Christian historians and sin

Why Study HistoryA lot of people in the media today, especially those in the Trump camp, are talking about American greatness. Many evangelical Christians, who last time I checked believed in the existence of human sin, want to ignore their country’s past transgressions. Such an approach was on full display last Friday night when Donald Trump delivered a speech at Mount Rushmore. I wrote about this speech here and here.

In this post, I want to cover how a belief in human sin informs how I do history.

Adapted from Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

Herbert Butterfield, a twentieth-century philosopher of history, informed us that “if there is any region in which the bright empire of the theologians and the more murky territory of the historians happen to meet and overlap, we shall be likely to find it at those places where both types of thinkers have to deal with human nature.” Historian George Marsden adds, “Of all traditional Christian teachings the doctrine of original sin or of pervasive human depravity has the most empirical verification. The modern world, rather than undercutting this doctrine, seems increasingly to confirm it.”

Indeed, anyone who studies the past realizes that there are no heroes in history. While people may perform heroic acts, all humans are tainted by sin and are susceptible to acting in ways that preference themselves over others and God. Historians understand, better than most, the reality of the pain, suffering, injustice, anger, and vice brought on by sin.

I often tell my Christian students that it is very difficult to understand historical figures like Nero, Caligula, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot without a robust understanding of sin. But a belief in human depravity and the sinfulness of this world can have a much deeper effect on the way we approach the past that goes beyond its mere use as a tool for pointing out individual and systemic justice and oppression. A belief in the reality of sin should provide us with a healthy skepticism about movements in the past committed to utopian ends, unlimited progress, or idealistic solutions to the problems of this world. This, of course, does not mean that we should stop working toward these ends, but history certainly teaches us that we live in a broken world that will not be completely fixed on this side of eternity.

Similarly, a belief in depravity helps us to better explain the human condition–the restlessness, the search for meaning, and the prideful ambition that has defined much o the past, especially in the modern era. Augustine was quite correct when he opened his Confessions with the famous words, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

In the same way that a belief in the imago Dei should shape the stories that we tell about the past, a belief in sin should influence the process by which we craft our narratives of the human experience. Let me draw on my own experience as an American historian to illustrate this point.

The study of American history has always served a civic function in the United States. Schoolchildren learn American history for the purpose of becoming informed and patriotic citizens. What has resulted from this approach to teaching history is a skewed view of the American experience that celebrates certain heroic figures to the neglect of others. Such an approach also focuses on American greatness as defined by the patriotic designers of some of the school textbooks published for Christian Right schools and homeschooling parents. In such a curriculum, American nationalism triumphs over the stories chronicling those moments when the United States failed or when it acted in ways that might be considered unjust.

Such an approach to American history is not only one-sided; it also fails to recognize the theological truth that all earthly kingdoms and nations are flawed when compared to the kingdom of God. While the stories we tell about the United States should certainly not neglect the moments that make us feel good about our country, we should also not be surprised when we encounter stories that may lead us to hang our heads in collective shame.

While such a whitewashing of American history is quite popular these days among those on the political or cultural Right, those who occupy a place on the political or cultural Left can also ignore the realities of human sin on the subjects or individuals that they find to be inspirational. Yet, as Marsden reminds us, it is “a sign of maturity” when “representatives of a group can write history that takes into account that members of that group are flawed human beings like everyone else. In the long run the most convincing histories will be those that portray their protagonists with faults as well as virtues.”

The Christian Right faith of Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

Kayleigh

Here is a taste of Emma Green’s piece at The Atlantic: “The Temptation of Kayleigh McEnany“:

McEnany’s role in the Trump administration played differently on the Facebook page of her alma mater, the Academy of the Holy Names. When the school announced her promotion to press secretary, a debate broke out in the comments over whether the academy should be congratulating her at all. Some classmates expressed confusion about how their Christian education aligns with the vision of politics she promotes. While several of her peers defended her achievement in becoming press secretary, even one of McEnany’s former teachers conveyed disappointment in how she has done so: “We taught that truth was not expediency but was the touchstone of relationships,” the teacher wrote. “Much of the rhetoric I have read and interviews I have seen when she was a commentator on television show how far from [the academy’s] values she now espouses. This saddens me.”

Of all the criticism McEnany has received, accusations that she has betrayed Christian teachings seem to be the only ones that bother her, perhaps because her faith is so personal. She and her husband, the Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Sean Gilmartin, had a baby girl, Blake, just a few months before McEnany took the press-secretary job. Between bringing Blake to visit the White House and posing her in a bright-red “KEEP NH GREAT” Trump cap, McEnany is intent on raising her daughter as a Christian: “If I give Blake the same faith upbringing and relationship with Jesus Christ that my parents gave me, she will be an unstoppable woman of faith in whatever she decides to do,” she recently told CBN. McEnany wrote in her book that she was upset when a CNN viewer suggested she should tuck in her cross necklace “when showing support for someone who goes against so many things that the Bible teaches.” She knows that no one is perfect, including politicians, she wrote. She bears her cross because she believes that it represents how “humanity might have a chance at a salvation that we do not deserve.”

Read the entire piece here.

As I read Green’s piece, I am struck at just how much McEnany’s understanding of Christian faith is shaped by a Christian Right confluence of GOP politics, Fox News conservatism, and a collection of cherry-picked Bible verses. There are millions of Americans like her and nearly all of them voted for Trump in 2016.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

Court evangelical dinner

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Although somehow I don’t think I am reading this tweet in the way White intended it.

I found this today. Here is James Robison in April. He says Donald Trump is the most “teachable man I’ve ever met.” He adds that Trump loves his neighbor more than himself.

Ralph Reed is retweeting retired NFL and USFL running-back Herschel Walker:

Reed is also sticking with the playbook. We shouldn’t expect anything more from the guy who helped write it. What is the Christian Right playbook? Read about it here. Hint: The Supreme Court will save us.

Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition tweeted this today. They can’t be serious about moral character:

A spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is going after the Dixie Chicks:

And she is claiming that Biden is mentally incompetent:

Meanwhile, the organization Jenna Ellis works for, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, shared this article about civility and civil discourse:

Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonder-boy, is writing about “shaky science,” among other things:

Again, Charlie seems incapable of empathy. Has he ever wondered why Bubba Wallace’s team got scared when they saw that rope hanging in the garage at Talladega? That might require him to pick-up a good history book or learn something about the African-American experience:

Glad to see court evangelical journalist David Brody has a problem with this:

Until next time.

When progressive evangelicals held the national stage

George_McGovern,_c_1972

George McGovern

Over at Sojourners, American religious historian Randall Balmer traces the history of progressive evangelicalism in the 1970s. Here is a taste of “Before the Religious Right, Progressive Evangelicals Gained the National Spotlight“:

Richard Nixon’s promise of a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, which boosted him to presidency in 1968, turned out to entail expanding the war to Cambodia in the spring of 1970, thereby prompting protests across the nation and the shooting of four students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Nevertheless, Nixon rallied his “silent majority” in advance of the 1972 presidential election, and he entered the campaign with decided advantages.

The Democratic nominee was George McGovern, senator from South Dakota who grew up in the parsonage of a Wesleyan Methodist minister and who himself studied for the ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary before going on to earn the Ph.D. from Northwestern University. McGovern, a decorated war hero in World War II, brought his campaign to Wheaton College’s Edman Chapel on the morning of October 11, 1972.

I was a first-year student at Trinity College, and I persuaded several of my classmates to skip our daily chapel and accompany me to Wheaton. I shall never forget the scene. Students paraded around the chapel with Nixon campaign banners. McGovern opened by saying that he had wanted to attend Wheaton, but his family couldn’t afford it. He went on to explain that his understanding of justice and social responsibility was derived from the Bible. By the end of his remarks, McGovern had won a respectful hearing from many of the students.

Nevertheless, Billy Graham had endorsed Nixon, and white evangelicals followed the evangelist’s lead.

Read the entire piece here.

For more on this history, I recommend three books:

Balmer, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter

David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism

Brantley Gasaway, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Mark Lempke, My Brother’s Keeper: George McGovern and Progressive Christianity

Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Andy Rowell (a never-Trump evangelical) has a useful Twitter thread on Donald Trump’s visit yesterday to the “Students for Trump” rally at an Arizona megachurch.

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network says “God works in mysterious ways”:

Al Mohler admits systemic racism is real. Maybe this group forced his hand. The attacks from the right wing of the Southern Baptist convention should be arriving very soon.

Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk is not interested in why Bubba Wallace’s team was worried about nooses in the first place:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is tweeting about using Bible verses out of context and endorsing movements that support evil. Yes, you read that correctly:

Did John Hagee read Believe Me?

During an event in Colorado Springs called the “Truth & Liberty Coalition, “James Robison calls the last three-and-half years a “miracle of Almighty God.” He says a bunch of other court evangelical stuff, including that the media is working for the devil. If you want to get a good sense of the court evangelical way of thinking, watch this video.

Tony Perkins and Franklin Graham execute the Christian Right playbook to perfection. If you want to reclaim America as a Christian nation, you’ve got to get the judges. “Our hope is built on nothing less, than judges who pass the abortion test. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Kavanaugh’s name. On the Trump the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand”:

Eric Metaxas shows why I continue to support the so-called “fear thesis.” Fear-mongerers take the most radical and extreme manifestation of a movement and try to convince people that it is mainstream. All undocumented immigrants are murderers and rapists. All Democrats are extreme Leftists who don’t care about America. The goal is to scare people. Very few people concerned about systemic racism want to defund the police, tear down monuments of George Washington, or engage in violence. Yet Metaxas has devoted most of his shows in the last week to talking about these extremists. Trump and the Christian Right do this all the time.

One of Metaxas’s guests today, a writer for the aforementioned James Robison’s website, denies the existence of systemic racism. He describes “anti-racism” as “communism in blackface” and a “new fanatical religion.” The Hitler comparisons abound. Yes, Metaxas and his guest think that the protesters and the Democrats are behaving like the Nazis. The Eric Metaxas Show may have replaced the Glenn Beck Show as the new face of Godwin’s Law.

Until next time.

Friday night court evangelical roundup

Trump Beleive me

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

They are not technically “court” evangelicals, but they are definitely Trump evangelicals. The Harris family is back and they are now a Trump worship band:

Some of you may remember them from 2012:

The Harris’s are an evangelical homeschool family from Tulsa.

Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., seems to like the Harris family. She retweeted this today:

Glad to see Jentezen Franklin acknowledging Juneteenth:

Franklin Graham too:

Tony Perkins is beating the “law and order” drum:

He is also retweeting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

Al Mohler has not abandoned the Christian Right playbook in the wake of Gorsuch’s opinion in the recent LCBTQ Civil Rights decision:

Jim Garlow is writing about “biblical principles of economics.” I assume he means the part of the Bible written by Adam Smith:

Charlie Kirk forgot to mention the coronavirus mask designed by his friend and partner, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. But I guess that’s not technically blackface:

Kirk know something about the past, but his historical thinking skills need a lot of work:

Here we go again:

Thomas Kidd, Mark David Hall, Brooke Allen, and Steve Green will participate in a Falkirk Center forum. At least David Barton is not involved.

Robert Jeffress is back on Fox Business. Channel. Apparently Chick-fil-A is taking some heat.

Jeffress thinks that racism will “evaporate overnight” if people just turned to God. Again, he fails to see that the sin of racism is structural–it is deeply embedded in our all of our institutions.  I recall the argument of  James Davison’s Hunter‘s book To Change the World”: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In that book, Hunter argues that individual transformation is not the best way to change the world. True change does not happen through some kind of Protestant populism, but rather by the “work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life.” Such change takes generations and it can only “be described in retrospect.” Individual spiritual transformation can bring about good ends, but it does not change the “moral fabric” or “DNA of a civilization.” I think Hunter’s words are an important reminder that the eradication of systemic racism is going to take a long time and a lot of work.

Jeffress also defends the phrase “all lives matter.”

Until next time.

How the history of white evangelical racism has led to Donald Trump’s election and continues to shape support for his presidency

Believe Me 3dI begin with a caveat. This post is not implying that all white evangelicals are or have been racist. Many white evangelicals have been anti-racist and have fought hard to curb systemic racism in American life. But, as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, these are not historical forces that led many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. They are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to continue to support Donald Trump. They are not the historical forces that will lead many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  And they are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to reject systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

But here is some history:

1 .After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, which resulted in sixty white deaths in Southampton County, Virginia, fearful white evangelical Christians in the South began to fight harder for the expansion of slavery to the west in the belief that its spread to more open country might reduce the proximity of slaves to one another and thus make insurrections more difficult. White churches responded to Turner’s rebellion with missionary efforts in the hope that the chances of passion-filled revolts might be reduced if slaves could be monitored more closely by white clergy and lay church leaders. Yes, the idea of African Americans rebelling and causing disorder has been around for a long time.

2. The anxieties stemming from slave insurrections led Southern ministers to develop a biblical and theological defense of slavery. These ministers argued that anyone who read the Bible in a literal, word-for-word fashion (as God intended it to be read) would conclude that God had ordained this system of labor. Commonsense interpretations of Bible passages that referred to slavery were often difficult to refute. Old Testament patriarchs such as Abraham owned slaves. Slavery was a legal institution in the New Testament world, and the apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to obey government laws. In the book of Philemon, Paul required the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his owner. Writing in the immediate wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, Thomas Dew, a professor of political science at the College of William and Mary, used the Bible to defend the view that all societies had a fixed and natural social structure. Citing 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, Dew reasoned that Africans should remain slaves because God had created them to fulfill such a role in society. Slaves had been given a divine “calling” and, in Paul’s words, “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” One South Carolina Presbyterians went so far as to say, “If the Scriptures do not justify slavery…I know not what they do justify.” I am reminded here of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler’s remarks about slavery.

3. Evangelicals thought that the South’s social order, and its identity as a Christian culture worthy of God’s blessing, was grounded in a proper reading of the Bible. In other words, the people of the South–and eventually the Confederate States of America–believed that they were living in a Christian society precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.  The abolitionist argument against slavery was not only heretical because it violated the explicit teaching of Scripture; it also threatened the Christian character of the United States. Robert L. Dabney, a Virginia Presbyterian clergyman and one of the strongest defenders of slavery and white supremacy in the South, contended that the notion that slaves–or any Africans for that matter–had “rights” and thus deserved freedom was a modern idea introduced in the eighteenth-century by the progressive thinkers of the Enlightenment, not by the expositors of God-inspired Scripture.  James Henley Thornwell, another powerful theological voice in support of slavery, understood the Civil War as a clash between atheist abolitionists and virtuous slaveholders: “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders–they are atheists, socialists, communist, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. Sound familiar? Watch this or most other episodes of the Eric Metaxas Show. One of Thornwell’s students, New Orleans Presbyterian minister Benjamin Palmer, said that the South had been called “to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as not existing.” It was a duty to “ourselves, to our slaves, to the world, and to almighty God.”

4. Southern evangelicals also feared the mixing of races (even though the races were mixed mainly because of the long history of master raping slaves). Slaveholders believed that their defense of a Christian civilization was directly connected to the purity of the white race. One Presbyterian minister in Kentucky claimed that “no Christian American” would allow the “God-defying depravity of intermarriage between the white and negro races.”  South Carolina governor George McDuffie, who  said that “no human institution…is more manifestly consistent with the will of God, then domestic slavery,” also claimed abolitionists were on a “fiend-like errand of mingling the blood of master and slave.” In the process, McDuffie argued, they were contributing to the “end of the white republic established in 1776.”

5. Longstanding racial fears did not fade away with the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction amendments that ended slavery (Thirteenth) and provided freedmen with citizenship rights (Fourteenth) and voting rights (Fifteenth) only reinforced Southern evangelical racism. A classic example of this was Dabney’s opposition to the ordination of freedmen in the Southern Presbyterian Church. During an 1867 debate over this issue, Dabney said that the ordination of African American minister in the white Presbyterian church would “threaten the very existence of civil society.” It was God, Dabney argued, who created racial difference and, as a result, “it was plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification.” He predicted a theological version of “white flight” by suggesting that black ordination would “bring a mischievous element in our church, at the expense of driving a multitude of valuable members and ministers out.” Dabney would not sit by and watch his denomination permit “amalgamation” to “mix the race of Washington and Lee, and Jackson, with this base herd which they brought from the pens of Africa.”

6. Northern Protestant fundamentalists at the turn of the 20th century were aware of the moral problem of racism, but they did very little to bring it to an end. While they did occasionally speak out against lynching and other acts of racial violence, they failed to see how their literal views of the Bible contributed to systemic racism in American life. White terror groups seemed to understand this better than the fundamentalists did. As historian Matt Sutton has shown, the Ku Klux Klan regularly sought partnerships with fundamentalists. The Klan’s leaders believed Protestant fundamentalist crusades to save Christian America made them a natural ally in the war against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. Some fundamentalist commentaries on race could have been lifted from the collected works of 19th-century pro-slavery theologians such as Lewis Dabney or James Henry Thornwell. A.C. Dixon, the fundamentalist pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, called the Fifteenth Amendment (the amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote) “the blunder of the age” because African Americans were “ignorant” and thus ill-equipped to cast a ballot. Other fundamentalists upheld typical racial stereotypes that portrayed African Americans as rapists, murderers, and threats to white women. In 1923, Moody Monthly, the flagship publication of fundamentalism, published articles defending Klan activity. Fundamentalist fears about the decline of Christian America regularly manifested themselves in racism.

7. In the wake of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event which historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” several evangelical and fundamentalist clergymen were quick to put their white supremacy on display. Edwin D. Mouzon, the bishop of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, said he did not know who was to blame for the massacre. But if you read the front page of the June 6, 1921 edition of the Morning Tulsa Daily World, “black agitators,” including black activist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, were to blame.
Mon, Jun 6, 1921 – Page 1 · The Morning Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com

Mouzon said, “there is one thing…upon which I should like to make myself perfectly clear. That is racial equality. There never has been and there never will be such a thing. It is divine ordained. This is something that negroes should be told very plainly…At the same time, we must have a Christian attitude toward the black man; he is made by the same creator; he is subject to the same Christian laws, he is our brother in Christ.” On the same day, Reverend J.W. Abel of Tulsa’s First Methodist Church said, “What other nation in all human history has done as much [for] a people as the white race has done for the race which but a brief century ago emerged from slavery? A race which even in slavery was a thousand times better off than the black princes who ruled their race in Africa.” Abel continued, “But the sin of this [black] race is that they are all too ready to protect a member of the race in crime, for no other reason that he is a negro…some day the negro will come to know that the white race is his best friend.” Dr. Howard G. Cooke, pastor of Tulsa’s Centennial Methodist Church, noted that “there has been a great deal of loose-mouthed and loose-minded talking about the white people of Tulsa being equally to blame with the blacks. This is not true.” He added, “[The massacre] should be the beginning of a new regime of law and order in this city.” This is is an interesting observation in light of the fact that a self-proclaimed “law and order” president will be holding a rally in Tulsa tomorrow night, only a few weeks after the 99th anniversary of the massacre.  (Thanks to historian Kenny Brown for bringing this material to my attention)

8. In the mid-20th century,  white evangelicals had a mixed track record regarding racial issues facing the country during the civil rights movement. Billy Graham was famous for desegregating his evangelistic crusades, and many evangelical leaders and publications supported the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in public schools, just as they supported the Civil Rights Acts (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). But very few Northern evangelicals actually participated in the movement, and strong pockets of segregationist thought and practice continued to exist in the evangelical South. Most white evangelicals were not particularly interested in the civil rights movement; they were far more concerned about–and opposed to–the way the federal government used its power to enforce desegregation and oppose Jim Crow laws in their local communities. Historian Mark Noll has argued that race and civil rights served as an entry point for the white conservative evangelicals critique of active government.

9. This relationship between race and evangelical opposition to “big government” intervention into state and local affairs is best illustrated in the evangelical response to two Supreme Court cases. Green v. Connally (1972) removed tax-exempt status from private schools and colleges that discriminated against students based on race. At the center of the controversy was Bob Jones University, a school that banned interracial dating and denied admission to unmarried African Americans. In 1975, the IRS moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the university, a case that was eventually decided in favor of the IRS in Bob Jones v. United States.  Green v. Connolly and Bob Jones v. United States also had implications for the hundreds of private Christian academies cropping up (at the rate of two per day) all over the United States. Many of these schools were in the South and had discriminatory admissions policies, which is not surprising given that many such schools were founded in the immediate aftermath of public-school integration. When President Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian,” supported the Green v. Connally decision, he alienated many conservative evangelicals who ran these academies. To be fair, many segregationist academies were already beginning to admit African American students in the early 1970s, but the leaders of these schools, true to their Southern heritage, wanted to deal with the issues of segregation, race, and civil rights on their own terms. They certainly did not want the federal government forcing them to desegregate.

10. Thus, when Jerry Falwell and like minded conservative evangelicals created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, they already had experienced the power of the central government when the Supreme Court intruded on the affairs of their segregated academies. In fact, historian Randall Balmer contends that it was this fear of big-government interference as it related to desegregation of institutions like Bob Jones University and Falwell’s own Liberty Academy that prompted the formation of the Christian Right. Paul Weyrich, one of Falwell’s closest associates and one of the leading organizers of the movement, told Balmer in a 1990 interchange that the Christian Right was originally founded, not on evangelicals’ opposition to abortion, but rather on opposition to the attempts by the IRS to desegregate Christian academies.

11. Many of Trump’s evangelical supports came to Trump’s rescue when, in August 2017, he drew a moral equivalency between white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia and those who came to the city to try to oppose them. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church–Dallas, went on Fox Business Network and said that Trump “did just fine” in his statement(s) about the event. He performed a rhetorical move that court evangelicals and other Trump supporters have perfected: he changed the subject and went from defense to offense. Jeffress warned Fox viewers that an “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, and the “GOP establishment) were plotting to take Trump down. He then reaffirmed America’s Judeo-Christian roots without any sense that many of the Judeo-Christian influences that have shaped United States history were intricately bound up with the kind of racism that the nation had witnessed in Charlottesville. Watch:

It is time that white evangelicals take a hard look at its past and stop trying to “Make America Great Again.” It is time, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.” The operate word is reconciliation, not “renew,” “restore” or “reclaim.”

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

Trump Court Evangelicals 2

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk, a political pundit and co-founder of the Liberty University Falkirk Center, is upset with the Supreme Court after it ruled Trump could not end the DACA program:

Jenetzen Franklin’s new bookAcres of Diamonds: Discovering God’s Best Right Where You Are, shares a title with Russell Conwell‘s famous prosperity gospel lecture. Here is a quote from Conwell’s sermon: “I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich.”

Jack Graham wants his followers to stay away from current events so they can clear their minds and “focus our thoughts on God’s Word and doing His will.” He implies that focusing one’s life on God’s word and “doing his will” is something different than bringing Christian truth to bear on current events. I am not sure this is the time for Christians to retreat to the prayer closet.

Tony Perkins is retweeting a clip from a speech by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. His comment on the speech is a convoluted mash-up of God and politics that fuses American values with Kingdom values all in service of making America Christian “again.”

If you read through Perkins’s twitter feed you will find him quoting a lot of scripture. But all the verses he cites are meant to be read through the lens of his Christian nationalist political agenda.

Perkins said we should support Trump because he will deliver on conservative Supreme Court justices. His article today at Family Research Council reveals the sense of betrayal he feels after Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in the recent LGBTQ civil rights decision. He blasts the court for being too political. Interesting. For many court evangelicals, the Supreme Court is only “too political” when it makes decisions that the Christian Right does not like.

Eric Metaxas had Pat Boone on his radio show and tried to get Boone to say that he is not in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame because he is an outspoken Christian. Boone thinks he belongs in the Hall of Fame because of his music, but he won’t bite on Metaxas’s suggestion that he faces discrimination because of his faith.

The Eric Metaxas Show is Trumpism disguised as Christian radio.

Until next time.

Wednesday Night Court Evangelical Roundup

Court Evangelicals at Table

Since my last update, a few things have changed in court evangelical land. Neil Gorsuch, one of two Donald Trump Supreme Court nominees, has defended LGBTQ rights and has proven he may not be the best court evangelical ally when it comes to questions of religious liberty. I imagine some evangelicals who are looking for a reason to reject Trump at the ballot box in November may have just found one.

Police reform and debates over systemic racism continue to dominate the headlines. On the COVID-19 front, more and more churches are opening this weekend and Donald Trump is preparing for a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What do the court evangelicals have to say?

In an interview with Charisma magazine, James Dobson writes:

In an outrageous ruling that should shake America’s collective conscience to its core, the U.S. Supreme Court has redefined the meaning of “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Not only was this decision an affront against God, but it was also a historical attack against the founding framework that governs our nation.

Dobson says nothing about Trump or how Gorsuch burned white evangelicals on this decision.

I don’t know if Louie Giglio supports Trump, but he is now apologizing for his use of the phrase “White Blessing”:

The apology seems honest and sincere.

Jenetzen Franklin praises Trump as a great listener and defender of law and order.  But Trump’s police reform speech failed to address the systemic problem of racism in America. It attacked Obama and Biden and it defended Confederate monuments. Is this big action?

Johnnie Moore, the guy who describes himself as a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” is doing the same thing as Jenetzen:

Greg Laurie interviewed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on police reform. Scott talks about the “character” of police officers and shows a solid understanding of the Bible, but the issues of racism in America go much deeper than this. I encourage you to listen to Gettysburg College professor’s Scott Hancock upcoming interview at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

The Laurie-Scott conversation is a step in the right direction, but it focuses on striking a balance between law and order (Scott quotes Romans 13) and individual acts of racism.  The real conversation should be over to have an ordered society and address systemic racism. Today, for example, Scott said that the United States is not a racist country.

Robert Jeffress is “thrilled” to have Mike Pence speak at his church for “Freedom Sunday.” Expect fireworks. Literal fireworks! Once again, it will be God and country on display.

Here is another view of Pence.

Last Sunday, Jeffress addressed the Floyd murder and its aftermath with his congregation at First Baptist-Dallas. He summarized his response to our current moment in three statements:

1. God hates racism. Jeffress FINALLY admits that First Baptist Church was on “the wrong side of history” on matters relating to race. This is a huge step! It would have been nice to have this history included in the church’s 150th anniversary celebration, but I don’t think I have ever heard Jeffress say this publicly.  Let’s see where this goes. First Baptist-Dallas has some reckoning with the past to do.

2. God hates lawlessness. Jeffress says that there is “nothing wrong” with peaceful protests, but he condemns the looting and riots. He does not say anything about the root cause of the riots. One more question: Does God hate Christians who disobey unjust laws? I think Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about that. So did most of the patriotic pastors during the Revolution. You know, the guys who created America as a “Christian nation.”

3. Racism and lawlessness is not the problem, the problem is sin. Agreed. The sin of racism pervades every institution in America. In order to address the problem of racism we need to go beyond mere calls for personal salvation. American history teaches us that some of the great evangelical revivals led to abolitionism and other forms of social justice. At the same time, some of the great evangelical revivals led to a deeper entrenchment of racism in society. Jeffress’s church, which celebrates its history of soul-winning, is one example. Also, let’s remember that when Frederick Douglass’s master got saved during an evangelical revival, he became more, not less, ruthless in his treatment of his slaves. We will see what happens this time around, but individual spiritual regeneration does not always solve the deeply embedded problems of race in America.

Now I want to hear how this generally good, but also insufficient, message applies to Jeffress’s support of Donald Trump.

James Robison is right. But so is Jurgen Moltmann when he said that Christians must “awaken the dead and piece together what has been broken“:

Tony Perkins is talking with David Brat, the dean of the Liberty University School of Business, about law and order and the breakdown of K-12 and higher education. Perkins thinks the real problem in America is a “lack of courage.” I did a post about courage a few weeks ago.

Brat wants Christians to be “prophets, priests, and kings.” Yes. Here is something I wrote last month about such royal language:

What does it mean, as Scot McKnightN.T. Wright, and Matthew Bates, among others, have argued, that Jesus is King? What role do Christians play as a royal priesthood, proclaiming the truth of God to the darkness and, as Wright puts it, “reflecting God’s wisdom and justice into the world.”And there’s the rub. Reed’s Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God as understood by many conservative evangelicals, looks the other way when a ruler from another kingdom (so to speak) practices immorality. They do not seem to take their citizenship in this Kingdom as seriously as they take their American citizenship or, at the very least, they seem unwilling to say more about the tensions between the two. (There is, of course, a deep history behind the conflation of these two kingdoms).

Gary Bauer just retweeted this:

Perhaps he should have made a caveat for Christians in prayer. But let’s face it, the court evangelicals don’t do nuance very well.

Ralph Reed is fully aware of the fact that Gorsuch and Roberts have betrayed him and his followers. Yet don’t expect him to throw out the Christian Right playbook anytime soon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is ready to retire and Reed will no doubt try to make the 2020 election about the Supreme Court:

Rob McCoy, the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Thousands Oaks in Newbury Park, California, invited Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonderboy, to preach at his church last Sunday. McCoy introduced him by quoting Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever it admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Kirk then got up and gave a fear-mongering political speech that ripped evangelical pastors who have participated in anti-racist protests. At one point, Kirk told the Christians gathered on this Sunday morning that if the Left “takes him down” he “will be on his feet” not “on his knees.” This was an applause line. If you want to see hate preached from an evangelical pulpit, watch this:

And let’s not forget Charles Marsh’s twitter thread exposing Eric Metaxas’s use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to attack Black Lives Matter.

Until next time.

The enemy is out to get us. Please send money.

Believe Me 3dYesterday, I wrote a post about Rob Schenk’s revealing interview with CNN. I titled that post: “A former member of the Christian Right says that a political fundraiser once told him that we ‘need more fear and more anger’ from white evangelicals.”

When I read Schenk’s post, I remembered a passage from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

[Cal] Thomas, who parlayed his Moral Majority fame into a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did not mince words when he disparaged the evangelical pursuit of political power. “Christian faith is about truth,” he tells his readers and “whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.”  Through his years with Falwell, Thomas learned how power is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” It is not only seductive, but also affects the judgment of the one who “takes it.” Thomas warned his evangelical readers how the chase for political power threatens the spread of the gospel. He quoted the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.” Thomas pointed to the myriad ways in which the Moral Majority–and the Christian Right agenda that it spawned–played to the fears of white evangelicals. For example, Moral Majority fundraising letters always followed a basic formula: “First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general. Second, the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or to impose their morality on the rest of the country. Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done…Fourth, to get the job done, please send money.”

Robert Jeffress Admits Support of Trump is Declining. Why? Because Evangelicals “are very weak.”

Jeffress SWBTS

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress is worried. Here is a taste of his interview with One News Now, the news division of The American Family Association:

“There’s just been a trifecta of bad circumstances that have formed a perfect storm: the pandemic, the economic fallout from the pandemic, the lawlessness and riots in the streets, … [but also] the unrelenting and unprecedented criticism from the mainstream media,” Jeffress tells OneNewsNow.

And it’s costing the president the support of his base, says the pastor. “Let’s be honest: The Trump people have a problem in the polls right now, and they’ve got a problem with [the support of] evangelical Christians,” he states…

Jeffress argues that even though none of the chaos is the president’s fault, he’s still taking heat from voters, particularly Christian voters. “The fact is most people – and I have to say it, most Christians – are weak when you get down to it. They are very weak,” he laments.

“They blow with public opinion, and they don’t want to be thought of bad by other people. And so they just go back and forth … and I think all of that is contributing to this drop in the polls that we’re seeing.”

The good news, according to Jeffress, is that there’s a long time before November, and there’s a good chance most of the chaos will be gone by then.

Read the entire article here.

Don’t Make Too Much About the Slip in White Evangelical Support for Trump

Trump and Bible

I have a now talked with a few media outlets about this. They are very eager to discuss a recent New York Times article titled “Trump’s Approval Slips Where He Can’t Afford to Lost It: Among Evangelicals.” Here is Jeremy Peters:

Unnerved by his slipping poll numbers and his failure to take command of the moral and public health crises straining the country, religious conservatives have expressed concern in recent weeks to the White House and the Trump campaign about the president’s political standing.

Their rising discomfort spilled out into the open this week when the founder of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, scolded the president for taking such a belligerent tone as the country erupted in sorrow and anger over the police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis.

Read the entire piece here.

Three quick thoughts on this:

  1. As I wrote last week, Pat Robertson does not have the influence over white evangelicals in the way he did in the 1980s and 1990s. His criticism of Trump’s speech and photo-op will not move the needle. I have no doubt that Robertson will vote for Trump in November. Moreover, many white evangelicals who are not happy with the way Trump has handled the coronavirus or the Floyd protests will still vote for him in November.
  2. Remember, white evangelicals think some moral issues are more important than others. Abortion and “religious liberty” (as white evangelicals understand it) will always trump racism and presidential leadership when it comes to electing a president. Even a moderate Democratic like Joe Biden is a threat.
  3. Having said that, even a small slip in evangelical support for Trump in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida could cost him the election.

Robert Jeffress’s Bizarre Interview with Lou Dobbs

“Bizarre.”

I realize the use of this term to describe Jeffress’s most recent interview with Lou Dobbs on Fox Business News says more about me than it does Jeffress. Let’s remember that Jeffress believes everything he said last night was perfectly logical and morally consistent. There was nothing bizarre about it.

Watch:

This is another great illustration of how the Christian Right support of Donald Trump works. Christian Right leaders ignore everything Trump has done in the last week to stir division in the country. They build their case for why evangelicals must re-elect the president on his support of “religious liberty” (among one or two other things). And yes Al Mohler and Eric Metaxas, I put “religious liberty” in scare quotes because white evangelicals rarely defend the religious liberties of non-evangelical religious groups. I am convinced that white evangelicals think about religious liberty differently than the rest of Americans.

Jeffress, like other evangelicals, is only capable of seeing racist acts, not systemic racism. I wrote about this on Thursday in the context of three of his court evangelical friends. It is easy to condemn what happened to George Floyd. But it takes work to look into the mirror and see how racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of American life. So far Jeffress is unwilling to do that. I encourage him to think more deeply about this subject. Read some African-American history. Perhaps he could start with his own church. (He can use St. Paul Episcopal Church in Richmond as a model).

Moreover, Jeffress sees no tension between his condemnation of racism and his ardent support for Trump, a man who uses race to divide America and has perfected a form of politics sustained by appeals to the most racist moments in our nation’s history. I wrote about this extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Finally, how does Jeffress reconcile his call for “peace” at the end of the Dobbs interview with his support of Trump, a man who, as I noted above, called for violence against the men and women protesting George Floyd’s murder? Conflict and strife fuel Trump’s presidency. And let’s not forget who is calling for peace here. The same guy who said this.

Bizarre indeed.

Eric Metaxas Talks With Al Mohler About “The Gathering Storm”

Al Mohler has a new book out. It’s called The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church.

Watch:

A few lines in this video stood out to me:

  • Mohler says that during World War II, Great Britain waited too long to be awakened to the challenge of Nazi Germany. Christianity now faces similar challenges and Mohler wants to make sure its adherents don’t wait too long to respond. Like Mohler, I do believe that the church needs to be awakened to a challenge. As I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, the challenge is to overcome fear with hope, exchange the pursuit of political power for a politics of humility, and replace nostalgia with some serious historical thinking about the sins of our nation. Indeed, if evangelical Christians are not up to this challenge we, to quote Mohler here, “pay a deep price.”
  • Mohler wants to equip Christians to face “tectonic changes” in “the foundational level of morality” and “the definition of truth.” As we listen to him, let’s remember that Mohler has announced that he will be casting a vote for a president who has lowered the bar on public morality and has done everything in his power to redefine the meaning of “truth.” As long as Trump is president, Mohler will be fighting an up-hill battle on this front.

And here is Mohler talking about the book on the Eric Metaxas Show:

  • Mohler begins by discussing how Churchill stood-up to the “gathering storm” of Nazi Germany when “Britain’s establishment refused” to do so. Metaxas’s first response is: “We have to remember how vilified he [Churchill] was.”  Metaxas is a master at turning any conversation into a story about his own apparent victimization. He goes on to remind Mohler that when Churchill was “proven right” about Hitler, “the whole world thought, my goodness, this guy’s a prophet.” And Metaxas doesn’t just stop there. He suggests similar things are happening today. Anyone who has followed Metaxas over the last several years can easily read between the lines here. Metaxas believes that by defending Donald Trump he will one day be seen as something akin to Churchill–a hero and prophet.
  • Both Metaxas and Mohler like to fashion themselves as historians. They love to talk about the historical forces that have led to the decline of Christianity in the West. And some of what they say is correct. But they fail to see how their entire conversation on this show has also been shaped by historical forces. These are the forces that led them to embrace the Christian Right political playbook as their guide for changing the world. To use Mohler’s own words, “this didn’t happen out of a vacuum. It happened out of a historical context we can see happening.” So I ask: What “historical context” has led Metaxas and Mohler to define “biblical values” solely in terms of abortion, marriage, and religious liberty? What historical forces have led them to believe that overturning Roe v. Wade is the only way of reducing abortion in America?
  • Mohler’s discussion of “cultural power” sounds like a soft Seven-Mountains Dominionism. He stops short of saying that Christians must reclaim these cultural spheres and restore America to a Christian nation, but I am pretty sure he believes this. We once again see Mohler’s historical and cultural conditioning at work. He believes that American culture is lost and the only way to be a faithful Christian in this world is to win it back through the ballot box. Where did he learn this? Why does he believe this is true? What has shaped him on this front?
  • The discussion turns to slavery. Based on this conversation, I assume Mohler and Metaxas, if they were alive in 1860, would have been one of the 170 Americans who voted for Gerrit Smith of the Liberty Party.  He was the only abolitionist candidate on the ballot.  I have commented on Metaxas’s comparisons between abortion and slavery here.
  • Mohler says, “God did not make us so that we can actually operate in a secular [society].” What does this mean? Is Mohler suggesting that God made us to live in a Christian nation? In the Christendom of the West? As I understand it, God made us to live as members of his Kingdom. Historically, the Church has always thrived in a secular society. Mohler seems to confuse the Kingdom of God with the United States of America.
  • Mohler talks about the 2020 election. He says if you are a “swing” voter you “have no clue what is going on–we are in two Americas.” Indeed, the divides are great. But let’s remember that these clueless swing voters made Trump president in 2016 and Trump is going to need them again in 2020. They are not as deplorable as Mohler makes them out to be. Metaxas follows-up by calling swing voters and third-party voters “ignorant.” And then he says that “God will judge you if you don’t vote.” I assume he means that God will judge us if we don’t vote for Trump. Metaxas doesn’t try to hide his arrogance. Like most fundamentalists, he calls out the wrath of God on anyone who does not agree with him politically.
  • The interview ends with Mohler defending his decision to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. He claims that his decision is part of his “political stewardship.” Again, Mohler thinks about politics and public engagement in a very limited way. Many African-American Southern Baptists, as well as those who see the application of Christian faith to social issues in a broader and more consistently biblical way, have criticized him for his narrow political vision. Mohler likes to talk about “the culture.” And he makes some important points about religious liberty for Christian schools. But I heard nothing in this interview–either from Metaxas or Mohler– about the Gospel.

What Happened to the Moral Clarity of Some American Evangelicals Between 2016 and 2020?

Trump and Bible

Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s recent story at The Washington Post adds to what I posted about  earlier this week (here and here).  Here are some new things we learn from her piece:

  •  Mohler’s son-in-law is a Trump appointee in the State Department.
  •  Dwight McKissic, a prominent African-American Southern Baptist pastor in Arlington, Texas, will no longer recommend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where Mohler serves as president) to African-American young people who want to attend seminary.
  • Karen Swallow Prior, a prominent voice in the evangelical community, has taken this moment to say that she will vote for a third-party candidate in November.
  • Wayne Grudem, a conservative evangelical theologian, praised Mohler’s decision. Grudem said, “It is hard for me to think of someone who’s done much good for the country in that short amount of time.  (I re-affirm what I said about Grudem back in December).

Some quick thoughts for my fellow evangelicals who will be changing their vote to Trump in November:

1. On abortion: I am still convinced (as I argued in Believe Me) that overturning Roe v. Wade and winning the federal courts will not end abortion in America. In a broken world, abortions will continue. We must work, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, to reduce them. As someone who cares about the dignity of human beings and the protection of the vulnerable unborn, I think expanded health care and poverty relief, both staples of the Democratic Party platform, will keep the number of abortions in America on a downward trajectory. As a Christian, I thank God for this downward trajectory and I want to do everything I can to keep lowering the number of abortions in America.

2. As someone who has watched and studied Trump every day of his presidency, I think his presidency has been a moral disaster–for the country and the church. Nothing has changed in four years. If anything, it has gotten worse. Trump has succeeded in weakening (even further) the moral clarity of American evangelicals. And not just the court evangelicals.

3. Religious liberty issues are real. I will continue to push for a more pluralist society in which Christian institutions are permitted to exercise their faith–even on sexual issues–with freedom. On the other hand, we can’t be afraid of persecution if and when it comes. We can’t turn to an immoral strongman to protect us. Perhaps persecution may be exactly what the church needs right now. I hope not. It doesn’t sound fun. But if this happens, Jesus promises that we will be “blessed.” It will reveal our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And if history is a guide, it just might draw more people to consider the Christian faith.

4. Mohler says in his video that his decision to vote for Trump in 2020 is based on his “Christian (or Biblical) worldview.”

What is this thing called “Christian worldview?” Here is the twitter feed of The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia:

Here is a friend on Facebook:

I love how targeting tax breaks towards the .01% and eliminating basic rights of worker protection, championing measures to exacerbate gross inequalities of income and generational wealth, eradicating by executive agency fiat already precarious regulations about not dumping chemicals in water, engaging in a non-stop campaign to demonize even the slightest efforts to increase access to health care, and engaging in deliberately targeted efforts at voter suppression (targeted against black voters “with an almost surgical precision,” as the North Carolina Supreme Court put it) is now defined as the “Christian worldview” in politics, while the other side is “anti-Christian.”

I agree with the idea of viewing the world from the perspective of Christian faith–all of Christian faith. But I object when “Christian worldview” is invoked in a narrow and limited way that focuses on one or two issues. The idea that a Christian approach to politics should center around abortion and Supreme Court nominations is a very new phenomenon in the history of American evangelicalism and, more broadly, in the history of the global church. It is only about forty years old. This does not mean that evangelical political witness was perfect before the rise of the Christian Right (for example, the evangelical movement’s commitment to the Civil Rights Movement was weak at best),  but it does suggest that Al Mohler’s understanding of political engagement was shaped, and continues to be shaped, by the concerns of a group of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists who developed a successful political movement in the late 1970s. Mohler even admits this in the video when he talks about his unswerving support of Ronald Reagan.

As I have argued, this approach to politics is rooted in fear, power, nostalgia. It is deeply rooted in the false idea that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a Christian nation. It is deeply rooted in the idea that big government was a threat to local  practices such as segregation. It is deeply rooted in the belief that new immigrants posed a threat, and continue to pose a threat, to white America in the wake of the 1965 Immigration Act. It is deeply rooted in the idea that public schools should be teaching Christians about God and, when prayer and Bible reading was removed from public schools, somehow God was removed as well. (This, it seems, is a pretty small view of God and a pretty weak view of the church as a site of spiritual formation for young people).

If one believes that a Christian worldview means we should always vote for a candidate who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and defend the “rights” of evangelical Christians, then it makes perfect sense to vote for Trump.  What I am suggesting is that this entire playbook is too narrow and relies too much on fear, power politics, and nostalgia. It ignores the vast majority of Christian teaching, especially as it relates to the poor, social justice, and the care of God’s creation. This is ironic for someone like Mohler who no doubt believes that his Christian worldview is built upon a belief in an inerrant Bible.  All of those mentioned in Pulliam-Bailey’s article are operating under this mostly unbiblical playbook.

 

The Court Evangelicals Want Vengeance Against China

Trump and China

Vengeance is mine, says the Lord (Rom. 12:9). Unless it is China.

Court evangelicals want Trump to punish China for spreading the coronavirus to the United States.

Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s piece at Politico:

Others said Trump’s No. 1 priority — besides containing the virus inside the United States — should be forcing the Chinese regime to take responsibility for the global pandemic.

“From the time he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower, President Trump made clear there would be a new sheriff in town when it comes to dealing with China,” said Ralph Reed, co-founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.

“China lied about the genesis of the virus and under-reported their own cases. These are actions that cannot be ignored and for which China must be held responsible, and I think taking action to do that only serves to deepen the president’s commitment,” Reed added.

The push for retaliatory measures by some of Trump’s leading Christian supporters underscores the dicey position in which he finds himself as the 2020 election closes in: forced to determine whether a laundry list of accomplishments, such as an intact trade deal with China, will carry him to reelection or if the deciding factor will be how voters score his handling of Covid-19. Part of that rests on whether his response to the Chinese government satisfies conservative evangelicals, a demographic that comprises much of his political base and which the Trump campaign has sought to grow in recent months.

“People don’t want China to get off scot-free,” said Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn. “I think it’s important to realize there are lots of people who are very concerned with what has transpired, so of course they want China to be held to account.”

In an interview, the Tennessee senator said Trump needs to maintain a “working relationship” with Beijing as efforts to contain Covid-19 continue in the U.S. But she added that Trump cannot let China escape culpability for under-reporting domestic cases of the virus and inflicting damage on the global economy as a result of its cover-up. Blackburn has proposed legislation to reduce America’s reliance on China for pharmaceutical supplies.

“The ironic and disgusting thing about China is they get to both create demand and then fulfill demand,” said Gary Bauer, a Christian activist who was appointed by Trump to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

And then there is pastor Mark Burns‘s strange reference to the Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence:

“I agree with Sen. Graham,” said Mark Burns, a South Carolina pastor and top Trump surrogate who wants the president to lead a coordinated international effort to hold China accountable for its Covid-19 response.

“It’s similar to when our founders began drafting the Declaration of Independence and they felt that Thomas Jefferson should write most of it because he was from Virginia, which at the time was the strongest and most powerful colony. President Trump should lead this response and rally other nations who have been greatly affected by the virus to challenge China on a major scale,” Burns suggested.

Read the entire piece here.

Why are the court evangelicals so concerned about China?

First, Christian Right politics always needs an enemy. People like Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and Mark Burns see themselves as perpetual victims. In the forty-five years after World War II, evangelicals had an ever-present enemy in the “godless communism” of the Soviet Union. Some conservative evangelicals even believed that the flouridation of the American water supply was part of a communist plot to poison Americans. Now those on the Christian Right believe that the Chinese (or perhaps Kim Jong Un) are trying to kill us with coronavirus.

Second, the court evangelicals seem to be linking their concern about persecuted Christians in China with the spread of the virus. I am not sure how these two are related, but as long as China is punished for something, the court evangelicals will be satisfied.

Third, Christian Right politicos believe that if Trump punishes China for the coronavirus it will translate into conservative evangelical votes in November.

Is the Christian Right to Blame for the Coronavirus?

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

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

midtown

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!