Thoughts on a Discouraging Weekend

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I was on Fall Break this weekend and probably spent way too much time reading and watching the news, following the Values Voter Summit, and tweeting.  With the exception of the beautiful central Pennsylvania weather, I  leave the weekend pretty discouraged.

First, there was Beto O’Rourke’s remarks about removing the tax exempt status from churches, charities, and institutions that uphold traditional marriage.  Read my posts here and here and here.  I know that O’Rourke has no chance of winning, but his statement at the CNN Equality Forum has fired up pro-Trump conservatives.  I did not watch all of Tony Perkins’s Values Voter Summit this weekend, but in the time I did watch I noticed that Trump, Oliver North, and Todd Starnes all used the remarks to rally the base.

Will the removal of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations be bad for the church?  Not necessarily.  Jesus said that if Christians are persecuted they should consider themselves blessed.  When Christians are persecuted they share in Christ’s sufferings and join “the prophets who were before you.”  We enter into a community of saints whose members followed Jesus in circumstances that were much more difficult than what American Christians are facing today.  This, I might add, is one of the reasons why more Christians should study history.  We need to know more about this communion of saints as it has unfolded over time.

In other words, Christians who believe that God is committed to preserving His church should have nothing to fear.  This does not mean that the church should not make intelligent and civil arguments to defend religious liberty, but, as I wrote in one of the posts above, it should also prepare for suffering.

Will the removal of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations be bad for the United States?   Yes.  On this point I agree with  University of Washington law professor John Inazu.  Read his recent piece at The Atlantic: “Democrats Are Going to Regret Beto’s Stance on Conservative Churches.”  Here is a taste :

First, pollsters should ask voters about O’Rourke’s comments and the issue of tax-exempt status, both now and in the exit polls for the 2020 presidential election. We can be certain this issue will be used in Republican political ads, especially in congressional districts that Obama won in 2012, but that Trump won in 2016. And I suspect this issue and O’Rourke’s framing of it will lead to increased turnout of evangelicals in states that matter to Democrats, such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. O’Rourke’s comment may quickly fall out of the national news cycle, but it won’t be forgotten among churches, religious organizations, and religious voters. And if the Democrats lose in 2020, this issue and their handling of it will likely be a contributing factor. That will be true regardless of who the eventual Republican or Democratic candidates are.

Second, journalists should ask O’Rourke and every other Democratic candidate how this policy position would affect conservative black churches, mosques and other Islamic organizations, and orthodox Jewish communities, among others. It is difficult to understand how Democratic candidates can be “for” these communities—advocating tolerance along the way—if they are actively lobbying to put them out of business.

Third, policy analysts should assess the damage O’Rourke’s proposal would cause to the charitable sector. O’Rourke’s stance—if played out to its end—would decimate the charitable sector. It is certainly the case that massive amounts of government funding flow through religious charitable organizations in the form of grants and tax exemptions. But anyone who thinks this is simply a pass-through that can be redirected to government providers or newly established charitable networks that better conform to Democratic orthodoxies is naive to the realities of the charitable sector.

Read the entire piece here.

Second, there is Elizabeth Warren.  Here is what I wrote at the end of this piece:

Warren seems to suggest that a man who believes in traditional marriage will not be able to find a woman to marry because women who uphold traditional views on marriage are few and far between.  Really? This answer reveals her total ignorance of evangelical culture in the United States. (It may also reveal her ignorance of middle-American generally).  If she gets the Democratic nomination she will be painted as a Harvard elitist who is completely out of touch with the American people.

If you watch the video, and interpret Warren’s body language, it is hard to see her come across as anything but smug.  But my primary criticism here is political.  Warren has a legitimate chance to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.  If she gets the nomination, and hopes to win the general election, she needs to convince middle America that she wants to be the president of all America.  Her response to this question about gay marriage reminds me of something I wrote in Believe Me about the Hillary Clinton campaign against Donald Trump in 2016:

Though Clinton would never come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign.  In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.”  Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions.  During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Clinton was also quiet on matters pertaining to religious liberty.  While she paid lip service to the idea whenever Trump made comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, she never addressed the religious liberty issues facing many evangelicals.   This was especially the case with marriage.  Granted, evangelicals should not have expected Clinton to defend traditional marriage or promise to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, but she did not seem willing to support something akin to what law professor and author John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.”  The question of how to make room for people with religiously motivated beliefs that run contrary to the ruling in Obergefell is still being worked out, and the question is not an easy one to parse.  But when Hillary claimed that her candidacy was a candidacy for “all Americans,” it seemed like an attempt to reach her base, not to reach across the aisle.  Conservative evangelicals were not buying it.

Here is my point:  If my conversations with evangelicals are any indication, there seem to be some of them who voted for Trump in 2016 and are now looking for a reason–any reason– to vote for another candidate in 2020.  This is obviously not a significant number of evangelical voters, but after the close election in 2016 we should have learned that every vote counts.  If O’Rourke, Warren, and other Democratic candidates keep up their assaults on religious liberty, these voters will vote again for Trump.  The Christian Right will use these assaults to rally the base and perhaps get some pro-Trumpers who did not vote in 2016 to pull a lever in 2020.

Third, as noted above, I watched some of the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit” this weekend.  I tweeted a lot about it.  Check out my feed here.  Last night Donald Trump gave a speech at the summit.  You can watch it here.

Trump spent most of his talk lying about the impeachment process.  He demonized his political opponents.  At one point he mocked the physical appearance of Adam Schiff.  He used profanity.  And the evangelicals in the room cheered:

 

A few folks on Twitter this weekend chastised me for attacking the president and his evangelical supporters.  They told me that I was not being “Christ-like” and suggested that I am being just as “uncivil” as Trump.  I will admit that I am still angry about the way my fellow evangelicals have rallied around this president.  Anger is wrong, and I am still wrestling with how to balance “righteous anger” with just pure, sinful, and unhealthy “anger.”

But I keep coming back to the limits of “civility.” Here is what I said to a group of evangelical academics last weekend at Lee University. I said something similar to a group of Christian college provosts, chief academic officers, and student life-leaders in January:

Donald Trump has exacerbated a longstanding American propensity for conflict and incivility.

I think many in the room today would agree when I say that Christian Colleges must continue doing what we’ve always done, that is stepping into the breach as agents of healing in the places, communities, neighborhoods and regions where we have influence. Sadly, the fact that so many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump means that we may have to go back to square one. We need to keep reminding our constituencies and our students about the work of reconciliation across racial lines, gender lines, political lines, class lines, denominational lines. We must model empathy and civility. This means resisting the historic American propensity for conflict—the usable past that Trump exploits. We much chart another—more countercultural—path.

Our schools must be places of prayerful conversation, not cable news-shouting matches. Conversation is essential on our campuses. We need to be intentional about creating spaces for civil dialogue. We must learn to listen. We must be hospitable. But it is also important to remember that dialogue does not always mean that there must be a moral equivalence between the two parties engaged in the exchange. We come to any conversation from a location, and that is the historic teachings of biblical faith. We can debate whether Trump’s policies are good for America or the church, but when the president of the United States engages in endless lies, petty acts of jealousy and hatred, racist name-calling, and certain policies that undermine the teachings of Jesus Christ—we must reject such behavior and model an alternative way. At Christian colleges we cannot allow those defending such behavior and policies to operate on an equal moral footing. When Trump’s antics are celebrated by MAGA-hat wearing white evangelicals at rallies screaming “Lock Her Up” and then those same Christians inform pollsters that they are “evangelical or born-again” as they leave the voting booth, something is wrong. Something that should concern us deeply.

Maybe I’ll feel better by the end of the week.  I am seeing my daughters next weekend, I get to teach U.S. history to some great students this week, I will hear some Messiah College history alums tell their stories on Thursday at my department’s annual “Career Night,” and I will be speaking to Kansas history teachers on Monday afternoon.  There is much for which to be hopeful!

Beto O’Rourke: Churches and Religious Institutions Should Lose Tax-Exempt Status If They “Oppose Same Sex Marriage”

Here is Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on CNN last night:

Every Democratic candidate for President of the United States should be asked this question.

I have always appreciated Beto’s sense of conviction, but I hope he rethinks this one.  His answer to Don Lemon shows a fundamental misunderstanding of religious liberty.  In fact, this answer throws the First Amendment under the bus.

Beto has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination. His campaign has been on life support for a long time and last night he probably killed it.  You better believe that his comment will rally the Trump base and legitimate the fears of millions of evangelical Christians.

Beto says he does not want to run for Senate in 2020.  But if he does decide to run for a Senate seat in Texas he may have just blew his chances.  I am guessing that very few people in Texas embrace Beto’s secularism.

Here are a few responses to Beto’s remarks that I have seen online today:

Here is historian John Haas on  Facebook: “Not that Beto has any chance of becoming the nominee, much less president, but it would be interesting to watch the president ordering the IRS to pull Dr. King’s church’s tax exempt status.  Democrats do know that African-American churches are a big part of their informal infrastructure, right?

 

When I saw Beto’s remarks, I tweeted at Washington University law professor John Inazu:

Inazu is the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference.  Some of you know that I have extolled Inazu’s idea of “confident pluralism” many times at this blog.  Here is a summary of the book:

In the three years since Donald Trump first announced his plans to run for president, the United States seems to become more dramatically polarized and divided with each passing month. There are seemingly irresolvable differences in the beliefs, values, and identities of citizens across the country that too often play out in our legal system in clashes on a range of topics such as the tensions between law enforcement and minority communities. How can we possibly argue for civic aspirations like tolerance, humility, and patience in our current moment?

In Confident Pluralism, John D. Inazu analyzes the current state of the country, orients the contemporary United States within its broader history, and explores the ways that Americans can—and must—strive to live together peaceably despite our deeply engrained differences. Pluralism is one of the founding creeds of the United States—yet America’s society and legal system continues to face deep, unsolved structural problems in dealing with differing cultural anxieties and differing viewpoints. Inazu not only argues that it is possible to cohabitate peacefully in this country, but also lays out realistic guidelines for our society and legal system to achieve the new American dream through civic practices that value toleration over protest, humility over defensiveness, and persuasion over coercion.

The paperback edition includes a new preface that addresses the election of Donald Trump, the decline in civic discourse after the election, the Nazi march in Charlottesville, and more, this new edition of Confident Pluralism is an essential clarion call during one of the most troubled times in US history. Inazu argues for institutions that can work to bring people together as well as political institutions that will defend the unprotected.  Confident Pluralism offers a refreshing argument for how the legal system can protect peoples’ personal beliefs and differences and provides a path forward to a healthier future of tolerance, humility, and patience.

Inazu responded to me with this tweet:

Here is a taste of Inazu’s linked piece “Want a vibrant public square? Support religious tax exemptions“:

When it comes to federal taxes, there is a fundamental reason we should protect religious organizations — even those we disagree with. Functionally, the federal tax exemption is akin to a public forum: a government-provided resource that welcomes and encourages a diversity of viewpoints. Tax exemptions for religious organizations and other nonprofits exist in part to allow different groups to make their voices heard. Past the preexisting baseline, groups and ideas wither or thrive not by government decree but by the choices of individual donors. In this setting, government has no business policing which groups are “in” and which ones are “out” based on their ideological beliefs. And there is no plausible risk that granting tax-exempt status to groups such as the Nation of Islam, the Catholic Church or even the American Cheese Education Foundation means that the government embraces or endorses those organizations’ views.

Tax-exempt status is available to a vast range of ideologically diverse groups. The meanings of “charitable” and “educational” under the Internal Revenue Code are deliberately broad, and “religious” organizations are not even defined. Among the organizations that qualify as tax-exempt, each of us could find not only groups we support, but also those we find harmful to society. And our lists of reprehensible groups would differ. The pro-choice group and the pro-life group, religious groups of all stripes (or no stripe), hunting organizations and animal rights groups — the tax exemption benefits them all.

Read the rest here.

Kelsey Dallas has a nice piece on the way other Democratic candidates responded to similar questions in last night’s CNN forum.

Here, for example, is Elizabeth Warren:

Warren seems to suggest that a man who believes in traditional marriage will not be able to find a woman to marry because women who uphold traditional views on marriage are few and far between.  Really? This answer reveals her total ignorance of evangelical culture in the United States. (It may also reveal her ignorance of middle-American generally).  If she gets the Democratic nomination she will be painted as a Harvard elitist who is completely out of touch with the American people.

CNN on Franklin Graham’s Call to Prayer for Donald Trump

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Daniel Burke has it covered at CNN.  He talked to Franklin Graham, Peter Wehner, Warren Throckmorton, Michelle Margolis, and your truly.

The most revealing part of this article is when Burke asked Graham to respond to Christians who think Trump hurts the church.  Burke writes: “Asked how he would answer critics who say that Trump and his evangelical allies are actually a threat to the church, Graham declined to engage the question. ‘I wouldn’t even answer a person like that. I don’t think it’s valid at all.'”

This is yet another example of the current divide in American evangelicalism.  Graham is incapable of understanding that there are people who share his faith and also believe Trump is damaging the witness of the Gospel.  And if such people do exist (and they do), he seems to suggest that he has nothing to say to them because they are wrong.

Here is a taste of Burke’s piece:

Because of his charity work and family name, Graham carries immense influence over American evangelicals, said John Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

“What he says politically is going to sway how many American evangelicals vote and pray.”

But Fea is among the evangelicals critical of Graham’s pro-Trump prayer event.

The historian notes that Graham ended his Facebook post with a dark biblical warning about the array of spiritual forces aligned against contemporary Christians.

“That’s a code verse,” Fea said. “It sends a clear message to his followers that there is something at work here beyond politics. He’s saying that America is under spiritual attack and equating the attacks on Trump with that.”

Graham said he doesn’t agree with all of Trump’s policies and that God commands Christians to pray for their secular leaders. “If he’s a good President, it benefits every American of every race and gender.” Still, Graham acknowledged that Trump has been an especially attentive patron to his evangelical base, calling him the “most pro-Christian President in my lifetime.”

But other evangelicals have noted the obvious: That Trump’s actions as President have not, and likely will not, benefit everyone.

Read the entire article here.

Fox News Court Evangelical: “If what I hear at church is no better than what I hear on CNN…then why bother?”

Watch court evangelical Robert Jeffress yesterday on Fox News:

The most revealing part of this interview comes at about the 1:48 mark when Jeffress says, “If what I hear at church is no better than what I hear on CNN or the Rotary Club, then why bother?”

I agree with Jeffress here, but he seems completely clueless about the fact that the same thing applies to Fox News.

The Morning Headlines are Back!

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The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog intern Devon Hearn is back in the saddle after spending the summer in Kenya.  This means that our “Morning Headlines” feature is also back.  Check in every morning to see daily headlines from The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, and Fox News.  And for those who are local, we also post the daily headline from The Harrisburg Patriot News.

We have found that teachers have found these headlines useful not only for getting up to speed with current events, but also for teaching their students how to detect bias in various news sources.

Does “Evangelical” = Trump Supporter?: Three Anecdotes from the *Believe Me* Book Tour

Believe Me 3dThe media and much of the intellectual community seems to equate “evangelical” with “Trump supporter.”  And why not?  81% of white evangelical voters pulled the lever for Trump, a fact I try to explain in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here are three pieces of anecdotal evidence:

1. Back in June I was asked to appear on CNN to talk about Trump and evangelicals.  When I asked the producer if I would be appearing on CNN alone or with other “talking heads,” she said that I would be on the air with Dr. William Barber, the African-American progressive minister and outspoken critic of Trump.  I responded to this news by saying something like, “So it sounds like this will be an anti-Trump segment.” The producer did not say anything in response. About an hour later, the same producer called me up and asked me what my book, Believe Me, was about.  I told her it was largely critical of Trump.  She responded by saying something like, “Oh, I thought you were an evangelical.”  When I said that I was an evangelical, but did not support Trump, she seemed confused.  She called me back twenty minutes later to tell me that they did not realize that my position on Trump was so similar to Barber.  They wanted someone to argue with Barber.  The segment was canceled.  (I eventually did find my way back to CNN a couple of weeks later).

2. On July 10, I got up early and drove to Washington D.C. to film a segment for Rising, a new morning news show on The Hill‘s online television network.  Rising is hosted by Krystal Ball, a former MSNBC host and 2010 candidate for Congress, and Buck Sexton, a conservative pundit and radio host.  When I arrived on stage, before the cameras starting rolling, Sexton starting asking me about my background and my work on Believe Me.  When he found out I was an evangelical who was critical of Trump, he obviously did not know what to make of me.  As the cameras started rolling, it was clear that Sexton was incapable of understanding how an evangelical could oppose Donald Trump.  His grasp of evangelicalism was incredibly shallow.  He obviously only understood evangelicals through the lens of politics and he spent the entire segment trying to put me into a political box.  After about 10 minutes, Sexton, obviously frustrated that I was not giving him Christian Right talking points, told the producers that “this segment is going too long.”  I was ushered off the set.  I turned around to thank Ball and Sexton. Neither of them looked up or said anything.  They were already prepping for the next segment.  While I was in the green room one of the producers of the show told me that the segment would air in a day or two.  As far as I know, it has yet to air.  I doubt it ever will.  Too much nuance, I guess.

3. Just the other day I got an e-mail, completely out of the blue, from one of the post-War West’s great public intellectuals.  He asked me to come to Washington D.C. to participate in a civil dialogue about Donald Trump.  This public intellectual was nearly 90-years old, but he still presided over a center devoted to his thought at a D.C. university.  He told me that the event would be televised nationally on C-SPAN.  Needless to say, I was flattered.  But after the two cases mentioned above, I decided to make sure this public intellectual knew who I was and what he was getting by inviting me to participate.  I e-mailed to tell him that I accepted his invitation, but he should also know that I was an American historian and an evangelical who wrote a book critical of Trump.  Thirty minutes later he e-mailed back to tell me that he thought I was a Trump supporter.   He dis-invited me from the event.  He was very apologetic and polite about it.

Apart from the fact that CNN, the producers and hosts of Rising, and this famous public intellectual did not read my book (or apparently even the dust jacket or Amazon description of my book), what should we make of these three cases?

In all three of them, I was invited to contribute to a discussion because I was an evangelical.  But because I was an evangelical, it was assumed I was a Trump supporter.

Thoughts?

Laura Ingraham’s Controversial Remarks are Rooted in a Long History of Fear

In case you missed it, here is CNN’s Brian Stelter’s report on Ingraham’s recent comments about “massive demographic changes.”

Ingraham is correct about the demographic changes facing America today.  This is not the first time we have seen such changes.  It is also not the first time that Americans have responded to such changes with fear-mongering.  This time around the fear-mongers have a cable television channel.

A few more points:

  1. Ingraham says “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”  She says this in the context of immigration and demographic change.   And then she says that her statement is not about race or ethnicity.  Seriously?  Then how does Ingraham define the America “that we know and love?”
  2. Tucker Carlson says “no society has ever changed this much, this fast.”  This sounds like something a white Southerner might say during the late 1860s and 1870s, the period of Reconstruction when freed slaves were trying to integrate into southern society.
  3. In her response, Ingraham condemns white supremacists.  But her comments about immigration and “demographic change” seems to be little more than a defense of a white America that she believes is being threatened by people of color.  How is this any different than David Duke and others?
  4. How does Tucker Carlson know that we are undergoing “more change than human beings are designed to digest?”
  5. Ingraham says that “the rule of law, meaning secure borders” is what “binds our country together.”  On one level, Ingraham is correct here.  Immigration restriction and securing the borders once bound America together as a white Protestant nation.  White Protestants did not want Chinese men and women coming into the country, so they “bound our [white Protestant] country together” by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act.  White Protestants did not want more Italians and other southern Europeans coming into the country, so they passed the Johnson-Reed Act (1924) to restrict them from coming.  So yes, Ingraham is correct when she says “the rule of law” and “secure borders” have bound our country together.  It was racist then.  It is racist now.  On another level, Ingraham probably needs a history lesson.  For most of the 19th-century, the United States did have something equivalent to open borders.  So there has been a significant chunk of American history when secure borders did not bind America together.
  6. I will let someone else tackle this, but “merit-based immigration” seems like a racist dog-whistle.  This reminds me of when Trump said that we need more Norwegian immigrants and less immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Often-times fear is propagated by Christians who claim to embrace a religious faith that teaches them that “perfect love casts out fear.”  This faith calls us to respond to demographic change with love, not fear.

By the way, I wrote a book about how fear of such “demographic change” led evangelicals into the arms of Donald Trump.

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Two Minutes of Fame on CNN

As some of you know, I made my CNN debut today. 🙂  I am glad that they featured Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The interview took place via Skype in my small office (more like a bunker) in the basement of my house!

Here it is (starting at about the 30:00 mark):

A few quick comments:

  1. I was honored to share the segment with Nahal Toosi of Politico.  Here is her most recent piece.
  2. I have a large head, but the producers insisted that I move even closer to the camera.
  3. Once they had the camera angle they wanted, they told me not to move!  (So no, I am not usually that stiff!).
  4. I obviously heard the audio, but I could not see Christi Paul or Nahal Toosi.  I was just staring at a black screen for the entire interview.
  5. I used less than 1% of my preparation for the interview on the air.  I guess that’s show business!  🙂

Possible Paul Ryan Replacement: “I have not heard the President lie”

This is pathetic.  Jim Jordan’s response here explains much of what is wrong with our political culture.

Anderson Cooper is masterful here.  Not only does he get Rep. Jim Jordan to say that Donald Trump never lies, but he follows-up by getting Jordan to admit that he is interested in becoming Speaker of the House after Paul Ryan resigns.

If you listen carefully, at one point Jordan implies that it is OK for Trump to lie because he was elected by the American people.

By the way, as of January 10, 2018 the number was 2000 and counting.

Court Evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. Defends Trump

I wouldn’t be surprised if Falwell Jr. is on the Trump payroll.

Falwell Jr. quotes “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Fair enough.  Hey Liberty University students, did you hear that?  I am sure the person in charge of student discipline at Liberty does not operate this way.

Falwell Jr. also says that only president who was “above reproach” was Jimmy Carter.   I agree that Carter was above approach, but what about Barack Obama?

How Major Media Outlets Covered Billy Graham’s Death

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I haven’t watched much television today, but I have noticed that every time I tuned into CNN on my computer I found very little coverage about the death of Billy Graham, arguably the most famous person in the 20th-century world.  Granted, there are issues related to guns and school shootings in Florida and beyond.  I thus fully understand why Graham took a back seat on my preferred cable news station.

So I decided to cruise around the Internet a bit.  On CNN’s website, I needed to scroll down a bit before I found a link to Graham’s death.  The same was true for MSNBC, Fox News, and The Washington Post.

Graham’s death is front and center at the websites of the BBC, The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal.  On the BBC site I was able to click on links to two articles on Graham without having to scroll down.

Court Prophet: Jim Acosta of CNN is a “Demon”

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I write a bit about Lance Wallnau in my forthcoming book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  He is the guy who said God told him that Donald Trump is a new King Cyrus.  He represents the INC wing of the court evangelicals.

In this video, Wallnau says that Trump is not afraid of “demonic” journalists like Jim Acosta of CNN because the POTUS has a special anointing to resist the devil and his minions.

Want to learn more about the connection between these “prophets” and the Trump White House?  Pre-order a copy of Believe Me.

Here is a description of the book:

A historian’s acute take on current American politics 

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting the Christian heritage, the refrain is constant. And to the surprise of many, about eighty percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump—at least enough to help propel him into the White House.

Historian John Fea is not surprised—and in Believe Me he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. In the process, Fea challenges his fellow believers to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

Believe Me JPEG

 

 

Jerry Falwell Jr: Christ Did “Did Not Forgive the Establishment Elites”

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Court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. is at it again.  Last night he was on CNN with Erin Burnett defending Trump’s adulterous affair with a porn star.  Watch the interview here.

Over at the National Review, conservative evangelical Christian David French has covered the Falwell appearance on CNN in a piece titled “Jerry Falwell Jr. Beclowns Himself Again.”

Here is a taste:

He makes three basic, embarrassingly bad theological arguments. First, he actually says out loud, “judge not lest ye be judged.” But it doesn’t require anyone to “judge” to condemn serial adultery and sexual assault. It simply requires reading comprehension. The Bible is clear. God has made the relevant judgment….

Hey Liberty University students:  When you get disciplined by the Liberty administration for disobeying the rules of the school just tell them “judge not lest ye be judged” and demand that you not be punished.

French continues:

Second, he makes the grade school mistake of equating the fact that Jesus said we’re all sinners (we are) with equating sin itself. “It’s all the same,” said Falwell. No, it’s not. All sin is wrong. All men need Christ. But not all sin is equally grave. Throughout scripture some sins are singled out as particularly vile and are punished accordingly…

Third, watch Falwell finish the segment with what can only be described as the Breitbart gospel. After speaking of Christ’s forgiveness, he then says, “He did not forgive the establishment elites.” What? So now the good news itself is wrapped in dime-store populism. 

The last line above is well-put: Falwell’s gospel is “wrapped in dime-store populism.”

I am continually amazed that this man is a college president.  I am continually saddened that this man is the president of the largest Christian university in the world.

Trump is Dragging the “Entire American Experience Down the Toilet”

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As I write this I am listening to CNN.  Don Lemon is talking about man who was just arrested for claiming that he was coming to CNN studios to “kill” the “fake news.”

The President of the United States can be a force for moral uplift or a force for moral degradation.  Thus far, Donald Trump has been a force for moral degradation.  His vulgarity contributes to the coarsening of American culture.  He empowers white supremacists.  His tweets diminish public discourse.

Conservative evangelicals have been fighting the moral decline of American life for decades.  Yet 81% of them went for Trump in 2016.

Over at The American Conservative, David Masciotra discusses “The Darker Implications of Trump’s Vulgarity.”

The ill effects of public vulgarity aren’t as evident as those of bad policy or failures of diplomacy, but they still degrade the American experience, making the general culture less habitable, less enjoyable, and even less beautiful.

Ralph Ellison wrote that one of his goals as an artist and novelist was to “endow inarticulate characters, scenes and social processes with eloquence.” The essentiality of eloquence is indisputable because the interests of art and democracy converge at the point of articulation. “The development of conscious, articulate citizens is an established goal of democracy,” Ellison explains, “and the creation of conscious, articulate characters is indispensable to the creation of resonant compositional centers through which an organic consistency can be achieved in the fashioning of fictional forms.” Literature is what Ellison calls a “symbolic action, a game of as if,” but, like politics at its best, it is also a “thrust toward the human ideal.” Eloquence expresses the ideal, while vulgarity violates it.

Most parents understand Ellison’s wisdom as part of their daily routine. I grew up in a middle class home in the suburbs. As a small child, I once called a classmate’s home on the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks” a “dump.” My mother and father came down on me with swift and severe punishment, making it clear that mockery of another person’s home was morally intolerable.

Now we have a president who talks that way, who not only speaks at the level of a fourth grader, as many linguists have claimed, but uses language that no good teacher would permit in a fourth grade classroom.

Eloquence was essential to the progression of American history, and, through various social and political crises, the maintenance of democracy. The Civil War had Abraham Lincoln. The Great Depression and World War II had Franklin Roosevelt. The civil rights movement had Martin Luther King. The Cold War had John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. All were superb speakers who used their words to rise to their respective moments, not to cuss out and demean those different from them.

Read the rest here.

The Trump White House Needs Another Lesson in Historical Thinking

beautiful-day-to-seeStephen Miller, a senior aide of Donald Trump, is now telling reporters what is “ahistorical” and what is not.

In case you did not hear, today Trump and two United States Senators rolled out the “RAISE Act.”  In a nutshell, this law will limit future legal immigration to “highly skilled” workers and those who already speak English.

Today Miller met with reporters to answer questions about the RAISE Act.  Jim Acosta of CNN asked him if a bill limiting immigration to skilled workers and English-speakers violates the spirit of the words behind Emma Lazarus’s 1883 sonnet “The New Colossus.” Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” to raise money for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  The statue was dedicated in 1886.  The “New Colossus” was engraved on a plaque inside the statue’s lower level in 1903.

I quote it here in full:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Here is the exchange between Miller and Acosta:

Several thoughts:

  1. Miller is technically right.  “The New Colossus” was added seventeen years after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.
  2. Miller is wrong when he says that “The New Colossus,” with its reference to the “tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” was not connected in any way to the Statue of Liberty.  As noted above, Lazarus wrote it to raise money for the statue.
  3. Miller is probably correct to suggest that the addition of “The New Colossus” to the Statue of Liberty in 1903 turned the statue into a symbol of immigration.  One could even argue that the Statue of Liberty did not become associated with immigration until well after immigration to the United States dried in the wake of the 1924 Immigration Act.
  4. But all of these points miss Acosta’s argument.  Acosta wanted to know if the RAISE Act violates the spirit of American immigration as embodied in the words of Emma Lazarus.  Miller said that Acosta’s argument was “ahistorical” because he did not know that “The New Colossus” was added after the Statue of Liberty was raised.  Do you see what Miller is doing here?  He is practicing a form of misdirection.  His correction of Acosta on the facts is little more than a sneaky attempt to avoid the real question the CNN reporter asked about the connections between the past and present.  When Acosta asked about the relationship between the RAISE Act and the spirit of American immigration, he was asking a pretty good historical question. It deserved a better answer.  There is a difference between knowing facts about the past and doing history.
  5. Acosta could have responded to Miller’s misdirection without throwing the National Park Service under the bus.  The way Miller dealt with the past today bears little resemblance to the way the National Park Service promotes history.