Does any Christian want their son to turn out like Don Jr.? (And other thoughts on a recent Charlie Kirk and Jack Hibbs conversation).

Several Trump evangelicals have sent me this video this week. So let me respond to Charlie Kirk and megachurch pastor Jack Hibbs. First, watch the video:

Some thoughts:

At the 0:18 mark, Kirk says that United States presidency is electing a “world view.” I am not comfortable with this kind of “world view” language, but for the sake of argument, I’ll accept it here. So what kind of “world view” should the President of the United States possess? Well, on one level, the answer is pretty obvious. He should uphold the Constitution and not threaten our democratic institutions. Of course Trump has done this at every turn. He disparages the press, refused to cooperate with the impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, tried to work with Ukraine to undermine the 2020 election, openly discredited military and intelligence advisers, used his bully pulpit to attack Supreme Court justices, claimed that there was voter fraud when no such fraud existed, promoted QAnon and other “deep state “conspiracy theories, refuses to show his tax returns to the American people, contradicts his own science and public health officials, and now wants to undermine the Post Office to make it more difficult for people to vote in November.

Kirk also seems to equate “world view” with “civil society.” We can define “civil society” in many different ways. At the most basic level, the phrase is used to describe institutions–the family, churches, non-profit organizations, clubs and associations–that are not sponsored by the state. Such institutions promote community, the common good, and sense of collective activity. The idea, of course, is that when such institutions flourish, our democracy will be more “civil” in the way we treat one another.

Kirk misunderstands the meaning of “civil society” on two levels. First, he implies that “civil society” in a democracy is somehow connected to a presidential election. Granted, a president who ignores checks and balances and behaves like a tyrant might have the power to crush the institutions of a civil society, but as long as the executive is held in check by the other two branches of government, the press, and the American people, civil society will continue to thrive. (And, as Robert Putnam famously put it in Bowling Alone, we also must help civil society to thrive by exercising our social duties).

Second, Kirk seems to suggest that because Trump encourages civility, he is worthy of American votes in November.  Anyone who reads Trump’s Twitter feed or watches his press conferences and speeches knows that Trump has no interest whatsoever in working toward the common good. He demonizes his enemies, calls them names, stokes division, and lies virtually every time he speaks in public. So forgive me if I disagree with Charlie Kirk’s claim that Trump is a “representation” of “civil society.” Moreover, there is very little that is “civil” about this entire Kirk-Hibbs conversation. This event, held in an evangelical church, is defined by anger, bitterness, and rage.

At the 0:30 mark, Kirk claims that Trump is a “placeholder” for “what is moral and what is good.” Can any thinking Christian really affirm this?

At the 0:58 mark, Kirk says that he wishes he could one day “be as good” as Donald Trump. This kind of moral thinking, if we can even call it that, is delusional when compared to how the Bible defines what is “good.”

At the 1:15 mark, Jack Hibbs says that Trump might have a “checkered past,” but he is “not the guy that he used to be.” Really? Have I spent the last four years watching the same president as Hibbs? It seems like most of Trump’s past character (OK, granted, he is not sleeping with porn stars in the oval office) has been on display virtually every day of his presidency. But Hibbs goes on, “We’re America, we’re supposed to be so forgiving and so kind and so prone to give people a second chance.” What an odd thing for a pastor to say. Instead of talking about forgiveness, kindness, and redemption as biblical values, Hibbs connects them to “America.” But let’s also remember that in Hibbs’s way of seeing the world, there is little difference between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of America.

At the 1:30 mark, Hibbs implies that Trump is a moral and righteous man because he has a good relationship with his kids and the kids speak highly of their Dad. (Michael Corleone also spoke highly of his father and I am sure Vito checked-in with him every day :-))

Is Hibbs familiar with the Twitter accounts and public pronouncements of Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr., and Eric? (Sadly, I think he probably is). All four of these “kids,” especially Don Jr. and Eric, use their platforms to spew hate and enable their father’s immorality. Does any Christian want their son to turn out like Don Jr.?

At the 3:00 mark, Kirk plays the abortion card. Notice what is happening here. Kirk never puts forth any positive plan to reduce abortions in America apart from re-electing Trump. Even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, it will not end abortion in the United States. The decisions will be turned back to the states.  Kirk knows this, but he also knows that if he brings up abortion he can fire-up the crowd.

Sadly, Kirk’s efforts to throw red meat to Trump’s base is not going to get us anywhere in curbing abortions in America. But it might keep Republicans in power and continue to provide him with a political platform. As I have said before, Black women and women in poverty have a disproportionate number of abortions in America today. But the policies of Donald Trump and his wonder-boy Charlie Kirk will do nothing to address this problem. In fact, Trump and Kirk do not even believe that systemic racism exists. Kirk’s remarks about avoiding the judgment of God reflect the arrogance and “cockiness” that he derides among those on the left.

Well, you asked me for my “take” on this video. I hope this helps.

David Blight: An “educated and civil society” is “open to each other’s stories” and “open to the essential pluralism of the human drama”

Blight 2

Yale historian David Blight talks about the differences between history and the past on the “Live the Best Version of You” podcast. It is a nice introduction to how historians work and how the work historians do must contribute to our democratic life.

Listen:

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A few great lines:

  • Historians always work with their “umbilical cord” connected to the archives, but all research must be “rendered into a narrative.”
  • Good historical story-telling is always going to “convince” some people and “offend” others. This, Blight says, is the “beauty” and “fun” of history writing, but it is also contributes to the “perils” of history writing.
  • “It is the obligation of the trained historian to get close to truth as we can.”
  • In this world of subjectivity and opinion, “every now and then people seem to want a historian” to tell us “what really happened.”
  • “Some of the best history is written by people who have a good hunch.”
  • “History is what historians do,” but “memory is what the public possesses.” Everybody “has a sense of the past in their head” and it usually comes from family and roots.
  • “Stories take hold in the public mind that may or may not be directly connected to the history historians write, and hence memory can be therefore much more sacred than it is secular because people tend to say ‘I believe in this story.'”
  • “We have to find ways to reduce” the distance “between public memory and history….This is the historian’s duty.”
  • Blight calls for a “tolerant, educated, civil society” that is “open to each other’s stories” and “open to the essential pluralism of the human drama and human experience.”
  • Blight quotes William James: “The enemy of any one of my truths, is the rest of my truths.” We are obligated to challenge our own beliefs.

Listen to the entire interview here.

 

Georgetown Day School Covers Student Visit to Messiah College

Fea with GDS students

I covered this event here. Now it is Georgetown Day School’s turn. Here is a taste of “Civil Dialogue,” Daniel Stock’s piece at the GDS website:

Over the course of the minimester, Sue, Lisa, Michael, and special guests explored the other side of the political, social, economic world beyond the “typical GDS view of things.” A variety of speakers, from “explainer” journalists and commentators to those who inhabit the conservative spectrum, engaged with the group as they dove deeply into the current political landscape and the operative theme of, “How did we get here?” 

GDS parent Jennifer Griffin (Annalise Myre ’19 and Amelia Myre ’20) and alum parent Juan Williams (Regan Herald ’99), both journalists and political analysts for Fox News, spoke to the group. The students also engaged in conversation with Kate Bennett of CNN (author of Free Melania) and conservative Republican freelance writer for The Washington PostGary Abernathy

They also journeyed outward, exploring the world beyond the Beltway and the “GDS bubble.” The group traveled to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania to spend the day at Messiah College with John Fea, a professor of American history at the school and author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. John Fea published this story about his day with the students and faculty. In his piece, he lauded the importance of civil dialogue across lines of difference. He closed with this moment: “At the end of the day one of the students asked me for some tips about how to overcome the divisiveness and partisanship in American culture today. I suggested that we need more days like this one! She agreed. As these kids head off to college and find themselves in positions where they will be able to change the world, I hope they will remember their visit to Messiah College and their experience in central Pennsylvania.  Thanks for coming and letting us see ourselves through your eyes. I learned a lot from the visit!”

GDS teachers strive to create the circumstances through which students can develop the ability to listen with open minds, think critically, and engage in dialogue—that is both civil and rigorous—with those whose life stories are different from their own. Whether in a Lower School classroom, on Capitol Hill with 8th graders, or at Messiah College with a High School Minimester, students learn to change the world first by understanding the people in it.

Read the entire piece here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "American History and the American Church: A Proposal"

I spent the weekend in the beautiful beach town of Ocean City, NJ where I was the guest of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church.  I spoke in all three Sunday morning services (including an 8am communion service on the boardwalk!) and gave a public lecture on how liberal arts education, especially the study of history, contributes to a more democratic and civil society.

I have been doing a lot of this kind of thing lately.  In the course of my visits to churches like St. Peter’s I have learned that there are a lot of congregations whose members are hungry for intellectual resources to help them think deeply about how to engage the world.  While the purpose of the church, of course, is to bring people into a closer relationship with God and others, it is also important that Christians understand the culture in which they hope to live out their faith.

What might it take to strengthen the Christian mind?  Seventeen years ago historian Mark Noll diagnosed “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”  Since the appearance of his book, an increasing number of Christian intellectuals have entered graduate schools, created venues, publications, and websites for the exchange of ideas, and pursued careers in the public sphere informed by thoughtful Christian engagement.

Read the rest here.

Himmelfarb on the Civil Society

Gertrude Himmelfarb (echoing Charles Murray’s conclusion in Coming Apart) believes that we need a revival of civil society in America.  Such a new “civic Great Awakening” (Murray’s phrase), she argues, must draw upon the views of older defenders of civil society such as Locke, Tocqueville, and Burke who wrote about the links between civil society and political association.

Here is a taste:

Today, in our anxiety about the excesses of individualism and statism, we may find ourselves looking upon civil society not merely as a corrective to those excesses but as a be-all and end-all, a sanctuary in itself, a sufficient habitat for the human spirit. What our forefathers impress upon us is a more elevated as well as a more dynamic view of civil society, one that exists in a continuum with “political society”—that is, government—just as “civil associations” do with “political associations,” “private affections” with “public affections,” and, most memorably, the “little platoon” with “a love to our country and to mankind.” This is civil society properly understood (as Tocqueville would say), a civil society rooted in all that is most natural and admirable—family, community, religion—and that is also intimately related to those other natural and admirable aspects of life, country and humanity.

Douthat on the Role of Government

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes sense here.

A taste: 

…In this (liberal) worldview, the government is just the natural expression of our national community, and the place where we all join hands to pursue the common good. Or to borrow a line attributed to Representative Barney Frank, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

Many conservatives would go this far with Frank: Government is one way we choose to work together, and there are certain things we need to do collectively that only government can do.

But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres….

A Proposal: American History for a Civil Society

I was recently browsing the web and came across the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue & the Common Good.  From what I can tell, it seems to be a well-funded center devoted to the promotion of a “good society,” a “good economy,” and a “good life.”

Frankly, I am quite impressed with their mission.  I am interested in many of the questions the leaders of the Agora Institute are asking.  At this point, they seem to have a somewhat conservative bent (at least in terms of the speakers they have invited), but I know that Eastern University is a rather diverse place and questions of civic virtue and the pursuit of the common good are issues that transcend partisanship and left-right ideology.

As I looked at the Agora Institute website, I thought about a vision that I have had for some time about a center or institute devoted to the study of American history and its implications for the common good and civil society.  It is time to share this vision with my readers.

I am in the process of completing a book that, in part, explores the kind of civic virtues that the study of history can promote in American society.  (And any society, for that matter).  Anyone who has followed this blog or reads my Patheos column (especially here and here and here and here) is familiar with my ideas on this front.  My thirteen-year career as a history professor, and some of my own reading and study at the intersection of theology, history, and civil society, has led me to the conclusion that the study of the past, and the process of historical thinking, has the potential to produce citizens who not only understand how to think about the way the past informs the present, but also see the past as an encounter with a “foreign country” that can result in the cultivation of certain social virtues such as humility, reconciliation, intellectual and cultural hospitality, empathy, and solidarity.

What might such a center or institute look like?  First, it would be ideal if it could be connected to an institution of higher learning, but it does not have to be.  Second, it would offer programs on historical thinking and historical content to a wide swath of the public.  American history teachers would benefit from seminars in content, but also in historical thinking and pedagogy.  High school students would benefit from summer institutes or “history camps.”  Churches would benefit from workshops in church history and American religious history.  College students could benefit from intensive summer programs in historical thinking and its connection to civil society.  The general public could benefit from intellectually rigorous tours of historical sites.

Of course such a center would have a social media presence, a public lecture series, and perhaps even a radio program and podcast.

I know this is a big vision, but we history professors can dream, can’t we?

What do you think?

And if there is anyone out there who has a few million dollars to invest in such a project I would love to hear from you!!