Evangelicals Have Suddenly Become More Forgiving of the Sins of Elected Officials

First_Baptist_Church_of_Dallas,_TX_IMG_3043

First Baptist Church–Dallas

Hmm….  I wonder what explains this?

Back in 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) asked voters if “an elected official who commits and immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”

In 2011, evangelical Christians were the least forgiving.

In October 2016, when PRRI asked the same question, evangelical Christians were the most forgiving.  In other words “white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.”

PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones calls this “a head-spinning reversal.”

I’m not sure how “head-spinning” this is.  Seems pretty par for the course.  Just ask Dr. James Dobson and Dr. Wayne Grudem.

Read all about it in this piece at The New York Times.

Court Evangelical: “God is not necessarily an open borders guy”

jeffress

Robert Jeffress says that Christians who support DACA (including the signers of this letter and Pope Francis) err on the side of compassion.  The court evangelical who is often found standing at the immediate right hand of the POTUS claims that God is not an “open borders” guy.

In this Fox News interview, Jeffress says that Christians are “confused about the difference between the church and government.”  For Jeffress, “government’s real responsibility is to protect its citizens.”

The interviewer, Ainsley Earhardt, concludes the interview by saying, “It’s tough because the Bible does tell us to honor our authorities, to follow the rule of law, to follow all of the laws–and the laws are clear in this situation–but also have compassion for others. So it is a tough topic.”  Jeffress responds with a hearty “yes” to this statement.

Though Jeffress does not mention it in this interview, his idea of government seems to arise from his interpretation of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, chapter 13.  Here is the pertinent part of that chapter:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Does anyone know where I can find a book or article or sermon where Jeffress develops his theory of government or interprets Romans 13?  Every time he mentions this text he sounds like he is an 18th-century Loyalist invoking Romans 13 in opposition to the American Revolution.  I wonder if Jeffress would go so far to say that the American Revolution–a rebellion against the God-ordained governing authorities of England–would have been carried out in violation of this biblical principle.  I wonder if he would agree, for example, with evangelical pastor John MacArthur‘s conclusion that “the United States was actually born out of a violation of New Testament principles, and any blessings God has bestowed on America have come in spite of that disobedience by the Founding Fathers.”  Somehow I don’t think he does.

Court Evangelical: Trump “100 percent is a Christian who understands repentance.

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

One of the court evangelicals appeared over the weekend at the Religion News Association conference in Nashville.  She had a lot to say about the POTUS.  Here is a taste of Emily McFarlan Miller’s reporting at Religion News Service:

White also said that Trump “100 percent is a Christian who understands … repentance,” though, as his pastor, she said she wouldn’t divulge what he has repented for.

And in response to a question from freelance religion reporter Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, she said there “absolutely” is a line Trump could cross that would cause her to criticize him publicly, though she also would not say what that line might be.

“Yes, there is a line with the president, or any line that if I felt was in extreme violation, I would publicly criticize,” she said. “We tend to privately criticize and publicly stay together because I believe that’s how within a family, within church, within leadership, that is how things should be handled.”

Read the entire piece here.

I also see from the photo at the RNS site that Johnnie Moore, the fellow court evangelical, self-proclaimed Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and public relations guy, is standing by White’s side as she gets grilled by reporters.

What Some Non-Court Evangelicals are Saying About the Court Evangelicals

Donald_Trump_delivers_remarks_at_the_Liberty_University (1)

Should Christians be advising Donald Trump?  Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut has collected responses to this question from court evangelicals and evangelicals who do not have access to the court.

Here are some of the non-court evangelical responses:

Gary Burge, visiting professor at Calvin Theological Seminary:

Pastors need to weigh the difference between beneficial access to a troublesome leader and endorsement by association. On the one hand, such access—if it is making a difference—may be important and valuable. This is when a prophetic voice could be heard or where truth-to-power is present. But such associations are also seductive. Our motive for them may not be clear even to us.

In addition, troubling leaders can cross a line where rejecting any association is itself a prophetic act. And pastors need to ready for that as well. Some pastors might revisit the context of the Barmen Declaration in 1930s Germany. Not because 2017 is paralleled by 1934, but because those pastors’ discernment and courage is parallel. In that case the pastoral voice needed to be heard in public outside the halls of power.

Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center:

There’s no off-the-shelf answer when it comes to knowing exactly what counsel Christians should give wayward political leaders. It depends on facts and circumstances, so they have to rely on wisdom, good judgment, and spiritual maturity. It’s helpful to keep in mind the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who said the church should be the conscience of the state and never its tool. That’s especially the case when it comes to associating with a political leader who acts in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with a Christian ethic.

The perennial danger facing Christians is seduction and self-delusion. That’s what’s happening in the Trump era. The president is using evangelical leaders to shield himself from criticism; and they, in turn, are dressing up their manipulation in spiritual garb. Evangelicals with moral wisdom and spiritual discernment should disassociate themselves from a man who is using them in ways that discredits the public witness of Christianity.

Ben Witherington, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary:

The sinners and tax collectors were not political officials so there is no analogy there. Besides, Jesus was not giving the sinners and tax collectors political advice—he was telling them to repent! If that’s what evangelical leaders are doing with our President, and telling him when his policies are un-Christian, and explaining to him that racism is an enormous sin and there is no moral equivalency between the two sides in Charlottesville, then well and good. Otherwise, they are complicit with the sins of our leaders.

Dwight McKissic, Southern Baptist leader and pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, specifically on what advisers should say regarding Charlottesville:

Mr. President, we respect and support your commitment to place conservative judges on the Supreme Court; but we disagree with your Charlottesville commentary regarding there being “fine people” among the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” march. We disagree with your position that those protesting people are just as evil as the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. … Please repudiate your Charlottesville comments or we will be forced to repudiate you. We respect you and the Office of the President, but we do not respect your Charlottesville comments.

Read Shellnut’s entire piece here.

The Court Evangelical Spin on DACA

Trump court evangelicals

Believe it or not, the court evangelicals have managed to spin this entire DACA fiasco in their favor.

According to Heather Sells’s article at Christian Broadcast Network News, court evangelicals Tony Suarez, Jentezen Franklin, Bishop Harry Jackson, and Johnnie Moore are patting themselves on the back for speaking “truth to power.”

It seems the court evangelicals believe that they were influential in convincing Trump to wait for six months before he deports 800,000 children of immigrants who came into the United States illegally.  It seems the court evangelicals are optimistic that Congress will get its act together and pass legislation that protects the DACA recipients.

Here is a taste of Sells’s piece:

Evangelicals on the President’s informal faith advisory board believe their access to the White House made a difference in protecting young immigrants from an immediate end to what’s known as the DACA program.

Rev. Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), told CBN News Tuesday, “I feel like our work on the faith advisory council is vindicated today…this is precisely why we joined way back in the campaign last year because we felt if we had access to this office, if we had access to this man we needed to speak truth to power, believing that at some point God would touch, God would convict and there would be compassion for children.”

Members of the president’s faith advisory council met with him and White House officials on Friday and discussed DACA as well as other political priorities. Council member Bishop Harry Jackson attended and told CBN News he thinks the board helped to make a difference for Dreamers–as those in the DACA program are often known. “The evangelical church had the president’s ear,” he said calling the six month extension “an extreme act of mercy.”

I understand the argument, but is this really speaking truth to power?  Are these court evangelicals really patting themselves on the back for placing nearly 1 million Americans in a state of constant anxiety about their future?  Will the DACA recipients be gone in six months–deported to the countries of their birth? (The video below suggests that the Department of Justice has already told them to start packing).  Will they get a reprieve from Congress?  Is Trump so wed to his anti-immigration/law and order base that he is incapable of showing empathy for these people?  And then, to top it all off, he tweeted last night that he might revisit DACA if Congress does not come through.  Is he for DACA or against it?  If he will revisit it in 6 months why not revisit it now?  Where is the presidential leadership here?  Lead, Donald.  Please lead!

I don’t know what role the court evangelicals played in this whole situation, but I find it hard to believe that any evangelical would be happy with the results.  Once again Barack Obama has driven the court evangelicals off the moral playing field.

Watch this video:

 

“All the President’s Clergymen”

Trump_Prayer_090117_HD1080_img_408081The reporters at Religion News Service–Adelle M. Banks, Emily McFarlan Miller, Yonat Shimron, and Jerome Socolovsky–have produced the best piece on the court evangelicals to date.  The article is based on interviews with many of the prominent court evangelicals, as well as scholars and pundits who have been monitoring the comings and goings of Trump’s evangelical advisers.

And I am happy to have contributed to it.

Here are some things I learned from reading “All the president’s clergymen: A close look at Trump’s ‘unprecedented’ ties with evangelicals“:

  • Court evangelicals “fumbled with their iPhones go get them selfie-ready as they made their way to the oval office.”
  • Court evangelicals claimed to be “overwhelmed” by their encounter with the POTUS, although it is not clear if they were overwhelmed by the POTUS himself or the “Holy Spirit.”
  • There is no formal “Evangelical Advisory Council.”  Some court evangelicals are not sure if they are part of the group or not.  Others claim they have had up to a dozen meetings with Trump since he took office.
  • The court evangelicals do not want to be part of something formal.  A formal council would come with “certain legal ramifications.”
  • Despite what the court evangelicals say in their public statements, they have had very little impact on policy decisions.
  • The churches associated with the National Council of Churches (mainline Protestants, Orthodox, and historically black denominations) have been “frozen out” of the Trump administration.  The same is true of Muslim and Sikh religious groups.
  • The court evangelicals are divided over the degree to which they influenced the transgender ban on soldiers in the military.

Sebastian Gorka and “Courtier Culture”

Gorka

I like the way Michael Vlahos, a professor of strategy and war at Johns Hopkins, uses the idea of “courtier culture” to describe the role that Sebastian Gorka played in the Trump White House.  Reminds me a bit of the court evangelicals.

Here is a taste of his piece at The American Conservative

The courtier culture in Washington, the imperial city, is not recognized for what it is. It is sensed by all, while called out by none. Yet the courtier culture is the managing class for all foreign and domestic policy, and the lubricant of all palace intrigue. The invidious intimacy of the courtier ethos was curiously laid bare in the Aug. 25 exit of a loud anti-courtier courtier: Sebastian Gorka.  

Was ever such a short-lived, minor retainer like Gorka accorded such an extravagant send-off? True, he was fêted in rebuke rather than bon mot, yet the farewell remains, notwithstanding, a tribute of a kind. I am sure Gorka feels insulted and injured, and not without cause. Yet his departure actually represents something of an achievement.

Courtiers with larger followings and longer legs, after all, found him profoundly worthy of insult, and surely, their need to inflict injury is a mark, however unintended, of deep respect. All those bilious column inches expended on a man of little influence and zero role in the intrigues of palace chambers! How does that happen?

Read the rest here.

A Court Evangelical Backs Trump’s DACA Decision

It looks like Trump is doing away with the DACA program.

300 evangelical leaders support DACA and urged Trump to keep the program.  These include religious leaders associated with the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, World Relief, and World Vision.

Court evangelical Pastor Mark Burns is not one of these evangelical leaders.  As Warren Throckmorton noted today, Burns has tweeted in support of Trump’s decision to end DACA.

Make America Great Again.

Where are the Court Evangelicals Tonight? (DACA)

Donald Trump threw another bone to his base today by announcing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  Read about it here.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman offers some nuance:

So far, the only court evangelical who has said the ending of the DACA program is unjust and unChristian is  Samuel Rodriguez.  I hope that Rodriguez used his unprecedented access and “God-given assignment” to rebuke the president for this decision.  I hope he did everything in his power to change Trump’s mind.

So far the rest of the court evangelicals have been silent.  Apparently 300 religious leaders urged Trump to keep the DACA program, but I have not been able to find a list of those leaders.  I will be surprised if there are any court evangelicals on the list apart from Rodriguez.

In the video below, court evangelical Robert Jeffress praises his own prayer in the White House last week as part of the most disturbing display of court flattery I have ever seen.  Where was the discussion of DACA at this meeting? Why didn’t the court evangelicals use their access to the Oval Office to defend these helpless children of immigrants who may soon be deported?  This, it seems to me, is a pro-life issue.  These kids may be ripped from their families and sent to a foreign country to live.  Yet the court evangelicals preferred a photo-op and a round of flattery.  I hope Jeffress will be praying for the 800,000 men and women who will be deported when and if the DACA program is ended.

 

Evangelicals Defend the Dreamers

Dreamers

Obama and Biden meet with Dreamers in Oval Office

There are evangelical Christians and there are evangelical Christians.  The evangelicals covered in Kate Shellnut’s Christianity Today piece want to defend the Dreamers.  Trump is on the verge of deciding what to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Here is a taste:

In response to a threatened September 5 lawsuit by 10 conservative state attorneys general, the President is expected to soon tighten or terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed 800,000 “Dreamers” over the past five years to work and attend school without the threat of deportation.

Among them are many young church leaders. Hispanic Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics in evangelicalism, surging in Pentecostal and Assemblies of God traditions as well as among Southern Baptists, where a majority of new church plants are now non-white.

“Open the door,” Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC), told fellow believers this week. “Perhaps they’re the next missionaries that you’re opening the door for.”

Dreamer Juan Garcia, a campus pastor at the University of South Florida, wouldn’t have his diploma or his ministry position without the Obama-era program. “DACA was one of the doors God used to make him an Assemblies of God Chi Alpha missionary,” Salguero said.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, including leaders like National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Leith Anderson and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president Russell Moore, wrote the President and congressional leaders this week to tell them that Dreamers are “leading in our churches and our communities” and to “find solutions that allow these young people to stay in our country long-term and continue to be a blessing to our communities.”

Read the rest here.  What role are the court evangelicals playing on this issue.  Who, beyond Samuel Rodriguez, is whispering in Trump’s ear?

The Court Evangelicals on Display

Here are the court evangelicals on display:

I have no problem with Trump issuing a declaration of prayer.  Presidents have been doing this for a long time.  And the good people of Houston need as much prayer as possible.

But it was hard for me to watch Trump go around the room, ask individual faith leaders to say something flattering about his spirituality and his handling of Harvey, and then watch them oblige.  This is what court flattery looks like.

As historian Peter Burke puts it in his book The Fabrication of Louis XIV:  “…some courtiers and some writers sang the praises of Louis for the sake of their own careers, hitching their wagons to the sun.” (p.12).

When I see photo-ops like this it is hard for me to believe that the court evangelicals are speaking truth to power.

Today I told one of my classes that the culture wars is ultimately about how one understands American history.  Notice Gary Bauer in this video talking about “turning back” to God, the Christian roots of the country, and the “shining city on a hill.”

Robert Jeffress praises Trump as a healer of our nation and invokes the phrase “Make America Great Again” in his prayer.  Let’s remember that “Make America Great Again” is ultimately a historical statement.

*The Weekly Standard* on Court Evangelicals and Other Evangelical Supporters of Trump

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

Grant Wishard, writing at the conservative Weekly Standard, does a nice job of summarizing the evangelical support of Donald Trump in the wake of Charlottesville.

Here is a taste:

Back when Trump’s travel ban was in the news, evangelicals made headlines when the PRRI conducted a study of religious groups between May 2016 and February 2017, measuring support for Trump’s executive order limiting travel from several Muslim-majority countries. During that time, support for the ban declined across every religious category, except among white evangelicals: 55 percent supported the ban in May, 61 percent supported the ban in February. Pew research published a similar study in February and found that 76 percent of white evangelical protestants favored the ban, more so than any other Christian group.

Lest these numbers be blamed on the group’s fringe, Pew has also reported that Trump’s support was strongest among evangelicals who attend church most frequently. Among those who attend church at least monthly, 67 percent “strongly approve of Trump” as opposed to 54 percent of those who “attend less.”

Many evangelicals voted for Trump in opposition to Hillary Clinton. They voted strategically, and the bargain has paid off in some key ways. The polls show that evangelicals (three-quarters of whom are white) are the most politically conservative churchgoers in the country, and remain the president’s staunchest supporters. It is equally true that the vast majority of evangelicals hate racism, but inevitably share some of the concerns (identity politics, illegal immigration, radical Islamic terrorism) that fuel white supremacy. None of this should be a surprise. Evangelicals know they made a deal with the devil, but will lose all sympathy if they treat Trump like a friend. Unless post-Charlottesville poll numbers register some loss of support for Trump, the connection between racism and religion will become all the more persuasive.

Read the entire piece here.

Laura Turner: The Backlash Against Joel Osteen is Part of a Larger Anti-Evangelical Spirit in the Age of Trump

Lakewood

I think it is probably fair to say that Joel Osteen could have done a better job in responding to Hurricane Harvey.  Because of his prosperity preaching and wealthy lifestyle he gets hammered by just about everyone other than his Lakewood Church parishioners and his television audience.  When a disaster like Harvey hits Houston, and Osteen fumbles the ball, he is going to get nailed.  I am glad to see that he has finally mobilized Lakewood Church.

As Laura Turner writes at BuzzFeed News, a lot of the criticism of Osteen is part of a larger criticism of evangelicals in the Age of Trump.  I don’t count Osteen as one of the so-called court evangelicals.  As far as I know, he has stayed out of politics.  But his prosperity preaching certainly makes him an honorary court evangelical in the minds of most critics.  For many, Osteen represents the spirit behind the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.  They care about the Supreme Court and the culture wars, but they won’t open their churches to flood victims.

Here is a taste of Turner’s piece:

The backlash against Lakewood Church, and the resentment fueling it, ties into a larger national narrative around the hypocrisy of politically involved evangelical leaders who helped put Donald Trump in office. American evangelicalism in the last four decades has been an increasingly politicized movement, rooted in many ways in the establishment of the Moral Majority, a political action group whose very name declared its concern with rectitude and character. Yet evangelicals are more often known for what they are against — abortion, same-sex marriage — than what they are for. More and more, prominent evangelicals seem to be folding conservative politics into their belief system.

Evangelical leaders like Dinesh D’Souza and Eric Metaxas have devolved into self-parody under the Trump administration. Metaxas, who wrote a best-selling biography of the theologian and World War II martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, now tweets about hosting Sebastian Gorka on his radio show and wrote an op-ed about why Christians must vote for Trump. Dinesh D’Souza was a policy adviser for Ronald Reagan and wrote a well-regarded book on Christian apologetics before he launched his career as a pundit railing against Barack Obama, and eventually spent time in jail for making illegal campaign contributions under other peoples’ names. D’Souza tried to return to relevance with a 2013 infomercial for his friend’s artificial Christmas tree, and just this week was retweeted by Donald Trump when he shared a Washington Post article claiming that left-wing demonstrators were the true source of violence at a Berkeley rally.

Criticism of white evangelicals has reached a fever pitch with the Trump administration, and not without reason. A recent PRRI/Brookings poll asked whether a politician can behave ethically in office even if he has committed immoral acts in his personal life; the results showed that “no group has shifted their position more dramatically than white evangelical Protestants,” who went from 30% affirmation in 2011 to 72% in 2016. This practice of changing the rules in service of political expediency drives others — Christians and non-Christians alike — to censurewhite evangelicals, especially those who espouse virtues like chastity out of one side of their mouths and use the other side to support the policies of a groping, thrice-married opportunist who once claimed he has never needed to ask God for forgiveness.

It is also true that there can be a kind of glee with which some people rush to assume the worst about evangelicals and prosperity gospel Christians. “Joel Osteen gets it from both sides,” says Kate Shellnutt, associate editor at the flagship evangelical magazine Christianity Today. “Plenty of Christians criticize him for offering what they see as shallow, self-help faith, for not preaching enough on sin. Then non-Christians or former Christians will see him as a prime example of their concerns about the church: that it’s too flashy, money-focused, selfish.”

Kate Bowler, an associate professor at Duke Divinity School and the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, has observed similar attacks on Osteen and argues that he is misunderstood: “Joel Osteen is not the flashy money-grubber that people imagine when they think of a prosperity preacher,” she says. He is an encouraging pastor, Bowler says, but people want to believe that his enthusiastic persona must be a cover for underlying greed and evil.

A storm as severe as Harvey, with all the pain and desperation it brings, puts any pre-existing criticisms of Osteen and his brand of religion into even sharper relief. Bowler says, “In the face of a natural disaster, the prosperity gospel lacks a language with which to account for problems that cannot be remedied by individual faith.”

Read the rest here.

Of course there is another, more accurate, way to understand evangelicals and Hurricane Harvey.  From what I have seen and heard, evangelical churches and ministries have mobilized to bring relief to the suffering and the displaced.  Many of these churches do not associate with Osteen’s brand of prosperity Christianity.  I am confident that stories will emerge showing evangelical Christians at their best, living out the Gospel in the midst of Harvey.  And some of these evangelicals may have even voted for Donald Trump.

A Court Evangelical Defends Himself

Rev.-Samuel-Rodriguez-289x300-289x300Last weekend we did a post on court evangelical Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.   Yesterday, in a published interview with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Rodriguez defended his role as an evangelical adviser to Donald Trump.  I am sure he had no problem hitting the softballs that CBN tossed his way.

Here is a taste of Heather Sells’s article:

 

Rodriguez says Trump was wrong to not immediately call out white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville but defended his involvement on the board as “my God-given assignment.”  He said those calling for his resignation from the board are largely inconsistent.

“Where was that argument ‘why don’t you abandon,’ why don’t evangelical advisors abandon Obama when he affirmed and celebrated and advanced the cause of same-sex marriage?  Where was the uproar when Obama expanded/funded Planned Parenthood, funded international abortions?” he asked.

Rodriguez characterized the board as one that gives “very straight talk” to the president.  

“I’ve never been in a conversation where the faith advisory board is silent.  This is not a rubber stamp board,” he said.  “It’s a board that’s committed to the centrality of Jesus and biblical truth.”

Read the entire piece here.

Rodriguez seems to be a careful court evangelical.  For example, he does not say that Trump is the most faith-friendly president in American history or a “dream president” for evangelicals.  He has defended the DACA program, but he has been silent about the pardon of Joe Arpaio.

But I wonder: Is being a court evangelical a “God-given assignment?”  I have no idea. Rodriguez’s evangelical faith is a bit different than mine.  I am hesitant to be so bold about what God is calling me to do.   I guess I have a view of God informed more by mystery than certainty.  I also wonder if Rodriguez would say that ministers could have a “God-given assignment” to oppose Donald Trump?

Rather than mounting a defense of court evangelicalism based on solid biblical teaching, orthodox theology, or even church tradition, many of the court evangelicals seem content to just say that God called them to serve the POTUS in this capacity.

The “Court Evangelicals” in the Pulpit

Arch Street

I am glad that my work on the court evangelicals is finding its way into churches. Thanks to Rev. David Krueger of the historic Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia for referencing my work in yesterday’s sermon.  Read it here.

I have spoken at Arch Street United Methodist Church (though not on Sunday morning). It is a progressive congregation doing good work in engaging the city of Philadelphia.  I am sure my views on the court evangelicals resonated with much of the congregation.

I am not sure what a sermon on court evangelicals (or something similar) might look like in an evangelical congregation.  I sympathize with pastors who are opposed to Trump, but don’t want to divide their congregations.  Today I appreciated the way my pastor, without delving into politics, talked about the church’s role in having a prophetic voice in the culture and the importance of speaking truth to power when necessary. Other pastors might be more overt. Others less so.  It probably depends on the congregation.

Whatever the case, I hope the church does not cease to be the church in these times of great political and cultural change.

Trump Lawyers: The President’s Religious Liberty Executive Order Does Nothing

Johnson Amendment

This signing accomplished nothing

I and others have been saying this since Donald Trump signed the order in May.  Now Trump’s lawyers are finally admitting it.  Here is a taste of Derek Hawkins’s piece at The Washington Post:

President Trump promised a new world for the religious when he signed an executive order in May purporting to make it easier for churches to engage in politics without losing their tax-exempt status.

“You’re now in a position to say what you want to say,” he told religious leaders at a Rose Garden signing ceremony. “No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”

But many religious activists and experts on the relevant law said the order didn’t do much of anything, that it amounted to a symbolic gesture with little chance of shaking the status quo.

Now, the Trump administration’s own lawyers have essentially taken the same position.

On Tuesday, Department of Justice attorneys defending the order argued in court that it doesn’t change any existing laws or alter any policies to benefit churches or clergy. Rather, they said, it merely tells the government not to take any punitive action against religious groups that it wouldn’t take against other tax-exempt organizations.

“None of the remarks made by the President suggest that the Executive Order grants an exemption to religious organizations while denying the same benefit to secular organizations,” DOJ lawyers wrote in a brief filed in U.S. District Court in Madison, Wis.

The order targets a provision in the tax code known as the Johnson Amendment that bars churches and other tax-exempt groups from speaking on behalf of political candidates. Trump vowed on the campaign trail to destroy the Johnson Amendment, and his executive order was billed as a fulfillment of that pledge.

But the prohibition is seldom enforced by the IRS and is widely disregarded by clergy. As a result, critics have called Trump’s order meaningless.

“It’s irrelevant, it’s offensive, it’s ignored by churches anyway,” conservative Christian scholar Robert P. George of Princeton University told The Washington Post after the signing ceremony in May. “He got enthusiasm in return for getting nothing.”

Looks like the court evangelicals have more work to do.

The Arpaio Record

Arpaio

The Phoenix News Times has been covering Joe Arpaio for a long time. For those of you have not been following this guy’s career, the paper has tweeted some of the highlights. And yes, this is the guy who Donald Trump pardoned last night.  It was a message to his base and an endorsement of what you can read in the tweets below.

So far the court evangelicals, including Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, have been silent.

Court Evangelical Samuel Rodriguez Steps Up to the Plate

SamuelRodriguez-a

The website of Samuel Rodriguez, the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, lists several accolades he has received in the last five years

  • “40 People Who Radically Changed The World”–Charisma Magazine, 2015
  • “101 Most Influential Leaders” —Latino Leaders Magazine 2015 and 2017
  • “Top 100 Christian Leaders in America”–Newsmax, 201
  •  Nominated as one of the “100 most influential people in the world,” TIME, 2013
  • “10 White & Brown MLKs of Our Time”–Black Christian News, 2013

Let’s add one more honor: “Court Evangelical, 2017″

I must admit I am a bit baffled by Rodriguez’s recent interview with James Randall Robison (son of court evangelical James Robison) at the Christian website “The Stream.”

Read the interview here.

A few thoughts:

Rodriguez says:

President Trump has a commitment and it’s not just rhetoric: He really wants to make America, in his terms, “great again.” He really wants to reinforce the values that made it exceptional: God over man, man over government. That powerful value, that rights are given by God. Number two, limit the government. The more government grows the more man’s personal liberties are cast aside, and our dependency becomes on government, not on our own God-given abilities.

I find it very interesting that a person of color like Rodriguez would be endorsing the phrase “Make America Great Again” in the way he does here.  The United States is a republic.  I am not sure what Rodriguez means when he says that to “make America great again” is to “reinforce” the “value” of “God over man.” It is also ironic that a court evangelical is lamenting the fact that Christians and Americans generally have become dependent on government to accomplish their goals.  Court evangelicals like Rodriguez rely on access to government power and victories in political elections to bring change. They want a strong central government so they can use it promote their moral values.

Rodriguez says:

President Trump is a businessman. He is not a polished politician. I have not agreed with every single word that has come out of President Trump’s mouth. At all. Neither did I agree with President Obama. But I respected the office when President Obama was in office, and I prayed for him daily. And I honored him in deed. I took it personal when people would say “We’re not even praying for this President. There is no way we can even ask God to bless this President.” I find that to be anti-Christian.

When are the court evangelicals and other defenders of Trump going to stop excusing the President’s bad behavior because he is a “businessman” and not a “polished politician?” Trump is now the President of the United States.  He has been in office for over seventh months.  There has been no change.

I should also add that Rodriguez is right when he says that Christians should be praying for Donald Trump.

Rodriguez says:

With President Trump there are a number of things that he has stated, maybe a couple of tweets, a number of tweets, his articulation regarding certain issues have not been as nuanced or as compassionate as I would have framed it.

I am starting to see the difference between the court evangelicals and the evangelicals, like myself, who oppose Trump.  The court evangelicals start with the premise that Trump is a good, faith-friendly POTUS with some minor flaws.  Yes, he sometimes screws-up with his tweets and rhetoric, but at his core he is a fine man and a finer president.  On the other hand, I start with the premise that Trump is immoral, corrupt, has mostly bad policies, is unfit for office, is an anti-intellectual, and is largely bad for America.  And yes, on rare occasions he does something right.

Finally, Rodriguez challenges the identity politics thinking of the day that tells him he is a “Latino” before he is a “Christian.”  I am sympathetic to this critique of identity politics. But unlike Rodriguez, I am not sure Donald Trump, the man who rode white identity politics to the Oval Office, is the best man to champion if you are concerned about this issue.

Court Evangelical Richard Land Stays With Trump

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Richard Land, the controversial Southern Baptist leader who recently boasted that the court evangelicals have “unprecedented access” to the White House, told Bruce Henderson of the Charlotte Observer that he has no intention of resigning from his position as an evangelical adviser to Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of Henderson’s piece:

A Charlotte-area evangelical leader said he won’t resign from a Trump administration advisory council despite discomfort with President Donald Trump’s comments on the Aug. 12 violence in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead.

Trump came under fire for blaming “many sides” for the clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters. Two days later, the president explicitly condemned racism and the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, said in a statement Thursday that Trump’s initial comments were “inartful and begged to be misconstrued and misunderstood in ways that are very hurtful to people.”

But Land said he’ll continue to serve on the president’s Evangelical Faith Advisory Council, saying “Jesus did not turn away from those who may have seemed brash with their words or behavior.”

“A leader presented with the challenges that President Trump is facing needs counsel and prayer from Bible-believing servants now more than ever,” the statement said. “Now is not the time to quit or retreat, but just the opposite – to lean in closer.”

Read the entire article here.

“Lean in closer.”  I understand the logic and I might even agree with Land if I thought that the court evangelicals were there to rebuke Trump in the way that the Old Testament court prophet Nathan rebuked King David.  But so far, apart from a Supreme Court order and a useless executive order on religious liberty, the court evangelicals have had little influence on this reckless POTUS.  In fact, after his recent Arizona speech this week one could argue that he is getting worse.

Johnnie Moore Explains His Role As A Court Evangelical

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I had never heard of Johnnie Moore before he became a court evangelical, but according to his own website he is “a modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer” and one of “the world’s most influential young leaders.” Yesterday he defended his court evangelicalism in a piece at Religion News Service (RNS).  Read it here.

I appreciate Moore’s desire to pray for the POTUS and provide spiritual counsel.  In fact, most of his RNS piece makes him sound like he is some kind of White House pastor.  Let’s assume for a moment that this is true. If Moore is serving as one of Trump’s spiritual guides, what is he doing to address Trump’s endless lies, his constant failures of character, his destructive tweets, and his willingness to make a moral equivocation between white supremacists and the people protesting white supremacy?  I imagine that many of his followers may want to know this.  What kind of counsel is Johnnie Moore and the rest of the court evangelicals giving Donald Trump? Either their supposed “access” is little more than what former court evangelical A.R. Bernard described as a mere “photo-op,” or they are giving moral instruction to Trump and he is just ignoring it. This POTUS is not growing morally.  Instead, his moral compass is getting more skewed by the day.  Did you see him in Arizona on Wednesday night?

Trump has a track record of using people to get what he wants–usually power and adulation–and then discarding them.  If history is any indication, he is using the court evangelicals in the same way.  Trump is playing them, just like Richard Nixon played Billy Graham. Why do these court evangelicals, who I presume have a robust view of human sin, suddenly become optimistic about human nature when it comes to this particular POTUS?

Moore writes:

Yet, rather than discussing Charlottesville’s tragedy sensibly, we lapsed into vicious and judgmental rhetoric with no room for discussion. The president’s press conference was insensitive and some in the press editorialized their coverage of it. Most Americans didn’t watch the whole thing from beginning to end. Yet, everyone had an opinion. It was an important discussion begun at an inappropriate time in an inappropriate venue.

Then, America invested all her energy into fighting herself rather than healing herself, and as spiritual advisers to the White House we were numbered among those especially targeted.

It all reminded me of a few phrases I used to teach my students to prod them to think more deeply, discover the reasons for belief, and to not allow themselves to get too comfortable in their own preconceived notions. I provoked them to seek understanding and not simply to form opinions. I told them “not every reason has merit but everyone believes what they believe for a reason” and “everything is always more complicated than it seems.”

First, what would it mean to discuss the “Charlottesville tragedy sensibly?” What is the “discussion” that Moore want to have when a bunch of white supremacists march into town with lit torches chanting Nazi rhetoric?

Second, Moore engages in his own version of moral equivalency.  He suggests that there is a moral equivalence between the president’s “insensitive” press conference and those in the media who called the POTUS out for suggesting there were many “fine people” on “both sides” in Charlottesville.

And why does Moore only criticize the media?  Why not talk about the business leaders who took a moral stand by resigning from the POTUS’s manufacturing council?  Why not bring up the growing number of GOP leaders like John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Bob Corker, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, who condemned the President’s remarks. What about conservative columnists like Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson? It wasn’t just the so-called “liberal” press who “editorialized.”

It is time for the court evangelicals to get a moral backbone.

Remember when Nathan said to King David “thou are the man?”

Or think about the Old Testament judge Samuel.  When God was angry with King Saul for his disobedience, He sent Samuel to rebuke the King.  Samuel “cried to the Lord all night,” presumably because he did not want to upset the King, but the next morning he obeyed God and confronted Saul.

It is not until the next to last paragraph of his RNS piece that Moore explains what he actually does with his “seat at the table.”  Apparently he is there for more than just prayer.

You only make a difference if you have a seat at the table. There is a long list of progress we have made with this administration because we took our seat at the table. We’ve provided consequential feedback on policy and personnel decisions particularly affecting religious liberty, judges, the right to life and foreign policy. We are also actively at work on issues like criminal justice reform, and when we’ve disagreed, we’ve had every opportunity to express our point of view.

So is Moore in the King’s court as a pastoral counselor or a policy adviser?

If the latter is true, what does a Liberty University graduate who served as a travel assistant to Jerry Falwell, worked for television producer Mark Burnett (also the producer of The Apprentice, I might add), and now runs a Christian PR firm, have to say on matters of federal judges, criminal justice reform, and foreign policy?  What kind of credentials do any of the court evangelicals have in these policy matters? What kind of advice are they giving the President in these areas?  What is their agenda? How does their agenda relate to building the Kingdom of God and their role as ministers and people concerned about the advancement of the Gospel?  Why do they feel like they need to accomplish their agenda through the pursuit of political power?