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

What Mike Pence Said Twenty Years Ago About Character and the Presidency

Pence Show

CNN found several Mike Pence columns written in the 1990s.  Get the context here.

One of these columns, published at the website of Pence’s old radio show, was titled “Two Schools of Thought on Clinton.”  Here is a taste of that piece:

With the news on August 17th that the President of the United States lied to the American people (and very likely under oath) about an illicit relationship with a college student, readers are no doubt wondering “where to from here?” The two schools of thought can be summed up in the choices presented through various and diverse sources, namely, move on or move out.

The “move on” crowd’s argument goes something like this; ‘the President admitted he made a mistake, you have your pound of flesh, now let’s move on with the serious issues facing the country’. While this approach is appealing even to some of us who have little regard for the policies of this Administration, it’s just not as simple as all that. The ‘Move On Crowd’s argument is predicated on the notion that presidents, just like the rest of us, ought to be entitled to a little privacy. This argument fails on two grounds; (A) President Clinton made this issue public when he denied it eight months ago and (B) President Clinton is not, by definition, ‘like the rest of us’.

On the first count, the President has admitted to having taken advantage of a college intern working at the White House (that’s a public building) who was on the White House Staff (that’s public employment) on many occasion in and around the Oval Office (again a public building). Also, the President lied about the affair in public and (very likely) under oath in Jones vs Clinton. He also may have used the power of his PUBLIC office to cover up the whole sordid matter. This was not a private matter and cannot legitimately be argued as such. A truly private matter in this realm might be an affair between the President and a friend not working in the White House for whom no favors were granted and no cover-up attempted. That, it seems to me, could be argued as part of one’s (immoral) private life. Ms. Lewinski is a part of the President’s public life not his private life.

On the second count, that the President is ‘just like the rest of us’, he is the most powerful man in the world. If you and I fall into bad moral habits, we can harm our families, our employers and our friends. The President of the United States can incinerate the planet. Seriously, the very idea that we ought to have at or less than the same moral demands placed on the Chief Executive that we place on our next door neighbor is ludicrous and dangerous. Throughout our history, we have seen the presidency as the repository of all of our highest hopes and ideals and values. To demand less is to do an injustice to the blood that bought our freedoms.

So we get to the other, and in my view, only school of thought remaining. For America to move on, and we must, the Clintons must move out of the White House. Either the President should resign or be removed from office. Nothing short of this sad conclusion will suffice to restore the institution of the presidency to its former and necessary glory.”

Pence, of course, is not the first pro-Trumper who wanted Bill Clinton removed on the grounds that his character was not befitting of the office.  I chronicle a few more of them in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Trump Beleive me

Al Mohler Pontificates on the Origins of the Culture War

KavanaughWho “started” the culture wars?

Recently some members of the Evangelical left called for a “pause” to the culture wars.  Evangelical women want Congress to reject the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination and appoint a more moderate justice.  Read about their efforts here.

Meanwhile, Al Mohler, the conservative evangelical president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has told PJ Media that such efforts are “doomed to failure.”  Here is a taste of Tyler O’Neil’s piece:

“The ‘Call to Pause’ is just the latest effort by the Evangelical left to blame the culture war on conservatives,” Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), told PJ Media Sunday. He insisted that the “Call to Pause” is doomed to failure, and more likely to damage the reputations of its supporters than to achieve any cultural or political change.

Here is more:

Mohler fought back against the idea that conservative evangelicals are to blame for the culture war. “It was liberals who pushed the new ethic of personal autonomy and sexual liberation, and it was liberals who championed legalized abortion and celebrated the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973,” the SBTS president told PJ Media.

He noted that “you can date organized evangelical involvement in American politics to Roe v. Wade,” noting that the conservative evangelical movement was largely a reaction to the Left’s culture war coups achieved by the Supreme Court. This became even more clear in light of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which supercharged conservatives’ emphasis on the Supreme Court.

“Now, just after the nomination of a clearly conservative judge, Brett Kavanaugh, as the next justice of the Supreme Court, the evangelical left is predictably opposing the nominee, and calling for a ‘pause’ in the culture war,” Mohler noted. “Amazingly enough, those behind the ‘Call to Pause’ are transparent about their fear that Roe v. Wade might be reversed, or even that abortion rights might be curtailed.”

A few thoughts:

  1. Mohler is often at his dogmatic worst whenever commenting on sexual politics.  I do not expect Mohler to agree with the evangelical women who oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, but why does he have to come across as such an authoritarian ecclesiastical strongman whenever the issue he is addressing involves evangelical women?  One thinks he might have learned something about the voices of women in his denomination.
  2. Mohler pins the entire culture war on Roe v. Wade.  While this Supreme Court case played an important role in mobilizing the Christian Right, it is much more complicated than this.  But nuance, of course, will not help Mohler and his friends win the culture wars.
  3. Mohler continues to operate on the old Christian Right playbook for winning the culture wars.  If we nominate the right Supreme Court justice, the playbook teaches, the problem of abortion will go away.  For some context on this playbook see Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

What the Christian Right’s Political Playbook Sounds Like

James Dobson insisted that Bill Clinton did not have the character to be POTUS, but he has no problem with Donald Trump.  I discuss Dobson and others in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is an interview he recently conducted with Jerry Newcombe, a Christian nationalist author who writes about the American past.  Newcombe interviewed me on his radio show in June 2012.  We had a good conversation.

There are several problems with Newcombe’s view of Thomas Jefferson, but he also gets some things right.  I am not going to go into the details here.  As many of you know, I wrote about Jefferson and religion in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

It is striking to listen to these culture warriors.  They continue to follow the political playbook of the Christian Right that they learned (and in some ways helped to create) in the 1980s.  In fact, much of this interview could have taken place in the 1980s.  Little has changed in their approach to political engagement.  They cling to the playbook.

If you get a chance to listen to this interview, you will hear two evangelical men (especially Dobson) who place their trust in the Supreme Court to save the moral decline of the country.  I am confident that Dobson and Newcombe believe that Jesus is their Savior, but when they talk about cultural change it is all about winning political battles.  Dobson gets nostalgic about Robert Bork.  Newcombe blames the Supreme Court for the cultural “mess” in America.  They say almost nothing about the role of the church and its place in the culture promoting life, peace, justice, love, compassion, and mercy.

 

Zimmerman: The GOP Should be Careful What They Wish for in Overturning *Roe v. Wade*

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University of Pennsylvania historian Jonathan Zimmerman wonders if overturning Roe v. Wade will lead to a liberal resurgence that might change the face of American politics.  Here is a taste of his piece at The New Republic:

Now, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the bench has American conservatives chomping at the bit: with the swing vote removed and replaced with a nominee of President Trump’s choosing, perhaps the 1973 ruling can be overturned. Conservatives’ own history, however, suggests that they should be careful for what they wish for. Instead of an unambiguous and permanent conservative victory, they might face a liberal political resurgence unlike anything seen in decades. A victory in the courts could spawn backlash at the polls.

That, after all, is precisely what happened after 1973, with the roles reversed, when Roe galvanized a right-wing revolution. Sixteen states had liberalized their abortion laws in the years leading up to the decision, provoking sporadic conservative protests. But the issue didn’t become a truly national one until the Supreme Court intervened in 1973, declaring that the protections of the Constitution did not apply to the unborn.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals and Immigration: 4 Views

immigrants

I have talked to several reporters about Donald Trump’s zero tolerance immigrant policy that has separated children from their parents at the Mexican border.  After Franklin Graham called the policy “disgraceful,” reporters wondered if immigration might be the issue that finally prompted a significant amount of pro-Trump evangelicals to break with the president.

I answered these questions with a firm no.

Evangelicals I talk to are against the separation of children from their parents, but this is not enough to pull them away from Trump or reject his border policy. When it comes to social and cultural issues, conservative evangelicals have a hierarchical system of morality.  Abortion and gay marriage are the most important.  The separation of children from their parents at the border might be morally problematic for some evangelicals, but not enough to end their support for Trump.

The only thing that will pull the 81% away from Trump is if he supports a liberal Supreme Court justice, takes pro-choice position on abortion, or refuses to defend the religious liberty of evangelicals in a post Obergefell age.

As I see it, there are four ways in which American evangelicals have responded to the current immigration crisis:

  • Group 1 opposes the separation of children from their parents at the border and opposes the Trump presidency generally  (Russell Moore, Peter Wehner, Michael Gerson, and everyone on the so-called “evangelical left”).
  • Group 2 openly opposes the separation of children at the border, but support Trump generally and will probably vote for him again in 2020.  (Samuel Rodriguez, Franklin Graham).
  • Group 3 thinks the separation of children at the border is a problem, but they will not speak out against it.  Some of them even support Jeff Sessions’s use of Romans 13 to justify the policy.  (This is most of the court evangelicals, including First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress).
  • Group 4 does not see the separation of children at the border as a moral problem because these immigrants are illegal and should have never tried to cross the border with their kids in the first place.  They are staunch Trump supporters.  (This group includes many of the rank-and-file evangelicals who voted for Trump.  I have spoken to many of them).

Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton explores the evangelical response to Trump’s immigration policies in a piece titled “Polls suggest white evangelicals will still back Trump after family separation controversy“:

White evangelical leaders did something remarkable earlier this month: They criticized President Donald Trump for his administration’s immigration policy.

From the words of Franklin Graham — a long-time Trump ally and son of iconic preacher Billy Graham — to the wider resolution passed by the Southern Baptist Convention at its annual meeting, white evangelicals have been more and more willing to challenge Trump on issues of immigration and family separation, departing from white evangelicalism’s historic association with Republican Party politics.

But recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that these denouncements were not part of a broader break between white evangelicals and Trump. Ultimately white evangelicals will still support Trump — and his wider immigration stance — despite their measured reservations about the policy of family separation.

The Public Religion Research Institute poll shows that support for the family separation policy among white evangelicals was low: Thirty-six percent of white evangelicals support the policy, while 51 percent are opposed to it. Given that white evangelicals are generally supportive of Trump’s policies more broadly, the relative lack of support for family separation is, at first glance, striking.

However, it’s important to recognize that white evangelical support for family separation is higher than those of any other religious group cited in the poll. Sixty percent of white mainline Protestants, 74 percent of Catholics, 82 percent of the religiously unaffiliated, and 87 percent of nonwhite Protestants are opposed to family separation.

Read the rest here.

More Signs of Evangelical Fear

Ralph Reed

Evangelicals are afraid.  This is one of the major themes of my forthcoming book (June 28) Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In fact, the entire Christian Right agenda–the agenda that led evangelicals to help elect Donald Trump–is built on fear.

When evangelicals are afraid of losing power they tend to turn to politics.  This, I think, best explains why GOP operative Ralph Reed‘s Faith and Freedom Coalition is spending $20 million to get conservative culture warriors elected in 2018.

Here is a taste of an article at The Hill:

An influential conservative Evangelical group is ramping up its spending on efforts to defend Republican majorities in the November midterms.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition, which invested heavily during the 2016 elections, plans to spend nearly $20 million on a voter turnout effort to protect GOP majorities in the fall.

“We are going to make a bigger effort in 2018 than we did in 2016,” said Ralph Reed, the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

“We think our people are going to come, but we also think their people are going to come and they are going to come in really big numbers. This is going to be hard fought.”

Reed estimated that the group will make 180 million voter contacts through digital outreach, knocking on people’s doors and making phone calls, sending texts, emails and physical mail.

The current budget for the mobilization effort sits at $18 million, but that’s subject to change as the battlefield expands and contracts in the coming months, Reed told a small group of reporters during a wide-ranging interview at the coalition’s annual “Road to Majority” summit in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

Evangelical leaders have long viewed President Trump and the GOP-led Congress as major allies in their fight to reshape the federal judiciary and pass legislation aimed at protecting religious freedom.

Read the entire piece here.