Benny Hinn’s Nephew on the Prosperity Gospel

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In the wake of the Inside Edition interview with Kenneth Copeland, Religion News Service is running a piece by Costi W. Hinn, the nephew faith-healer and prosperity preacher Benny Hinn.  Costi Hinn is currently pastor of Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona.

Here is a taste of his piece:

For whatever money can’t give, and power can’t satisfy, there is the prominence and notoriety that come from being a global force. The prosperity gospel put us on the map and that felt really good. From poverty-stricken immigrants to having kings and presidents requesting the presence of the Hinn family at their home, the prosperity gospel does something to the ego that little else on the earth can do. It does an excellent job of selling the lie that you are “somebody” when in reality you are nothing more than another con artist who’s found a way to sell your scheme to desperate bidders.

There is another puzzle to the prosperity gospel, however. You might assume that any individual can spot the theatrical ruse and greedy schemes of a prosperity preacher like Copeland from a mile away. Yet hundreds of millions of people loyally commit their account savings (and possibly their souls) to prosperity preachers every single year around the world hoping that by doing so God will give them health and wealth. All of this exploitation leads us to one very troubling question:

Why would someone believe the prosperity gospel?

Read the rest here.

Ed Stetzer on the Trump Visit to McLean Bible Church

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I agree with just about everything Ed Stetzer has written about this incident.  I said something similar, but not as eloquently, here.

For those Christians who have been criticizing David Platt from the left, I would ask several questions:

  1. What would you do in this situation?
  2. Even if you believe Trump is evil, how would you balance that with his human dignity?  Yes, he was there for a political opportunity, and it was disgusting, but I don’t know many members of the clergy who would turn someone away who was asking for prayer.
  3. Christians are called to pray for their leaders.  Several folks have noted that prayers for government leaders are embedded in the Book of Common Prayer.  So what happens when the president actually shows up and asks for prayer?  Does the call to pray for leaders cease to apply when the leader is actually in your presence?
  4. As most readers know, I am no fan of the president.  If Platt allowed Trump to speak I would have a serious problem with it.  If Platt used the prayer to demonize Trump’s enemies or extol Trump as King Cyrus, I would be the first one to scream.  But this is not what happened.
  5. Some people are complaining about the optics.  Of course the optics could go both ways.  And if you are a historian and you don’t like the image of Platt with his hand on Trump’s solider, then interpret the image for your readers.  Provide context.  Source the document (who is Platt?). This is what we do.

Stetzer gets it right.  Here is a taste of his piece at Christianity Today:

I was frustrated at the arm-chair quarterbacking I saw online, with some saying that he should prophetically have rebuked the president, others saying he should have denied the request, and still others wishing that he’d been more affirming of the president.

I tweeted:

I know that every person tweeting criticism of @PlattDavid would have handled it so much better if @POTUSshowed up to your place with little notice, but maybe just consider that he is not as smart, godly, or prophetic as you are and try to extend grace to your lesser brother.

Simply put, David Platt made a fast decision when the president came by. To condemn him for that is simply not appropriate. He basically had two choices—either honor the request or not.

Platt could have chosen to decline the visit. This would have inevitably led to attacks from Trump supporters, a public outcry over a pastor refusing to pray for the president, and questioning of his personal position on the president.

Instead, he chose the second option and, in his eyes, sought to model what he saw in Scripture about praying for those in authority.

Yes, he could have prayed behind the scenes. Yes, he could have refused to have the president on stage. To some, he should have thought of all of those options in the few minutes he had while the president of the United States was asking for something else.

But let’s give David Platt the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it. He did what he thought was right in that moment.

There are no parameters when it comes to who we will pray for, and we are specifically commanded to pray for our leaders. Jesus commanded us all to pray for even our enemies. We can debate if that prayer should have been on the stage, but perhaps we can agree that we pray when asked to pray.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell Jr., President of a Christian University, Tells David Platt to “Grow a Pair”

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The president of the second largest Christian university in the world is at it again.

Falwell Jr. has blocked me on Twitter, so I cannot embed his recent tweet.  But this is what he wrote:

“Sorry to be crude but pastors like @plattdavid need to grow a pair.  Just saying.”

Falwell was responding to this tweet from Fox News radio host Todd Starnes:

Apparently Falwell was not happy with pastor David Platt’s letter to his congregation that explained how he handled the Trump’s visit to McLean Bible Church on Sunday.  Falwell’s tweet suggests that Platt’s decision to explain himself to his congregation made him appear weak and not manly enough.

Several comments:

  1. First, a word about his language.  Falwell begins by “apologizing” for his crudeness.  It is worth noting that he is the president of a university.  Most university presidents are able to communicate their ideas without being crude.  In other words, they have civil language at their disposal.  But Falwell knows that his base–conservative evangelical Christians–love this kind of language.  In some ways, Falwell’s use of language says less about him and more about the kind of evangelicals that gravitate toward him.  I would not be surprised if there was a small spike in donations to Liberty University today.
  2. This tweet reveals that Falwell views the world primarily through politics, not Christian reconciliation or unity.   Remember, Platt wrote this letter as a way of dealing with conflict in his congregation–McLean Bible Church.  It was a pastoral epistle.  Platt was trying to heal wounds and keep his church body together after a difficult day.  He knew there was some division in his church after Trump’ showed- up unannounced and he wanted to explain why he handled the president’s visit in the way he did.  For Falwell to criticize Platt for trying to maintain unity in his congregation suggests that the divisive rhetoric of Trumpian politics (or any politics for that matter) is more important than unity in the body of Christ.  But this is nothing new.
  3. It is also worth noting how Falwell responded to one of his critics on Twitter.  Winfield Bevins, a professor a Asbury Theological Seminary, called Falwell out in a tweet: “What an unbelievable statement from someone who calls themselves a minister of the gospel.  @LibertyU should call on you to repent.”  Falwell responded on twitter with this: “You’re putting your ignorance on display.  I have never been a minister.  UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 years.  Univ president for last 12-years–student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6 new construction in those 12 years.”  Trump couldn’t have said it any better.

Sad.

David Platt of McLean Bible Church Responds to Trump’s Visit

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I have now done several posts on Trump’s decision to go to McLean Bible Church yesterday.  Now it is time for some additional thoughts on McLean’s pastor David Platt.

Donald Trump showed-up at McLean Bible Church and Platt prayed for him.  Some may have thought Platt should have closed the door to Trump.  Others thought he did not chastise him enough or speak truth to power.

I don’t think I would have handled this any differently.  Platt did a great job.

Christians value hospitality.  We like to talk about how the church doors are always open.  Yes, Trump was probably there to score political points with his evangelical base. But when someone decides to show-up at church, the minister and the congregation should not be concerned about motives.  Instead, they should seize the opportunity to change the narrative.  This, it seems, is what Platt did.

If Platt rejected Trump’s request for a visit he would not have been acting in a Christian way. If he fawned over the president or got political he would not have been acting in a Christian way.

Platt is no court evangelical.  He invited Trump into the service and prayed for him in accordance with 1 Timothy 2:1-6.  He did not flatter Trump.  He did not pray that God would protect Trump from his enemies.  He departed from the Franklin Graham instruction manual in almost every way.  Platt prayed that Trump would be an agent of justice.  He prayed that God would give Trump wisdom and reminded him that wisdom stems from the fear of God.  From Platt’s mouth to God’s ears.

This morning Samford religion professor David Bains made some good points about the optics.  Trump was tired and quiet.  Platt dictated the terms of the visit.  This was not a court evangelical begging for attention and photo-ops in the oval office.  Watch the video.  Platt walked out on stage with the authority of a minister.  Trump followed.

If his letter to the congregation is any indication, Platt did not want to have to deal with this.  On the other hand, he has no need to apologize for what he did.  This is why I think this Politico headline is misleading.

Emma Green gets it right at The Atlantic.  Here is a taste of her piece:

It is not weird for a Southern Baptist pastor to pray for the president of the United States. Yes, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and have remained firmly supportive  of the president during his first two years in office. Yes, he has surrounded himself with a coterie of evangelical adviserswho have cemented the association between conservative Christianity and Trumpism. But even among the evangelical pastors who spoke out against Trump in the run-up to Election Day 2016—and they did exist—praying for the president is a given. As Russell Moore, a major Southern Baptist leader and a vocal Trump critic, wrote shortly before Trump’s inauguration, it is “our obligation as Christians to pray for all those who are in civil authority.”

So when Trump visited McLean Bible Church, a D.C.-area mega-church, over the weekend to show his support to the victims of the Virginia Beach mass shooting, which took place the night before roughly four hours away, it was to be expected that the pastor there, David Platt, would pray for the president. Trump showed up in the middle of the afternoon, after a round of golf, and made no remarks. The two men stood onstage together, eyes shut, Platt holding his Bible. “We stand right now on behalf of our president, and we pray for your grace and your mercy and your wisdom upon him,” Platt said. “We pray that he would look to you. That he would trust in you, that he would lean on you. That he would govern and make decisions in ways that are good for justice, and good for righteousness, and good for equity, every good path.”

What’s remarkable about this prayer is not that it happened, but that it shows how thoroughly the Trump era has opened the way for cynicism and outrage over even mundane, predictable Christian behavior. Within the world of evangelicalism, Platt does not roll with the hard-core Trump supporters; his prayer was studiously neutral, clear of boosterism and partisanship. While Trump has certainly amplified divisions among evangelicals over race, gender, and the rightful relationship between Christianity and politics, the choice to pray for a person in leadership is not a meaningful symbol of evangelicalism’s transformation under the 45th president.

Read the rest here.

Pray for Me. And While You’re Doing it, I Will be Playing Golf

Franklin Graham has called evangelicals to take some today to pray for Donald Trump against the demonic powers who oppose him.  Daniel Blake covered this pretty well at CNN.  I also tweeted about it.

If Trump’s recent tweets and retweets are any indication, he seems to love the fact that so many evangelicals are praying for him today:

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Well, today is the day of prayer for Trump.  The POTUS is probably in church today joining the evangelical faithful in prayer.  After all, as he described in one of the tweets above, we need to “all stick together and win.” Right?

Wrong.

As Nathan Francis reports at Inquisitr, Trump is golfing today:

Pastor Franklin Graham had put out a public call for pastors across the country to devote Sunday morning to pray for Donald Trump — but the president will need to get a report of how it went.

Trump appeared to skip church on June 2 for his preferred Sunday morning ritual of hitting the golf course. White House pool reports noted that Trump arrived at the Trump National Golf Course in Sterling, Virginia, at 9:35 a.m. As HuffPost White House reporter S.V. Date noted on Twitter, Trump’s trip to the links came during the nationwide effort to pray for his presidency, and the timing of his trip would rule out any morning trip to services at the president’s preferred place of worship, St. John’s Church, in Washington, D.C.

Read the entire piece here.

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.

Last Night’s Court Evangelical Tweetstorm

For those who missed it (the link in the first tweet is now correct):

Evangelical Trump Fans: Don’t Forget to Buy Your King Cyrus-Donald Trump Prayer Coin

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In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote a several pages on the so-called INC (Independent Network Charismatics) prophets.  Lance Wallnau is one of these “prophets.”  Here is what I wrote about him:

Early in the 2016 campaign, Lance Wallnau received a similar word: “Donald Trump is a wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness.”  When Wallnau’s prophecy caught the attention of Trump’s evangelical supporters, he was invited to attend a meeting with the candidate and other evangelical leaders in Trump Tower.  As Wallnau listened to Trump talk about his desire to give evangelicals a more prominent voice in government, he sensed that God was giving him an “assignment”–a “calling related to this guy.”  One day, while he was reading his Facebook page, Wallnau saw a meme predicting that Trump would be the “45 president of the United States.”  God told Wallnau to pick up his Bible and turn to Isaiah 45.  On reading the passage, Wallnau realized that, not only would Trump be a “wrecking ball” to political correctness, but he would be elected president of the United States in the spirit of the ancient Persian king Cyrus.  In the Old Testament, Cyrus  was the secular political leader whom God used to send the exiled kingdom of Judah back to the Promised Land so that they could rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its holy Temple.  Wallnau was shocked by this discovery.  “God was messing with my head,” he told Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma, a magazine that covers INC and other Pentecostal and charismatic movements….From this point forward, Wallnau would become an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.

Recently Wallnau showed-up on the Jim Bakker television program to hawk his Cyrus-Trump prayer coins.  According to this piece at Esquire magazine, Wallnau said that the coin is the “point of contact” between God and people praying for Trump’s success.  And guess what? This coin can be yours for only $45.00.  Here is Jack Holmes at Esquire:

This truly is the Golden Age of Grifting, and the nation’s Evangelical leaders have not passed up the opportunity. The “White Evangelical Christian” designation has always been a proxy for traditionalists who believe America’s rightful social order is the racial and gender hierarchy of approximately 1956. Donald Trump has merely laid this bare by earning their support despite being the most comically heathen man to ever step foot in the White House. What principles of Jesus Christ does the president embody? The better question might be which of the Seven Deadly Sins—pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth—does he not  represent? It’s all part of the Great Unvarnishing, as the acidity of Trump’s public persona has worn on the top coat of paint many people have applied to themselves, gradually exposing what lies beneath. It’s not about Christian Values, it’s about money and power. Unless it’s about something else.

And for those Trump evangelical supporters with deeper pockets, you can get an entire “Cyrus Trump Bundle.”  It includes the Cyrus-Trump coin, a booklet by Wallnau describing his prophecy, and DVD of Wallnau conducting a religious service.  It’s yours for $450.

As I argued in Believe Me, the Independent Network Charismatics are a very large, growing, and largely overlooked segment of American evangelicalism.  Wallnau is one of their leaders.

The “Failing” *New York Times* Reveals That Trump Lost $1.17 Billion Between 1985-1994. What Say Ye Jerry Falwell?

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Court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. recently said that Christians no longer vote according to social issues.  For example, he likes to say that he backed Donald Trump because he was a great businessman.  On January 27, 2016,  Falwell Jr. published a piece at The Washington Post in which he said the following:

I admit my view of the world is colored by my legal and business experiences at Liberty. I respect the opinions of those who believe that it is now more important to elect a career politician who shares their constitutional views or someone who shares their faith instead of a business professional, but I cannot agree.

In my opinion, this nation needs a citizen legislator who is a tough negotiator, one who has gone head to head with the best business minds in the world and won, a businessman who has built companies from the ground up, and who will use those experiences to be tough with China, ISIS and nations that are taking advantage of the United States by stealing our jobs.

When Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump for president he said that he supported the reality television star because he was a “successful executive and entrepreneur.”

In this interview, Falwell Jr. said:

What earns him my support is his business acumen. Our country was so deep in debt and so mismanaged by career politicians that we needed someone who was not a career politician, but someone who’d been successful in business to run the country like a business. That’s the reason I supported him.

I realize that Jerry Falwell has a lot on his plate right now, but I wonder how he feels about The New York Times report that Trump lost more than a billion dollars over a ten year period between 1985 and 1994.

Here is a taste of Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig’s article:

The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

Over all, Mr. Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. It is not known whether the I.R.S. later required changes after audits.

Trump likes to refer to this newspaper as the “failing New York Times.”

It seems the American economy is doing well right now in spite of the fact that we have a failed businessman at the helm.

Michael Cohen Helped Jerry Falwell Jr. Handle “Racy Photos”

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

The court evangelical plot thickens.

It looks like Michael Cohen does not only “take care of things” with Trump’s adult film star lovers, but he also has the back of the president of evangelical Liberty University.  Let’s see how this plays out.

Here is Aram Roston’s reporting at Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Months before evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.’s game-changing presidential endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, Falwell asked Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a personal favor, Cohen said in a recorded conversation reviewed by Reuters.

Falwell, president of Liberty University, one of the world’s largest Christian universities, said someone had come into possession of what Cohen described as racy “personal” photographs — the sort that would typically be kept “between husband and wife,” Cohen said in the taped conversation.

According to a source familiar with Cohen’s thinking, the person who possessed the photos destroyed them after Cohen intervened on the Falwells’ behalf.

Read the rest at the Reuters website.

Falwell Predicts Evangelicals Will Turn to Trump in Greater Numbers in 2020 Than 2016. I’m Not So Sure.

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Here is the latest from Breitbart:

“I think 83 percent of Evangelicals voted for him [in 2016], and I think in 2020 it’ll be an even higher percentage,” he explained.

Falwell Jr. went on, “Even Evangelicals were disillusioned by the moderate Republican administrations of the last few decades. They voted on social issues back in those days, and they finally realized that there was never really going to be any change on social issues, so they stopped voting on social issues, and instead now they vote on the same issues that all average Americans who supported Trump vote on: bringing jobs back to this country and fair trade deals.”

“I think it’s great what [Donald Trump] is doing on China,” continued Falwell Jr. “I admire a president willing to be able to take a hit. The economy will take a hit when he fights these trade wars, but he knows long-term that the benefit to America will be much greater than any hit we take in the short-term. We’re getting ripped off with these bad trade deals. I think Evangelicals see that.”

Falwell Jr. added, “[Evangelicals] see immigration as a big issue. They just gave up on voting on social issues because they’ve been betrayed by Republican administration after Republican administration. So they just quit, and they started voting on the same issues that working class Democrats and average Americans vote on, and it’s all the issues that Donald Trump ran on.”

Read the rest here.

I think the Lynchburg court evangelical is correct about immigration, but I am not sure he has captured the pulse of the entire pro-Trump conservative evangelical electorate if he thinks that they no longer vote on social issues.

While I am sure that there are white evangelicals who voted for Trump because of immigration and the economy, there is also a large pro-Trump evangelical voting bloc that is white, middle class, and doing relatively well economically.  They pulled the lever for Trump because they hated Hillary and believed Trump would appoint pro-life justices.  All of this is anecdotal, based on my visits to dozens of towns and cities during the Believe Me book tour, but this wing of pro-Trump evangelicals could make a difference in 2020.  What if they decide that Trump delivered on the Supreme Court with the appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and now it is time to get rid of him because his immoral baggage and disrespect for the rule of law is too much to bear.  Just a thought.

*The Atlantic* Asks: “Why is Trump suddenly talking about God?”

Here is a taste of writer David Graham’s piece:

Donald Trump is finding religion. Or at least, religion is finding its way into his remarks and his campaign’s rhetoric to an unprecedented extent.

On Thursday, the president celebrated the National Day of Prayer at the White House, and he said the Almighty had helped him persevere through the ordeal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“People say, ‘How do you get through that whole stuff? How do you get through those witch hunts and everything else?’” Trump said, turning to Vice President Pence. “And you know what we do, Mike? We just do it, right? And we think about God.”

In a variation on his claims about a “war on Christmas,” Trump also claimed that Americans are referring to the Divine more frequently.

“One of the things that Mike and I were discussing just a little while ago—people are so proud to be using that beautiful word, God, and they’re using the word God again, and they’re not hiding from it,” he said. “They’re not being told to take it down, and they’re not saying we can’t honor God. In God we trust. So important.”

Read the entire piece here.

A few quick thoughts on this piece and Thursday’s National Day of Prayer in general

  1. Trump is talking about God because he is required to do so at the National Prayer Breakfast.  This is a day to keep his conservative evangelical base in line.
  2. I disagree with Graham about the “unprecedented extent” in which Trump is now talking about God. He’s been doing this since the campaign.  There is little about what he said on Thursday that is new.  He has been throwing bones to the court evangelicals and their followers since 2015.  This, of course, is all chronicled in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
  3. Actually, if you compare what Trump said about God on Thursday with what Barack Obama said at national prayer breakfasts during his administration you will find that Obama’s remarks are deeper, more profound, and more seriously Christian than Trump’s. It is true that Obama did not always give the National Day of Prayer the kind of attention that Trump gives it, but Obama did offer statements about prayer and religious freedom that, at least to me, seem more fitting for a president of the United States.

Franklin Graham: Court Evangelical

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Conservative Christian writer David French is the latest to write about the court evangelicals (although he doesn’t use the term).  Here is what he has to say about Franklin Graham at The National Review:

[Graham] actively repudiated his condemnations of Clinton, calling the Republican pursuit of the then-president “a great mistake that should never have happened,” and argued that “this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody’s business.”

Graham was wrong: Trump, it turns out, doesn’t just lie to mislead his family. He lies all the time to influence courts, Congress, and the American people.

So is this the “new normal” for Evangelicals? Is politics entirely transactional now? Do we evaluate politicians only on their policies and leave the sex discussions to the privacy of their own bedrooms?

Apparently not, according to . . . Franklin Graham. Now that the Democratic primary is gaining steam and a gay candidate is surging forward, Graham has rediscovered his moral voice. Yesterday he tweeted this: “Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman—not two men, not two women,”

Yes, marriage is the union between a man and a woman, but Trump married a woman, then married his mistress, then married a third woman, then had an affair with a porn star while that third wife was pregnant with his child. Yet Graham says, “God put him” in the presidency and we need to “get behind him and support him.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Mueller Report and the Trump Evangelicals

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I spent part of the weekend reading the Mueller Report. Nothing I have written below is new if you have been following the news coverage of the report or read it for yourself, but I thought I would use this space to jot down some of my notes as I processed it.

  • The Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.  In other words, it is possible that Donald Trump won in 2016 because of Russian help (Vol. 1:1).  Future historians should put an asterisk next to Trump’s victory in 2016.  We may never know how the Russians helped Trump, but they clearly interfered.
  • There are “numerous links” between the Russian interference in the U.S. election and the Trump presidential campaign (Vol 1:1).
  • The Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities (“collusion” is not a legal term), but it certainly came close.
  • The Russian Facebook campaign played to American fears.  These Russian-authored social media accounts and ads were promoted through retweets and responses to tweets by Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Michael Flynn.  (Vol I: 26-27).  In other words, these people helped make the Russian interference effective.  (Of course none of these people knew they were retweeting and promoting the work of Russians).
  • The report presents the Trump campaign as chaotic and disorganized.  Several members of the campaign were working with Russia to help Trump get elected.  Some lied about it and got caught.  Others seemed to just get lucky that they did not do anything reaching the level of criminality.  Those who told the American people that there were no links between the Trump campaign and Russia included Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Trump himself.  (Thanks to Lawfare Blog for identifying these names and providing links).
  • It seems like most Trump supporters stopped reading the report after Volume 1.
  • Mueller says up-front that he respected the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and agreed not to indict a sitting President.  Yet he also says his office uncovered “potentially obstructive acts related to the Special Counsel’s investigation itself.” (Vol. 2:1)
  • Mueller reminds the readers that “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”  Why would he put that in the report if he did not think a legitimate case of obstruction could be made against Trump? (Vol 2:1). Perhaps the answer comes on p. 2:2: “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.  Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.  The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.  Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In other words, Mueller may have found evidence of a possible indictment for obstruction, but could not bring an indictment because of the OLC guidance.  As several scholars have shown, including historians Julian Zelizer and Yoni Appelbaum, this is Mueller’s way of suggesting that it is the job of Congress to handle such behavior.  (Also 2:156-182).
  • Volume 2:3-7 reads like Mueller’s case for impeachment:
    • Trump lied about contacts with Russia
    • Trump tried to intimidate former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into  Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian government. According to Mueller, there is “substantial evidence” to support Comey’s side of this story.  Trump denied that he asked everyone in the room to leave so he could pressure Comey to drop the investigation.  He lied about this.
    • Trump tried to get Jeff Sessions and several other members of the federal government to bring an end to the ongoing Russia investigation.  How is this not obstruction?
    • Trump fired FBI director James Comey and tried to make it look like he was fired for incompetence unrelated to the Russia probe. We now know that Comey was indeed fired because Trump did not like the Russia probe, despite the fact that the FBI director insisted that Trump was not under investigation.
    • Trump tried to get White House attorney Don McGahn to remove Mueller as Special Counsel.  McGahn told Trump that such a request was “silly” and “not real.” He would not do it.  Trump then told McGahn to deny press reports confirming that the president ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed. (2:114)
    • Trump tried to get Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare that the Mueller investigation was “very unfair” to him.  Trump also wanted the probe limited to future election interference, rather than focus on the Russian election interference in 2016.  Lewandowski asked White House aid Rick Dearborn to get the message to Sessions.  Dearborn never delivered it.  This is one of many examples of Trump’s staff protecting an out-of-control and incompetent president motivated by his own narcissism, self-image, and personal vendettas.
    • Trump edited Donald Trump Jr.’s statement about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton to make it appear that the meeting was about adoption.  He and his personal lawyer then lied about the fact that he did this.
    • Trump pressured Jeff Sessions, on more than one occasion, to unrecuse himself from heading the Mueller investigation because he thought Sessions might fire Mueller.
    • After Flynn began cooperating with the Special Counsel, Trump tried to get Michael Flynn to give him a “heads up” about any “information that implicates the president”
    • Trump tried to manipulate Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen’s testimony before the Special Counsel. (2:138, 146)
  • On pages 2:9-12, Mueller lays out the five kinds of obstruction of justice under the heading “The Legal Framework of Obstruction of Justice.”  Wow!  It seems like Trump violated all five of these forms of obstruction.

The Bottom Line:

Donald Trump is a liar who clearly obstructed justice.  He has forced others to lie to the American people on his behalf.  Some, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed evangelical Christian, lied for the president on multiple occasions.  (That is a lot of slips of the tongue). Others refused to lie for him. The Mueller report reveals that Trump’s presidency lacks a moral center.  He should be impeached.

And what about the court evangelicals and all of those other white evangelicals who still support Trump?  They will double down in their support for the president.  He is God’s chosen instrument and his evangelical supporters will invoke biblical examples of how God’s anointed instruments will always suffer persecution.  They will claim that the Mueller Report is biased (except, of course, the parts that say there was no collusion).  They will continue to stoke the “witch hunt” metaphor.   They will continue to take their marching orders from Fox News and claim that the report proves that Trump did not commit a crime.  They will argue that the country should simply move forward as if nothing happened.  They will ignore the parts of the report that show Trump’s immorality and lies.  Court evangelicalism blinds one to the truth.  For example:

What document are these guys reading?  It can’t be the Mueller report.  🙂

But perhaps a few pro-Trump evangelicals will see the light and finally realize, like Billy Graham eventually did with Richard Nixon, that Trump is not worthy of their support

A Visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Gordon Conwell

I spent Monday night at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts (Boston-area).  Thanks to Gordon-Conwell president Dennis Hollinger for the invitation and Mary Ann Hollinger for her hospitality.

The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life sponsored conversation on evangelicals and politics that included Boisi director (and Jesuit theologian) Mark Massa, Dartmouth historian of American evangelicalism Randall Balmer, and yours truly.

A few takeaways:

  1. Gordon-Conwell is a seminary founded by mid-century evangelical stalwarts Billy Graham, J. Howard Pew and J. Harold Ockenga.  Over the last fifty years it has been an institutional fixture on the evangelical landscape.  During the course of the evening I did not meet a single Trump supporter.  This is the first time that I have been at a self-identified evangelical institution where I did not meet someone who wanted to make the case for Trump.
  2. I talked with several pastors-in-training (MDiv students) who wanted advice about how to deal with Trump supporters in their future congregations.  My advice:  preach the Gospel in season and out of season.   I hope they will avoid bringing politics into the pulpit, but rather preach in a positive way about what the Bible teaches regarding truth and lying, welcoming the stranger, caring for the “least of these,” loving neighbors,” the dignity of human life, and the pursuit of holiness.  I encouraged them, to borrow a term from Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter, to be “faithfully present” in the congregations and communities where God calls them to serve.
  3.  All of the evangelical millennials I chatted with were fed-up with Trump and the Christian Right.  It seems like a sea-change is coming.
  4.  During the formal conversation, Gordon-Conwell theology and missions professor Peter Kuzmic talked about how his fellow evangelicals in Eastern Europe were appalled that American evangelicals supported Trump.  I asked him publicly if the evangelical support of Donald Trump was hindering the work of the Gospel in Eastern Europe.  He did not miss a beat in saying “yes.”  This is tragic.  It is the case I have been making during the Believe Me book tour.  I told Kuzmic that I would like to take him with me on the road.  His testimony was a powerful one.  While court evangelicals continue to take victory laps over securing an originalist judiciary that might overturn Roe v. Wade, the witness of the Gospel is becoming more difficult, especially for missionaries.
  5. We talked a lot of about “fracture” within the evangelical community.  The days of a unified neo-evangelicalism (if there ever was such a thing) are over.  George Marsden once said that an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.  Well, Billy Graham is now dead and there will be no one to replace him.  This is not a statement about whether or not there are any potential heirs to Graham.  It is rather a statement about the current state of American culture, a state that Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers has called the “Age of Fracture.” I want to write more about this.
  6. It was an honor to share the stage and the evening with Randall Balmer, a scholar who has taught me so much about evangelicalism.