What’s Wrong With This Picture? If You are a Court Evangelical, Absolutely Nothing.

Trump iN Dallas

Here is Trump at his rally tonight in Dallas talking about Turkey and the Kurds.  Yeah, sometimes you just got let them kill each other for a few days. Let the Turks have their way with Syrian Christians.  No big deal.  We’ll throw $50 million at the problem–that should appease the evangelical base.

What did the Dallas court evangelicals think about Trump’s blatant disregard for human life?  Apparently they loved it:

 

Is Jon McNaughton a “Court Evangelical” AND a “Court Artist?”

mcnaughton-Expose-the-Truth-e1526411583429

Actually, no.  He is a Latter Day Saint.

But here is a taste of Get Religion’s Douglas LeBlanc’s take on art historian Jennifer Greenhill’s recent Atlantic piece on pro-Trump artist Jon McNaughton:

Being described as a court anything to President Donald Trump qualifies as apostasy among his snarkiest critics. Consider, for example, historian John Fea’s frequent designation of “court evangelical” on his weblog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Greenhill, professor of art history at the University of Southern California, concentrates her remarks largely on painter Jon McNaughton’s full-barreled support of Donald Trump and his pointed depictions of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, even Woodrow Wilson.

I have lived through the past several years without realizing that McNaughton does so much to provoke the cultural left, including art critic Jerry Saltz of New York magazine. Saltz, as Greenhill mentions, called one McNaughton painting (of a glowering President Obama holding a burning Constitution) “bad academic derivative realism,” “typical propaganda art, drop-dead obvious in message” and “visually dead as a doornail.” (Props to the TV affiliate CBS DC for seeking his thoughts.)

Greenhill too quickly moves on from McNaughton being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (his attending Brigham Young University is one clue). This is the one church that teaches the most exalted perspective on the nation’s founding.

Consider Article of Faith #10 on the church’s website, Come unto Christ: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”

Read the rest here.

Thoughts on a Discouraging Weekend

bench-560435_1280-900x598

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Kind of Literature Can You Pick-Up at the Values Voter Summit?

Meadows

Here are a few of the exhibitors at the event.

American Association of Evangelicals: We wrote about one of its founders, Kelly Monroe Kullberg, here.

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: Court evangelical organization run by Franklin Graham.

Family Research Council: Home of Tony “Mulligan” Perkins.

Liberty Counsel:  Christian nationalist lawyers from Lynchburg, Virginia.  We wrote about them here.

The NRA

Regent University: Home of Christian Broadcasting Network and Pat Robertson

The Heritage Foundation

The John Birch Society: Learn about this organization here.

Wallbuilders: The organization run by David Barton, the GOP operative who uses the past to promote his present-day political agenda.

Liberty University School of Government

When you combine these organizations with the various speakers, you get a pretty good glimpse into the pro-Trump Christian Right.

Trump Will Speak at the Value Voters Summit on Saturday

Trump evangelical

Christian Broadcasting Network has the scoop.  Trump will join the following speakers at the Omni Shoreham Hotel: Gary Bauer, Bill Bennett, Sam Brownback, Sebastian Gorka, Dana Loesch, Mark Meadows, Eric Metaxas, Oliver North, Tony “Mulligan” Perkins, Dennis Prager, Steve Scalise, and Todd Starnes.

I was also interested to see that David Muselman, a student at evangelical Taylor University, will speak.  He defended Mike Pence’s visit to Taylor last May.

There are also a host of breakout sessions and breakfasts:

  • Columbia International University, an evangelical Bible school (formerly Columbia Bible College), will host a breakfast on Friday morning.  Speakers at this event will include CIU president Mark Smith and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.  You may recall that Smith was recently accused of covering-up his son’s sexual harassment when he was president of Ohio Christian University.  I have never known Columbia International University to be a such a politicized institution.  Smith appears to have taken it in this direction.
  • Todd Starnes will sign copies of his recent book in the wake of his firing from Fox News.
  • Other sessions include: “Speech, Sex, and Silenced Parents: The Darkening Landscape of American Education;” “Two Paths to Becoming a Young Conservative Influencer;” “Why Christians Should Support Israel;” “The Progressive Assault on Christian Freedom of Conscience;” “How Conservatives Can Win in 2020.”  If future historians want to see how evangelical Christians have influenced the Republican Party and vice-versa, they should read the proceedings of these sessions.

2 final comments:

  1. This will be a court evangelical-fest
  2. The evangelicals who attend this will return home very afraid.

Will the Court Evangelicals Break With Trump Over the Plight of Syrian Christians?

Syrian Christians

It is interesting to see how the court evangelicals have responded to the United States withdrawal and recent Turkish invasion of the Kurdish region. Many of Trump’s evangelical supporters are horrified that the president has now abandoned the Christian minority in the Kurdish region.

Christianity Today is covering it this way:

One Syrian Christian leader issued a plea to President Trump.

“Please, seek God, ask God before you make your decision, so that Christianity is not eradicated from Syria, and from historical Mesopotamia,” Bassam Ishak, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council Representation in the USA, told CBN News, following Trump’s February threat to withdraw US forces. “We don’t want a country where citizenship and rights are based on ethnic identities or religious identity. We want all Syrians to be equal.”

Ishak and his colleagues across faiths have received the support of the Family Research Council in the US. Tony Perkins, though an evangelical advisor to the White House, tweeted his opposition to Trump’s decision, warning it would “endanger the prospects of true religious freedom in the Middle East.”

His colleague Travis Weber, vice president for policy and government affairs, told the Christian Post that the region can serve as a safe haven, preventing the flight of the persecuted to Europe and the United States.“Not only will our withdrawal destabilize the region,” he said, “but it … signals to the world that we don’t care about the religious freedom they have built.”

Other American evangelical critics include Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson, who warned Trump risks losing “the mandate of heaven.” Senate Republicans Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham joined Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in condemning Trump’s move.

And the bipartisan US Commission for International Religious Freedom tweeted its “deep concern.” Trump responded to criticism by citing his “great and unmatched wisdom,” warning that if Turkey does anything off limits, he will once again destroy its economy.

US economic sanctions were part of his high-profile efforts to secure the release of pastor Andrew Brunson, held two years in Turkey on terrorism-related charges.

In Defense of Christians, a nonpartisan organization committed to the preservation and protection of Christians in the Middle East, expressed great concern about the future of Christians and Yazidis, but was encouraged by Trump’s threat.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is court evangelical Franklin Graham:

 

And then there is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Trump cabinet member who has invested a lot of his energies in the promotion of religious freedom.  Pompeo is defending Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria.  I wonder how Pompeo squares this with the following:

  • His October 3, 2019 meeting with Pope Francis to discuss the protection of Christian communities in the Middle East.
  • His October 2, 2019 participation in a Vatican symposium on religious freedom.
  • His creation of the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
  • His July 2019 speech on religious liberty to a meeting of the Christians United for Israel.
  • And we could go on.

Ralph Reed’s Forthcoming Book Claims That Evangelicals Have a “Moral Obligation” to Support Trump

Believe Me 3d

Politico is reporting that court evangelical Ralph Reed, one of the early architects of the Christian Right, has written a book calling for evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump.  Regnery Publishing, known for their conservative books, will release the book in April 2020.

As some of you know, I also wrote a book about evangelicals and Donald Trump. It is titled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpEerdmans Publishing will release the paperback in January 2020, three months before Reed’s For God and Country hits the shelves.  In this book I make the case that American evangelicals DO NOT have a moral obligation to vote for Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s piece at Politico:

One of Donald Trump’s most prominent Christian supporters will argue in a book due out before the 2020 general election that American evangelicals “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back” the president.

The book’s author, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, became a loyal foot soldier for Trump immediately after he nabbed the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — commanding hordes of white evangelical voters from his perch on the candidate’s religious advisory board to trust that the New York businessman would grow the economy, defend religious freedom and dismantle federal protections for abortion, if elected.

According to the book’s description, obtained by POLITICO, the original title for the book was “Render to God and Trump,” a reference to the well-known biblical verse, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The message from Jesus in Matthew 22, has been used in contemporary politics to justify obedience to government — or in the case of Reed’s book, to Trump.

Regnery Publishing confirmed the book’s existence but said the title is “For God and Country: The Christian case for Trump.” The publisher declined to comment on the reason for the title change.

In his book, Reed will “persuasively” argue evangelicals have a duty to defend the incumbent Republican leader against “the stridently anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and pro-abortion agenda of the progressive left,” according to the description.

He will also rebut claims by religious and nonreligious critics that white evangelical Protestants “revealed themselves to be political prostitutes and hypocrites” by overwhelmingly backing Trump, a twice-divorced, admitted philanderer, in 2016.

“Critics charge that evangelical Trump supporters … have so thoroughly compromised their witness that they are now disqualified from speaking out on moral issues in the future,” the description reads.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Do I Keep Repeating Myself?

Trump court evangelicals

Some might say I am obsessed with Trump and the evangelicals who support him.  Maybe that’s true.  But I keep writing and posting about Trump and the court evangelicals for a couple of reasons:

  1. I have written a book on the subject and I hope short-form writing might direct people toward my longer thoughts on the matter of Donald Trump and his evangelical supporters.  By the way, the book is titled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpThe hardback is available at most booksellers and the paperback, with a new epilogue, will be released by Eerdmans in January 2020.
  2. Fear, power, and nostalgia continue to define evangelical political engagement and I believe that such an approach is not Christian. If people stop bringing thus up, Trump’s behavior and the court evangelical defense of him might become normalized.

If you are tired of it all, feel free to change the channel.  I will not be offended.

What is Franklin Graham’s “Decision America” Tour All About?

In 1950, Billy Graham started a radio show called “Hour of Decision.” Cliff Barrows, Graham’s musical director, hosted the show.  It featured Graham sermons and usually ended with a call to make a “decision” to accept Jesus Christ as savior and be born-again.

Billy Graham’s sermons often included political commentary (usually something about the evils of communism), but when the evangelist talked about a “decision,” it was always meant in a spiritual context.

Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, is current on the road on a tour he is calling “Decision America.”  When a reporter asked Franklin “what is the question being decided?” by his tour,  he gave an answer that would have made his father proud:

If you can’t see the video in the tweet, here is a summary of what Graham says:

[By “decision” I mean] where do you stand before God.  Are you ready to meet Him…Life is coming to an end for all of us one day and are we ready to stand before God at that point.  I believe there is God.  He sent His son to die for our sins….The problems in this world is because of our sin of the human heart. So I hope many people will come.  I hope many people will put their faith and trust in Christ and they’ll have their lives changed forever.

But is this really what “Decision America” is really all about?  Is this tour just about the preaching of the Gospel?  We will have to see how the tour unfolds.

In the meantime, check out Alana Schorr’s Associated Press piece on Decision America’s Greenville, North Carolina stop.  The piece does not say that Graham used his platform to preach politics explicitly, but I think Schorr’s is right when she suggests that when Graham makes reference to the “trouble” our country is facing, he is probably referring to the Democratic attempts to impeach Trump.  It is hard to understand this in any other way in light of Graham’s court evangelicalism.

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Rev. Franklin Graham did not utter the word “impeachment” as he spoke to thousands of Christians here this week, the latest stop on a long-running tour he has dubbed Decision America — a title with political and religious undertones.

But evangelicals who turned out to see Graham didn’t necessarily need his warning that “our country is in trouble” in order to tap into their deep-rooted support for President Donald Trump during an intensifying political crisis hundreds of miles north in Washington.

“I do feel like we are, as Christians, the first line of defense for the president,” Christina Jones, 44, said before Graham took the stage. Trump is “supporting our Christian principles and trying to do his best,” she added, even as “everybody’s against him.”

The impeachment furor is the latest test of Trump’s seemingly unbreakable bond with conservative evangelical Christians. Trump suggested this week that the peril of impeachment would only cement his ties to that voting bloc, which helped propel him into office, and supporters who have stood by him through accusations of sexual assault and infidelity see no reason to back away from a president they view as unfairly beleaguered.

Frances Lassiter, 65, dismissed Democrats’ pursuit of a case against Trump as “all a bunch of crap” designed to push him from office.

Read the entire piece here.

Metaxas: If you are an evangelical who did not vote for Trump “you don’t have a lot going on upstairs”

Start watching this at 10:46 minute mark:

I have never heard of this guy Doug Giles, but he apparently hosts a podcast called “Warriors and Wildmen.”  He also writes books.  Here are a few of his titles:

Pussification: The Effeminization of the American Male (White Feather Press)

Raising Righteous and Rowdy Girls (White Feather Press)

Rise, Kill, and Eat: A Theology of Hunting from Genesis to Revelation (Liberty Alliance Press)

Raising Boys Feminists Will Hate (White Feather Press)

The Bulldog Attitude: Get It Or Get Left Behind (Self-published)

A Time to Clash: Papers from a Provocative Pastor (Townhall Press)

As you can see from the above video, Giles is a “tough guy.”  He will no doubt kick your ass in the name of Jesus.  🙂

In this video, Metaxas discusses Giles’s recent book, Would Jesus Vote for Trump?  Of course the answer to the question in the title of his book is “DAMN YES!”

Some takeaways:

  • Giles says that “Trump’s policies, from a biblical standpoint, if you run them in particularly through the sieve of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I’d say if you’re a Christian and you really take your Christian world view seriously, he’s your best buddy from a political standpoint.”  Has Giles read the Gospels?  I’ve heard a lot of evangelicals quote the Old Testament (Isaiah 45–Cyrus) or even the Pauline Epistles (Romans 13) to defend Trump, BUT THE GOSPELS?
  • Giles’s remarks allow Metaxas to once again play the victim and chastise his fellow Christians for refusing to vote for Trump.  If you did not vote for Trump, Metaxas says, “you don’t have a lot going on upstairs.”  He adds: “your faith is very shallow” and is irrelevant to “real life.”  Finally, he says that anyone who did not vote for Trump was driven by emotions and not “biblical thinking.”
  • Giles says that God has used sinners like Trump to carry out His will in the past. He references David’s sin with Bathsheba and David’s Psalms of repentance.  Fair enough.  But let’s remember that David DID repent of his sins. And he and Israel had to live with the consequences of this sin. Read all of the Old Testament history books.  The story is not pretty.
  • Notice how both Giles and Metaxas display their arrogance (or at least their lack of humility) by claiming to know God’s will as it relates to Trump and politics in general.  Their sense of certainty is the mark of a fundamentalist.
  • Metaxas is under the impression that anti-Trump Christians don’t like the president for something he did “fourteen years ago.” Even if we give Trump a “mulligan” (to use court evangelical Tony Perkins’s phrase) for his past sins, what about his present behavior: the lies, the racist statements, the misogyny, the manipulation of his office for political gain, etc., etc., etc.?  (By the way, Giles defends Trump calling women “dogs.”  This seems to be consistent with his book about raising sons who feminists will hate and his other book on “pussification”).
  • Metaxas makes an attempt to compare Trump’s statements to Jesus and John the Baptist

OK–I’m done.  Watch it for yourself.

My Piece Today at Religion News Service: “Trump’s evangelicals bewail a ‘civil war’ while still profiting from the last one”

Trump Jeffress

Here is a taste:

But Jeffress also seemed to forget another important point about American civic life in his civil war comment. The United States, after all, had a real Civil War, in which over 600,000 lives were lost.

Did the country heal after this war?

The United States still exists, implying that some healing certainly took place. But the war also left us with some open wounds. The war brought an end to slavery, but it did not bring an end to the racism upon which slavery was built.

These wounds are still open and Jeffress’ own First Baptist Dallas, with its long history of segregation, has contributed to keeping them open. His congregation was built upon a Civil War fracture that has not yet healed. Under his leadership, it has failed to confront its long-standing commitment to racial injustice in any meaningful way.

We don’t need to fear a new civil war. Instead, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, we still need to bind the wounds of the old one. The impeachment and removal of Trump will be a step toward the ongoing work Lincoln called us to do.

Read the entire piece here.

Todd Starnes, the Fox News Radio Host Who Gave a Platform to the Court Evangelicals, is Out

Starnes and Jeffress

Former Fox News radio host Todd Starnes often referred to court evangelical Robert Jeffress as the official chaplain of his Right-Wing radio program.  Just recently, Jeffress appeared on Starnes’s program and said that Democrats worship the Old Testament god “Moloch, who talks about child sacrifice.”  Starnes responded by saying “I believe that.”  Read all about Jeffress’s appearance here.

Starnes was fired today.  Apparently these comments were even too much for Fox News, although an article at The Wrap suggests that the firing was in the works well before the Moloch incident.   It will be interesting to see how Jeffress will respond.  How can he blame the liberal mainstream media for firing Starnes?

And here is an even more interesting question: Will Jeffress, another employee of Fox News, be next?

But before we leave this story, let’s reflect on some of the memorable Todd Starnes-Robert Jeffress-court evangelical moments that we have covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  • Jeffress tells Starnes that 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg needs to look at a rainbow and read Genesis 9.
  • Jeffress supports Donald Trump’s view that no good Jew can vote for a Democratic candidate.
  • Starnes defends Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tweet telling McLean Bible Church pastor David Platt to “grow a pair.”
  • Richard Land tells Starnes that Trump was the “lesser of two evils” in 2016 and adds that Hillary Clinton will always be the “greater evil” in any election in which she runs “unless she is running against Lucifer.”
  • Starnes describes Christians who oppose patriotic worship services “so-called evangelical Christians.”  Jeffress calls Christianity Today “fake news.”

Religious News Service Talks to Franklin Graham About Impeachment

Trump Graham

The court evangelical Franklin Graham remains loyal to Trump amid the House of Representative impeachment inquiry.  Today Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service spoke with Graham.  Rather than addressing the fact that the President of the United States called a foreign power to tell him to dig up dirt on the president’s political rival, Graham did what most court evangelicals do when Donald Trump is trouble. First, he changed the subject.  Second, he engaged in fear-mongering.

Instead of addressing the problems with Trump’s phone call, Graham described it as a “distraction” and called for the investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden.  Actually, it is Graham who is doing the distracting here.

Graham also told Shimron that he is concerned that Hunter Biden is using cocaine.  See what the court evangelical is doing here. The mention of cocaine is a dog whistle. Graham is betting that no conservative evangelical would ever vote for a candidate whose son uses cocaine. Shame on Graham!  No pastor or true evangelical leader would relish in the fact that Hunter Biden has struggled with drug addiction.  Graham is sacrificing Christian charity and compassion for political gain.

Here is a taste of Shimron’s piece:

Graham’s defense of the president echoed that of fellow evangelical Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, who has warned of a potential civil war if the House votes on impeachment and who has accused Democrats of worshipping the pagan god Moloch.

Sounding the alarm about a nation in peril is a tried-and-true evangelical strategy, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

“I’ve argued this has been a typical part of evangelical political engagement for centuries — fear mongering,” said Fea. “You can’t make an argument to support what the president did on his phone call with the Ukrainian president. So what do you do? You play the traditional game of instilling fear in the electorate so they will see us falling off the cliff as a nation and this apocalyptic language will convince them they have to vote for Trump again in 2020.”

Read the entire piece here.

Sometimes I wonder if this kind of loyalty to corrupt presidents is part of the Graham family DNA.  As Shimron notes in her piece, Billy Graham (Franklin’s father) also stood behind Richard Nixon to the very end.  Here is Billy Graham biographer Grant Wacker:

Graham possessed boundless admiration for Nixon.  In the 1968 contest between Nixon and Senator Hubert Humphrey, as in the 1960 race between Nixon and Kennedy, Graham did not issue a formal or explicit endorsement of Nixon, but he made no attempt to camouflage his views either.  One week before the election the press reported that Nixon’s name was on Graham’s absentee ballot…

The relationship continued to thicken….Honor Billy Graham Day in Charlotte on October 15, 1971, won another visit from the president.  Some felt that Nixon’s remarks about Graham that day crossed the line from honor to adulation.  Less than a month before the 1972 presidential election, Graham declared on the Merv Griffin Show: “Nixon is the most able and the best trained man for the job probably in American history.  In an election year that divides people…I [have] to be honest.

These events form the context in which Graham’s reaction to Nixon’s role in the Watergate controversy should be framed.  The details of the low-level crime and high-level mendacity that led to Nixon’s impeachment and forced his resignation in August 1974 have been rehearsed many times and need not detain us.  The crucial point is that Graham continued to defend Nixon long after most Americans smelled a rat.  When the first hint of something amiss came to light in 1972, Graham dismissed it as pettifogery.  He pointed out that illicit undercover behavior was no stranger to the White House.  Through 1972 Graham allowed that the Watergate events themselves were troubling but insisted that Nixon had nothing to do with them.  As late as December he privately assured Nixon of his personal affection and “complete confidence in your personal integrity./”  Graham maintained that posture through January 1974.

Finally, on April 29, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee received 1,200 pages of transcripts of Oval Office conversations.  They showed that Nixon had participated in the cover-up virtually from the outset.  The transcripts also showed Nixon’s capacity for vulgarity and profanity.  Graham finally muscled up the courage to start reading New York Times excerpts in the middle of May. “The think that surprised me and shook me most was the vulgar language he used…I felt physically sick.”   Elsewhere Graham admitted to weeping and throwing up.  Graham biographer Marshall Frady said Graham attributed Nixon’s fall to “sleeping pills and demons.”  Graham insisted he was misquoted. But he was prepared to say that “all of Watergate was demonic because…it caused the American people to lose confidence in its institutions….almost as though some supernatural power of evil was trying to destroy this country.

Graham’s reference to Nixon’s language left many journalists and historians appalled. They felt Graham had proved incapable of distinguishing between the minor issue of cussing and the major one of undermining the government.  On the face of it they were right….

Graham’s entanglement with Nixon marked a turning point.  Until 1974 Graham had tumbled more and more rapidly into the vortex of partisan politics.  When Nixon crashed, his muddy reputation soiled Graham’s.  The Nixon years represented the bottom of Graham’s slide.  Graham acknowledged that Nixon’s magnetism had clouded his judgment.  In 1993 he would say, simply, that his friendship with Nixon had “muffled those inner monitors that had warned me for years to stay out of partisan politics.  He urged young evangelists to avoid his mistake…

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress is Getting Desperate

You can sense the fear and anxiety in Robert Jeffress’s voice.  He is speaking with more urgency.  He is getting louder.  The fearmongering is growing.  The pastor of the First Baptist Church is doubling-down on his “civil war” comments he made Sunday on Fox News and he is trying to scare conservative evangelicals with his apocalyptic language.  Yesterday he was back on the Todd Starnes Show on Fox News.  Watch:

A few things worth highlighting quickly:

  1. Jeffress calls Trump a Christian “warrior.”
  2. Jeffress says: “If the Left gains control of this country again our nation is finished.”
  3. Jeffress is now mocking Nancy Pelosi’s call to pray for the county with a baby-voice imitation.
  4. Jeffress says that the Democrats worship both a “god of their imagination” and the Old Testament god “Moloch, who talks about child sacrifice.”
  5. Jeffress still has not addressed what Trump did in the phone call to the Ukrainian president. So far, it appears that the court evangelicals defense of Trump in this season of impeachment inquiry boils down to them going on Twitter and conservative media outlets yelling “The Left! The Democrats! Socialists! Civil War!”

Expect the culture war to heat-up in the next few months.

And for more Jeffress coverage, check out Robert Wilonsky’s piece at The Dallas Morning News.

One more point.  Jeffress has been everywhere lately.  He is on Fox News, CBN, and talking to reporters.  When does he carry-out his pastoral role at First Baptist–Dallas? Are members of his congregation concerned that their pastor, charged with the spiritual care of the congregation, is a political pundit?

What Franklin Graham’s Recent Tweet Really Means

Believe Me 3d

Court evangelical Franklin Graham recently tweeted the following:

 

Here is the way Trump-supporting evangelicals read Graham’s tweet:

“Our nation seems to be unraveling in hatred.”  Democrats hate America and their actions toward Trump are precipitating the collapse of the United States as a Christian nation.

“There are forces….” The Democrats behind impeachment are working for Satan, seeking to undermine America’s Christian identity.  (“Forces is very often linked to demonic activity in evangelical-speak).

“pray for this country…”: Pray that Donald Trump will not be impeached and God will intervene to protect His anointed one.

What is a “court evangelical?”  See Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

The Chief Court Evangelical Weighs In on Impeachment

Last Friday The Washington Post published my piece titled “How evangelical leaders surrounded Clinton during the last presidential impeachment process.”  In that piece I wrote:

In his memoir, Clinton specifically mentions Campolo and MacDonald as two of three pastors he asked to counsel him for at least once a month for an indefinite period. (The third pastor was Philip Wogaman, a Methodist.)

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Yesterday on Fox and Friends, we saw one of Trump’s court evangelicals, Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, make me look like a prophet.  Watch:

As we all know by now, Trump was watching Jeffress on Fox News and decided to take the pastor’s counsel and run with it on his Twitter account:

Trump has learned a lot from his court evangelical counselors.  Perhaps most importantly, he learned how to fight a more aggressive culture war.

Jeffress remarks deserve a bit more analysis.  Some thoughts:

  1.  Jeffress seems to be making his pro-Trump political position the only conduit through which God hears our prayers.
  2. Jeffress says that Nancy Pelosi’s call to pray for the nation “reminds me of a pyromaniac with a match in hand about to set fire to a building saying ‘please pray with me, but the damage I’m about to cause isn’t too severe’. If you’re really sincere about that prayer then put down the dang match.” Of course Jeffress is incapable of seeing how he has been the “pyromaniac” of pyromaniacs since Trump announced his candidacy.  His divisive rhetoric has contributed to the fire raging in our nation and the church.
  3. Jeffress is angry and passionate.  He often behaves this way when he gets on his political high horse for Fox News.  This, after all, is why they pay him to go on television.  I imagine that Jeffress thinks he is exhibiting righteous anger.  But all I see is a deeply bitter and fearful man who has allowed politics to transform him and his character.
  4. Jeffress says that this week he has been traveling around the country speaking to “literally thousands and thousands” of evangelical Christians. “I have never seen them more angry over any issue,” he says ‘than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 election, and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.”  First, if Jeffress is correct when he says he has never seen evangelicals more angry over “any other issue,” then what does this say about American evangelicals or the kinds of evangelicals he hangs out with?  Heck, Trump separated parents and kids at the border! Or lets take one of Jeffress’s favorites: babies are being aborted in the womb.  Are these cases not worthy of more evangelical anger than an impeachment?  Second, there is no way that Jeffress would be able to solicit the beliefs of thousands and thousands of evangelicals in a week of travel.  Having said that, he is probably right to suggest thousands upon thousands of evangelicals are upset (see my previous point).  Third, impeachment is in the United States Constitution.  It is not an “illegitimate” way of removing the president from office.  Fourth, the United States House of Representatives, the congressional body responsible for impeachment, is made up of men and women who were elected by the people.  In the 2018 midterm elections, the people of the United States gave the Democratic Party a majority in the House.  There is no illegitimacy here.  Congress is a co-equal branch of government woth the power to impeach.
  5. Jeffress says “the only impeachable offense” Trump committed was “beating Hillary Clinton” in 2016. Notice how Jeffress tries to rile-up the base here with his slick and deliberately vague talking points.  This is fear-mongering 101.  At no point in this interview does Jeffress come face-to-face with the reality of what Trump did on that phone call with the president of Ukraine.
  6. And then the punch-line: “If the Democrats are successful at removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”  First, this is the kind of appeal to fear that I wrote about extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Second, as historian Kevin Kruse has already pointed out, “Trump can only be removed through impeachment if two-thirds of the Senate votes to remove him. To do that, 20 Republicans would need to join the 45 Democrats and 2 Independents. Removal would be bipartisan. Framing it as some kind of civil war isn’t just dangerous. It’s dumb.”  Third, I want to encourage history teachers to debate Jeffress’s Civil War comment in their classrooms.  Jeffress seems to forget that the United States had a real Civil War in which over 700,000 lives were lost.  Did we heal?  Well, that’s up for debate.  The United States still exists.  So I guess some healing took place.  On the other hand, the racial backlash that came with this largely white “healing” process is still with us today.  In fact, Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Church of Dallas is partially responsible for why the open wounds of race and slavery still need more healing.
  7. Jeffress says that evangelical Christians need to “act” by calling their representatives and telling them to support Trump.  He quotes Daniel 11:32: “The people who know their God will stand firm and take action.”  This verse is part of a larger passage in the Old Testament book of Daniel that mentions Jews standing up for the “holy covenant” between God and Israel after a Syrian invasion.  These Jews stood firm and took action to defend this covenant.  By invoking this verse in this context, Jeffress is once again implying that evangelical Christians, like the Jews before them, need to stand up and defend their chosen status.  We can trace this “New Israel” language back to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first group in America to claim to have an exceptional or covenantal relationship with God.  Jeffress is engaging in Christian nationalism here.  The Bible does not teach any kind of special relationship or “covenant” between God and the United States of America.

Expect more of this from the court evangelicals in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Today’s Piece at *The Washington Post*: Clinton’s Evangelical Advisers vs. Trump’s Evangelical Advisers

Clinton I have sinned

A taste:

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Read the entire piece here.

Robert Jeffress: Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg Needs to Look at a Rainbow and Read Genesis 9

Here is court evangelical Robert Jeffress on 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg:

“God said he created the environment to serve us, not for us to serve the environment. This Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old, she was warning today about the mass extinction of humanity. Somebody needs to read poor Greta Genesis chapter 9 and tell her the next time she worries about global warming, just look at a rainbow; that’s God’s promise that the polar ice caps aren’t going to melt and flood the world again.”

Watch Jeffress and Fox News radio host Todd Starnes compare climate change to the Tooth Ferry and Big Foot.

Robert Jeffress: Climate Change Is an ‘Imaginary Crisis’ That God Won’t Let Happen from Right Wing Watch on Vimeo.

Right Wing Watch cuts off the video there, so I can’t say if there is any additional context beyond this that might nuance what Jeffress and Starnes are saying about climate change.  But I doubt it.

I am also guessing that Jeffress believes that the world is flat, the earth is the center of the universe, and that God created the world in seven literal 24-hour days.

Here is the video of Thunberg at the United Nations:

“How dare you!”