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!

Conservative Culture Warriors Are Trying Figure Out How to Operate in our Current Moment

What do conservative, pro-Trump media pundits do when faced with a crisis that calls them to use their platforms to serve the common good? What happens when one’s entire brand is built on disparaging enemies? In a time of public crisis, how does one maintain a loyal audience of people who need culture warriors to give them a consistent diet of red meat?

Eric Metaxas has apparently figured out how to do it:

Metaxas

Or maybe you can retweet Ann Coulter propagating a story that has been thoroughly debunked:

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And then there is conservative radio host Todd Starnes:

And here is Trump’s wonder-boy, Charlie Kirk. Have I mentioned that he is also the co-director of a “think tank” at Liberty University?

First, a word about this whole “China virus” controversy.  There are many Americans–especially Chinese-Americans–who are offended by people calling COVID-19 the “China Virus.” So why do we continue to call it that? It now seems like Metaxas, Starnes, and Kirk (and Trump)–all self-identified white Christians–are defending this description of the coronavirus (and others like it) precisely because they want to throw more salt in the wounds of those who are offended by it. Why else would they continue to insist on calling it the “China virus?”

A word to my fellow evangelicals: please stop denying the fact that our gospel witness in this world is damaged.

Yes, the First Amendment gives us free speech. But how does your right to exercise such speech help us in our current crisis? At what point do we curb our obsession with “rights” in order to serve the common good? Save the fight over political correctness for another day. Wage your political battles another day. Why go down these roads at a time like this?

Let’s remember that these media personalities have a brand that is only successful when it instills outrage and anger in their followers. It’s sad to see their inability to produce any other kind of content in these troubled times. It’s almost as if they do not know how to operate in our current moment without stoking the flames.

Scapegoating Mitt Romney

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Thanks to Sightings (University of Chicago Divinity School) and editor Joel Brown for picking up this piece.  A taste:

But whatever support Romney had among these evangelicals quickly faded after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump understood evangelical voters better than Romney. He learned rather quickly that he needed their support in large numbers to defeat Hillary Clinton. Someone handed him the Christian Right political playbook—an approach to politics focused on abortion, religious liberty (as evangelicals define it), and Israel—and he executed it to perfection. Romney did everything he could to stop the reality television star from becoming president, including the delivery of a speech at the University of Utah in March 2016 in which he called Trump a “fraud” and said he was “playing the American public for suckers.” When white evangelicals helped carry Trump to an electoral college victory, the name “Mitt Romney” was already anathema to these voters. Romney’s vote to remove Trump from office during the 2020 impeachment trial was the icing on the cake.

The case of Romney’s relationship with American evangelicals speaks volumes about the current state of Christian Right politics. The leaders of this movement are quick to tweet Bible verses for their followers and teasers about their relationship with Jesus or their latest sermon series, but when it comes to politics, they are ruthless and cutthroat. They claim to pray for their enemies on Sunday, but they prey on their enemies the rest of the week (and often on Sunday morning as well). The Christian Right is no longer a religious movement, it is a political one. The only thing different about Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Tony Perkins, and the rest of the Christian Right leaders is the content of their political message. Their ruthless, dog-eat-dog tactics are the same as their conservative political counterparts—yet another evangelical accommodation to the larger culture. Like most political movements, the Christian Right sees the world in black and white. It demands absolute loyalty. It understands independent thinking as a kind of betrayal. And as Mitt Romney now knows, it punishes traitors.  

Evangelicals Need a New Political Playbook

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Thanks to everyone who offered words of encouragement and support in the wake of yesterday’s post on my refusal to become numb to the daily immorality emanating from the White House. This was the closest thing we get at The Way of Improvement Leads Home to a viral post.

A lot of people hated the post.  I mean REALLY hated it. Facebook friends that I didn’t know I had came out of the woodwork to condemn the post. I had to unfriend about five people who decided to make personal attacks on my character.  But overall the feedback has been positive.

But let me respond briefly to some of the criticism.

First, some conservative evangelicals have accused me of self-promotion. When people write publicly and their work gets attention there is always the temptation of pride, the unhealthy practice of thinking too highly of oneself.  In the Christian tradition, pride is the opposite of the virtue of humility.  It is a sin. I am tempted by pride every day and I regularly give into it.  I imagine that any Christian who writes for the public deals with this temptation.

I don’t like the word self-promotion, but if this is the word we use to promote our ideas then I will accept the criticism. For the last two weeks I have been talking with my students about the Christian’s call to create.  Because we are created in God’s image, we are co-creators with God, advancing his creation through our creative work.  The Christian tradition teaches that all of us have gifts that we are required to use to advance God’s purposes in the world.  I hope as a Christian who writes and thinks about politics, culture, and history I am using my gifts in this way.  So yes, I want my ideas to enter the marketplace. I want to make them public.  I see this as a calling confirmed by wise mentors and friends who have encouraged and supported me over the years.  I hope my writing is less about promoting myself and more about promoting my ideas in a way that helps people to think more deeply about the world.

Second, several folks have criticized me for writing and speaking in “liberal,” “left-wing,” or “progressive” outlets.  (Of course some of these critics see anything but Fox News as a liberal, left-wing, and progressive outlet). When I move beyond this blog and write for newspapers, magazines, and websites I send pitches to outlets across the ideological spectrum.  Most of my views, which I hope are informed by my Christian faith, do not fall comfortably in the traditional “Left”/”Right” or “conservative”/”liberal” camps.  Sometimes I think an outlet might be a perfect fit for a particular piece of writing only to find out that an editor does not share my enthusiasm.  I want to write more for editors at Christian publications, but most of them either keep me at arms length because they think my views are too divisive or do not publish the kinds historically-informed criticism that I write. I also pitch pieces to politically conservative outlets all the time.  So far none of them have taken my work.

Third, people say that I do not understand Trump voters.  They believe that if I only understood them I would not be so harsh.  They tell me that there are many evangelicals who are “reluctant” or “dismayed” Trump voters and I am not being fair to them.  This criticism of my work seems to confuse understanding with agreement.  Let me say this again: I do understand why evangelicals voted for Trump. Much of my understanding has been shaped by friends, family members, and neighbors with whom I have conversations.  But as I listen to Trump voters, I still hear fear, nostalgia, and a commitment to a political playbook defined by the pursuit of political power. (More on this below).  All of these things, in my opinion, are not healthy Christian approaches to politics or public life.  The fact that so many evangelicals disagree with me has nothing to do with it.  When I hear Christians equate majority opinion with moral certainty I remember what Jesus said about the narrow gate.  I hope and pray I am focusing my attention on the correct gate, but I also realize I could be wrong. We see through a glass darkly.

Fourth, people criticize me for painting Trump evangelicals with too broad of a brush.  This is a fair critique. It was a problem with the first edition of Believe Me.  I have fixed that error in the new postscript to the paperback edition and I have written about this change and talk about it whenever I have the opportunity.  But as I have said multiple times now, if someone voted for Donald Trump, whether they did so enthusiastically or reluctantly, they are partially responsible for the moral damage this president is doing to the United States with his behavior and policies. I understand that some believe that evangelicals must tolerate the immoral egomaniac in the White House and the damage he is doing to the republic because he is delivering on the Supreme Court and the economy, but I disagree with them and think that their choice to support this man–even if its just a vote– is harmful to the church and the country. Again, I have written extensively about this.

Finally, though some might find it hard to believe, I think this whole conversation transcends Donald Trump and his presidency.  Trump will be gone one day.  But the political playbook that evangelicals follow will not go away unless we decide to burn it and start over. There is a very good chance that this playbook will lead evangelicals into the arms of another immoral tyrant who promises conservative Supreme Court justices and offers platitudes about religious liberty.  I have no doubt that such a person is waiting in the wings.  He or she is watching Trump manipulate American evangelicals and is taking good notes.

This is why it is time for a new playbook. My prayer is that evangelicals will no longer be held captive by the political power plays of the Christian Right. I want my fellow evangelicals to embrace a politics of life. I want my fellow evangelicals to develop an approach to public life defined by human dignity. I want my fellow evangelicals to embrace a politics that offers us glimpses of a coming kingdom defined by love, justice, grace, mercy, and compassion.

For example, who said that the best way to reduce abortion is through the pursuit of political power and the appointment of federal justices?  Since Roe v. Wade evangelicals have tried to deal with the problem of abortion in only one way.  Unless evangelicals develop new thinking on this front they will end up in the hands of the next tyrant who is willing to use abortion to advance his or her political fortunes.

And what about religious liberty?  Yes, there are some legitimate threats to religious liberty, especially for Christian colleges and other institutions who uphold traditional views of sexual ethics.  But we need to develop new thinking about religious liberty that does not lead us into the hands of people like Trump.  We need a robust conversation about the relationship between religious liberty and the kind of persecution for the sake of righteousness that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5.  We need creative solutions that offer civil liberties to all people, including members of the LGBTQ community.  (I like this approach).  We need to have more face-to-face conversations, conducted in civility and love, with those who disagree with us on the issues driving the religious liberty debates in our country.  We need to stop going on social media and demonizing our enemies with Fox News talking points.

Am I being too hard on evangelicals?  Perhaps. But this is my tribe. I have chosen, for better or for worse, to save my strongest criticism for my own people.

Evangelicals need to rid themselves of the powerful hold that the Christian Right has over our politics.  Even those who do not consider themselves adherents of the Christian Right still seem to engage politically using this forty-year-old playbook.  Many evangelicals have thought long and hard about alternative Christian approaches to politics, but their views have received little traction.  We need to take these approaches seriously.  Read Michael Gerson, Jamie Smith (and his Kuyperian friends), John Inazu, Tim Keller, James Davison Hunter, Glenn Tinder, Ronald Sider, Peter Wehner, and others who know far more about political philosophy than I do.  What might the Civil Rights Movement teach white evangelicals about politics?

It is time for evangelicals to develop a different approach to politics. But first this president needs to go.  Only then, it seems, can we begin the serious work of reconstruction, education, healing, and the binding of the church’s wounds.

Christian Dominionism at CPAC

Charlie Kirk is the twenty-six-year-old founder of a Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump non-profit organization active on college campuses.  He is also the co-founder of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center.  (You can read our posts on the Falkirk Center here).

Here is Kirk at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC):

Comments:

  • Kirk tells people to stop giving money to their universities because they are Marxist. The only universities that deserve our money are Liberty University and Hillsdale College.  Such a suggestion is immoral.  I have a friend who is getting cancer treatment right now at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.  They need all the money they can get to help continue their research.  I am sure we can think of hundreds of other ways that research universities are at working solving the problems of our world today.
  • Kirk says that colleges are producing Marxists activists who will one day destroy America. Has he really been on university campuses?  Where are these activists?  Most college students in the United States are sharing photos on Instagram, watching Netflix, working two part-time jobs, and trying to keep up with their studies.
  • Kirk says that we should fear communists on school boards.  Really?  He should come visit central Pennsylvania.  Please contact me if you know of any communists elected to local school boards.
  • It is clear from Kirk’s speech that the Right sees Bernie Sanders as a real threat.  When the Christian Right starts fear-mongering it is a clear sign they are worried.  Bernie Sanders is not a communist or a Marxist.  He is not even a real socialist. When I interviewed a real socialist on my podcast a few weeks ago he told me that no true Marxist would support Sanders because he is not far enough to the left.
  • Kirk has a meltdown when the crowd boos Mitt Romney.  He encourages the boos and then goes-off on a rant about how Romney lied to the people of Utah by claiming to be a conservative during his Senate race.  In Kirk’s estimation, no one can be a true conservative and cast a vote to remove Donald Trump from office.  But think about this.  Romney’s vote to remove Trump was an example of faith-informed politics. It was made possible by the fact that the Utah Senator has the religious liberty to follow his conscience.  Last time I checked, pro-Trumpers are fighting for a faith-informed politics and religious liberty.  This is further proof that they only care about a faith-informed politics and religious liberty that benefits Trump.
  • Kirk says Obama, the president who ran in 2008 and 2012 to the right of all the Democratic candidates in this year’s race, is a Marxist.  This is not true.  It is more fear-mongering.
  • Finally, Kirk brings up the “7 Mountains of Cultural Influence” and claims that Trump understands them.  First, I am guessing that Trump has never heard of the “7 Mountains of Cultural Influence.”  Second, “7 Mountains” is a phrase used by Christian Dominionists who want to make America a Christian nation by taking control of family life, religious life, education, the media, the entertainment industry, business, and government.  For many Dominionists, the Second Coming of Christ will return when Christians gain power over these areas.  We spent a lot of time writing about this kind of Dominionism during the 2016 election and even won a journalism award for a piece on the subject at Christianity Today.   Read our posts here. Right Wing Watch has a good story on this here.

Is the Old Frank(y) Schaeffer Back?

17ca2-frank_schaefferFrank Schaeffer, the son of mid-century evangelical public theologian Francis Schaeffer, worked very closely with his father, Jerry Falwell Sr, Pat Robertson, and others in the creation of the Christian Right. About thirty years ago, he turned his back on his father’s legacy and became a prominent voice on the religious left. Back in 2007, before I started The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I reviewed his memoir Crazy for God at the now dormant Religion in American History blog.

In Micah Danney‘s recent Newsweek profile, Schaeffer talks about abortion in a more nuanced way than he did in the 1970s and 1980s. But I still hear some echoes from the old days when he was producing films based on his father’s book Whatever Happened to the Human Race.

Here is a taste:

Sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Boston in November, Schaeffer skewered the religious conservative movement he once served. His politics are much more progressive across the board, he said. Yet on abortion, the issue so central to his father’s legacy and his own path through fame, fortune and influence, he is critical of the left.

His fellow progressives are overly simplistic about it, he said, and dangerously so. They underestimate the impact that Roe v. Wade had on those who disagree with it. That miscalculation has turned the impact into a shock wave that continues to drive seismic shifts in American politics, powering Republican politicians into positions they then use to legislate against just about every other cause important to Democrats.

“Essentially, [liberals] have not honestly dealt with the fact that they had upset an apple cart that has changed American history. They just want it to all go away,” Schaeffer said. “‘We’re not talking about it because it’s settled.’ Well, it was never settled, and the poll numbers show that it is still not settled because it’s not just a bunch of old farts who are on the pro-life side. You have a whole younger generation of people coming up who aren’t even supporters of the Republicans.”

Twenty-five years ago, 56 percent of Americans identified as pro-choice and 33 percent as pro-life, according to Gallup. As of May 2019, pro-choicers have declined to 46 percent and the pro-life movement claims 49 percent of the population.

Schaeffer calls himself pro-choice but anti-Roe v. Wade. Life does begin at conception, he said, at least biologically. He sees the Democratic Party’s stance as “slavish and dogmatic,” and painfully neglectful of sincere moral outrage that smolders unabated on the other side of the issue. He pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 followed the legalization of abortion in a number of European countries, but argues it went further than all of them. That amounted to an “in your face” insult, he said, and added to a deep moral injury felt by a huge number of Americans whose religious convictions are central to their lives.

“We’re going up to 23 weeks. We’re going to divide it into trimesters and say it’s all fine and this is just a blob of tissue,” Schaeffer said. Extending that logic so close to the moment of birth and putting it all under a mantra of choice was an invitation to righteous backlash, Schaeffer argued.

By discounting such a large segment of the population’s concerns about the morality of the act, liberal dogma around abortion violates the central Christian principle of integration, Schaeffer said.

“We pretend that half our population doesn’t exist, and we tell them to just deal with it,” he said.

Pro-choicers will never get pro-lifers to cross the bridge to their side, Schaeffer said. A healthier relationship overall could start with a more honest national conversation about abortion procedures, according to Schaeffer, as well as issues like the future of genomics. All of it, he said, has implications for how we regard life and how lives will be affected.

Read the entire piece 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.

Jerry Falwell Jr. Represents Everything Wrong With Evangelical Christianity Right Now

Watch him on Fox News:

1. Please stop quoting Jesus.

2. To say that Romney should not bring his religion into politics is rich–very rich– coming from the son of Jerry Falwell and the guy who just started a “think tank” to “go on offense in the name of Judeo-Christian principles and in the name of exceptional, God-given American liberties.”

3. Someone should tell Jerry Falwell Jr. that what Trump said about Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi at the National Prayer Breakfast contradicts the teachings of Jesus.

This is just sad.

Chatting About Evangelicals and Trump With Rob Schenk

Believe Me 3dI recently had the honor and privilege of being a guest on Rob Schenk’s podcast “Schenk Talks Bonhoeffer.” We chatted about my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and evangelicals and politics more broadly. Perhaps some of you remember my post about Schenk from a few days ago.  He is the evangelical pastor who had a seat at the table for many of the conversations and initiatives that launched the Christian Right in the 1980s.

Listen here.

During the conversation, Schenk talks about his attendance at a prayer meeting on the day of Trump’s inauguration.  He bumped into a leading court evangelical and suggested that evangelicals needed to “recalibrate our moral compass” to bring it more in line with Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount.  The court evangelical responded: “We don’t have time for that, we have serious work to do.”

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Mike Pompeo’s Tweet Today is a Perversion of Christianity

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Here is the tweet:

It would be very difficult to understand this tweet apart from Pompeo’s response yesterday to the NPR reporter who claimed that the Secretary of State screamed at her, cursed at her, and belittled her expertise following an interview.  You can get up to speed here.

Pompeo accused NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly of lying to him.  Here is his full statement:

“NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice. First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record. It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency.

This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration. It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity.

It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.”

Kelly, a respected reporter, claims that she did not lie to Pompeo about anything.  She told the Secretary’s staff  in advance that she would be asking questions about Ukraine.  She also claims that Pompeo did not say that the post-interview discussion was off the record.  National Public Radio CEO Michael Martin stands by Kelly.

Notice that Pompeo says nothing in this statement about his own behavior. He does not deny that Kelly’s account of his behavior is true.  And he does not apologize for the way he treated Kelly.  Pompeo’s statement suggests that if someone (allegedly) lies to you, you have the right to respond any way you want toward that person.  What kind of Christian example is this?  Again, here is my satirical addendum from last night’s post:

Hey Christian kids, when someone (allegedly) lies to you, you have every right to scream at them, mistreat them, degrade their expertise, and curse at them.  Just follow the example of evangelical role model and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his boss Donald Trump.  Don’t listen to all the evangelical anti-Trump losers who tell you to turn the other cheek.  Just fire-back in a press release or get your public relations people to book you on Fox News.  After all, we are in the middle of the culture war.  We can’t let little things like Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount get in the way when we have so much work to do in our righteous quest to restore Christian values.

Pompeo ends his statement by saying, “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.” Here Pompeo feels the need to take one more parting shot at Kelly.  As you may recall, Pompeo pulled out a blank map and asked Kelly to identify Ukraine on it. (Who has a blank map sitting around in his “living room” just in case he needs to quiz a guest?).  Kelly claims that after she accurately identified Ukraine on the blank map, Pompeo put it away.

On this map, Ukraine is in orange and Bangledesh is in green:

Bangladesh_Ukraine_Locator

Do we really believe that Kelly, who has a masters degree in European Studies from Cambridge University in England, confused Ukraine and Bangladesh? Pompeo’s parting shot was an attempt to belittle Kelly.  This is quite fitting of the Trump administration and their GOP enablers.  When they don’t like certain questions–usually questions by women–they try to attack the intelligence of the individual asking the question.  Remember this:

And this:

And this (fast forward to the “short sentences” line at the 0:40 mark):

(Thanks to Chris Cuomo of CNN for reminding me about these videos. He ran them on his show last night).

And now we come to Pompeo’s tweet this morning.  He quotes Proverbs 10:18: “Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.” Pompeo uses this verse as a weapon against Kelly.  He is saying that Kelly not only lied to him, but in doing so she showed her hatred for the Trump administration (a common GOP mantra against all critics of the president) and she is a fool.

I don’t know if Kelly lied to Pompeo.  But if I had to choose between a widely respected journalist and the representative of a presidential administration that lies endlessly to the American people, I will go with the journalist.  It is also worth noting that Pompeo’s decision to tweet a verse about lying lips is especially rich coming from Donald Trump’s Secretary of State.

Pompeo’s use of Proverbs 10:18 to attack an NPR journalist is a perversion of Christianity.  Historian Robert Caro once said, “power doesn’t corrupt, it reveals.”  Pompeo’s weaponizing of scripture here reveals what evangelical Christianity has become over the last forty years of political captivity.

 

Is Evangelicalism Dead? If So, What Should We Call “followers of Jesus in the evangelical tradition?”

Wallis Jim

Jim Wallis, founders of Sojourners

Randall Balmer thinks evangelicalism died on November 8,. 2016.  I appeared with him last Spring at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and he made the same assertion.

If evangelicalism is dead, what shall we call “followers of Jesus in the evangelical tradition?”

Here is Balmer at Sojourners:

Since the 2016 election stripped evangelicalism of all claims to moral credibility, what are those of us who formerly claimed that label to do? Some have suggested Followers of Jesus, which has the virtue of simplicity. Others favor exvangelicals, which may be a tad too cute; besides, I resist defining myself in negative terms. Red Letter Christians is a worthy choice (and, if memory serves, I’m a charter member), but it’s a term that needs explanation these days, and there’s a perception that, however loosely configured, it’s an organization, not a movement.

I propose instead Sojourners Christians, which is a bit more generic. This is not an attempt to elevate or to reify this magazine, but since its earliest days as the Post-American, Sojourners has taken seriously Jesus’ mandate to be peacemakers, to welcome the stranger and care for the least of these. In addition, Sojourners has matured to take into its orbit Catholic spirituality, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the best of the peace church and the black church tradition. Even mainline Protestantism finds a place in the Sojourners spectrum, although many of us remain properly wary of its vanilla, anything-goes ethic.

If I were younger, more ambitious, and technologically savvy, I’d set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account for Sojourners Christians. If this idea has any merit, I’ll leave that to others. In the meantime, and for the foreseeable future, I shall refer to myself as a Sojourners Christian.

I respect Randy’s decision to search for a new name.  Indeed, the Christian Right has tarnished the Gospel by mixing it with a power politics.  But I think I am still with Ron Sider on this one.  The word “evangelical,” the “good news” of the Gospel, is too good to surrender to a political movement like the Christian Right.  Let’s try to steal the word back.  I have a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a book, and a speaking schedule that, among other things, is trying to do this.

The Court Evangelical Anti-Abortion Playbook

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Court evangelical Ralph Reed’s recent tweet says so much about how the Christian Right thinks about politics:

Earlier today Adam Schiff offered ten convincing reasons why Donald Trump “put himself first” in the Ukraine scandal.  Donald Trump always puts himself first.  To suggest, as Ralph Reed does, that “protecting the unborn” is one of Trump’s “top priorities” is not supported by the facts. Trump talks about “protecting the unborn” because it is politically expedient.  Throughout his entire public life, Trump’s views on abortion have changed with the political winds.  He did not become pro-life on abortion until he ran for president.  You don’t get pro-life bona fides by showing up at the March for Life.

There is little evidence that Trump cares about human dignity after the baby leaves the womb.  His policies on immigration, health care, guns, and the environment do not suggest a commitment to life.

I am often asked how the Christian Right can support a president of such immoral character and still sleep at night.  The answer is abortion. The Christian Right privileges abortion over all other issues.  It makes perfect sense that Reed thinks abortion is the primary reason conservative evangelicals should vote for Trump in 2020.  Reed is a political operative.  He knows his audience.

Of course it is certainly possible that a person could be pro-life on abortion, and even attend Saturday’s March on Life, and still conclude that Trump does not deserve the support of pro-life & evangelical voters. I know of several anti-Trump evangelicals who will be marching for life in Washington D.C. on Saturday.

Others might believe that Trump’s appointment of pro-life Supreme Court justices is a good thing, but not good enough to tolerate the rest of Trump’s immoral administration, both in terms of policy and presidential character.

Someone else might argue that overturning Roe v. Wade will do little to end abortion in America. They might wonder why millions and millions of dollars are spent on electing the right political candidates when the money could be used to reduce the number of abortions in ways that do not require the unsavory Christian Right pursuit of political power.

Reed knows only one political playbook.  It is the one he helped write.  It has proven to be a very effective.  In 2016, it led the Christian Right into bed with Donald Trump.  For at least a generation or two, evangelical Christianity will be associated less with its Gospel witness and acts of justice in the world and more with the corrupt and immoral presidency of Donald Trump.  It is too early to tell how this will change evangelical Christianity, but I guarantee future historians will explain it to us.

Randall Stephens Reviews Michael Medved’s New Book on America and Divine Providence

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Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know the name Randall Stephens for his historian’s baseball cards and Christian Right photo-shops of Library of America covers.  Check out the Randall Stephens Collection here.

Randall is also an excellent historian of American evangelicalism. Some of you may recall our interview with him in Episode 38 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  We talked about his book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Stephens currently teaches American and British Studies at the University of Oslo.

Over at The Washington Post, Stephens reviews God’s Hand on America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era, the latest book by conservative pundit, film critic, and radio host Michael Medved.  Here is a taste:

It’s one thing to appreciate how religion or ideas about providence inspired Americans in the 1860s or the 1890s. It’s quite something else to say that modern Americans should read the distant past as confirmation of the nation’s divine appointment. Medved wonders why Americans are not more thankful “for winning life’s lottery through your American birth or upbringing.” America being blessed by God, he writes, may defy “the ordinary odds but conforms to our lived experience.” That perspective, while full of hope and optimism, amounts to a selective reading of the past. It ignores a large swath of the U.S. population such as African Americans and Native Americans whose lived experience often has not felt like winning a lottery.

Medved’s style of popular conservative history is in large measure defined by what he leaves out. The shameful, racist, violent aspects of the American narrative are swept away or excused. He gives little attention to the treatment of Native Americans, the crucial role slavery played in the country’s development, wars of imperial expansion and colonial acquisition, and the horrors and follies of the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

In his celebration of the glories of the Transcontinental Railroad, Medved makes little or no room for discussion of the exploitation of workers, unfair and criminal business practices, the destruction of wildlife and natural habitats, or discrimination against Chinese immigrants. Those, too, are essential parts of the story. The racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned immigration of Chinese laborers, is not even mentioned. How should modern Americans read these episodes, which earlier Americans explained and justified in explicitly religious terms?

Read the entire review here.

Thoughts on GOP Congressman Doug Collins’s Recent Comments About the Democrats and Terrorism

Watch Georgia GOP representative Doug Collins tell Lou Dobbs on Fox Business that Democratic congressmen love terrorists and mourn the death of Iranian military commander Qased Soleimani:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, pick-it-up at the four minute mark.

Collins says: “I did not think she [Nancy Pelosi] could become more hypocritical than she was during impeachment, but guess what, surprise, surprise, Nancy Pelosi does it again and her Democrats fall right in line. One, they’re in love with terrorists.  We see that.  They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who were the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

Thoughts:

  1. The main points of Collins’s statement are not true.  The Democrats are not “in love with terrorists” and they are not mourning Soleimani.  (Although perhaps all Christians might mourn the taking of a human life that is created in the image of God and has dignity and worth).
  2. Collins is an evangelical Christian.  He has a Masters of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He served as the senior pastor of Chicopee Baptist Church.  He currently attends Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Georgia.
  3. Do you see what Collins is doing here?  He is misrepresenting the truth to score political points.  He is trying to scare ordinary Americans into believing that the Democrats love terrorists.  This is a pretty standard Christian Right strategy.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not Collins is telling the truth about his Democratic colleagues. He just needs to convince ordinary evangelicals and everyday Americans that what he says is true.  He is betting that most ordinary evangelicals will not fact-check him. It’s a good bet.
  4. Another example of this strategy is Eric Metaxas’s recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.  In that piece the Christian author suggests that a vote for anyone other than Donald Trump will lead to the murder of babies, the influx of socialism, the prevalence of cultural Marxism, and an immigrant invasion through open borders.  I addressed all these issues yesterday in this post.  Metaxas’s piece, which is filled with bad theology and unproven statements, is written to Trump’s base, so it doesn’t matter whether or not his theology is bad or his facts are misleading.  Trump’s base will believe him.  Metaxas is doing his part for the pro-Trump cause in the wake of Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.  By the way, has anyone noticed that the court evangelicals have been writing a lot since the “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami last week.  Tony Perkins wrote that Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”  Charlie Kirk, the new colleague of Jerry Falwell Jr.,  wrote that Trump is our last best hope against socialism.  Ralph Reed praised Trump for “reviving America’s Christian heritage.”  And Metaxas suggests that Trump will protect Christians from “woke mobs.”

Something is happening to American evangelicalism.  Former Ohio governor John Kasich has been noticing:

 

“Christianity Yesterday, Today, and Forever!”

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Carl F.H. Henry, the first editor of Christianity Today

In 1962, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth came to George Washington University for a question and answer session with American religious leaders.  Carl F.H. Henry, the editor of Christianity Today magazine, was one of these leaders.  Here is how he described the meeting in his memoir, Confessions of a Theologian:

The university invited 200 religious leaders to a luncheon honoring Barth at which guests were invited to stand, identify themselves and pose a question.  A Jesuit scholar from either Catholic University or Georgetown voiced the first question.  Aware that the initial queries often set the mood for all subsequent discussion, I asked the next question.  Identifying myself as “Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today,” I continued: “The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.”  I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Service, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media.  If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility?  “Was is news,” I asked, “in the sense that the man in the street understands news?”

Barth became angry.  Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked, “Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?” The audience–largely nonevangelical professors and clergy–roared with delight.  When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse.  So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, ‘Yesterday, today, and forever.”  When further laughter subsided, Barth took up the challenge…

I thought about this encounter when I heard that court evangelical Ralph Reed recently called Christianity Today magazine “Christianity Yesterday” in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News.

Here is a taste of a Fox News story about the interview:

Ingraham Angle” host Laura Ingraham told Reed he was making his publication “irrelevant,” adding that the magazine has been gradually taking on a leftward bent since it was founded by the late evangelist Billy Graham in the 1950s. Earlier Friday, Graham’s son Franklin responded to Galli by saying his father proudly supported and voted for Trump in 2016, and by telling CBN that Billy Graham would be “disappointed” to hear what Galli said.

Reed somewhat echoed those sentiments, saying Galli may want to change the magazine’s name to “Christianity Yesterday.”

“You cannot imagine a publication more out of step with the faith community that it once represented,” he said.

“President Trump received 81% of the votes of evangelicals four years ago — the highest ever recorded. His job approval according to a recent poll by my organization — the Faith and Freedom Coalition — among U.S. Evangelical stands at 83%. That is a historic high.”

Read the rest here.

A few comments on Reed’s interview:

  1. Ralph Reed is no Karl Barth.  It is important to establish this up front.
  2. The folks at Christianity Today should take Reed’s comment about “Christianity Yesterday” as a compliment.  Christianity Today represents the historic Christian faith.  The court evangelicals and other members of the Christian Right seem to believe that Christianity began when Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Moral Majority in 1979.
  3. Reed and the rest of the court evangelicals are scared to death that Mark Galli’s editorial at Christianity Today might peel evangelical votes away from Trump in 2020.  Remember, Reed is a politico.  His job is to spin the news to make sure his evangelical base is in line.
  4. I am continually struck by how court evangelicals justify their political choices with poll numbers rather than deep Christian thinking about political engagement.  Reed seems to be saying that if a significant majority of American evangelicals voted for Trump, think he is a good president, and believe he does not deserve impeachment, then he must be good for the country and the church. God must be on his side.  It seems to never cross Reed’s mind that 81% of American evangelicals might be wrong.  Let’s remember, for example, that the the majority of American evangelicals in the South thought slavery was a good idea.  My point here is not to compare Trump evangelicals to slaveholders, but to show that there is nothing sacred about an appeal to the majority.  Didn’t Jesus say something about the “narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13)? Wasn’t he out of step with the larger faith community of his day?
  5. If you follow the link to the actual interview you will hear Ralph Reed say “I don’t know this editor” in relation to Christianity Today editor Mark Galli.  The fact that Reed has never heard of Galli, and cannot even bring himself to call him by name, speaks volumes about the current divide within American evangelicalism.

Rudy Giuliani’s Spokesperson is a 20-Year-Old Ambassador for Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Falkirk Center

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Christianne Allen with “Falkirk Fellow” David J. Harris Jr.

The Falkirk Center is Liberty University’s new “think tank.”  Read more about it in these posts.

One of the Falkirk Center’s “ambassadors” is a 20-year old Liberty online student named Christianne Allen. She is also the spokesperson for Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.  I am assuming that Falwell Jr. chose Allen as an ambassador of the Falkirk Center because she has become popular as a Giuliani spokesperson. She is the kind “influencer” Falwell Jr. likes.

And how can we say that the embrace of Donald Trump by leading evangelicals is not damaging the witness of the Gospel in the world?

Here is a taste of Daniel Lippman and Tina Nguyen’s piece on Allen at Politico:

This much is undisputed: Allen soon left public high school to work for the campaign without pay, enrolling in Liberty University Online to complete her high school degree.

But she quickly gained a reputation for inflating her importance.

“I forget all the titles she told me she had. She was ‘millenials for something’ or ‘teens for this,’” one former official said. At one point, her social media accounts claimed she was an official spokeswoman for the Trump campaign. She was not, according to these officials. (In a text, Allen explained that she referred to herself as a campaign spokesperson “only because I spoke at a couple rallies.”)

“I think she made it to a point where she made [volunteering] untenable,” said one of the former Virginia campaign officials, citing Allen’s apparent disinterest in performing basic campaign tasks. “She wasn’t productive, but she was attempting to insert herself into everything. If there’s an event, she’s showing up to help whether or not she was invited to [it].”

Lee Allen described one speech she gave at a Trump rally in front of an old battleship in Norfolk with a crowd of thousands of people. “Hats off to my daughter. She has made her opportunities,” he said.

She did not elaborate further, but Allen’s Twitter bioLinkedIn, and old personal website list an array of suitable credentials: representative of the Trump Victory Finance Committee, the official joint fundraising committee for the re-election campaign; and video columnist for the Daily Caller. Spokeswoman for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Executive director of the Middle Eastern Women’s Coalition.

According to representatives of these entities, these titles are embroidered at best, and completely untrue at the most. She is, however, an “ambassador” for both Turning Point USA and Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, titles she gained this year. And there’s no question she enjoys Giuliani’s confidence.

Read the entire piece here.

How Have Things Been Going at Liberty University’s Falkirk Center?

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In case you missed it, Liberty University recently opened a “think tank” to stop the media from converting Americans to socialism.  It is called the “Falkirk Center.”  Here is what we know so far:

  • Like any good think tank, the Falkirk Center has fellows.  But these are not scholars or public intellectuals, they are “influencers.”  The first group of fellows includes a former beauty queen and a cast member on the ABC reality show “The Bachelorette.”
  • American history will be a focus of the Falkirk Center.  According to founder Jerry Falwell Jr., the think tank will counter the teaching of American history “as some sinister, you know bourgeois, white man, taking advantage of everybody else” that is “totally opposite of what happened.
  • The Falkirk Center will also promote “History 101” because this brand of history “has not been taught in recent decades.”  (At Messiah College my U.S. survey history course is HIST 141.  Does that count?)
  • The Falkirk Center will defend religious freedom because attacks on religious freedom have caused young people “to abandon their faith in Christian roots in droves.”  (This is a new one for me.  I’d like to see evidence to support such an idea).
  • The Falkirk Center affirms the notion that those on the Left offer an “unfulfilling and outright dishonest attempt to provide a purposeful life.”

So far, it appears as if the Falkirk Center is little more than a Christian Right Twitter feed that:

Promotes Liberty University football:

Attacks those who will impeach Donald Trump:

Promotes Liberty University football (did I say that already?):

Retweets Dinesh D’Souza:

Retweets stuff from its “fellows”:

Promotes Liberty University football (oh, wait, I think I already covered that):

Will “take back the narrative”:

Endorses Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a Senate seat: