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.

Trump Tells Border Agents to Break the Law. Court Evangelicals Remain Silent

families

Jake Tapper of CNN is reporting that Donald Trump told immigration officials on the Mexican border to essentially ignore court orders allowing Central American migrants seeking asylum into the country.  Here is a taste of Tapper’s piece:

Three Thursdays ago, in a meeting at the Oval Office with top officials — including Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top aides Jared Kushner, Mercedes Schlapp and Dan Scavino, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and more — the President, according to one attendee, was “ranting and raving, saying border security was his issue.”

Senior administration officials say that Trump then ordered Nielsen and Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso the next day, Friday, March 22, at noon. The plan was that in subsequent days the Trump administration would shut down other ports.

Nielsen told Trump that would be a bad and even dangerous idea, and that the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has been very supportive of the President.

She proposed an alternative plan that would slow down entries at legal ports. She argued that if you close all the ports of entry all you would be doing is ending legal trade and travel, but migrants will just go between ports.

According to two people in the room, the President said: “I don’t care.”

Ultimately, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney seemed to have been able to talk the President out of closing the port of El Paso. Trump, however, was insistent that his administration begin taking another action — denying asylum seekers entry. Nielsen tried to explain to the President that the asylum laws allow migrants from Central America to come to the US and gain entry. She talked to the White House counsel to see if there were any exceptions, but he told her that her reading of the law was correct.

Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to official requests for comment.

Last Friday, the President visited Calexico, California, where he said, “We’re full, our system’s full, our country’s full — can’t come in! Our country is full, what can you do? We can’t handle any more, our country is full. Can’t come in, I’m sorry. It’s very simple.”

Behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”

After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.

Read the entire piece here.

Some will say that Tapper represents the “left-wing media” who is out to get Trump.  I have a few thoughts on this:

  1.  Tapper is an excellent reporter who is one of the most fair-minded interviewers on CNN.
  2.  What Tapper is reporting here fits very well with everything we know about Donald Trump.
  3.  A question for Trump supporters (or “left-wing media” haters):  Is there anything  that the CNN or New York Times could uncover about Trump that might actually be true?

Tapper’s piece is just further proof that Trump is a populist tyrant.  He won in 2016 by promising to build a wall.  His immigration policy thus far has been draconian.  Some of the children he separated from their parents are lost and it will take up to two years to find them.  Today he falsely claimed that Obama is to blame for the separation of these children. He believes that he has a mandate from the people (or at least the ones who elected him) to do these things and, as a result, he does not pay much attention to the rule of law, checks and balances, or time-honored American institutions.

Trump’s populism reminds me of Andrew Jackson’s rationale for removing the Cherokees from their homeland and sending them on the so-called “Trail of Tears.”  The white men who voted for Jackson wanted the Cherokee gone.  Jackson listened and responded.  This is what democracy meant in the early 19th century.  Maybe this is why Michigan conservatives do not want students to study “democracy” in their history classes.

And where are the Trump court evangelicals today?  What do they have to say about his disregard for the law, his separation of children, and his constant lies?  Here is what they are up to today:

Bob Jeffress, with his snarky laugh and Trump name-dropping, is still obsessed with the fact that Pete Buttigieg is gay, progressive and pro-choice.  (By the way, Jeffress’s defense of Mike Pence here does not seem to hold-up when compared to past Pence statements on the subject).

Jack Graham is hanging out with the “My Pillow” guy:

I am not sure if Paula White has any followers among the separated families on the border, but if she does, they are going to have a hard time taking her advice here:

 

Where are the Court Evangelical Defenders of “Family Values” Today?

families

Getty Images

The Trump Administration separated 1000s of immigrant children from their parents.  If I am reading this article correctly, the administration does not know where these kids are located. They simply failed to write down where they sent them.  It will take up to two years to find them.

And where are the court evangelicals today?  They brag about unprecedented access to Trump.  Now is the time to use such access.  These men and women built their political careers around defending “family values.”  Why aren’t they lined-up at the White House door to demand that these families are reunited sooner?

Here is Tony Perkins, president of an organization called the FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:

Apparently Perkins’s “religiously informed values” do not bear on “public policy decisions” about reuniting families separated by Trump immigration policy.  It seems like this might be something an organization called the FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL may want to take up.

I wonder how Perkins would respond if these were white middle class families?

First Baptist-Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress spent his Sunday interviewing a guy from Duck Dynasty:

I am sure this interview focused on family separation. 😉

Gary Bauer, a former president of the Family Research Council, is using his Twitter feed to spew anti-immigrant rhetoric:

Former “Focus on the Family” host James Dobson is wondering what “love” looks like:

Eric Metaxas was on NPR earlier today wondering if the American Republic has “lost its way’:

These court evangelicals, if they really believe in family values, should be screaming from the rooftops today.  Sadly, it’s not going to happen.

Pete Buttigieg Slams Evangelicals for Supporting Trump

His remarks start at the 11:35 mark:

Sadly, everything he says here about Trump and evangelicals is correct.

The evangelicals who support Trump should take Buttigieg’s remarks seriously.  He is the latest commentator to expose the dark side of evangelical politics.

Expect Trump’s court evangelicals to double down today.  Perhaps some stuff similar to this:

 

Today’s *Washington Post* Piece on Trump and Evangelicals

Trump court evangelicals

If Pew Research is correct, Donald Trump is more popular among white evangelicals who regularly attend church and less popular among those who do not.  I tried to explain this in a piece at today’s Washington Post “Made by History” column.  Here is a taste:

Many white evangelical churchgoers now see the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade as equivalent to their call to share the Gospel with unbelievers. They subscribe to the message that the only way to live out evangelical faith in public is to vote for the candidates who will most effectively execute the 40-year-old Christian right playbook.

The movement’s message is so strong that even when pastors oppose the politicization of their religion, the message is not likely to persuade congregants. Indeed, many white evangelical pastors do not preach politics from their pulpit. Some speak boldly against the idolatrous propensity of their congregations to seek political saviors.

But these pastors cannot control the messaging their flocks imbibe after they leave church on Sunday. And a massive Christian right messaging machine targets these Americans with precision. Ministries and nonprofit organizations, driven by conservative political agendas, bombard the mailboxes, inboxes and social media feeds of ordinary evangelicals. Many of these organizations appeal to long-standing evangelical fears about cultural decline or provide selective historical evidence that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a “Christian nation,” even though this never was true.

Evangelicals filter what they hear during weekly sermons through Fox News and conservative talk radio, producing an approach to political engagement that looks more like the Republican Party than the Kingdom of God.

None of this is new. People in the pews (or in the case of evangelical megachurches, the chairs), have always been selective in how they apply their pastor’s sermons in everyday life. Evangelical Christians, from the Puritans to the present, have always mixed traditional Christian teachings with more non-Christian sources as they cultivate their religious lives. Today, however, cable television and social media expose white evangelicals to ideas that come from outside the church but that claim to be driven by Christianity at an unprecedented rate.

Read the entire piece here.

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.

How Do We “Render Unto Caesar” in a Democracy?

CaesarThe following exchange takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22: 16-22.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[b] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Several Trump evangelicals are using this verse to justify their support for the POTUS.

Over at the Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz asks a question about coins:

So how might we hear Matthew 22:21 differently if we’re looking at the metallic relief of a long-dead president who held limited power for a relatively short period of time, rather than that of a living emperor with the hubris to believe himself a figure of unimpeachable power?

Great question.

Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University, adds:

Perhaps we’d then hear “render unto Caesar” as a reminder that, if American Christians owe limited allegiance to any secular authority, they owe it to no one person, but to the American people, who govern themselves through elected representatives sworn to protect the Constitution. The same Constitution that keeps even presidents from benefiting financially from their position, from obstructing the work of those who investigate lawbreaking, or from inventing fake national emergencies in order to subvert the work of those who make laws.

So render to God what is God’s: your image-bearing self commanded to love other image-bearers. And render to Trump what is Trump’s: your responsibilities as an American citizen to dissent from unwise and unjust uses of American power and to hold American demagogues accountable for their attempts to play Caesar.

Read Gehrz’s entire piece here.  It deserves a wide readership, especially for his thoughts on court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s use of this verse.

“They had a guy from Messiah College”

This is a fascinating conversation between two court evangelicalsEric Metaxas and Lance Wallnau. Thanks to Peter Montgomery from Right Wing Watch for calling it to my attention.

Here is the entire conversation:

We have spent a lot of time covering Metaxas here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but some of you may be unfamiliar with Wallnau.  Here is what I wrote about him in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

The second major stream of court evangelicalism flows from Independent Network Charismatic (INC) Christianity.  According to scholars Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, INC is the fastest-growing Christian movement in both the Western world and the global South.  INC Christians are outside the network of traditional Pentecostals.  While they embrace many of the so-called gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues-speaking, prophecy, healing, miracles), they do not affiliate with traditional Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, the International Foursquare Gospel Church, or the Church of God (Cleveland, TN).  In fact, the INC movement is not a denomination; instead, it is a network of strong spiritual leaders, scattered across the globe, with very large followings.  Like the so-called Latter Rain movement that infiltrated traditional Pentecostalism in the 1940s and 1950s, INC leaders believe that a great revival of the Holy Spirit will take place shortly before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and God will raise up apostles and prophets to lead this revival.  These new spiritual leaders will have authority that comes directly from God, not from denominations or congregations. Some of the more prominent INC prophets, all of whom believe that we are currently living in the midst of this great Holy Spirit revival, include Che Ahn (Harvest International Ministries in Pasadena, CA), Bill Johnson (Bethel Church in Redding, CA), Chuck Pierce (Glory of Zion Ministries in Corinth, TX), Cindy Jacobs (General International in Red Oak, TX), Mike Bickle (International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO), Lou Engle (The Call in Colorado Springs, CO), Dutch Sheets (Dutch Sheets Ministries in Dallas, TX), and Lance Wallnau (Lance Learning Group in Dallas, TX).

INC prophets and apostles believe that they have been anointed to serve God’s agents in ushering in his future kingdom, a process that many describe as God “bringing heaven to earth.”  They are thus deeply attracted to Seven Mountain Dominionism, the belief that Jesus will not return until society comes under the dominion of Jesus Christ.  Drawing from Isaiah 2:2 (“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains”), INC prophets want to reclaim seven cultural “mountains”: family, government, arts and entertainment, media, business, education, and religion.  The goal is to place God’s appointed leaders atop these cultural mountains as means of setting the stage for the time when God will bring heaven to earth….

…As early as 2007, INC prophet Kim Clement received a word from God: “Trump Clement received a word from God: “Trump shall become a trumpet.  I will raise up Trump to become a trumpet, and Bill Gates to open up the gate of a financial realm for the church.”  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 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 Trump would be the “45th 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 (and claims a circulation of over 275,000).  From this point forward, Wallnau would become an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.

The Metaxas-Wallnau interview is interesting for several reasons:

  1. Notice Wallnau’s reference to Seven Mountain Dominionism.
  2. Wallnau’s description of his conversion experience during the 1970s while a student Valley Forge Military Academy seems legitimate to me.  His story of  engaging Campus Crusade workers on campus in a snowstorm is one of millions of similar stories heard regularly in evangelical circles.  And Wallnau tells it very well.  Wallnau may be embellishing the story, but he still seems to have had a real spiritual experience.
  3. Wallnau’s failure to find other born-again Christians in the northeast corridor during the 1970s confirms my own family’s story.  My family had never heard of evangelical or “born-again” Christianity until my father had a conversion experience in the early 1980s.  I was recently talking to another evangelical who grew up in New Jersey during the 1980s and we were noting how northeast evangelicals in this era were forced to live their faith as a minority.  This experience has led many northeastern evangelicals to think differently about Christian public engagement when compared with southerners or midwesterners.  One day I want to tell this story in full.  It strikes me that those raised in an evangelical culture–Southern Baptists, Dutch Reformed, etc.–did not have to face the kind of persecution and outsider status that we in the northeast had to face when we identified as born-again Christians.  This means we look at American evangelicalism with a different set of eyes.  I don’t recall ever meeting an evangelical Protestant during my childhood.  Wallnau had to go to Lebanon Valley College in south central Pennsylvania in order to find one.
  4. Wallnau’s story about Mennonite Pentecostals in Manheim, Pennsylvania was new to me.  Is anyone aware of Mennonite Pentecostal communities where women’s “bonnets” blew off their heads because the power of the Holy Spirit was so powerful?
  5. Wallnau’s reference to James H. Brown’s charismatic revivals in a Parksburg, PA Presbyterian Church got me curious, so I did some research.  Brown was the pastor at Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church in Parksburg and one of the leaders of the charismatic movement within American Presbyterianism.  Read about him here.
  6. During this interview Donald Trump is compared favorably to Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Wilbur Wilberforce.

Of course none of these observations explain the title of my post.  If you fast-forward to the 26-minute mark, Wallnau is talking with Metaxas about his claim that Donald Trump is a modern-day King Cyrus and he mentions a professor at Messiah College.

(Just for the record, I did not coin the term “vessel theology.”  Wallnau is referring to this piece by Tara Isabella Burton at VOX.  I am quoted here, but I never use the term “vessel theology.”  Nevertheless, I do think the term is useful to describe what Wallnau is doing with the King Cyrus prophecy).

Court Evangelical Seizes on Ilhan Omar’s Remarks to Score Points for Trump

Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, is at it again:

Jeffress is quick to condemn such “hate speech.”  Yes, this is the same guy who:

Jeffress believes that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and must be reclaimed as one.  His rigid way of seeing the world, and his arrogant claims to know the will of God on all matters, makes him one of the most divisive clerical voices in the United States.

What Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress Said Tonight on Fox Business News

It’s been a “great” week for the President of the United States.  Think about it:

  1.  Trump’s former lawyer testified before Congress and called president a liar, a racist, an adulterer, a con man, and a cheat.  And then he produced evidence which seems to implicate Trump in federal crimes.
  2. Trump went to Vietnam to meet with the North Korean dictator.  While he was there, the North Korean dictator told Trump that he was unaware that an American college student was imprisoned and tortured in his country.  Trump believed what the dictator told him, stating “I will take him at his word.”  The parents of the now-dead college student are outraged at this act of insensitivity.
  3. New York Times story uncovered that Donald Trump insisted that his son-in-law be given a top-secret security clearance despite the fact that intelligence officials and the White House top lawyer said this what a bad idea.  This is blatant nepotism.  The story also proves that Trump has lied about this on multiple occasions.

You would think the court evangelicals might lay low on a week like this.  Nope.  Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church at Dallas, went on Fox Business News tonight and praised Trump:

There are so, so many problems with this video:

  1. Jeffress takes a victory lap because 80% of Americans claim to believe in God.  He says anyone who does not believe in God is a moron.  As long as Rev. Jeffress is throwing around Bible verses, perhaps he should consider Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. ”  How does he reconcile this verse with his triumphant running-of-the mouth about a Pew poll that says 80% of Americans believe in God?
  2. If Robert Jeffress is a minister of the Gospel, why does he condemn Democrats and others on the “Left” who do not believe in God by attacking them with such provocative and angry rhetoric?  Is this helping him reach the lost souls he claims to care so much about?  His choice to take a pay check from Fox News and serve as the conservative network’s evangelical culture warrior seems counterproductive to his calling a soul-winner.
  3.  Jeffress continues to make the claim that the United States was founded and continues to be a Christian nation.  He is wrong.  I address these claims in both Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In Believe Me, I engage Jeffress directly.  Much of his understanding of American history comes from political activist David Barton.
  4. Lou Dobbs’s decision to talk to Jeffress about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church is thick with irony.  Dobbs is talking to the pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the United States.  He does not seem to realize that the Southern Baptist Convention is plagued with sexual abuse scandals right now.  Jeffress has said nothing to condemn the sexual abuse scandals in his denomination and he says nothing about them in this interview.  Shame on him!
  5. Finally, for a a nuanced view on late-term abortions, see Michael Wear‘s recent piece in The Atlantic.

More Politics of Fear

And the politics of fear continues.  This sounds like the New England Federalists after Jefferson got elected in 1800.  Some of them thought Jefferson and his henchman would invade New England, steal their Bibles, and close their churches.   The video embedded in Aaron Rupar’s tweet confirms a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

One more thing: I want to know what court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. would actually do to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if she comes after his cows.

What Happens When Evangelical Leaders Get Too Close to Power?

Team of VipersLast week we introduced you to Team of Vipers, White House staffer Cliff Sims‘s book about life in the Trump administration.  Sims, a conservative evangelical and a pastor’s son, confirms just about everything I wrote about and warned-against in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Now Sims is talking to Christianity Today writer Ed Stetzer about the evangelical leaders who have gravitated to the Trump’s court.   (I have called them the court evangelicals).  It is very revealing.

Here is a taste of Stetzer’s interview with Sims:

Ed: In the Atlantic article, you were critical of the President’s faith advisors. (Full disclosure, I was asked to be on that faith advisory council and declined.) From the outside, it’s hard to gauge their impact, though I have several friends in that group and they tell me they are being heard. What would you say?

Cliff: Well, first of all I think it’s important to understand how these people came into Trump’s orbit.

For Trump, TV is the be all and end all. So, if you’re on TV, you’re at the top of your field. Whether it’s in business and entertainment. That’s why he had The Apprentice. Or in politics, if you were the best and the brightest reporter, you’d be on TV every day. For him, that same principle, I think, applied to the faith space.

When he sees someone like Paula White on TV, he says to himself, “These speakers must be the best. These must be the people that are at the top of their field.” That’s kind of how he appointed people to these positions. It wasn’t like he agreed with a pastor’s doctrine or anything like that—I don’t think there was much more to the decision than him seeing the individuals on TV.

There’s a story that I tell in the book that really stuck out to me very early on in the White House and made me realize that proximity to power does strange things even to pastors and ministers. When we were trying to plan the first prayer breakfast, Sarah Sanders and I were working together to organize speakers, and I wanted David Platt to come and speak at it.

I talked to David about it, and I don’t think he would mind me saying that he was conflicted about that decision. I think one of the reasons for this hesitation was because when pastors get involved in the political space in a public way, there are drawbacks and it can put pastors in a position where people suddenly view them through a political lens. There’s just a lot of baggage that comes along with such a decision.

But, I was talking to people inside the White House about him coming to speak and someone who interfaces with the faith advisory council inside the White House happened to mention this to Paula White. Paula came to the White House and had a meeting with them and basically trashed David and said something to the effect of, “He believes that the American dream is evil. The President’s going to be really mad when he finds out that you’re bringing in someone to speak at the prayer breakfast who believes that the American dream is evil.”

She was basically just undermining him and trying to stop him from being the one who was chosen to speak.

I think that was the most obvious example that I saw of the back biting that I experienced in the White House between staffers. It was really no different on the faith advisory council. Some of the individuals on the council really wanted to make sure that they were the only ones who got close to the President. They wanted to ensure that no one else came in and stole their access or spotlight away. This happened to the point that a pastor was willing to trash another pastor to keep them from having an opportunity, presumably, to preach the gospel in front of the President of the United States, his senior staff, and, frankly, the whole country. I was just really taken aback by that.

Unfortunately, I think these dynamics were a kind of social rule among the group. I don’t want to paint them all with a broad brush—I think there are people with good hearts and with good intentions who are trying to be a picture of the gospel in a place that can be totally devoid of it. They deserve credit and don’t deserve to be smeared. But, I did see a lot of things that made me very uncomfortable.

It’s sad to me that faith leaders were not immune to the side effects that proximity to power had on me and other people in the White House.

Read the entire interview here.  Another segment of this interview will be published soon.   (Thanks to Ed Stetzer for calling this interview to my attention).

Believe Me 3d

The Latest From Court Evangelical World

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Court evangelical Franklin Graham says he has never heard Donald Trump tell a lie.  When confronted with the fact that The Washington Post has counted over 8000 false or misleading phrases made by the president during his first two years in office, Graham responded: “Well, I don’t know how to reconcile that, because I don’t know.”

Read more here.  Franklin’s refusal to call out Trump out for his lies is the very definition of the kind of court evangelicalism I discuss in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

“It seems strange that a university would praise an employee for helping to rig online polls”

Liberty U

Inside Higher Ed is running a follow-up story on the Liberty University Chief Information Officer who accepted a bag of cash from Michael Cohen in exchange for rigging online polls to make Donald Trump look like a successful businessman.  We covered this here.

Here is a taste of Lindsay McKenzie’s piece:

Gauger did not respond to request for comments, but Liberty University released a written statement last week supporting him.

“Liberty University, like many other educational institutions, has permitted its employees for many years to engage in business, consulting and other side work that does not interfere with their employment obligations to the University,” it states. “Also, like other organizations, Liberty recognizes the strong demand for highly skilled IT professionals creates special challenges in recruiting and retaining talented employees with those skills and experience. The opportunity for Liberty’s IT employees to develop businesses and products is particularly important to attracting and maintaining Liberty’s IT talent. John Gauger is one example among many outstanding LU employees who have made great contributions in their official roles and also enjoyed success as independent entrepreneurs, allowing them to enhance their capabilities and generate more revenue for their families while allowing the University to retain them on our team.”

The university’s response surprised outside observers.

“It seems strange that a university would praise an employee for helping to rig online opinion polls,” said Tom Davenport, professor of information technology and management at Babson College, a private business school in Wellesley, Mass. “But Liberty University seems to me not a typical university in many respects — it is mostly an advocacy organization for evangelical conservatives and, more recently, Donald Trump.”

Davenport described the incident as “highly irregular on many fronts,” not only because of Liberty’s response but because Gauger was running a business on the side.

“That the CIO had a separate company is unusual in my experience, said Davenport. “Most CIOs in universities and elsewhere are plenty busy with their primary jobs and don’t have time to freelance even if their employers would allow it.”

Read the entire piece here.

This article contains quotes from several Chief Information Officers at secular institutions who say that what Gauger did was unethical.  Why doesn’t the leadership of a Christian institution understand this? When it comes to ethics, shouldn’t a Christian institution be setting the bar?

I also wonder if Falwell Jr. would have defended Gauger if he was working for Barack Obama or another Democrat? Is this just another example of situational ethics at Liberty University?

In most eras, the behavior of Gauger and Falwell Jr. would be embarrassing for Liberty University.  But not in the age of Trump.

A Former White House Staffer Reflects on the Court Evangelicals

Trump court evangelicals

Cliff Sims was an “obscure” White House staffer who has written what The Atlantic calls a “jaw-dropping Trump tell all.”  There is a lot to unpack in Sims’s new book Team of Vipers, but I was particularly interested in this passage on the court evangelicals from Elaina Pott’s review of the book:

Sims told me his aim in writing the book was not to scorch or, alternatively, deify the president. In large part, Sims said, it was a way for him to gain clarity and closure on how the experience changed him personally—and how he became, at many points, a person he didn’t like. Throughout the book, he calls himself “nakedly ambitious,” “selfish,” and “a coward.” He writes about his struggle to reconcile his Christian faith with working for a president who, for example, “totally lacked nuance” in his attitude toward refugees—particularly “persecuted Christians,” whom Trump “promise[d]” to help but “[never] did.” Sims writes that he took this concern at one point to Stephen Miller, who, he writes, told him, “I would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched America’s soil.”

Meanwhile, he writes, he “never heard any of the faith leaders who actually had access to Trump” press him on the issue. He describes Trump’s evangelical advisory board as a collection largely of televangelist adherents to the prosperity gospel, people he “doubted” were “positive moral and spiritual influence[s] on the president.” “When the president occasionally struggled … to unify the country on divisive cultural issues, the silence of his ‘spiritual advisers’ was deafening,” Sims writes. “What is the point of having moral authority, as all these advisers claimed to, if you don’t stand up for morality?

“But as is so often the case, when I point my accusatory finger at someone, I have three more pointing back at me,” he continues, writing that his “greatest regret” from his time in the White House was “that I wasn’t a better picture of my faith.”

Read the entire piece here.

Court evangelical Johnnie Moore, a man who promotes himself as one of the “world’s most influential young leaders” and a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” responds here.

The Metaxas-Milo Bromance

Eric Metaxas, the court evangelical, author, and radio host, recently had the controversial former Breitbart blogger Milo Yiannopoulos on his show to talk about the latter’s new book.  Check out Andrew Egger’s piece on the Metaxas-Milo bromance at Charlie Sykes’s conservative  website, The Bulwark.

Here is a taste:

What’s interesting is how quickly it becomes clear that Metaxas—although he has apparently read and enjoyed Diabolical—seems to be blissfully unaware of most of the more revolting moments in the Milo oeuvre. He genuinely seems to think that calling Leslie Jones names was the worst thing Yiannopoulos has ever done. After a Milo monologue about the importance of trampling the left’s “speech codes,” Metaxas offers some slight pushback: “You have done it admirably throughout your career in every nanosecond of your media appearances, but it’s only when you say something that a woman is ugly or looks like a man that I say, I wish you hadn’t said that.”

One can only assume Metaxas has never run across the media appearance in which Milo suggested that his biggest problem with Planned Parenthood is that their murdering black babies prevents him from the possibility of having sex with them twenty years down the road. Or when he said that “behind every racist joke is a scientific fact.” Or when he railed against women who reported unwanted sexual molestations: “Our parents’ generation would have turned around and said keep your fucking hands to yourself and moved on with their lives. They wouldn’t have gone in to university administrators and tried to destroy the guy’s reputation and life over it. It’s not that big a deal. Someone touched your tit. Get over it.” And that’s not even to mention Milo’s most infamous transgression, the one that lost him his book deal in 2017, when, in a radio discussion concerning the silliness of consent laws, he waxed eloquent about the psychological benefits of pedophilic relationships between young teens and older men—“those relationships in which those older men help those young boys discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable sort of rock, where they can’t speak to their parents.”

But don’t for a second think that Metaxas isn’t a paragon of virtue. Because he has a real problem with one thing about Milo—his swearing. “Now this book Diabolical, I have read it, I think it’s in many ways spectacular,” he informed his listeners. “But I want to caution my audience—there are words and things in this book that I cannot recommend . . . So I can’t really recommend this book in that way. But I think having you on my program says all that it needs to say.”

Read the entire piece here.

Conservative Evangelicals Defend Steve King and Want Kevin McCarthy to Apologize

King and trump

Perhaps some of you missed it.  Iowa congressman Steve King, in an interview with the New York Times, said this: “White nationalists, white supremacist, Western Civilization–how did that language become offensive?”

King later tried to back away from the statement, but it was too little, too late.  House minority leader Kevin McCarthy removed King from the House Judiciary and Agriculture Committees earlier this week and he was almost censured.  King’s remarks were the latest in a long career defined by racist and nativist comments.

Not everyone is happy with what McCarthy, the House Republicans, and Congress have done to King.  Right Wing Watch has brought to my attention news of a group of Christian Right leaders who are supporting King.  The group is led by Janet Porter, a Christian Right activist who served as the spokesperson for Roy Moore’s 2017 Alabama  Senate race.  Porter is asking Christian Right leaders to sign a letter to Kevin McCarthy.  Here is the text of that letter:
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Dear Leader McCarthy,

We are appalled that Republican leadership would choose to believe a liberal news organization famous for their bias over an outstanding member of Congress who has served the people of Iowa and the United States honorably and faithfully for 16 years.

If Congressman Steve King believed and stood by the outrageous misquote of the New York Times, then the actions taken against him would have been warranted, but the opposite is true.

Unlike North Korea, we in the United States are “innocent until proven guilty” and hold to the principles of Western Civilization, as Rep. King so admirably does. The foundational principle begins with the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are the principles to which Rep. King was referring and which he has championed for more than two decades of public service.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of turning the reins of the U.S. Congress over to the liberal media, allowing them to target, misquote, and falsely brand any member of Congress they wish to remove. 

We call on you to do the right thing as Minority Leader: issue a public apology and reinstate Rep. King to his committee assignments.  If we don’t stand with this good man against the media-manufactured assault today, none of us will be safe from it tomorrow.

The Christian Right leaders who signed this letter include:

  • The scandal-ridden former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
  • Court evangelical and family values radio host James Dobson
  • Court evangelical and charismatic media mogul Steven Strang
  • Paul Blair, president of an organization called Reclaiming America for Christ
  • Rick Scarborough, a conservative Southern Baptist political activist
  • Lance Wallnau, a court evangelical who claims to have prophesied Donald Trump’s election.
  • Rena Lindevaldsen, a law professor at Liberty University
  • Jim Garlow, a pastor and prominent court evangelical who recently co-authored a book with David Barton.
  • Cythnia Dunbar, a member of the Republican National Committee who is probably best known for trying to bring Christian nationalist ideas into American history books in Texas.  (She also claimed that Barack Obama, if elected POTUS, would work with terrorists to attack the United States within his first 6 months in office).
  • William Federer, a Christian nationalist known for collecting quotes about the founding fathers

I discuss Dobson, Strang, and Wallnau in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This letter may be more revealing for the people who DID NOT sign it, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Johnnie Moore,  Eric Metaxas, and other court evangelicals.

Hey Liberty University, This is What Happens When You Get Into Bed with Donald Trump and “All the Best People” Who Work for Him

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

A top-level administrator at one of the largest universities in the world rigged online polls to promote Donald Trump as a great businessman.  These polls were used to puff Trump in preparation for his presidential run.  Cohen paid John Gauger, Liberty University’s Chief Information Officer, to manipulate the polls in Trump’s favor.  Gauger claims that Cohen paid him between $12K and $13K in a blue Walmart bag.  (Cohen claims he paid with a check, but that’s not really the point here).  Cohen says that Donald Trump directed him to find someone who could rig the polls.

Lindsay Ellis of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

President Trump’s former top lawyer paid Liberty University’s chief information officer to manipulate online polls in an effort to raise Trump’s profile before his successful presidential campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The news shows a deeper relationship than previously reported between the president and employees of the university, a private Christian institution located in Virginia and led by Jerry L. Falwell Jr., a prominent Trump ally.

The Liberty technology administrator, John Gauger, also created a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, to promote the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, according to the Journal. “Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference,” the account’s description read on Thursday.

In one post reviewed by The Chronicle, the @WomenForCohen account shared a photo of Cohen, Falwell, and his wife. “Love to see good #Christian people on board the #TrumpTrain #Liberty #Trump2016,” the account wrote. The Journal reported that a female friend of Gauger operated the @WomenForCohen account.

Gauger told the Journal he had been paid by Cohen with a blue Walmart bag filled with $12,000 to $13,000 in cash, as well as a boxing glove once used by a Brazilian athlete. Cohen disputed that characterization, telling the Journal that Gauger had been paid by check, not cash.

Those previously unreported connections are the latest in a longstanding series of ties between Trump and Liberty. Trump has delivered multiple speeches at Liberty in recent years, including at a 2017 commencement. An administrator and Liberty students also produced a film about a former firefighter who said he had heard God say that Trump would be the next president.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of Liberty University and a prominent court evangelical, said that he knew Gauger was working for Trump, but claims he did not know the nature of the work.  Frankly, I find the latter claim hard to believe.  When it comes to Trump, Falwell seems to know just about everything that happens on his campus.  He refused to allow the student newspaper to run an anti-Trump story. He prevented anti-Trumper Shane Claiborne and others from coming on campus to pray.  And he forced an anti-Trump member of the Board of Trustees (and longtime Falwell family friend) to resign.  Falwell is thorough.  How could he have missed the fact that one of his administrators was rigging polls to try to manipulate the American public on behalf of the man who Falwell has described as the evangelical “dream president.”

When I read this story I decided to take a look at Gauger’s @womenforcohen Twitter account.  The tweets reveal that this Liberty University employee got into political bed with Michael Cohen and, by extension, Donald Trump.  As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is what happens when you get too close to political power  As you read these tweets, please recall that Cohen is going to jail for violation of campaign finance laws and the person responsible for the tweets is a senior administrator at Liberty.