Trump Will Speak at the Value Voters Summit on Saturday

Trump evangelical

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

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

There are also a host of breakout sessions and breakfasts:

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

2 final comments:

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

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

Syrian Christians

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

Christianity Today is covering it this way:

One Syrian Christian leader issued a plea to President Trump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

Here is court evangelical Franklin Graham:

 

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

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

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

Believe Me 3d

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

Why Do I Keep Repeating Myself?

Trump court evangelicals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

Start watching this at 10:46 minute mark:

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

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

Raising Righteous and Rowdy Girls (White Feather Press)

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

Raising Boys Feminists Will Hate (White Feather Press)

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

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

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

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

Some takeaways:

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

OK–I’m done.  Watch it for yourself.

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

Trump Jeffress

Here is a taste:

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

Did the country heal after this war?

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

Starnes and Jeffress

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

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

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

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

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

Religious News Service Talks to Franklin Graham About Impeachment

Trump Graham

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

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

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

Here is a taste of Shimron’s piece:

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress is Getting Desperate

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

A few things worth highlighting quickly:

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

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

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

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

What Franklin Graham’s Recent Tweet Really Means

Believe Me 3d

Court evangelical Franklin Graham recently tweeted the following:

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Chief Court Evangelical Weighs In on Impeachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffress remarks deserve a bit more analysis.  Some thoughts:

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

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

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

Clinton I have sinned

A taste:

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the video of Thunberg at the United Nations:

“How dare you!”

 

 

Why the Recent *Politico” Piece Will Not Hurt Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Standing Among Many Conservative Evangelicals

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Yesterday I posted about Brandon Ambrosino’s Politico piece exposing Jerry Falwell’s lies, shady business deals, sex life, and the tyrannical power he holds over his employees at Liberty University.  One of Falwell’s employees called the president a dictator who propagates a culture of fear at the Lynchburg, Virginia school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Two things are worth noting about this story.

First, anyone who has studied the history of American fundamentalism will be familiar with the kind of power Falwell Jr. wields.  Falwell Jr. inherited Liberty from his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of the school.  Falwell Sr. was the product of the separatist fundamentalist movement, an approach to conservative Protestantism that continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism” long after other mid-twentieth-century conservative Protestants had abandoned it in favor of the term “evangelical.”  Liberty University (originally Lynchburg Baptist College) was born out of this movement.

Falwell Sr.’s brand of fundamentalism not only opposed secular humanism and liberal Protestantism, but it also refused to fellowship or cooperate with conservative Christians willing to participate in religious services and events with liberal Protestants.  This was known as “second-degree separation” and, as I argued in several essays in the 1990s, it was a defining characteristic of the fundamentalist movement in the years following the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s.

When so-called “neo-evangelicals” such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga, and others sought to forge a more irenic brand of conservative Protestantism after World War II known as “neo-evangelicalism,” other alumni of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies such as John R. Rice, Carl McIntire, Robert T. Ketcham, and Bob Jones Jr. continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism.” (Falwell Sr. was a disciple of Rice, a Wheaton, Illinois and later Murfreesboro, Tennessee -based evangelist who parted ways with Graham over the latter’s willingness to allow liberal clergy to pray at his crusades).

These separatist fundamentalists were known for empire building.  Rice built his empire around his newspaper The Sword of the Lord, a weekly publication that had over 100,000 subscribers in the 1950s.  McIntire’s built an empire around his popular radio broadcast, his Collingswood, New Jersey-based weekly newspaper The Christian Beacon, his conference-center properties in Cape May, New Jersey, and Shelton College (first in Ringwood, NJ and later Cape May) and Faith Theological Seminary (Elkins Park, PA).  Ketcham was a leader of the General Association of Regular Baptists, a denomination formed in the wake of the modernist takeover of the Northern Baptist Church.  Bob Jones Jr. presided over Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.  All of these men were autocratic leaders who wielded immense power among their followers.  They spent much of their time railing against their many enemies–modernism, mainline Protestantism, communism, the civil rights movement, feminists, and the counter-culture.  And they became experts at sniffing-out those in their ranks who they believed to be compromising their faith by working with Graham or other neo-evangelicals.

When Jerry Falwell Sr. formed the Moral Majority in 1979, many self-identified fundamentalists rejected him.  Falwell Sr.’s willingness to work with like-minded Catholics and Mormons  on moral issues was just too much for separatists such as Bob Jones Jr.   Yet Falwell Sr. never really joined the neo-evangelical fold.  Since the 1980s, Falwell Sr and the empire he created in Lynchburg has remained in a kind of no-man’s land–situated somewhere between the culturally-engaged evangelicals and the old separatists.

Though Falwell Sr. eventually parted ways with his separatist fundamentalist roots, he never abandoned the empire-building mentality of the religious culture in which he came of age as a minister.  Falwell Sr. ran Liberty University like a dictator.  So does his son.  In this sense, there is more continuity between father and son than Ambrosino allows.

Second, I am afraid that Ambrosino’s Politico article will do little to damage Jerry Falwell Jr.’s reputation among his followers.  Falwell Jr. will just claim that Ambrosino is a disgruntled former student and Politico is part of the mainstream media out to get him because of his support of Donald Trump.  Yes, there may be some evangelical parents and high school students who will take Liberty University off their short list because of this article and others like it, but I imagine that many students and alumni at Liberty will see Falwell Jr. and Liberty as victims of the liberal media and other forces trying to undermine evangelical Christianity, religious freedom, and Christian nationalism in America.  Liberty will remain a safe place for these parents and students.

Falwell Jr. is no dummy.  He knows that his administrative staff and faculty are expendable. In his mind, they are interchangeable parts.  He once said that he has “tamed” them.  Someone, after all, has to teach the classes.  In the end, Falwell Jr. is betting that as long as he takes his cultural war vision for Liberty University directly to the people through social media, conservative political outlets like Fox News (where Liberty advertises), and court evangelical appearances with Trump, and as long he suppressed dissent among his staff and the student body, he will continue to fill seats in the Liberty University classrooms and online venues. Many evangelicals will overlook his indiscretions in the same way they have overlooked Trump’s indiscretions.

The Meaning of Trump’s Israel Comments

The president has been talking about Israel a lot lately.

First, there was Trump pressuring Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent two members of Congress from visiting Israel.

Then he suggested that Jews who vote for Democratic candidates lack knowledge and are “disloyal.”

Then a conservative pundit and promoter of the Obama birther conspiracy named Wayne Allyn Root said this about Trump:

I happen to be Jewish by birth, and 75% of all Jews vote Democrat and they don’t like Trump and he is the greatest president for Jews, and for Israel, in the history of the world–not just America, Trump is the best for Israel in the history of world.  And the Jewish people love him like he’s the King of Israel.  They love him like he is the second coming of God. And in America, American Jews don’t like him.

Trump liked what he heard.  Of course he did.  He is always glad when one of his sycophants worships him.  He tweeted:

And then there was yesterday press briefing.  I think Root got in his head.  Watch Trump’s refer to himself as “the chosen one”:

Whenever Donald Trump mentions Israel he is speaking directly to his evangelical base.

Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

The third major issue championed by the court evangelicals is the United states recognition of Jerusalem as the “eternal capital ” of the Jewish people….One of the reasons conservative evangelicals are ecstatic about this move is that many of them believe…that biblical prophecy teaches that the return of the Jews to Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Christ will one day return to earth with his raptured saints and descend on a rebuilt temple located inside Jerusalem.  Robert Jeffress is one of the most outspoken defenders of Trump’s decision to move the capital to the holy city.  He has written several books on biblical prophecy and is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, the center of Dispensational theology in America.  Jeffress told Fox News that Trump is now “on the right side of history” and on the “right side of God.”

Trump’s decision to move the embassy, which no doubt came after much lobbying from the court evangelicals, is not only a triumph for the Dispensationalists; it also fits well with INC apostle Lance Wallnau’s prophecy that Donald Trump is a new King Cyrus.  This merger of Dispensational theology and INC prophecy appears in court evangelical Mike Evans’s response to the Trump move.  One of America’s leading Christian Zionists, Evans recently founded the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to celebrate the “everlasting bond between the Jewish and Christian peoples.”  When Trump announced that he was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Evans enthusiastically told the Christian Broadcasting Network that when he next saw Trump in the Oval Office he would say to him: “Cyrus, you’re Cyrus.  Because you’ve done something historic and prophetic.”  Wallnau envisioned Trump as a Cyrus who would save American Christians; Evans believed that Trump was a modern-day Cyrus who would make possible the restoration of Jerusalem and the further confirmation of Israel’s future role in biblical prophecy.  Because of Trump’s actions, Evans declared, the blessing of God would come upon America.  Indeed, this decision would make America great in the eyes of God.  It also made Trump great in the eyes of the court evangelicals, raising questions about whether his decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem was more of a political move than a diplomatic or religious one.

Yesterday Fox News broadcaster Todd Starnes had court evangelical Robert Jeffress on the show to talk about Trump’s comments about Israel.  Listen to it here:

Jeffress tries to downplay biblical prophecy in this interview (despite the fact that he has written books about this very topic), but it should not surprise anyone that he supports Trump’s remarks about Jews who vote for Democratic candidates.

Again, when you hear Trump talk about Israel, think about the evangelical base he needs to win in 2020.

Will Trump-Supporting Evangelicals Learn Anything from the Graham-Nixon Relationship?

Graham and Nixon

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,  I wrote:

[Billy] Graham’s relationship with Richard Nixon brought him closer to the world of presidential politics than he had ever been before.  The two stayed in close contact during the years following Nixon’s loss to Kennedy in the election of 1960 and the evangelist continued to speak positively about the politician in public venues.  In a 1964 interview in McCall’s magazine, Graham expressed his bafflement that he often heard people say  “I just don’t like Nixon.”  According to Graham, the former vice president was “one of the warmest and most likeable men I have ever known.”  Nixon claimed that Graham encouraged him  him to run for president again in 1968, and Graham, in turn, suggested that Nixon’s second change at the nation’s highest political office was part of God’s providential plan.  During Nixon’s years in the White House (1969-1974) , Graham made regular visits to the president, served as an unofficial surrogage (without formally endorsing him), advised Nixon on policy decision, and publicly thanked God for his presidency.  [Historian Steven] Miller goes as far to suggest that there were times when “Graham’s [religious] services or appearances seemed to double as Nixon rallies.”  Nixon used Graham to win evangelical votes, especially in the South. where Nixon needed the votes of white southern Christians–his so-called “Southern strategy”–and Graham believed that Nixon was a moral statesman, God’s man to lead a Christian nation.

But Graham would quickly learn that Richard Nixon was one man in Graham’s presence and quite another when operating in the cutthroat world of presidential politics.  During the Watergate scandal, Graham stood by the president.  During the 1972 election campaign, he chided Nixon’s opponent, South Dakota senator George McGovern, for saying that the Nixon administration was up to something sinister.  In one letter to President Nixon, Graham quoted Psalm 35:11-12, where the psalmist writes: “They accuse me of things I have never heard about.  I do them good, but they return me harm.”  [Historian Grant] Wacker says that Graham “continued to defend Nixon long after most Americans smelled a rate.”  In December 1973 , the evangelist told Nixon that he had “complete confidence” in his “personal integrity.”  When transcripts of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations (which included Nixon’s strongly anti-Semitic language) proved that the president was ultimately responsible for the Watergate break-in, Graham seemed more concerned about Nixon’s profanity on the tapes than the fact that the president was using his power to cover up his crimes.  When Graham read excerpts of the tapes in The New York Times, he claimed to feel “physically sick.”  Years later, Graham admitted that his relationship with the disgraced former president had “muffled those inner monitors that had warned me for years to stay out of partisan politics” and, as Wacker notes, “he urged young evangelists to avoid his mistake.”

There are a lot of similarities between Graham’s relationship with Nixon and the court evangelicals‘ relationship with Donald Trump.  Have the court evangelicals learned anything from Billy Graham?  Over at The Washington Post, Anja Maria-Bassimir and Elesha Coffman offer a revealing look into the way evangelical magazines responded to Graham’s relationship with Nixon during the Watergate scandal.  Here is a taste:

While Graham enjoyed private chats in the Nixon White House and urged his fellow citizens to rally around the flag at Honor America Day, another prominent evangelical, then-Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), warned that a bad graft between religion and politics was turning gangrenous. “We would always rather hide our wounds than heal them,” he said at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Chicago in May 1973. “It is always more comfortable to believe in the symbols of righteousness than to acknowledge the reality of evil. This is especially true in our national political life. And we have become adroit at manipulating religious impulses in our land to sanctify this political life.”

People in power, such as Hatfield, had to work even harder to resist such craven impulses. He noted: “When we are given a position of leadership, it becomes almost second nature to avoid admitting that we may be wrong. Confession becomes equated with weakness. The urge toward self-vindication becomes enormous, almost overpowering. A politician faces this temptation in a very special way, for somehow it has become a political maxim never to admit that one is wrong. Now, that may be wise politics. But it’s terrible Christianity.” These sentiments earned Hatfield a place on Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” and a concerned letter from Graham, according to the book “Lonely Walk.”

As revelations about the Watergate break-in and subsequent coverup accumulated in 1973 and 1974, many evangelicals vacillated between Hatfield’s warnings and Graham’s reassurances. At first, only Hatfield’s allies in the small but vocal evangelical left sounded the alarm. Hatfield’s speech echoed the rhetoric of his friend Jim Wallis, who regularly hit these ominous notes in his radical magazine, the Post-American (later renamed Sojourners). Then, the far-from-radical magazine Eternity chimed in, as columnist Joseph Bayly wrote: “Whether we like it or not, a major problem we face as evangelical Christians today is the identification in the popular mind of the religious position we represent with the Nixon administration and its actions. We are ‘middle America,’ the group sector that gave President Nixon his ‘mandate.’ We are the war party, the white backlash (if not racist) party, the Watergate scandal party.”

Finally, the more staid Christianity Today — the magazine founded by Billy Graham — came around. It had printed Hatfield’s speech in June 1973, but also Graham’s “mistakes and blunders” comments several months later. Appearing reluctant, in June 1974, an editorial argued for Nixon’s impeachment. Authors acknowledged that “evangelicals can point to some in their ranks whose private or public conduct is disgraceful, perhaps even worse than that displayed by the Watergate participants.” Ten years later, Graham told the magazine: “I came close to identifying the American way of life with the kingdom of God.” He said he had learned his lesson. And near the end of his life, he said: “I also would have steered clear of politics.”

Read the entire piece here.

Cornel West and Robert George Will Be Speaking at Liberty University

Cornel West and Princeton professor Robert George will be speaking at an event on civil discourse at Liberty University.  If I am reading the schedule correctly, it looks like the event will take place on August 30, 2019.

West

West and George regularly travel to college campuses and other places to talk about civility and the importance of the liberal arts.  Here is a post we did on a recent discussion at the American Enterprise Institute.

Civil discourse is one thing, but I can’t imagine that Cornel West will not speak truth to power in Lynchburg.  As many of you know, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, is a leading court evangelical who has called Donald Trump the “dream president” of evangelicals.

George, on the other hand, will be on something close to home turf at Liberty despite the fact that many Liberty students probably don’t think he is truly saved because he is a Roman Catholic.

Will Evangelicals Rally Around Trump in 2020?

trump-evangelicals

The Washington Post has published a long-form piece by writer Elizabeth Bruenig on Trump and evangelicals. Her work is based on some shoe-leather reporting in Texas during Easter weekend, 2019.  Bruenig talked to court evangelical Robert Jeffress, evangelicals at a small Baptist church, progressive Christians, and members of her own family.

Here is a taste:

However he reached them, Trump has undoubtedly made greater inroads with his evangelical adherents. Jeffress predicted an even bigger win for Trump among evangelicals this time around, surpassing his record-setting success last time; all of the Farmersville Christians were prepared to vote for him in 2020, as was Joe Aguilar. Much depends on the many months between now and the general election, but I would no longer underestimate the possibility that evangelicals will turn out in stronger numbers for a second Trump term than they did in 2016, partly to ensure another Supreme Court pick and partly because the backlash against them has cemented so much of what they already suspected about liberals’ attitudes.

Which raises a series of imponderables: Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.

Or was a truly evangelicalpolitics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?

Read the entire piece here.

Fox News Tackles My “Thoughts and Prayers” *Washington Post* Piece

Here is last night’s Shannon Bream show on Fox.   Fast forward to the 36:40 mark to see court evangelical Robert Jeffress and radio host Ethan Bearman discuss my recent Washington Post article on the connection between abortion and gun control.

I still want Jeffress to turn to his Twitter feed and his media outlets and propose serious gun reforms as an extension of his commitment to human dignity and life.

ADDENDUM:

It looks like Fox News removed the video. I think you might be able to see it on Jeffress’s Twitter feed: