Clergy: Do Not Repeal The Johnson Amendment

Williams ChurchOver 4000 clergy want Congress to preserve the so-called Johnson Amendment.  You may recall that the repeal of this part of the federal tax code has been a major part of the court evangelical agenda and, by extension, Donald Trump’s appeal to evangelical voters.

Read our coverage of the Johnson Amendment here.

Click here to read the text of the clergy’s letter asking Congress to leave the Johnson Amendment alone.

Here is a taste:

As a leader in my religious community, I am strongly opposed to any effort to repeal or weaken current law that protects houses of worship from becoming centers of partisan politics. Changing the law would threaten the integrity and independence of houses of worship. We must not allow our sacred spaces to be transformed into spaces used to endorse or oppose political candidates.

Faith leaders are called to speak truth to power, and we cannot do so if we are merely cogs in partisan political machines. The prophetic role of faith communities necessitates that we retain our independent voice. Current law respects this independence and strikes the right balance: houses of worship that enjoy favored tax-exempt status may engage in advocacy to address moral and political issues, but they cannot tell people who to vote for or against. Nothing in current law, however, prohibits me from endorsing or opposing political candidates in my own personal capacity.

Changing the law to repeal or weaken the “Johnson Amendment” – the section of the tax code that prevents tax-exempt nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates –would harm houses of worship, which are not identified or divided by partisan lines. Particularly in today’s political climate, engaging in partisan politics and issuing endorsements would be highly divisive and have a detrimental impact on congregational unity and civil discourse.

Adele Banks has some context at Religion News Service.

It looks like most of the Christian signers are mainline Protestants.  I did not recognize too many names.  This is partly because most of the signers are local pastors and partly because I am not as familiar with mainline Protestantism as I am with evangelicalism.

This Is What a Court Evangelical Does…

They go on national television and defend the President of the United States.

When ABC News called the White House and asked for a spokesperson, the White House sent out Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of the largest Christian university in the world.

Watch the video below.  Falwell Jr. seems to be making  some progress. He did not seem as militantly pro-Trump this time.  Perhaps he is feeling the heat from his alumni base. Having said that, the very fact that the White House sent him out to do this interview suggests that his court evangelical identity is still strong.

He also addresses the group of Liberty University graduates who are returning diplomas.

Liberty University Graduates Are Returning Their Diplomas

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

National Public Radio correspondent Sarah McCammon (see our podcast interview with Sarah here–Episode 13) is reporting on a growing number of Liberty University graduates who are returning their diplomas because of court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s support of Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of her piece:

A group of alumni from one of the country’s most influential evangelical Christian universities is condemning their school’s president for his continued alignment with President Trump.

A small but growing number of Liberty University graduates are preparing to return diplomas to their school. The graduates are protesting university President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s ongoing support for Trump. They began organizing after Trump’s divisive remarks about the deadly white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va.

Chris Gaumer, a former Student Government Association president and 2006 graduate, said it was a simple decision.

“I’m sending my diploma back because the president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists,” Gaumer said. “And in defending the president’s comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit.”

Read the entire report here.

The Latest From the Court Evangelicals:

Here’s a late night update for those who are interested:

Pastor Mark Burns sounds more like Ben Franklin than Jesus as he spins his appearance this morning on AM Joy.

Jack Graham:

Robert Jeffress:

James McDonald wants us to remember that he is an ex-court evangelical. He resigned after Access Hollywood:

The modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer tweets:

Ralph Reed is mixing-it up with a progressive journalist:

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress: Trump Should Not Apologize for Charlottesville Statements. “He Did Just Fine”

Here is court evangelical Robert Jeffress on Fox Business News last night.

He rightly condemns racism, as he has been doing all along.  This is good.  But he also defends the POTUS,  saying that Trump wants to condemn “all racism.”  I’m not sure what he means here by “all racism.”  Is he somehow referring to “racism against whites?”  Is he suggesting that there was racism on both sides in Charlottesville?

Jeffress again takes on the “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, Republicans, and the “religious establishment”) that wants to “take this president down for various reasons.”

Then he begins suggesting (with the help of the host) that the members of this “axis of evil” want to erase American history and the “Judeo-Christian foundations of this nation.”  He repeats the historically dubious claim that “no president in history has done more to stand of for religious liberty than Donald Trump.” (See my comments on this claim here).

Finally, he advises Trump not to apologize for his handling of Charlottesville.  According to Jeffress. “he did just fine.”  It looks like we are finally getting a sense of what the court evangelicals are whispering to Trump in those secret meetings.

“He did just fine.”

A.R. Bernard, Ex-Court Evangelical, Speaks Out: “I Wanted More Than a Photo-Op”

Earlier we reported that A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, has resigned as an evangelical adviser to Donald Trump.

Shortly after our post, Bernard went on Don Lemon’s show on CNN to talk about his resignation.  No video yet.  I will post it tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are my tweets.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey Reports on A.R. Bernard Resignation

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

I am glad that Sarah Pulliam Bailey is on the story!  Over at the Washington Post she reports on A.R. Bernard,  the first court evangelical to leave Trump.  I learned several new things from Bailey’s piece:

  • James McDonald, a Chicago-era megachurch pastor, is no longer a member of the Trump evangelical advising team.  He resigned about the Access Hollywood tape.
  • Johnnie Moore, the apparent leader of this evangelical advisory group and the man who does not shy away from the label “modern day Dietrich Bonheoffer,” says that he will still invite Bernard to meet with the group “on various issues.”
  • Jonathan Falwell, the brother of Jerry Falwell Jr. and the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, condemned racism from the pulpit last Sunday morning.  Meanwhile his brother tweeted this.  Bailey writes: “The brothers’ responses to Charlottesville reflect the largest divide in evangelicalism right now over how to respond and politically charged issues.”

Read the entire piece here.

This Court Evangelical WILL NOT Resign

This comes from Mark Burns, one of the more outspoken court evangelicals and the pastor of Harvest Praise & Worship Center in South Carolina.  You may recall his prayer at the GOP Convention last summer.

A few thoughts about this rambling video attached to the tweet:

  • Trump names some court evangelicals: Michelle Bachman, Ronnie Floyd, James Dobson, Tim Clinton, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Jerry Falwell Jr. Janetzen Franklin, Jack Graham, Harry Jackson, Johnnie Moore, David Jeremiah, Robert Jeffress, Robert Morris, Tom Mullins, Ralph Reed, James Robison, Tony Suarez, Jay Strack, Paula White, Tom Winters, and Sealy Yates
  • He mentions that A.R. Bernard has resigned from the “faith initiative” and praises his Christian leadership.  He never addresses why Bernard resigned.
  • He addresses those who think he (Burns) should resign from the advisory council and says “If God has called me to be a spiritual ear…to the POTUS, if God has anointed me and called me…to walk in that assignment regardless of whether or not we agree with everything our President does…then how in the world can we resign if God has appointed us to do this.”  Not sure how to argue with this.
  • He adds: “For me this is not political.  I would never abandoned a church member of mine…. no matter how many times they don’t understand something….The only time I would abandon them is if they have renounced that Christ is the Messiah and they denounce that there is not God and they become a wolf in sheep’s clothing and they become what we need to separate ourselves from [and] they refuse to believe and receive that Jesus Christ is Lord. At that point there is no need for me to continue if in their mind they believe what I am saying is no longer going to help them.”  I will let you decide if Trump fits the bill here.  Think about the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” line.
  • He is “proud” that he has a “Daniel’s anointing.”  Such an anointing, he says, is given to those “called into government” to be an “ear to the King.”
  • He talks about the Gospel. But he fails to see that his association with Trump tarnishes the Gospel message and undermines his own witness to that Gospel.
  • He says that attacks on Trump are coming from the “pits of hell.”
  • He never denounces racism, white supremacy, or Trump’s message of moral equivalency.
  • Once again he mentions the phrase “unprecedented access.”
  • Reaffirms that Trump “loves God” and “loves Jesus Christ.”

Burns says he is making this video because he does not want to be misunderstood.  No misunderstanding here.  This is perfectly clear.

No Longer a Court Evangelical: Brooklyn Pastor Resigns from Trump’s “Evangelical Advisory Board”

Bernard

A.R. Bernard, the leader of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, has left Trump’s “Evangelical Advisory Board.”  Read about it here.

In his statement Bernard said that “it became obvious that there was a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration.  I quietly stepped away from my involvement with the Board several months ago, and submitted my letter of formal resignation as of Tues. Aug. 15, 2017.”

Bernard was not your average court evangelical.  He has served as President of the ecumenical Council of Churches of the City New York and was a member of both Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio’s mayoral transition teams.  So while I applaud his resignation, I am not completely shocked by it.

But I still ask: From what exactly did Bernard resign?  To whom did he send his letter resignation?

I am really confused about whether or not Donald Trump still has an Evangelical Advisory Board.  Yesterday I was contacted by a news outlet that wanted to publish my recent post comparing the Evangelical Advisory Board to the Manufacturing Board. Then they rescinded the offer to publish, telling me that the “Evangelical Advisory Board” no longer exists.  My post was too dated.  I wrote this post in response and apologized to readers for giving them the impression that this council still existed.

But last night people started sending me links and tweets.

There apparently was/is a “White House Faith Council”

There apparently was/is a “Faith Leadership Initiative”

According to this post from Warren Throckmorton, the “evangelical faith advisory board” continued after the election.

I will stop there.  I don’t think any of these “councils,” “initiatives” and “boards” changes anything about the court evangelical phenomenon I have been writing about lately. Trump still has evangelical advisers whispering in his ear, but perhaps someone can write a definitive piece to help us figure this all out.  Emily Miller? Sarah Pulliam Bailey?  Jack Jenkins?  Emma Green? Elizabeth Dias? Jonathan Merritt? Kate Shellnut?

This Is Not “Distancing”

Trump Graham

Yesterday the Charlotte Observer ran a piece proclaiming “Franklin Graham appears to distance himself from Trump remarks on Charlottesville.”

Here is a taste:

Just days after coming to President Donald Trump’s defense in the wake of Charlottesville, Franklin Graham sent out a new Facebook post Thursday in which he appeared to distance himself from the embattled president’s continued attempts to say blame for the violence in Charlottesville should be shared by white supremacists and by those who showed up to protest their presence in the university town.

In the new post, the North Carolina-based evangelist didn’t mention Trump and he also didn’t single out the KKK or neo-Nazis by name. But he quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has emerged as a more forceful figure than the president in condemning the violence by white racists. Sessions early on called it domestic terrorism and quickly announced a federal civil rights investigation.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions is exactly right – ‘in no way can we accept and apologize for racism, bigotry, hatred, violence and those kind of things that too often arise in our country.’ One race is not superior over another. … The venomous hatred we saw displayed in #Charlottesville should repulse all Americans….”

…But in his Thursday post, Graham sounded like his father Billy Graham, the Charlotte-born evangelist who got death threats in the 1950s for speaking out against racism and refusing to preach at segregated events.

“God created mankind in His image and He loves us. The Bible tells us that, ‘He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth,’ and ‘God does not show partiality.’ … (Charlottesville) should take us to our knees in prayer for hearts to be changed.”

I applaud Graham for all of this.

But Graham will truly “distance” himself from the President when he condemns the POTUS’s decision to draw a moral equivalency between white supremacists in Charlottesville and people protesting white supremacy in Charlottesville.  Graham is good at naming the name of Jesus.  Now he needs to name the name of Trump.

Another Court Evangelical Doubles Down on Trump’s Charlottesville Remarks

Over at the Federalist, a writer named Daniel Payne has a piece titled “Trump Spoke Truth About ‘Both Sides’ In Charlottesville, And The Media Lost Their Minds.”  As the title suggests, this piece defends Trump’s remarks on Tuesday and seems to have no problem with his attempt to put the white supremacists in Charlottesville on equal moral footing with the counter-protesters.

Read it here.

I should also add, using Payne’s words, that American manufacturing leaders and an ever-growing number of GOP leaders have also “lost their minds.”

I understand the defense of Trump’s comments.  Yes, there were problems on “both sides.”  The counter-protesters engaged in violence.  It takes two to tango.  I condemn the violence on all sides.

But when the President of the United States takes to the bully pulpit in response to the arrival of white supremacists in an American city and says that “all sides were to blame” he misses the point.  He fails to see what happened in Charlottesville–the arrival of a group of white supremacists denouncing African Americans and Jews– as part of the larger context of race in America.  When one takes a longer view of what happened on Friday night and Saturday, it seems clear that the white supremacists represent something–racism–that has plagued this country from its birth. Yes, in the past those who have protested against American racists were violent at times.  During the 1850s there was a big debate over how to effectively oppose slavery. Many condemned violent approaches.  But the anti-slavery forces of that era all believed that the greatest moral issue was the ending of this immoral institution.  Any wrong-headed or destructive violence in the cause of abolitionism was always understood in this larger moral context.

Trump, Payne, and other defenders seem incapable of moral nuance here. Perhaps this kind of black and white thinking and the failure to grasp any degree of moral context and complexity explains why so many court evangelicals and writers like Payne are still defending Trump’s comments.  Or maybe its’ just politics.

Whatever it is, court evangelical Eric Metaxas has come out in support of the Payne piece and Trump’s comments.

Metaxas again

 

 

“I Feel Sorry For Him”

trumka

Last night I was watching Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, talking on CNN about why he resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council.  Trumpka was not angry. He just seemed sad.  At one point in the interview he said “I feel sorry for Donald Trump.”  He then talked about how we have a man in the oval office who did not understand common decency, presidential character, and especially American history. Though he didn’t say it outright, he implied that Trump’s failure to understand Charlottesville in the larger context of race in America, the Civil Rights Movement, slavery, the history of World War II and Nazis, and the Holocaust made him unqualified and unprepared to be POTUS.

As Trumka spoke, I thought about the men and women I have been writing about for the last year–the court evangelicals.  What role does the evangelical failure to undertake a deep study of history, and the anti-intellectualism of American evangelicalism generally, have to do with the court evangelicals’ loyal support of the POTUS?  I think it has a lot do with it.  Many of these evangelicals cannot see themselves as part of a larger history–both a history of the United States and the history of the church.  On race, they fail to see the long history of structural racism in this country.

Just a quick thought.

Does the Evangelical Advisory Council Exist?

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

Trump and court evangelical Paula White

Today I learned that Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council no longer exists.  It was disbanded after Trump won the election.  In several of my posts this week I wrote as if the council still existed.  I apologize for the error.  Trump still has evangelical advisers and most of them served on the Evangelical Advisory Council during the campaign, but I will not be referring them as part of this council any more.

Sorry for the confusion.

Do the Court Evangelicals Have Any Influence on Trump’s Policy?

pastor-mark-burns-donald-trump

Trump with court evangelical Rev. Mark Burns

It is now abundantly clear in the wake of Charlottesville that the court evangelicals do not have any influence with Donald Trump when it comes to racial issues. Of course such a statement implies that they have actually talked to the POTUS about these issues and told him that his statements about Charlottesville are morally bankrupt.  The last year makes me skeptical that a conversation of this nature has ever happened, but if it has, Trump hasn’t listened.

But what about Trump’s policy decisions? Have the court evangelicals had any sway over the POTUS?  This is a more difficult question to answer.  Trump has given conservative evangelicals the Supreme Court justice they wanted in the person of Neil Gorsuch. Trump has appointed and will appoint many federal judges as well.  He has the potential of changing the makeup of the federal judiciary.

It is also likely that the court evangelicals were behind Trump’s ban transgender people from the military.  If he gets what he wants on immigration restriction, he will get it with the support of the court evangelicals.  If he gets what he wants with the Muslim ban, his conservative evangelical advisers will cheer.  If the Johnson Amendment is removed, it will be the fulfillment of a promise he made to the court evangelicals. Betsy DeVos’s understanding of American education is in line with the views of conservative evangelicals.

Historian Neil Young, in a great interview at The Pacific Standard, is not so sure that Trump has made policy inroads with the Christian Right.  Young writes:

All of Trump’s relationships, I think, have to be seen as transactional. But the real question remains about what’s actually being transacted here. On the policy front, he hasn’t made moves to address issues that are traditionally very important to the religious right: The promises Trump has made have been more symbolic. For example, Trump recently promised that “We are going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” But beyond “Merry Christmas” rhetoric, I think his central campaign promise to conservative Christians was that he was going to restore right-wing Christians to the center of American power. It remains to be seen how exactly he’s going to accomplish that as president, but I think even just the promises of power represented something that voters really seemed to respond to.

Read the rest of interview here.

The Consumers Of Manufactured Goods vs. The Consumers of the Court Evangelical Message

First_Baptist_Church_of_Dallas,_TX_IMG_3043

First Baptist Church, Dallas

As the CEOs of major corporations are leaving Trump today, I wonder about what is really motivating them.  I want to take them at their word when they say they have serious ethical problems with Trump’s choice to morally equate white supremacists in Charlottesville with those who came to Charlottesville to oppose them.  But as I listen to the news today, several commentators are pointing out that these CEOs are under pressure from their customers and stockholders to repudiate Trump.  In other words, their decision to leave Trump’s manufacturing council was a business decision.

 

I am guessing that both conscience and profits played a role in their resignations.

While we are at it, let’s compare the manufacturers to the court evangelicals. The manufacturers have left Trump’s council.  The court evangelicals have yet to leave Trump’s council.

Two points:

1. The manufacturers resigned out of conscience because they did not want to work with a man who is incapable of condemning what happened in Charlottesville without talking about “both sides.”  The court evangelicals have not been pricked by conscience to resign from Trump’s council in the way that the manufactures have done.  They are happy to stay and work with Trump to advance his agenda.

2.  The manufactures resigned because they were being pressured by their constituencies to abandon Trump.  So far the court evangelicals seem to feel no pressure from their constituencies– the American evangelicals who attend their churches and follow their ministries.

What Are the Court Evangelicals Saying Today?

 

05059-trump

Not much.

Here is what the court evangelicals have and have not tweeted in the wake of Donald Trump’s statement on Tuesday .  In this statement he once again drew a moral equivalency between white supremacists and those protesting against them.

NOTE:  Many of these court evangelicals HAVE tweeted things about race and reconciliation since Trump’s remarks on Tuesday, but I am interested in their specific responses to Trump’s handling of this issue.  I want to see if they are willing to say anything negative about the POTUS and, in the process, speak truth to power.  I am curious about which one of them will make the hard choice of breaking with the POTUS in the way that the manufacturers did this week.  If they have not said anything about Trump’s comments on Tuesday I have chosen the world “silent” to describe their response.

Finally, I am only looking at Twitter feeds or links that are shared on Twitter.

Michelle Bachmann:  Silent.  (Although to be fair she has not tweeted since February)

A.R. Bernard: Nothing (Retweeted a general statement on hatred from New York Commission on religious leaders, but nothing on Trump)

Mark Burns: Argues for moral equivalency using MLK, mentions,”both sides” several times, and says it’s all the police’s fault:

Tim Clinton:  Silent

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland: Silent

James Dobson: Silent

Jerry Falwell Jr: Silent (I am getting this from others since I am blocked)

Ronnie Floyd: Tweets a link to a blog post in which he says  that “silence and passivity” is not the answer and the church should do something about racism.  Says nothing about the POTUS and his remarks.

Jentezen Franklin: Silent

Jack Graham: Silent

Harry Jackson: Silent

Robert Jeffress:  Links to this recent CBN video.  (Begins at about 6:00 mark).  He condemns racism and white supremacy and even acknowledges that Southern Baptists have been racist in the past.  He also says that “racism” comes “in all colors” and praises POTUS for condemning all kinds of racism.  He completely backs Trump’s statements on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, and blames any criticism of POTUS on liberals.  “There is not a racist bone in his (POTUS) body. ”

David Jeremiah: Silent

Richard Land: Silent (To be fair, he has not tweeted since May)

James McDonald: Silent

Johnnie Moore: Will not resign from Advisory Council. He says that it is his job to “give advice” not “take advice.”  I do find it interesting that the members of Trump’s Manufacturing Council (I don’t know how many of them of were Christians) saw this differently.   They were also there to “give advice,” but when Trump made his remarks on Charlottesville at least eight of them resigned.  Moore also calls for “reasoning together” quoting Isaiah 1:18.  It is unclear who he wants to reason with.

Robert Morris: Silent.  Although he did tweet this:

Tom Mullins: Silent

Ralph Reed: Silent

James Robison: Condemns racism and calls for prayer.  Silent about Trump on Twitter. But Warren Throckmorton is reporting on this.

Tony Suarez: Silent

Paula White-Cain: Silent.  But this tweet is interesting.

Sealy Yates: Can’t seem to findTwitter account

OTHER COURT EVANGELICALS:

Franklin Graham: Silent

Eric Metaxas: No idea. I’m blocked

Greg Lurie: Silent

Tony Perkins: Silent  (Perkins is President of the Family Research Council.  Are Trump’s remarks not a family issue?  I know my kids are asking about it).

Cindy Jacobs: Silent