition.  We also interviewed her on Episode 16 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

3.  The idea that the Civil Rights Movement would not have occurred without evangelicals is absurd.  While there were certainly black preachers involved who might be labeled “evangelical,” most of the clergy who led the movement were deeply shaped by the Black social gospel.  White evangelicals in the South defended segregation.  White evangelicals in the North did not have a uniform position on civil rights for African-Americans.  The white evangelicals associated with magazines like Christianity Today did little to advance the movement.  Some good stuff on this front comes David Chappel in A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chappel’s student, Michael Hammond, has also done some excellent work on this front.  Mark Noll’s God and Race in American Politics: A Short History also provides a nice introduction.

4. If you are a fan of the Reagan Revolution, I suppose you could make the argument that conservative evangelicals had a lot do with it.  The 1980s was the decade in which evangelicals made an unholy alliance with the Republican Party.  There are a lot of good books on this subject.  I would start with Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.  I also write about this story in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Don’t get me wrong–evangelicals have played an important role in the shaping of our nation.  I recently wrote about this in a piece at The Atlantic.  You can read it here.

Remembering John McCain

McCain Falwell

McCain with Jerry Falwell

Here are some things I remember about John McCain (1936-2018).

The “Straight Talk Express” was a breath of fresh-air in 2000.  McCain was strongly critical of the Christian Right approach to politics.  He blasted George W. Bush for visiting Bob Jones University before the South Carolina primary.   During the campaign he said, “I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore.  Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.”  At one point he called Jerry Falwell and Robertson an “evil influence” on the Republican Party.

In 2008, McCain did a flip-flop on the Christian Right. (I wrote about it here). He knew he needed its support if he was going to defeat Barack Obama.  McCain gave the commencement address at Liberty University on 2006.  He said that the United States Constitution “established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”  (I wrote about this in the introduction to Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?).  He took the endorsement of Christian Zionist John Hagee and then rejected it after Hagee made an anti-Semitic remark.  He started using the phrase “City Upon a Hill.”  And, of course, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

During the 2008 primary season, the sponsors of the “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College invited McCain to come to campus to talk about his faith and its relationship to politics. The event took place several days before the Pennsylvania primary.  CNN covered the event and it was hosted by Jon Meacham and Campbell Brown.  McCain declined the invitation.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accepted the invitation.  I will always be disappointed that McCain did not make this a bipartisan event.  I spent a lot of time that night in the press “spin room” explaining to reporters that McCain was invited, but chose not to attend.  (Later he would attend a similar forum at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church).

I will remember his “thumbs down” on the GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I still watch this video with amazement and study all the reactions of his fellow Senators

I will remember this and I wonder if we will ever see anything like it again.  When civility and respect for the dignity of political rivals is disregarded, the moral fabric of a democratic society is weakened.  What McCain did at that town hall meeting in 2008 was virtuous.

Rest in Peace