Who is Jay Sekulow?

Sekulow

The New York Times is profiling the lawyer who will be leading Trump’s impeachment defense.  Read it here.

Now allow me to add a few things to this profile based on our work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

First, Sekulow has strong court evangelical connections.  He was (and still may be) friends with Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma Magazine, a Christian magazine that represents Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in the United States.  Many of the so-called evangelical “prophets” who think Trump is the new King Cyrus are regularly featured in Charisma. (See our section on Strang and Independent Network Charismatics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump). In 2005, Time named Strang one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”

In 1989, Strang was editing Charisma and Sekulow was a thirty-two-year old lawyer coming out of bankruptcy.  Somewhere around May 1, Strang gave Sekulow a copy of Oral Roberts’s latest book How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor.  Roberts, of course, was the controversial Pentecostal televangelist and president of Oral Roberts University.  Here is a taste of the dustjacket of How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor: “Christians today commonly believe that Jesus was poor.  And they believe that God wants them to be poor, too.  Oral Roberts says nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus was not poor, and He wants Christians to prosper in every way, including financially.”  Strang wrote a short message to Sekulow on the first blank page of Roberts’s book.  It read: “This book is a little different in its approach.  But after you read it, I’m sure you’ll agree he has some unique insights into what the Bible says about this important subject.”

oral-roberts-1

This is exact copy of the book Strang gave to Sekulow

oral-roberts-2

So perhaps you are wondering how I got this book.  Read this post to find out.

Second, Sekulow, who mostly handles religious liberty cases, has done very well for himself.  (Perhaps Oral Roberts and the prosperity gospelers were right).  In a June 28, 2017 post I suggested that “defending religious liberty is good for business.”  According to a 2005 article in Legal Times, Sekulow used over $2.3 million from a nonprofit organization he controlled to buy two homes and lease a private jet.

And here is a taste of a 2017 article on Sekulow from The Guardian:

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.

“I can certainly understand how that would make it difficult for you to share a gift like that right now,” they told retirees who said they were on fixed incomes and had “no extra money” – before asking if they could spare “even $20 within the next three weeks”.

In addition to using tens of millions of dollars in donations to pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms, Case has also been used to provide a series of unusual loans and property deals to the Sekulow family.

Attorneys and other experts specialising in nonprofit law said the Sekulows risked violating a federal law against nonprofits paying excessive benefits to the people responsible for running them. Sekulow declined to detail how he ensured the payments were reasonable.

“This is all highly unusual, and it gives an appearance of conflicts of interest that any nonprofit should want to avoid,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a Chicago-based group that monitors nonprofits.

The Washington Post also covered this story.

Third, Sekulow jams with John Elefante (former of Kansas front man) and John Schlitt (former lead singer of the Christian rock band Petra) in a group called The Jay Sekulow Band.  Watch them cover the Doobie Brothers’s “Jesus is Just Alright”:

 

Eric Metaxas Vs. Every Bonhoeffer Scholar in the World

Metaxas

In the last week or so we have called your attention to stories about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  First, there was Stephen Haynes’s “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump.” And then there was this post: “International Bonhoeffer Society Calls for Ending of the Trump Presidency.”

Eric Metaxas, a court evangelical and Christian radio host who recently made a very flawed “Christian case for Trump” at the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, has written a biography of Bonhoeffer that has been much celebrated in the conservative evangelical community.  It has also been panned by scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of Bonhoeffer, including the members of the International Bonhoeffer Society.  But that hasn’t stopped Metaxas from claiming that he, and he alone, has written the only truly accurate portrayal of the German pastor who opposed Hitler.

Here is what he tweeted in response to a Sojourners article discussing the aforementioned statement from the International Bonhoeffer Society:

The culturally marxist academics who hijacked Bonhoeffer’s legacy for fifty years — until the 2009 publication of my biography — and who unconscionably pushed a profound misreading of his thinking & theology, are at it again. Feel free to guffaw.

This sounds like the kind of tweet Trump might write.  “The Marxists have hijacked Bonhoeffer and I only I can fix it!”

Warren Throckmorton has this covered at his blog.  Read it here.

Deconstructing the MAGA Church Video

Watch (again):

The Lincoln Project, a GOP anti-Trump group headed up by George Conway (Kellyanne’s husband) and Rick Wilson, produced the video.

0:00 to 0: 16: This is from the recent “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami.  We discussed this event here.

0:17 to 0:22:  This is court evangelical Robert Jeffress praying for Donald Trump at a 2017 day of prayer in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Paula White also prayed.

0:23 to 0:25: Candidate Trump telling pollster Frank Luntz that he has never asked for forgiveness.  This is also the event where Trump said, “When I drink my little wine–which is the only wine I drink–and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness….”

0:26 to 0:29: Trump says “why do I need to repent, why do I need to ask for forgiveness.”  This is from a Trump interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN during the early days of the campaign in 2015.

0:30 to 0:33: This is court evangelical Paula White praying at a June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.

0:34 to 0:35: This is Trump telling CNN’s Abby Phillip that she “asks a lot of stupid questions.”

0:36 to 0:40: This is former GOP congresswoman Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota claiming in the Spring of 2019 that “I have never seen a more biblical president than I have seen in Donald Trump.”

0:41 to 0:42: This is Paula White praying at a June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.  She is asking God to “remove every demonic network” from the anointed one.

0:43 to 0:44: This is Trump telling CNN reporter Jim Acosta in November 2018 that he is an “enemy of the people.”  He also called him a “rude, terrible person.”  Earlier in the year, court evangelical Lance Wallnau said Acosta was a “demon.”

0:44 to 0:47: Paula White again in  the June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.  This is the second half of the “every demonic network” line above.  White prays that if there is a demonic network working against Trump,  “let it be broken, let it be torn down, in the name of Jesus.” Spiritual warfare language was pretty common  the during the impeachment inquiry.

0:48 to 0:49: This is a clip from prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland‘s show “Believers Voice of Victory.” Copeland’s son-in-law, George Pearsons, says “here is the Republican platform.” Paula White is also a guest on the show.

0:50 to 0:52: Trump engaging in blasphemy at a September 2019 rally in Baltimore.

0:53 to 0:54: Robert Jeffress on the Lou Dobbs show saying “if Trump is not re-elected.”

0:55 to 0:57:  George Pearsons of Kenneth Copeland ministries (see my comments at the 0:48 mark above) saying “the Word of God.”

0:58 to 1:01: Back to Jeffress on Lou Dobbs.  He finished the line he started at the 0:53 mark: “If Trump is not re-elected… there will be a backlash against people of faith like we cannot imagine.”  In this interview Jeffress says that Pete Buttigieg “doesn’t have a clue” about what the Bible says and defends Trump’s border wall.

1:02 to 1:07: George Pearsons from the 0:48 and 0:55 mark asks “where do you stand.”  This is followed-up by Trump’s claim that he “could stand on the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

1:08 to 1:12: Paula White says, “I want a man who stands for righteousness.”  This line is juxtaposed with Trump saying he’d like to punch a protester in the face at a February 2016 rally.

1:13 to 1:16: This comes from Trump’s arguments with the Pope in the first half of 2017.  In February the Pope said “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.”  Trump responded on Facebook: “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS…I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would never have happened.”  This picks up again at the 1:20-1:21 mark.  Needless to say, it is pretty clear that Pope Francis is no fan of Donald Trump or his administration.

1:17 to 1:19:  Back in the Oval Office for the day of prayer following Hurricane Harvey.

1:22 to 1:25:  Robert Jeffress saying that the Pope needs to “seek Donald Trump’s forgiveness.”  This happened in February 2018 on the Sean Hannity Show.  Here is the quote:

Sean, I think the Pope needs to ask Donald Trump’s forgiveness for making such an outlandish statement. I want to remind our listeners that it was exactly one year ago this week that 21 Coptic Christians’ had their heads chopped off by ISIS on a Libyan beach and then ISIS said, “we are coming to Rome next.” The Pope ought to think through that very seriously. And the fact that we have a candidate like Donald Trump who wants to protect America, that’s not unbiblical. The Pope is confused between the role of the Church, which is to show compassion, and the role of government, which is to uphold order and to protect its citizens. And I want to make a prediction. I think the Pope has succeeded in doing what no other man on Earth could do, and that is creating a martyr in Donald Trump.

1:26:  Donald Trump calling Ted Cruz “a pussy” in February 2016.

1:27: Franklin Graham in January 2018 telling CNN’s Don Lemon that God put Trump in the office of the presidency.  Franklin Graham comes across looking very foolish in this interview.

1:28 to 1:29: This is Trump speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama in September 2017.  He is talking about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.  He said: “wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.’”

1:30 to 1:32: More Paula White in Orlando.  Here she is praying that for the “angel of the Lord” to “encamp around and about” Trump.

1:33 to 1:34:  Back to Michelle Bachmann.  This is the former Minnesota congreesswoman and former GOP presidential candidate in an August 2016 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.  The full quote: “But I also see that at the end of the day God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump who was going to be the nominee in this election.”

1:36 to 1:39: Paula White: “to say no to Donald Trump would be saying no to God.”  Watch the entire video here. Pick it up around the 34:00 minute mark (White also says that Trump “is a huge history buff.”  Wow, that’s new).

1:40 to 1:41:  This is another cut from Trump’s interview with Frank Luntz at the Iowa Family Leadership Conference in the summer of 2015.  Luntz asked Trump if he had ever asked God for forgiveness.  Trump responded: “I don’t think so.  I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right.  I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t”

1:41 to 1:48 and 1:53: Robert Jeffress on Fox News citing Romans 13 as a biblical mandate for Trump to bomb North Korea. The full quote: ” And I wanted to clarify that I believe the Bible, especially Romans 13, does give President Trump moral authority to use whatever force necessary, including assassination or even war to topple an evil dictator like Kim Jong Un.”  Romans 13 has been used a lot by pro-Trump evangelicals to justify many of his policies.

1:49 to 1:50: Trump at a 2015 campaign rally saying he  is going to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS.

1:51 to 1:52: Paula White hawking her book Something Greater. Here is the full quote: “There is a department of treasury in Heaven, which says God is watching over everything you do and you are storing up eternal treasure that will go so far beyond what we can even imagine…you need to send in $3,500; you need to send in $35,000; you need to send in that 100,000 check.”

1:54 to 1:55: This is Buddy Pilgrim on Kenneth Copeland’s show “Believers Voice for Victory.” He points to the Bible and says, “this book right here will tell you how to vote.”  Prior to getting aboard the Trump train he was the National Director for Faith & Religious Liberty for the Ted Cruz presidential campaign.

1:56 to 1:57:  This is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network.  In this interview he said he believes that Trump is a new Queen Esther. We wrote about this interview here.

1:58 to 1:59:  A clip from the Access Hollywood tape.

2:00: Jerry Falwell on CNN in March 2018 telling Erin Burnett that Trump “has had a change of heart.”  Falwell is defending Trump in the wake of the Stormy Daniels affair.  Here is the entire interview.  Falwell was also on Burnett’s show in January 2018.

2:00-2:01: Trump at a 2019 rally in Michigan. Here is the full quote: “The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit.” He is referencing the Mueller Report.  Trump use of vulgarity in January 2018 prompted me to write a post titled “Are Court Evangelicals More Concerned With Trump’s Vulgar Language or the Racism Behind It?

2:03 to 2:11: More clips from prosperity preacher Paula White asking for money.  She tells her audience that if they don’t send her money they will never see “sustainment” in their lives and their dreams will die.

2:12 to 2:16:  Televangelist Jim Bakker says that support for Trump is a mark of one’s eternal salvation.  This is from January 7, 2020.

2:25 to 2:26:  Trump claiming that he is “the chosen one.” This was Trump in August 2019.  The context is a little more complicated.  Trump said he was “chosen” to “take on China” in trade.  Others have called Trump “The Chosen One,” including former Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump”

 

 

Eric-Metaxas-Graphic-TBN

Stephen Haynes is the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  He is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholar and author of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship  in the Age of Trump (Eeerdmans, 2018). In this book, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Today Eerdmans has published the postscript to The Battle for Bonhoeffer.  It is titled “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support TrumpSome of you may recall that Eric Metaxas recently published an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal under the title “The Christian Case for Trump.”

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Your embrace of Trump is eerily reminiscent of German Christians’ attachment to Hitler in the early 1930s. I make this point not to convince you that Trump is Hitler but to remind you of the troubling ways Christians have compromised themselves in endorsing political movements in which they perceived the hand of God. I developed a scholarly interest in the churches’ role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist the wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants.

Being familiar with this history, I have been struck by how reminiscent many of your responses to Trump are of the way Christians in Germany embraced a strong leader they were convinced would restore the country’s moral order. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Christians in Germany let themselves be persuaded that Hitler was a deeply pious man, placed in power by God through a graceful act of intervention in German history. Hitler encouraged these ideas not by claiming any allegiance to Christ but by employing vague religious language, promising a return to the “good old days,” and posing for photographs as he left church, prayed, and entertained ecclesiastical leaders.

Here are a few examples of how Protestant Christian leaders in Germany spoke about God’s role in Hitler’s accession to power:

• “With National Socialism an epoch in German history has begun that is at least as decisive for the German people, as for example the epoch of Martin Luther.”
• “No one could welcome January 30, 1933 more profoundly or more joyfully than the German Christian leadership.”
• “Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God became the framer of German destiny and the liberator of our people from their spiritual misery and division.”
• “[Hitler is] the best man imaginable, a man shaped in a mold made of unity, piety, energy and strength of character.”
• “[Hitler], the most German man, is also the most faithful, a believing Christian. We know that he begins and ends the course of his day with prayer, that he has found in the Gospel the deepest source of his strength.”
• “If the German who truly believed in Jesus could find the Spirit of the kingdom of God anywhere, he could find it in Adolf Hitler’s movement.”
• “In the pitch-black night of Christian church history, Hitler became like a wonderful transparency for our time, a window through which light fell upon the history of Christianity.”
• “[God has granted us an] hour of grace . . . through Adolf Hitler.”
• “God has once again raised his voice in a singular individual.”13 Compare these statements with those made in recent months by American charismatic and evangelical leaders:
• “God raised up . . . Donald Trump” (Michelle Bachman).
• “God has righteously chosen [Trump] to affect the way that this nation goes forward” (Chuck Pierce).
• “Donald Trump represents a supernatural answer to prayer” (James Robison).
• “God had raised up [Trump] for such a time as this” (Stephen Strang).
• “Donald Trump actively seeks God’s guidance in his life” (James Dobson).
• Trump’s victory “showed clear evidence of ‘the hand of God’ on the election” (Franklin Graham).
• “[Trump is] a bold man, a strong man, and an obedient man” (Kenneth Copeland).
• “I see this as a last-minute reprieve for America, and the Church” (Rodney Howard-Browne).
• “[Trump] does look like he’s the last hope” (Phyllis Schlafly).
• “God was raising up Donald Trump as He did the Persian king Cyrus the Great” (Lance Wallnau).
• “[Trump is] a man of faith . . . truly committed to making America great again through principles that honor God rather than defy Him” (Stephen Strang).
• “In the midst of . . . despair, came November the 8th, 2016. It was on that day . . . that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were gonna choose the next president of the United States. And they chose Donald Trump” (Robert Jeffress).
• “We thank God every day that He gave us a leader like President Trump” (Robert Jeffress).14

How is Trump able to convince these Christian leaders that he is worthy of their support? Mostly by paying attention to them, inviting them to Trump Tower, and indulging their need to be listened to in an increasingly post-Christian culture. It is truly remarkable that they have been taken in by Trump’s vague and barely comprehensible statements about his “faith,” such as “I’ve always been spiritual,” “belief is very important,” and “I’m going to do a great job for religion.” Honestly, Hitler was better at pretending to be a Christian.

Read the entire letter here.

Thoughts on GOP Congressman Doug Collins’s Recent Comments About the Democrats and Terrorism

Watch Georgia GOP representative Doug Collins tell Lou Dobbs on Fox Business that Democratic congressmen love terrorists and mourn the death of Iranian military commander Qased Soleimani:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, pick-it-up at the four minute mark.

Collins says: “I did not think she [Nancy Pelosi] could become more hypocritical than she was during impeachment, but guess what, surprise, surprise, Nancy Pelosi does it again and her Democrats fall right in line. One, they’re in love with terrorists.  We see that.  They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who were the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

Thoughts:

  1. The main points of Collins’s statement are not true.  The Democrats are not “in love with terrorists” and they are not mourning Soleimani.  (Although perhaps all Christians might mourn the taking of a human life that is created in the image of God and has dignity and worth).
  2. Collins is an evangelical Christian.  He has a Masters of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He served as the senior pastor of Chicopee Baptist Church.  He currently attends Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Georgia.
  3. Do you see what Collins is doing here?  He is misrepresenting the truth to score political points.  He is trying to scare ordinary Americans into believing that the Democrats love terrorists.  This is a pretty standard Christian Right strategy.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not Collins is telling the truth about his Democratic colleagues. He just needs to convince ordinary evangelicals and everyday Americans that what he says is true.  He is betting that most ordinary evangelicals will not fact-check him. It’s a good bet.
  4. Another example of this strategy is Eric Metaxas’s recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.  In that piece the Christian author suggests that a vote for anyone other than Donald Trump will lead to the murder of babies, the influx of socialism, the prevalence of cultural Marxism, and an immigrant invasion through open borders.  I addressed all these issues yesterday in this post.  Metaxas’s piece, which is filled with bad theology and unproven statements, is written to Trump’s base, so it doesn’t matter whether or not his theology is bad or his facts are misleading.  Trump’s base will believe him.  Metaxas is doing his part for the pro-Trump cause in the wake of Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.  By the way, has anyone noticed that the court evangelicals have been writing a lot since the “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami last week.  Tony Perkins wrote that Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”  Charlie Kirk, the new colleague of Jerry Falwell Jr.,  wrote that Trump is our last best hope against socialism.  Ralph Reed praised Trump for “reviving America’s Christian heritage.”  And Metaxas suggests that Trump will protect Christians from “woke mobs.”

Something is happening to American evangelicalism.  Former Ohio governor John Kasich has been noticing:

 

Court Evangelical Tony Perkins: “Donald Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”

Perkins

Of all the court evangelicals, Tony Perkins talks the most about the contractual relationship between Donald Trump and conservative evangelical Christians.  Perkins supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primaries, but now he is all-in for Trump.

But Perkins has been clear about one thing: if Trump stops delivering on the issues he and other evangelicals hold dear, the president can expect to lose evangelical support in 2020.  So far that is not happening.

In a piece republished at Life News, Perkins calls Trump “the best president Christians have ever had.”  Perkins may be right, assuming that one defines “Christians” as political identity group of white,  right-wing, Christian nationalist, evangelical culture warriors.

There is nothing in Perkins’s piece that we haven’t seen before.  It all comes down to abortion and religious liberty.  I critiqued this two-pronged approach to politics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But this time around I was struck by how court evangelicals claim that they “didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office.”  Here is Perkins:

Christians, the president repeated, “have never had a greater champion — not even close — than you have in the White House right now. Look at the record,” Trump urged. “We’ve done things that nobody thought was possible. We’re not only defending our constitutional rights, we’re also defending religion itself, which is under siege.” That’s important, he argued, because “America was not built by religion-hating socialists. America was built by churchgoing, God-worshiping, freedom-loving patriots.”

And those patriots, President Trump insisted, are the ones being attacked. “Faith-based schools, charities, hospitals, adoption agencies, pastors were systematically targeted by federal bureaucrats and ordered to stop following their beliefs,” he pointed out. That all changed when his teams at HHS, Justice, and Education got involved rolling back the waves of hostility aimed directly at men and women of faith. “The day I was sworn in, the federal government’s war on religion came to an abrupt end,” he said. “My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith,” Trump vowed. “We will restore the faith as the true foundation of American life.”

Maybe that, as Pastor Jentezen Franklin prayed, is what believers appreciate most about this administration. “…America didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office,” he said, bowing his head. “It did not need a professional politician in the Oval Office. But it needed a fighter and a champion for freedom. Lord, that is exactly what we have.” And more than that, I thought, as I watched pastors lay their hands on the president, we have a fighter who isn’t ashamed of the people he’s fighting for. After all, when was the last time you saw a president of the United States from either party surrounded by faith leaders in a completely public and unscripted prayer? It’s rare, I assure you.

On that last sentence:

Obama Prayer

OBama praying

OBama in prayer

Bush prayer

Bush project prayer

Hillary-prayer_810_500_75_s_c1

I know Hillary has never been president, but this was too good to pass up

I am not sure if Perkins would count what is happening in these images as “public prayers.”  But I am reminded of Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

But I digress.

So what do the court evangelicals mean when they say “we didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office?” They seem to be suggesting that they don’t need to have a person of Christian character in the office as long as he is delivering on Christian Right policy.  The court evangelicals are essentially saying that Trump’s character–the lies, the misogyny, the narcissism, the demonization of enemies–don’t matter.  “Sure he is a rough dude, and we don’t like some of his tweets, but look what he is doing for us!”  Or “At least he’s not Hillary!” (Christians are not supposed to hate, but they sure hate Hillary).

The court evangelicals have every right to think about politics in this way.  They are free to ignore Trump’s many indiscretions because he is delivering on the things they hold dear.  But if they are going to take this route they need to stop appealing to the Founding Fathers.  These framers of the Constitution understood that the leader of the United States needed to be a person of character.

Here is James Madison in Federalist 57: “The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society, and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, while they continue to hold their public trust.”

Supporters of Donald Trump must ask if he has the “wisdom” to lead us, the commitment to the “common good” (not just his so-called “base”), and the character to make us a more “virtuous” people. If the president does not measure-up in these areas, the founders believed that he should not be leading the American republic.

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68:

Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. 

“Low intrigue” and the “little arts of popularity.”  It almost sounds like Hamilton wrote this with Trump in mind.

According to the Founding Fathers, Trump is unfit for office.   The court evangelicals are supporting an unfit president and breaking with the views of the men who supposedly founded a Christian nation.  But look at the bright side: at least we get to say “Merry Christmas” again!

The Dangers of the Court

COurt Evangelicals

Here is a taste of my recent piece at Religion News Service: “Courtiers and kings, evangelicals, prophets, and Trump“:

(RNS) — Last Friday (Jan. 3), nearly every major conservative evangelical supporter of President Donald Trump gathered at the El Rey Jesus Church in Miami for the kickoff to the “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign.

If Mark Galli’s recent editorial in Christianity Today taught us anything, it is that American evangelicalism is a diverse group. Evangelicals find unity in their commitment to the redemptive work and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the divine inspiration of the Bible and the necessity of sharing their faith with others. They do not always share the same political convictions.

When Galli criticized Trump for his “grossly immoral character” and urged his fellow evangelicals to consider how their blind support of Trump is hurting the witness of the church, pro-Trump evangelical leaders pushed back. In an open letter to Christianity Today, they said that, despite his many flaws, the president has delivered for evangelicals on matters related to abortion, religious liberty and supporting Israel. Last weekend’s rally in Miami was a continuation of this pushback.

As has been noted elsewhere, these evangelical flatterers of Trump are not unlike the court clergy of late medieval and Renaissance-era Europe. In his book “The Origins of Courtliness,” historian C. Stephen Jaeger retells a story once told by the 11th-century church reformer Petrus Damiani about St. Severin, once archbishop of Cologne, whose sole offense — punished by leaving him to wander the Earth  — was that as a cleric at the king’s court, he took so keen an interest in the affairs of the state that he neglected chanting the liturgy at the prescribed hours. 

The tale sheds light on a common problem for clergymen with access to political power: The king’s court can be a dangerous place, even for the most devout. Courtiers have one goal: to gain access to and win the favor of the monarch. Such access brings privilege and power and an opportunity to influence the king on important matters — if, of course, the king is willing to listen. 

In his well-known guide to court life, 16th-century Italian courtier Baldesar Castiglione described the court as an “inherently immoral” place, a worldly venue “awash with dishonest, greedy, and highly competitive men.” One historian has described courtiers of the time as “opportunistic social ornaments”; another described them as “chameleons.”

The skills needed to thrive in the court, in short, are different from the virtues needed to lead a healthy Christian life or exercise spiritual leadership in the church. Most medieval courts had their share of clergy, bishops and other spiritual counselors, and historians agree that their behavior was indistinguishable from that of secular courtiers, whom Damiani described elsewhere as “ruthless, fawning flatterers” in a “theater of intrigue and villainy.”

Sylvius Piccolomini, the 15th-century Renaissance humanist who would eventually become Pope Pius II, was a strong opponent of court clergy. It was very difficult, he said, for the Christian courtier to “rein in ambition, suppress avarice, tame envy, strife, wrath, and cut off vice, while standing in the midst of these (very) things.”

In the United States we don’t have kings, princes or courts, but we do have our own version of religious courtiers, who boast of, in Southern Baptist theologian Richard Land’s gleeful description, “unprecedented access” to the Oval Office.

Read the rest here.

The Many Problems With Eric Metaxas’s “Christian Case for Trump”

Metaxas

Eric Metaxas has once again turned to the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal in defense of Donald Trump.  (Some of you may recall his October 12, 2016 op-ed in which he said “God will not hold us guiltless” if we vote for anyone but Trump).

Metaxas writes:

The [Christianity Today] article cleared its throat—and conscience—by declaring “unambiguous” the “facts” of the president’s guilt. Having thus defenestrated objectivity, the editorial cited his behavior in general as “profoundly immoral,” his character as “grossly” so.

But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but faith in what Jesus has done.

Defenestrated?  Only elites use this word. 🙂

Let’s remember that Mark Galli’s piece in Christianity Today is an editorial.  Of course he “defenstrated objectivity.” That is the point.  Editorials are supposed to offer an informed opinion.

A couple of more thoughts here:

  1. How is the practice of calling out Trump’s immorality a “perversion of Christian doctrine?” The Bible is filled with prophets calling out sin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas’s favorite historical character, called out sin. So did William Wilberforce, the subject of another Metaxas book.  What about John the Baptist? Or Jesus?  Metaxas’s remarks that the church is not responsible for calling out the sins of a leader is absolutely absurd.  I am surprised Metaxas did not cite Romans 13 like Jeff Sessions did in the summer of 2018 or the American loyalists did in 1776 or the Southern slaveowners did in the 1850s.  But I now understand that this is what court evangelicals do.  They claim that their political opposition has somehow perverted true Christian doctrine.  This is part of their strategy for defending God’s chosen one–Donald Trump.
  2. Metaxas believes that Christianity Today, in speaking prophetically against the corruption of the Trump presidency, is failing to acknowledge that Donald Trump is “depraved” and in need of “grace.” This, Metaxas argues, is a perversion of Christian doctrine.  But doesn’t “Christian doctrine” also require a person to repent of his sins as a prerequisite of receiving God’s grace?  Isn’t repentance an essential part of the Christian morphology of conversion?  I don’t know Trump’s heart, but I have yet to hear him ask for forgiveness for any of his sins.  In the end, I agree with Metaxas on this point: Trump is “depraved” and “in need of God’s grace.” So was almost every tyrant in world history.  What if Metaxas applied the same logic to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He would have to argue that the great German theologian was wrong to criticize Hitler for his immorality because Hitler was “depraved” and in “need of God’s grace.” Was Bonhoeffer and his confessing church perverting Christian doctrine?

Metaxas continues:

The reason for the editorial is that evangelicals pronounced Bill Clinton unfit for office because of his moral failings. Thus, claim Mr. Trump’s detractors, evangelicals are hypocrites who’ve sold their souls for political power unless they issue a withering philippic against Mr. Trump. Christianity Today’s long-faced essay is meant to be that dressing-down, triggered by the “facts” of the impeachment.

But does the Clinton “character” comparison make sense? Aren’t the political realities different two decades later? The triangulating practicality and moderation of the Democrats under Mr. Clinton have been trampled beyond recognition by something untethered and wild, like horses racing to Venezuela.

In the 1990s some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Despite ultrasounds and 4-D imaging, Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity, often beyond viability and until birth.  If slavery was rightly considered wicked—and both a moral and political issue—how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time, as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the president’s moral failings might be?

Thoughts:

  1. I want to make a historical point here. Indeed, Clinton wanted to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare” and pro-life Democrats were indeed easier to find in the 1990s.  But Clinton also refused to allow pro-life Democrats to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. Most Pennsylvanians know that Governor Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, was denied a speaking slot. Again, times have changed on this front.  There are fewer people like Bill Clinton and Bob Casey today.  But let’s not pretend that “neither party could exclusively claim the high ground” on abortion in the 1990s. Democrats were largely pro-choice. Republicans were largely pro-life.  This distinction was not lost on any of the members of the Christian Right alive at the time.  If Metaxas were writing in 1992 he would have been screaming bloody murder upon learning that Casey was denied a speaking slot.  Now, in 2020, it is convenient for Metaxas to make the historical claim that there were no significant divisions over abortion in the 1990s.
  2. Another historical point. Metaxas says that we cannot compare the Trump and Clinton impeachments because “the political realities” are “different two decades later.” But if we buy Metaxas historical claim that “political realities” change over time, then what should we make of his comparison between abortion and slavery?  Aren’t “the political realities different” sixteen decades years later? Slavery was indeed a moral problem in the 19th century.  Abortion is indeed a moral problem today.  But the comparison also has its limits.
  3. Metaxas will be happy to hear that I believe abortion is a principal moral issue of our time. We must continue to find ways of reducing this practice.  But Donald Trump is not the answer.

More Metaxas:

The pejorative du jour is to call evangelicals “transactional,” as though buying a loaf of bread and not simply praying for one were somehow faithless. But what is sneeringly called “transactional” is representational government, in which patriotic citizens vote, deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country. Isn’t it conceivable that faithful Christians think Mr. Trump is the best choice?

Two thoughts:

  1. Let’s again remember that “patriotic citizens” also voted in the 2018 election. They elected Democrats to the House of Representatives.  When the people voted in 2018 they were, to use Metaxas’s words, “deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country.”  Isn’t it “conceivable” that the American people’s vote in 2018 suggested that they were not happy with Trump?
  2. Metaxas concludes that “faithful Christians” made the correct moral choice when they chose Trump.  But it is also possible that they did not. “Faithful” evangelical Christians in the past have supported all kinds of things, including slavery, nativism, and Jim Crow segregation.  I chronicled this history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Were the majority of Christians in the South morally correct when they preserve slavery morally correct?  Were the “faithful Christians” who supported slavery or Jim Crow laws making “the best choice?”  My intention here is not to compare evangelical Trump voters to slaveholders, but to show that just because most Christians vote a certain way does not necessarily mean that their collective voice represents the highest ethical norms.  For example, if I said that the “majority of faithful Democrats in the House want Trump impeached,” I would imagine Metaxas would claim that just because the majority of the House wants Trump impeached does not necessarily mean that the majority of the House is correct in such a decision.

Metaxas continues:

Can those troubled by Mr. Trump not at least imagine that removing him could lead to something even worse? Can the Democratic metamorphosis into an openly antiborder, socialist movement responsibly be ignored?

Here Metaxas assumes that all Democrats support socialism and open borders.  This is not true.  Metaxas is engaged here in Fearmongering 101.  He implies that if you do not vote for Donald Trump the country is going to be overrun by socialists and immigrants. Metaxas knows that most white evangelicals do not make a distinction between democratic socialism and Soviet-style communism.  He also knows that many white evangelicals worry that immigrants represent a continued threat to a white Christian America that is already in rapid decline.

Metaxas goes on:

Christians especially blanch to see religious liberty—once thought settled under Mr. Clinton with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—suddenly under serious attack. Christians are staggered to see good souls who stand by millennia-old religious convictions portrayed as deplorable bigots. Democrats—and many Republicans, too—simply look away, seemingly resigned to a culturally Marxist future in which they too may at any minute be rent asunder by woke mobs.

Thoughts:

  1. I partially agree with Metaxas. There are a lot of serious concerns about religious liberty for Christian institutions. This is why I support Fairness for All and find myself in agreement with Washington University law professor John Inazu’s (and Tim Keller‘s) idea of “confident pluralism.” But let’s not pretend that Donald Trump has a perfect record on religious liberty.  See, for example, Steven Waldman’s recent piece at the conservative website The Bulwark or Melissa Rogers’s piece at Religion News Service.
  2. This paragraph is filled with dog-whistles and more fear-mongering.  Metaxas’s use of words like “bigots,” “Marxist,” and “woke mobs” are meant to scare evangelicals.  Metaxas, like many evangelicals, see Trump as a strongman. The Donald will protect him and all evangelicals from the Marxists and the woke mobs who will soon be arriving at their doorsteps.

Metaxas continues:

Given this new reality, is it any wonder Mr. Trump’s bellicosity often draws cheers?  Or that the appointment of originalist judges has become so urgent that some people are willing to countenance a chief executive who tweets like a WWE figure?

The cheers that Trump received last Friday during the recent Evangelicals for Trump rally (Metaxas was present) at an evangelical megachurch in Miami were deeply troubling. Here is my take on it.  As for the Christian Right’s false belief that the appointment of federal justices will end, or even reduce, abortions in America, see my argument in Believe Me.

Finally, the bio attached to the op-ed says, “Mr. Metaxas is the author of “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.” I wrote a series of posts on this historically problematic book here and another review here.

You can read the entire Metaxas Wall Street Journal op-ed here, but you will need a subscription in order to do it.

Jim Bakker Connects Eternal Salvation With the Support of Donald Trump

Some of you have seen this:

If you can’t see the video embedded in the tweet, click here.

I watched most of this episode of The Jim Bakker Show.  This short clip is not taken out of context.  It comes in the middle of a segment in which Bakker says that those trying to impeach Trump are doing the work of Satan and his guest delivers a prophetic word claiming that Trump’s is God’s anointed one.

How does one know if she or he is truly saved?  The Bible says that Christians walk in the light (1 John 1:5-7), practice the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24), visit the orphans and widows (James 1:26-27), keep the commandments (John 14:15), love their brothers and sisters (1 John 2:9-11), care for the least of these (Mt. 25), and support Donald Trump.

 

The Court Evangelicals Take a Photo

Most of them were there on Friday night:

COurt Evangelicals

I don’t recognize everyone, but I see Alveda King, Jack Graham, Jenetzen Franklin, James Dobson, Shirley Dobson, James Robison, Michael Tait, Greg Laurie, Michelle Bachmann, Eric Metaxas, Tony Suarez, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Johnnie Moore, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, Richard Land, Cissie Graham, Tim Clinton, Harry Jackson, and Jim Garlow, Paula White, and Guillermo Maldonado.

I wonder if Trump can identify them all.

Many of these people feature prominently in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

“Evangelicals for Trump” Rally Roundup

Miami Trump

As I glanced at the news this morning I was struck by the way that news services are headlining their articles on Trump’s speech at last night’s “Evangelicals for Trump” rally.  (See my summary here).  Here are a few of those headlines:

Washington Post: “Trump Courts Latinos in Miami as Part of Launch of Evangelical Coalition”

Asia Times: “Trump After Killing: God on Evangelicals’ Side”

New York Times: “In Miami Speech, Trump Tells Evangelical Base: God ‘Is on Our Side”

Reuters: “Trump Tells Evangelical Rally He Will Put Prayer in Schools”

Fox News: “Trump Name-Checks ‘Squad’ at Evangelical Rally: ‘They Hate Jewish People”

Thoughts on the “Evangelicals for Trump” Rally

Court evangelical prayer in Miami

Earlier this evening Donald Trump launched his “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign with a speech at a Miami megachurch.

The King Jesus International Ministry Church, a Hispanic megachurch, was filled with court evangelicals.  Prior to Trump’s speech, some of them laid their hands on the president and prayed for him.  This group included Paula White, Jack Graham, Michael Tait (of the Christian rap group DC Talk), Jentezen Franklin, Cissie Graham (Franklin’s daughter), and Alveda King.  “Apostle” Guillermo Maldonado, the pastor of King Jesus Church, prayed that Trump would fulfill his role as a new King Cyrus.  Paula White prayed against the demonic forces trying to undermine Trump’s presidency.  Later Trump acknowledged James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, Charlie Kirk, and other court “eeeeevangelicals” in attendance.

As Trump took the lectern, the evangelicals in attendance, many wearing pro-Trump clothing and MAGA hats, began chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”  It was clear from the outset that this event would be no different than any other Trump rally.  The applause lines were the same.  Trump degraded his opponents by name.  Nothing new here.  “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Trump’s theme song, blared over the church loudspeaker when he was done with his speech.

Once the crowd stopped their patriotic chanting, Trump started bragging about the crowd size, adding that there were “1000s of people” outside “trying to get in.”  He called the “Evangelicals for Trump” movement the “greatest grass roots movement in American history.”  He reminded everyone how he killed Qassem Soleimani.

Trump generally stuck to the teleprompter, but he did go off script every now and then.  He painted himself as a president who was protecting American evangelicals from the those on the “Left” who want to “punish” people of faith and “destroy religion in America.” During this part of the speech one of the evangelical Christians in the audience screamed “Pocohontas,” a reference to Massachusetts Senator and Democratic president candidate Elizabeth Warren.  Trump was visibly pleased.  Indeed, Trump the strongman was on display.  Like autocratic leaders before him, he stirred fear among his people and offered them safety under his regime.  (This, I should add, is why evangelicals prefer Trump to Mike Pence, the Vice President who sees eye-to-eye with conservative evangelicals on every social and moral issue they care about.  Trump is a fighter and protector. Pence is not.)

Trump spent the entire speech reiterating the talking points that have defined his rhetoric when speaking to evangelicals.  He falsely claimed, once again, that he ended the Johnson Amendment.  He continued to claim, falsely, that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam wants to kill babies after they are born.  He said that he was going to return prayer to public schools when, in reality, prayer never left. He bragged about his commitment to global religious freedom, but failed to mention how he threw Syrian Christians under the bus.  He compared the crowd size of his Lincoln Memorial July 4, 2019 speech to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television.  The crowd cheered as Trump read this laundry list of conservative media pundits.  It was all very appropriate for such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of most of the people in the room.  Trump’s staff knows this.  Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech? It was like Trump was reading the court evangelical heroes of the faith (Heb. 11), but instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Hannity, Ingraham, Carlson, and the hosts of Fox and Friends.  (It is also worth noting that Trump never quoted from or referenced the Bible in his speech).

At one point Trump had to rebuke one of the evangelicals in the crowd.  As the president praised himself for appointing conservative federal court justices, someone apparently yelled something about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent health problems. The implication was that Ginsburg would soon die (was this guy praying for it?) and then Trump could appoint another conservative Supreme Court justice. Trump had to tell this person that he did not wish any harm on Ginsburg.  Think about this for a moment.  Trump was in a room full of evangelicals and he, at least in this case, took the moral high road.

In one of the most human moments of the rally, Trump introduced two members of the Fresno State University pro-life club.  These women told a story about a professor who tried to stop them from sharing pro-life messages on campus.  They sued the professor and won in court.  Good for them. What was this professor thinking? He denied these young women free speech, but he also gave the court evangelicals more fodder for their victimization campaign–a campaign that was on full display in Miami tonight.

Trump also focused on non-religious issues.  He took credit for the strong economy.  He said he would make sure the evangelicals in attendance would not lose their Second Amendment rights.  And, despite the fact that there were probably undocumented evangelical immigrants in the room, extolled the virtues of his border wall.

By now I am used to this kind of thing from Trump.  But tonight I witnessed evangelical Christians–those who identify with the “good news” of Jesus Christ–raising their hands in a posture of worship as Trump talked about socialism and gun rights. I watched them rising to their feet and fist-pumping when Trump said he would win in 2020.

I usually get angry about evangelicals worshiping at the feet of Trump.   But tonight I just felt sad.

When People of Faith Defended Alabama’s George Wallace Because They “Knew Him”

A lot of court evangelicals like to brag about how they “know” Donald Trump.  This, they claim, is why they supported him while other evangelicals backed different candidates in the 2016 primaries.

I thought about this when I saw that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of the recently published Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good, uploaded this George Wallace ad on his Twitter feed:

Wallace

What to Expect at the “Evangelicals for Trump” Rally. (Or the People are Always Right).

God's megachurch

Trump will be at a Hispanic Pentecostal megachurch in Miami tomorrow afternoon for an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally.  There has not been a whole lot of details released about who will be present at the event or what Trump will say, but I think we can expect a lot of contractual language.  In other words, Trump will remind evangelicals about his Supreme Court nominations, his pro-life views on abortion, his defense of religious liberty, and his support for Israel and then he will ask evangelicals to vote for him in 2020.  I am expecting that there will be some digs at the Democratic candidates and Christianity Today magazine.

I will be on NBC News Now (live stream) with Alison Morris around 3:15pm tomorrow (January 3rd) to talk about the event.  Trump is scheduled to speak in Miami at 5:00pm.

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress will be in Miami for the event.  He talked about his appearance earlier today on the Todd Starnes Radio Show.  Jeffress makes no bones about the fact that the “Evangelicals for Trump” event is a response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for Trump’s removal from office.

Starnes mentions “a couple of professors from Oklahoma Baptist University who have been bashing President Trump and his supporters.” (I am guessing that this is a reference Matt Arbo and Alan Noble).  Starnes also references Wayne Grudem’s response to Christianity Today and calls is “terrific.”  He also brings up Beth Moore’s criticism of Trump.  Here is Jeffress’s response: “[Sarcastic laugh] These people are losing such credibility and its very obvious one motivating reason as to why they are against Trump is that they were wrong about Trump and their pride won’t allow them to admit that.”  Jeffress goes on: “It’s those ivory tower elites that just don’t get it….”

I am continually amazed at how this has now turned into a class-based war on “elites.” The assumption is that what “the people” want is always morally correct.  There is some truth to this idea.  This is why many of our founding fathers feared the growth of democracy.  After all, in a democracy 51% becomes the highest moral good.

Let’s remember that the opponents of slavery were “out of touch” with the majority of people of the South in the 1850s.  Martin Luther King was also “out of touch” with the majority of people living in the South in the 1950s and 1960s.  And Andrew Jackson was “in touch” with the people (white males Democratic voters who wanted to settle on Indian lands) when he sent the Cherokee on the “Trail of Tears.”

This morning I was reading Alexander Hamilton’s June 1787 speech at the Constitutional Convention as recorded by Robert Yates.  A taste:

The voice of the people has been said to  be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact.  The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right.  Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government.  They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.  Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily  to pursue the public good?   Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy.  Their turbulent  and uncontrouling disposition requires checks.

Sometimes I wonder if Hamilton may have been right.

Some More Thoughts on the Populist Critique of “Elite Evangelicals”

Trump iN Dallas

For most evangelical Christians, the message of the Gospel transcends the identity categories we place on human beings.  All men and women are sinners in need of redemption.  Citizenship in the Kingdom of God, made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection, is available to all human beings regardless of their race, class, or gender.

I also think that most evangelicals believe that good Christians strive to live Holy Spirit-filled lives that conform to the moral teachings of the Bible. In other words, evangelical Christians follow the 10 Commandments, Jesus’s teachings in  the Gospels (including the Sermon on the Mount), and the ethical demands of the New Testament epistles.

Since Mark Galli wrote his Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump, the evangelical defenders of the POTUS have been playing the populist card. Let’s remember that the populist card is an identity politics card.

The opponents of Christianity Today have tried to paint Galli and other evangelical anti-Trumpers as “elites” who look down their noses at uneducated or working class evangelicals.  In their minds, Galli and his ilk are guilty of the same kind of supposed moral preening as university professors, Barack Obama, and the progressive legislators known as “The Squad.”  They view these educated evangelicals–some of whom they might worship with on Sunday mornings–through the lens of class-based politics rather than as fellow believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This populist argument has come from a variety of sectors, including First Things magazine (here and here), the court evangelicals (here), and Calvinist Front Porcher and American religious historian Darryl Hart (here).

So I ask: Has Trump’s class-based identity politics co-opted Christian ethics?

Trump has openly lied or misrepresented the truth. He has engaged in speech that is misogynistic, nativist, and racist. He has advanced policies that have separated children from their parents.  He regularly demonizes and degrades his political enemies.  It seems like these things, on the basis of biblical morality, are always wrong, regardless of whether an educated person or an uneducated person brings them to our attention.  Last time I checked, the minor prophets and John the Baptist did not have Ph.Ds.

Mark Galli of Christianity Today has offered a stinging moral criticism of Trump.  We can debate whether Trump’s actions in Ukraine are impeachable, but Galli is on solid ground when he says the president is “grossly immoral.”

Is it right to say that a Christian is “out of touch” when he calls out such immoral behavior?  (Or maybe one might take evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem’s approach and try to make a case that Trump’s indiscretions are few and inconsequential).

Would a non-college educated factory worker in the Midwest who claims the name of Jesus Christ think that racism, misogyny, nativism, the degradation of one’s enemies, and lying are moral problems?  Wouldn’t any Christian, formed by the teachings of a local church and the spiritual disciplines (as opposed to the daily barrage of Fox News), see the need to condemn such behavior?  What does social class have to do with it?  Shouldn’t one’s identity in the Gospel and its moral implications for living transcend class identity?

For those who are lamenting disunion in the church, I have another question:  Shouldn’t the church be an otherworldly, counter-cultural institution that finds some unity in the condemnation of immoral behavior in the corridors of national power?  Or should we take our marching orders from the divisive, class-based identity politics of Donald Trump?

Matthew Henry: “Advancement to authority will divulge the ambition and selfishness of men’s hearts”

White House

This morning a historian friend shared devotional writer Matthew Henry‘s commentary on Ezekiel 19:1-9.  Henry writes:

When professors, [as in those who affirm a faith in or allegiance to something], of religion form connexions with ungodly persons, their children usually grow up following after the maxims and fashions of a wicked world. Advancement to authority discovers [i.e., will divulge] the ambition and selfishness of men’s hearts; and those who spend their lives in mischief, generally end them by violence.

Ezekiel 19:1-9:

“Take up a lament concerning the princes of Israel and say:

“‘What a lioness was your mother
    among the lions!
She lay down among them
    and reared her cubs.
She brought up one of her cubs,
    and he became a strong lion.
He learned to tear the prey
    and he became a man-eater.
The nations heard about him,
    and he was trapped in their pit.
They led him with hooks
    to the land of Egypt.

“‘When she saw her hope unfulfilled,
    her expectation gone,
she took another of her cubs
    and made him a strong lion.
He prowled among the lions,
    for he was now a strong lion.
He learned to tear the prey
    and he became a man-eater.
He broke down[a] their strongholds
    and devastated their towns.
The land and all who were in it
    were terrified by his roaring.
Then the nations came against him,
    those from regions round about.
They spread their net for him,
    and he was trapped in their pit.
With hooks they pulled him into a cage
    and brought him to the king of Babylon.
They put him in prison,
    so his roar was heard no longer
    on the mountains of Israel.

Wayne Grudem Lives in a Different Moral Universe Than I Do

Grudem

In case you missed it, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem has turned to the politically conservative website Townhall to defend Donald Trump and criticize Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.

Grudem begins:

Galli gives six reasons why Trump should be removed, either by impeachment or at the next election: (1) He attempted to “coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of his political opponents,” and this was “a violation of the Constitution.” (2) This action was also “profoundly immoral.” (3) “He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals.” (4) He has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women,” and he “remains proud” about these things. (5) His Twitter feed contains a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and this makes it “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” Finally, (6) although the president has admittedly done some good things, “none of the president’s positives” can outweigh his “grossly immoral character.” Later he says that Trump has a “bent and broken character” and is guilty of “gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”

He concludes by warning evangelicals who support Trump not to “continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency,” because this will damage “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the gospel.”

These are strong words indeed. But are they true? Consider them in order:

(1) Did Trump violate the Constitution? 

Here is Grudem:

Regarding the Constitution, I claim no specialized expertise or legal knowledge. Like Galli himself, on this point I write as an interested citizen, not a legal expert. But I read in the Constitution that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Art. II, Sec. 1, 3). That implies the president is empowered to investigate allegations of illegal activity. And (I speak here as an ordinary citizen, not an expert) I know of nothing in our Constitution or laws that says there is anything wrong with seeking help from a foreign government in investigating possible corruption. 

“Oh, but the situation is different because Biden is a political opponent and President Trump was asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden for the sake of personal political benefit,” some critics have objected.

My response is that I see nothing wrong with the president doing things that will bring him personal, political benefit. In fact, I expect that every president in the history of the United States has done things that bring him personal political benefit every day of his term. It is preposterous to claim that it is unconstitutional for the president to act in a way that is politically beneficial. In addition to that, when someone announces that he is running for political office, that does not mean he can no longer be investigated for prior wrongdoing. The opposite should be true.

If I read Grudem correctly, he seems to be suggesting that Donald Trump did indeed act out of self-interest when he called the president of Ukraine.  At least he admits it. This makes his argument different from many court evangelicals.  Grudem sounds more like Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who told reporters that Trump did engage in a quid pro quo (“we do that all the time”) and we should all just “get over it.”  Grudem seems to be suggesting that it was perfectly fine for Trump to investigate a political opponent in this way.  While Grudem is right about the self-interest of past presidents, this particular president’s self interest was an attempt to get a foreign country to interfere with an election and undermine the democratic process.

Even Jonathan Turley, the George Washington law professor who testified in opposition to impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee, said that if Trump acted out of political self-interest his call was an impeachable offense.  Turley’s primary concern was that the the Democrats in the House did not yet have enough evidence to make a case for impeachment.  And of course, the other three law professors who testified, over 500 more law professors, and more than 2000 historians have also argued that what Trump did was an impeachable offense.

I am afraid that Wayne Grudem, a man who I took a course with as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School,  is out of his league here.

(2) Was Trump’s phone call “profoundly immoral”?

Grudem writes:

But is it wrong to investigate possible wrongdoing by someone’s political opponent? Apparently the Democrats do not think so, because the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has been investigating President Trump for the entire past year. I do not see how it could be “profoundly immoral” to request information about possible corruption on the part of Joe Biden. I do not even see how it could be “minimally immoral,” and certainly not “profoundly immoral.” 

Once again, Grudem shows a lack of understanding about how the government works. In the United States we have separation of powers.  Congress is a check against the power and potential tyranny of the Executive Branch.  It is the duty of Congress to investigate the president.  Perhaps Grudem remembers when the House investigated Bill Clinton in 1998. Grudem had a lot to say about presidential character in those days.  In the end, the House was doing its duty in 1998 and it is doing its duty now.  Will there be a partisan dimension to impeachment?  Absolutely.  Alexander Hamilton, the author of Federalist 65, said we should expect this.  The people voted the Democrats into office in 2018. They control the House and they impeached the president. There is nothing unconstitutional about this.

(3) What about Trump’s association with convicted criminals?

Here’s Grudem:

Another reason to remove Trump from office, according to Galli, is that he hired and fired people who later became “convicted criminals.” This is a new argument. Previously, I was under the impression that our country holds a person responsible for his or her own wrongdoing, but not for the wrongdoing of others (unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it). However, now Galli is implying that Trump should be held accountable – and removed from office! – for the wrongdoing of people who worked for him. This is the unjust principle of “guilt by association.” I’m glad that God did not hold Jesus to that same standard (remember Judas, who served as treasurer for the 12 disciples and Jesus; see John 12:6; 13:29). In the Old Testament Scriptures, Ezekiel says this: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

Back to the Constitution: it says that a president shall be “removed from office” on the basis of impeachment for and conviction of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (Art. II, Sec. 4). It does not say, “or the crimes of those who worked for him.” Galli is arguing that Trump should be “removed from office” on the basis of grounds that are not in the Constitution, and not even morally just. It seems ironic that, in an editorial urging Trump’s removal because of “ethical incompetence,” Galli condemns Trump on the basis of a standard (guilt by association) that is itself ethically unsound. 

The key phrase here is “unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it.” And what about Trump’s claim that he hires “all the best people?”  Granted, hiring bad people is not an impeachable offense, but it certainly says something about the moral decision-making of the president when such a large number of his associates end-up in jail or are under investigation.  The names Cohen, Manafort, Papadopoulus, Pinedo, Stone, Gates, and Flynn come to mind.

Grudem has his head in the sand.  He makes Trump sound like some kind of saint who just happens to be surrounded by corrupt people and its not his fault.

(4) Immoral actions before Trump became president

Grudem writes:

Galli also wants to remove Trump from office because he has admitted to “immoral actions in business and his relationship with women.” At this point Galli must be referring to actions done before Trump was elected president, because he has not admitted to any immoral actions while in office. In addition, I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business, so Galli’s accusations seem overly broad.

Let’s leave the Access Hollywood tape, the porn stars, the sexual harassment, and the mocking of women’s appearances to the side for the moment and stick with “immoral actions in business.”  Grudem says, “I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business.”  First, Grudem seems to think that Trump would actually admit that he has done something wrong. He assumes we are dealing with an upright and moral person here.  Second, did Grudem forget about Trump University or Trump’s fake charity, to name just a few of his immoral business practices?

(5) Do evangelical leaders brush off Trump’s immoral behavior?

Grudem again:

Galli claims that evangelicals “brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior.” But I know of no evangelical leader who “brushed off” Trump’s words and behavior, for they were roundly condemned. 

I myself wrote on Oct. 9, 2016, in Townhall.com, “I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election. His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) … His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.”

OK, fine.  But where was Grudem when Trump separated families from children at the border, said that there were “fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville, lied or misrepresented the truth over 15,000 times, tried to take healthcare away from millions of Americans, pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, prevented Muslims from entering the country, left Syrian Christians for dead, hired nativist and racist Stephen Miller, refused to release his tax returns, eliminated an ethics court for incoming White House staff, stood by as children bullied their classmates in his name, said Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” backed racist Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, defended Confederate monuments, and tried to end the DACA program?

More Grudem:

Galli does not claim that Trump has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women” during his three years in the White House. Shouldn’t we evaluate Trump primarily on the basis of his time as president? The Christian gospel includes the message that people can repent of past sins, ask God for forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and (often gradually) become better people (see Luke 24:47; Acts 20:21; 26:20).

With the exception of the Access Hollywood tape, Trump has not apologized or “asked for forgiveness” for any of these sins.  Compare Trump to Bill Clinton on this matter.

(6) Do Trump’s tweets show that he is immoral?

Grudem:

But what about Trump’s Twitter feed? Galli says it contains “a habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and is “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” But is this true?

Before people condemn Trump’s tweets by merely reading about them in a hostile press, they should read them for themselves. Anyone can do this at Twitter.com. I just read through every one of Trump’s tweets from the entire past week (December 19-25), to see if Galli is correct in his accusation. Here is a representative sample of those tweets, in Trump’s own words: 

December 25: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

2019 HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES WERE UP 3.4% FROM LAST YEAR, THE BIGGEST NUMBER IN U.S. HISTORY. CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA!

December 24: 187 new Federal Judges have been confirmed under the Trump Administration, including two great new United States Supreme Court Justices. We are shattering every record!

December 23: STOCK MARKET CLOSES AT ALL-TIME HIGH! What a great time for the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats to Impeach your favorite President, especially since he has not done anything wrong!

NASDAQ UP 72.2% SINCE OUR GREAT 2016 ELECTION VICTORY! DOW UP 55.8%. The best is yet to come!

Nancy Pelosi, who has already lost the House & Speakership once, & is about to lose it again, is doing everything she can to delay the zero Republican vote Articles of Impeachment. She is trying to take over the Senate, & Cryin’ Chuck is trying to take over the trial. No way!….

…What right does Crazy Nancy have to hold up this Senate trial. None! She has a bad case and would rather not have a negative decision. This Witch Hunt must end NOW with a trial in the Senate, or let her default & lose. No more time should be wasted on this Impeachment Scam!

December 22: Melania and I send our warmest wishes to Jewish people in the United States, Israel, and across the world as you commence the 8-day celebration of Hanukkah.

December 21: Last night I was so proud to have signed the largest Defense Bill ever. The very vital Space Force was created. New planes, ships, missiles, rockets and equipment of every kind, and all made right here in the USA. Additionally, we got Border Wall (being built) funding. Nice!

December 20: Just had a great call with the President of Brazil, @JairBolsonaro . We discussed many subjects including Trade. The relationship between the United States and Brazil has never been Stronger!

December 19: The reason the Democrats don’t want to submit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate is that they don’t want corrupt politician Adam Shifty Schiff to testify under oath, nor do they want the Whistleblower, the missing second Whistleblower, the informer, the Bidens, to testify!

My question for Mr. Galli is this: how can you say that such tweets are “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused”? The expression “near-perfect example” suggests that something like 90% or 95% of his tweets reflect morally evil choices. But, after reading these tweets, it seems to me that Galli has made a false accusation. The most objectionable thing that I see in these tweets is that Trump labels his political opponents with derogatory nicknames (Crazy Nancy Pelosi, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and Adam Shifty Schiff), but that impoliteness is a comparatively trivial matter that comes nowhere close to being a “near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” 

I see in these tweets a president who is rightfully proud of a healthy economy, a stronger military, and the appointment of 187 federal judges who are committed to judging according to what the law says and not according to their personal preferences. Such accomplishments are morally good benefits for the nation as a whole, and they have been accomplished by Trump in the face of relentless opposition from Democrats. Far from being “morally lost and confused,” Trump seems to me to have a strong sense of justice and fair play, and he is (I think rightfully) upset that the impeachment process in the House was anything but just and fair. 

Grudem is making an argument here based on one week (during the Christmas season) of Trump tweets.  I would encourage folks to read Trump’s Twitter feed.   The fact that Wayne Grudem, a Christian theologian and ethicist, would defend Donald Trump’s twitter feed is preposterous.

Are Trump’s tweets full of lies?

Grudem:

Galli also claims that Trump’s tweets contain a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders.” Do Trump’s tweets contain lies? Galli himself gives no examples, but the Washington Post on December 16 carried an article, “President Trump Has Made 15,413 False or Misleading Claims over 1,055 Days.”

What exactly are these alleged lies?

Grudem then goes on to suggest a few areas where he thinks The Washington Post is wrong.  He writes:

And so it goes with one supposed “lie” after another. Upon closer inspection, the accusations do not hold up.

Do I think that Trump has ever intentionally told a lie? I don’t know. Perhaps. I admit that he often exaggerates and boasts that something is the “biggest” or “best,” a habit that probably comes from his years in promoting his Manhattan real estate deals. In some cases, I think he has made incorrect claims not because he was intentionally lying but because he was given misleading information (as in his claim that the crowd at his inauguration was the biggest ever), and I think that the White House should correct any such inaccurate statements. But do I believe that he intentionally and habitually tells lies? Absolutely not.

Grudem suggests that Trump rarely lies intentionally. Grudem, a Calvinist who believes in human depravity, has the audacity to say that he does not believe Donald Trump “intentionally and habitually tells lies.” Has Grudem ever watched a Trump rally?  This is very disappointing from a guy who wrote a systematic theology textbook that a lot of evangelicals read.

(6) Does Trump have a “grossly immoral character”?

Grudem writes:

It is a deeply serious matter to accuse someone of having a “grossly immoral character,” for if the accusation is believed, it destroys a person’s reputation for lifetime, and a good reputation is more valuable than untold riches. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Therefore, before we make an accusation like this, it is important that we base it on an abundance of clear and compelling evidence, for false accusation inflicts substantial harm on another person. God commands, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16), and the Mosaic law code imposed strict penalties on anyone who made a false accusation (see Deuteronomy 19:18-19; compare Proverbs 6:19).

I think Galli is on pretty solid biblical evidence when he says that Trump has a “grossly immoral character.” Galli has no need to worry about bearing false witness or making false accusations.  Even some of the court evangelicals believe Donald Trump is immoral.  They just think that God uses immoral people to accomplish His will.

Grudem goes on:

“You are a bad person” strategy of the Left: Although I do not believe that Galli himself is part of the political Left, it is also important to realize the kind of political climate in which Galli’s claim occurs. One Fox News commentator rightly observed that the political Left has realized that it can’t beat conservatives by arguing, “You have bad policies,” so it has shifted to attacks that take the form, “You are a bad person.” And the result is that President Trump has been the target of incessant character assassination by the media for the past three years (as have many other conservatives).

But Jesus told us how to evaluate someone’s character: we should look at the fruit that comes from his life. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:43-44).

We now have three years of results (or “fruit”) that have come from Donald Trump’s presidency, and, in my judgment, the fruit has been overwhelmingly good.

If we understand the idea of “fruit” in a larger New Testament context, we might turn to Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

For Grudem, Trump’s “fruits” are basically a long list of GOP talking points.  His op-ed assumes that there is a one-to-one correlation between these talking points and the teachings of the Bible.  There is not.

What about the negative results?

Here is Grudem:

At this point someone will ask, “But what about the negative fruit from Trump’s presidency? Isn’t he responsible for the toxic, highly polarized political atmosphere we now live in?”

Grudem blames most of our highly polarized political atmosphere on the “political Left.”  He then tries to quell Trump critics by quoting Romans 13:

Yet the New Testament tells us, “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” (Romans 13:1).

We have seen these appeals to Romans 13 before.

Harm to the Christian gospel?

Grudem:

Galli concludes by warning that evangelical Trump supporters will harm “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the world’s understanding of the gospel.” My response is that is not correct for Galli to say that character “doesn’t really matter” to evangelical Trump supporters, for we have roundly and universally condemned his past immoral behavior. Character matters. But the moral character that Trump has demonstrated while in the White House, his unswerving commitment to his campaign promises, his courage, and his sound judgment on one policy issue after another, are commendable.

I’m sorry, but I just have a very different understand of morality than my former professor.  To suggest that evangelical leaders have “roundly and universally condemned” Trump’s behavior–past or present–does not make sense to me.  Grudem lives in a different moral universe than I do.

The Court Evangelical “Arguments” Are Filled With Logical Inconsistencies

Metaxas

Here is philosopher David Kyle Johnson at Psychology Today:

Since I wrote my article about Franklin Graham’s response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today article, which called for the president to be removed from office, the response from the evangelical community has skyrocketed. Sunday, over 200 evangelical leaders signed an open letter condemning Galli’s article and sent it to Timothy Dalrymple, the president of Christianity Today. And this, it turns out, provides yet another perfect opportunity for identifying and addressing logical fallacies.

To see them, it will be useful to look at what one of the signatories, conservative radio host Eric Metaxas, tweeted before signing the letter.

“What makes the @CTmagazine editorial odd (if not preposterous) is that it implies those like Biden or Pelosi, who use the power of their offices to promote the murder of the unborn & the demonization of a biblical sexual ethic, less “morally troubling” than Trump & his tweets.”

The main mistake here is a strawman fallacy; Metaxas is recasting Galli’s argument, suggesting it says something it doesn’t say, to make it easier to attack. How so? 

First, Galli doesn’t imply anything about the democratic candidates; he doesn’t mention them at all and says nothing about their moral standing. He’s just saying that, given his impeachable offenses and “grossly immoral character,” evangelicals shouldn’t support Trump anymore. Notice that, if Trump was removed from office now, Mike Pence would replace him as president and evangelicals could support him in 2020 instead. In a way, Metaxes strawmans Galli by presenting another fallacy: a false dichotomy (saying there are only two options when there are more). “It’s either Trump or the Democrats.” Clearly there are other options.

The second way Metaxas strawmans Galli’s argument is by minimalizing Galli’s concerns about Trump and exaggerating (what he sees as) the moral offenses of democrats. Thinking that abortion should be legal is not equivalent to “promot[ing[ the murder of the unborn.” Whether abortion is murder is a matter of philosophic debate (which cannot be settled scientifically) and many religious groups advocate against choosing abortion while still maintaining that it should be legal. (Some even argue that keeping it legal is part of the most effective way to reduce its frequency.)

Something similar could be said about the democrats’ position on homosexual marriage; it is not demonizing “biblical sexual ethics.” (Note that most biblical marriages do not involve just one man and one woman.)

But Metaxes also commits a version of the confusingly named “tu quoque” fallacy. The phrase essentially translates as “you also” or “you too.” In class, I call it the “two wrongs don’t make a right” fallacy. Usually people use it to excuse away their own failings by pointing to some failing of their accuser. For example, if your doctor says you need to quit smoking, then you probably do—even if your doctor smokes himself. The fact that you need to quit smoking is determined by facts about your health, not someone else’s habits. Your doctor might be a hypocrite, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need to stop smoking. So if you say “I don’t need to quit smoking because you smoke too,” you commit the “you too” fallacy.

Read the rest here.

Of course it doesn’t really matter if you are illogical as long as you are able to play to the fears of people with this false logic and convince them to act upon your rhetoric.  Both Trump and the court evangelicals have been very good at this.  When it comes to defending Trump, fighting the culture war, and fear-mongering, the basic rules of clear thinking do not apply.  How do the court evangelicals reconcile such poor thinking with our call to worship God with our minds?

“Christianity Yesterday, Today, and Forever!”

11839-henry

Carl F.H. Henry, the first editor of Christianity Today

In 1962, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth came to George Washington University for a question and answer session with American religious leaders.  Carl F.H. Henry, the editor of Christianity Today magazine, was one of these leaders.  Here is how he described the meeting in his memoir, Confessions of a Theologian:

The university invited 200 religious leaders to a luncheon honoring Barth at which guests were invited to stand, identify themselves and pose a question.  A Jesuit scholar from either Catholic University or Georgetown voiced the first question.  Aware that the initial queries often set the mood for all subsequent discussion, I asked the next question.  Identifying myself as “Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today,” I continued: “The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.”  I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Service, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media.  If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility?  “Was is news,” I asked, “in the sense that the man in the street understands news?”

Barth became angry.  Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked, “Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?” The audience–largely nonevangelical professors and clergy–roared with delight.  When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse.  So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, ‘Yesterday, today, and forever.”  When further laughter subsided, Barth took up the challenge…

I thought about this encounter when I heard that court evangelical Ralph Reed recently called Christianity Today magazine “Christianity Yesterday” in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News.

Here is a taste of a Fox News story about the interview:

Ingraham Angle” host Laura Ingraham told Reed he was making his publication “irrelevant,” adding that the magazine has been gradually taking on a leftward bent since it was founded by the late evangelist Billy Graham in the 1950s. Earlier Friday, Graham’s son Franklin responded to Galli by saying his father proudly supported and voted for Trump in 2016, and by telling CBN that Billy Graham would be “disappointed” to hear what Galli said.

Reed somewhat echoed those sentiments, saying Galli may want to change the magazine’s name to “Christianity Yesterday.”

“You cannot imagine a publication more out of step with the faith community that it once represented,” he said.

“President Trump received 81% of the votes of evangelicals four years ago — the highest ever recorded. His job approval according to a recent poll by my organization — the Faith and Freedom Coalition — among U.S. Evangelical stands at 83%. That is a historic high.”

Read the rest here.

A few comments on Reed’s interview:

  1. Ralph Reed is no Karl Barth.  It is important to establish this up front.
  2. The folks at Christianity Today should take Reed’s comment about “Christianity Yesterday” as a compliment.  Christianity Today represents the historic Christian faith.  The court evangelicals and other members of the Christian Right seem to believe that Christianity began when Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Moral Majority in 1979.
  3. Reed and the rest of the court evangelicals are scared to death that Mark Galli’s editorial at Christianity Today might peel evangelical votes away from Trump in 2020.  Remember, Reed is a politico.  His job is to spin the news to make sure his evangelical base is in line.
  4. I am continually struck by how court evangelicals justify their political choices with poll numbers rather than deep Christian thinking about political engagement.  Reed seems to be saying that if a significant majority of American evangelicals voted for Trump, think he is a good president, and believe he does not deserve impeachment, then he must be good for the country and the church. God must be on his side.  It seems to never cross Reed’s mind that 81% of American evangelicals might be wrong.  Let’s remember, for example, that the the majority of American evangelicals in the South thought slavery was a good idea.  My point here is not to compare Trump evangelicals to slaveholders, but to show that there is nothing sacred about an appeal to the majority.  Didn’t Jesus say something about the “narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13)? Wasn’t he out of step with the larger faith community of his day?
  5. If you follow the link to the actual interview you will hear Ralph Reed say “I don’t know this editor” in relation to Christianity Today editor Mark Galli.  The fact that Reed has never heard of Galli, and cannot even bring himself to call him by name, speaks volumes about the current divide within American evangelicalism.