Liberty University’s Falkirk Center celebrates one year of divisive, culture war politics

After Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned in disgrace as president of Liberty University, I wrote a piece at Religion News Service titled “Reforming Liberty University in the post-Falwell era should begin with the Falkirk Center.” Here is a taste of that piece:

But for many onlookers, the problems at Liberty run much deeper than a sex scandal. If the university is serious about cleaning up the mess, it will need to take a hard look at the approach to Christianity and public life that the university’s leadership has championed for more than four decades. With Falwell Jr. gone, Liberty does indeed have a chance to be a “better,” more “God-glorifying place,” but it will require serious reforms. The first step should be to close its culture war “think tank,” the Falkirk Center.

Founded in November 2019, the Falkirk Center is the brainchild of Jerry Falwell Jr. and pro-Donald Trump activist Charlie Kirk. (Its name is a portmanteau of the two men’s names.) The center operates with a “moral mission” to “go on the offensive in the name of Christian principles and in the name of exceptional God-given American liberties,” according to its website. Those commissioned to speak on behalf of the center — these men and women bear the title “Falkirk fellows”— are described as “bold ambassadors equipped with Biblical and Constitutional knowledge to speak truth to believers and unbelievers alike in every professional field and public forum.”

In a Jan. 20, 2020, article in the Liberty Champion, the university’s newspaper, Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein told student writer Hattie Troutman that “if Liberty was to be in partnership with the center, it must be rooted in the Gospel and represent Liberty University’s missional values.” Indeed, the Falkirk Center has quickly become Liberty University’s voice in the public sphere. 

If you want to understand what the Falkirk Center means by “going on the offensive” or speaking “truth” in every “public forum,” you need to look no further than Falwell’s well-documented public statements over the last four years. He has tweeted an image of a blackface coronavirus mask as part of his criticism of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Falwell claimed that COVID-19 is the result of a secret collaboration between North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un and China for the purpose of undermining the Trump presidency.

Falwell praised Trump’s comments in defense of white supremacists during the August 2017 racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, and defended Trump’s boasting of sexual assault on a tape released by the entertainment show Access Hollywood. Falwell threatened a New York Times reporter in a late-night voicemail. He defended U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama after Moore was accused of molesting teenage girls.

During the Democratic National Convention, meanwhile, Kirk published tweets saying that Michelle and Barack Obama “hate America,” Bernie Sanders is a “communist,” and the Democrat Party is the party of “white liberal racists.” Two weeks ago, Kirk tweeted to his 1.8 million Twitter followers that NBA players protesting the Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooting of Jacob Blake are “morons” and the league is “a national joke and disgrace.”

Falkirk Center fellow Eric Metaxas, an author and radio host who has compared Hillary Clinton to Hitler, has suggested that those who oppose Trump are “demonic.” In 2016, Metaxas wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed claiming that if evangelicals did not vote for Trump “God will not hold us guiltless.” More recently, Metaxas said that Jesus was white,  and on the final night of the Republican National Convention, in Washington, D.C., Metaxas was caught on camera throwing a punch at an anti-Trump protester.

Sebastian Gorka, a radio host and former Trump foreign policy strategist with dubious academic credentials, also serves as a Falkirk fellow. In the last few weeks, Gorka claimed that Joe Biden was senile, downplayed the threat of COVID-19 and retweeted a conservative pundit who described the victims of Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse as “scumbags.”

Read the entire piece here.

Today Liberty University’s website is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Falkirk Center. Read the press release here.

As you read, remember that all Christian universities are not the same.

I also want to point you to Peter Montgomery’s piece at Right Wing Watch. Here is a taste:

Among the first-year accomplishments cited by the Falkirk Center was its day-long “faith summit” called “Get Louder,” which featured Christian Reconstructionist Gary DeMar as a speaker on a panel moderated by Metaxas.

The celebratory post, written by Liberty communications staffer Logan Smith, mentioned that “Falkirk Podcast” guests have included Trump lawyer and national punchline Giuliani and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, who teaches that genuine Christians must adhere to a belief in a literal six-day Creation and a universe that is thousands of years old.

It also placed the Falkirk Center firmly on the side of right-wing evangelicals who believe that conversations about social justice and racism within the church are dangerous, evil, and enemies of the Gospel. The article quotes a Liberty University parent praising Falkirk for “drawing attention to leftist thinking that is attacking the Church.”

“The Falkirk Center fills a need deeply felt during this time of increasing wokeness and social justice inside the church, calling Christians and pastors to return to the true doctrine of God’s Word,” said Grant May, one of a growing number of Falkirk Center ambassadors from across the country, according to the Liberty blog post. “The center has inspired and encouraged me during the rising fad of cultural Christianity to truly dive into the Word and remember what Christ’s commands for the Church were, not modern-day pastors’ advice on how to be culturally relevant.”

The post also celebrates that the Falkirk Center “has consistently encouraged churches and pastors to defy” pandemic “lockdown orders.”

The anniversary blog post included no mention of the Falkirk Center’s co-founder Jerry Falwell, Jr., the university’s disgraced former president. The Falkirk moniker is a fusion of Falwell’s name and that of cofounder Charlie Kirk, who heads the right-wing youth organizing project Turning Point USA, as well as a reference to the battle of Falkirk, memorialized in the movie Braveheart.

Read Montgomery’s entire piece here.

Liberty University is now the bastion of evangelical Trumpism.

Some court evangelicals are still keep pushing the voter fraud narrative. Others are angry with Obama.

It is Thanksgiving. Yesterday Donald Trump’s legal team was in Gettysburg for an election fraud hearing. GOP state legislators hosted the event. The day included testimonies from Pennsylvanians who claimed to have witnessed voter fraud on November 3 and in the days following. Donald Trump called-in to the event. He said the 2020 election was “rigged” and claimed that he “won easily.” During the phone call he repeated false claim after false claim and conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. He also invited these legislators to drive down to Washington to hang out with him.

Trump also issued his 2020 Thanksgiving Day proclamation. Despite Center for Disease Control recommendations, Trump told Americans to “gather” on Thanksgiving: “I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings.” The proclamation also thanks “first responders, medical professionals, essential workers, [and] neighbors.” In other words, Trump is telling Americans to gather together and spread COVID and let the health care workers deal with it.

Court evangelicals are still complaining about things.

Jenna Ellis, a member of Trump’s legal team and a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, reminds us that Pennsylvania state senator Doug Mastriano quoted Galatians 6:9 at the end of today’s hearing. (Earlier in the day he quoted John 8:36):

Ellis and Giuliani may really believe they are winning:

Ellis is an evangelical Christian and former professor at Colorado Christian University:

Charlie Kirk is Jenna Ellis’s colleague at the Liberty University’s Falkirk Center and a regular weekend speaker at pro-Trump evangelical megachurches:

Eric Metaxas has a radio show, but he is also a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center. Today he is pushing a providential view of American history and his book If You Can Keep It. (I wrote a multiple part review of this problematic book, but if you want the shorter version click here).

Metaxas is also claiming that “people are going to jail” for engaging in supposed election fraud. His online following is growing largely because he is one of the few evangelicals with a platform who is still pushing these election fraud conspiracy theories. Metaxas is still involved with the Jim Garlow “election integrity” prayer meetings where a guy with a red, white, and blue shofar plays “Taps” and “Amazing Grace.

Facebook barred Metaxas today for violating the site’s “community standards.” Apparently he thanked “My Pillow” guy Mike Lindell for bailing-out Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse.

Lance Wallnau is ready for the fight:

Yesterday Barack Obama made a factual statement about why so many Hispanic evangelicals voted for Trump. Obama’s comments were more analysis than condemnation and what is he says here is most likely true. Listen (second tweet in the thread):

Here is how Fox News twisted this statement:

Court evangelical Jim Garlow is also spinning this as some kind of Obama attack on Hispanic evangelicals. Here is what Garlow wrote today at his Facebook page:

Obama slamming Latino evangelicals for their views of pro-life and gay (so called) “marriage.” In other words, they are clinging to “life” and “marriage,” in much the same way we were accused by him of “clinging to our God and guns.” Disgusting comments. Trashing Hispanic God-lovers!

I am confused by this. Wouldn’t court evangelicals be happy that Hispanics are supporting Trump because of his views on abortion? How does this Obama statement “trash” Hispanic evangelicals? Doesn’t Garlow’s criticism here imply that Trump’s treatment of Hispanics at the border is correct? This is how these court evangelicals fire-up their evangelical Christian followers. This is not about logic, it’s about attacking Obama. Here are just a few of the comments Garlow received in response to the aforementioned Facebook post:

–Clearly a racist statement on Obama’s part as well as a blatant lie attributing to Trump the cages for illegal immigrants. Those cages were put there by the Obama/Biden administration.

–Liberals can’t stand anyone who believes God has given us direction on true right and wrong. This gets in the way of their playing ‘god’ and determining their own relativistic morals.

–I have NO respect or honor for that filth. Sorry he deserves nothing.

–I pray for our country- Obama is a Muslim that is only about elevating his evil agenda.

–Obama is a piece of crap. There, I said it and I mean it.

–The most corrupt President in USA 🇺🇸 history / never a friend to us / most of us (Latinos vote for Trump)

I imagine that the people who wrote these comments are also some of the people who are tuning in each night to Garlow’s regular prayer meetings for “election integrity.”

By the way, Jack Graham is also mad about this:

Not sure if John Hagee is talking about election fraud or COVID restrictions here. Probably both:

Study: White Evangelicals are “cultural others” and the culture wars are getting worse

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia just released its 2020 survey of American political culture. It is titled Democracy in Dark Times. James Davison Hunter and Carl Desportes Bowman are the primary investigators/authors.

It is a very thorough study. Read it here. A few things the study tells us about White Evangelicals:

7 out of 10 “white evangelicals” believe that most opponents of Donald Trump are “socialists.”

9 out of 10 “white evangelicals” believe that the Democratic Party wants to transform the nation into a “socialist nation.”

86% of African Americans believe racism is a serious threat to America and its future. 70% of Hispanics believe this. 68% of White non-evangelicals believe this. But only 36% of “White Evangelical Protestants” believe racism is a serious threat to America and its future.

86% of African Americans believe economic inequality and poverty are serious threats to America. 68% of Hispanics believe this. 66% of White non-Evangelicals believe this. But only 37% of White Evangelicals believe inequality and poverty are serious threats to America.

91% of Blacks believe “the police and law enforcement unfairly target racial and ethnic minorities.” 60% of Hispanics believe this. 57% of White non-Evangelicals believe this. But only 17% of White Evangelicals believe this (83% disagree).

78% of African Americans favor some kind of “financial compensation to African Americans for their historic mistreatment of White Americans” (reparations). 41% of Hispanics favor reparations. 34% of non-Evangelical Whites favor reparation. But only 7% of White Evangelicals favor reparations.

The authors of the report write:

In sum, yes, there is a racial divide in America. Whites, Hispanics, and
African Americans do not share the same or even similar perspectives on
the history, experiences, and issues surrounding race, and the consequence
of this is misunderstanding, a lack of respect, and ultimately prejudice in
the everyday experience of Blacks and other minorities. But these points
of division are not equally or uniformly distributed across the population.
The deepest and most consistent racial division is found between White
Evangelicals and Blacks. Reconciliation begins with mutual understanding,
and by these lights, it is a long way off.

Here’s more:

26% of the African American community identify as “Evangelical.” According to the report, they are “entirely aligned with their larger racial community” on matters of race in America.

Black evangelicals “harbor more ‘conservative’ fears about crime and lawlessness, immigration, socialism, and the like than do secular Blacks. Even so, the two groups in our sample are not that far apart, especially in comparison with the great cultural distance between White Evangelical Protestants and White secularists.”

Evangelicals of color are nearly three times as likely as White Evangelicals to agree that “our founding fathers were part of a racist and sexist culture that gave important roles to White men while harming minorities and women.”

Evangelicals of color are twice as likely as White Evangelicals to see “Wall Street and the banking system as a very or extremely serious threat to America and America’s future.”

53% of White Evangelicals are Republicans. 35% of White Evangelicals are Independents. Only 7% of White Evangelicals are Democrats.

82% of White Evangelicals say that they are either “very conservative” or “somewhat conservative.” 15% of White Evangelicals describe their politics as “moderate.” Only 2% of White Evangelicals describe their politics as “liberal.”

The authors of the study conclude that White Evangelicalism, a movement that once was at the center of American religious and cultural life, has become a “cultural other” in the United States.

A majority of White Evangelicals believe that the opponents of Donald Trump are “misguided and misinformed,” “close-minded,” “dangerous,” and “arrogant and pretentious.”

Read the entire report here. The study concludes that “nearly 30 years after Hunter’s 1991 book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America…, the country is even more deeply fractured by ideology, religion, race, and income.”

When the culture-war wing of your Christian university is named after a disgraced president and an internet troll…

How long will the administration of Liberty University allow its culture warrior wing, aka the Falkirk Center, to exist?

The Falkirk Center is named for two pro-Trump culture warriors: Jerry Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk.

We now know that Jerry Falwell Jr. has resigned from the presidency of Liberty in the midst of a sex scandal.

Charlie Kirk’s marketing firm was banned from Facebook after the social media site concluded that he is running a political “troll farm.” Twitter has locked his account for tweeting false political information about the election in Pennsylvania.

Samuel Avery-Quinn gets it right:

How long can Liberty claim to be a Christian university and still have a center named after these men?

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center meets all expectations at its “Get Louder” event

Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.

If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:

This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.

Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:

The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:

Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.

And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.

Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:

Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.

Reforming Liberty University in the post-Falwell era should begin with the Falkirk Center

Here is a taste of my piece today at Religion News Service:

On Aug. 26, hundreds of students, wearing masks and properly distanced, gathered in Liberty University’s Williams Stadium for Campus Community, a weekly event that campus pastor David Nasser calls “one of the largest Bible studies in the world.”

It was the first Campus Community of the new academic year and Nasser did not avoid the elephant in the room (or, in this case, on the field). He directly addressed the resignation of former Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. after allegations that Falwell and his wife, Becki, had initiated a multiyear sexual affair with a Miami pool boy named Giancarlo Granda.

This moment that we’re in is a mess,” Nasser said, and “I am sorry.” He added, “Liberty is more than a college. … We are God’s college and as our founder (Jerry Falwell Sr.) always said, ‘If it’s Christian it ought to be better,’ certainly better than this.”

These were powerful, heartfelt words. It’s obvious that Nasser is a good man who wants to bring healing to the university he loves. Such healing starts with acknowledging Falwell Jr.’s sin and affirming a commitment to make Liberty, in Nasser’s words, a more “God-glorifying place.”

But for many onlookers, the problems at Liberty run much deeper than a sex scandal. If the university is serious about cleaning up the mess, it will need to take a hard look at the approach to Christianity and public life that the university’s leadership has championed for more than four decades. With Falwell Jr. gone, Liberty does indeed have a chance to be a “better,” more “God-glorifying place,” but it will require serious reforms. The first step should be to close its culture war “think tank,” the Falkirk Center.

Read the rest here.

I should also add that the Falkirk Center is having a big “Faith Summit” tomorrow called “Get Louder: Fighting for the Soul of America.” Speakers include Mike Huckabee, Eric Metaxas, Charlie Kirk, John MacArthur, and Jenna Ellis.

What happened to Liberty University’s original “Falkirk fellows”?

Liberty Mountain

When Jerry Falwell and Charlie Kirk founded Liberty University’s Falkirk Center they appointed several “fellows” to speak on behalf of the Center’s mission and purpose. According to the Center’s website, the Falkirk Center was created to:

…go on the offense in the name of Christian principles and in the name of exceptional, God-given American liberties.

Accomplishing this end requires more than adding noise to the echo chamber. It requires an army of bold ambassadors equipped with Biblical and Constitutional knowledge to speak truth to believers and unbelievers alike in every professional field and public forum. This includes Christian leaders and influencers—of all ages and backgrounds—defending, explaining, and sharing their beliefs on all platforms and sectors of society.

Thankfully, we don’t have to render ourselves powerless as the left misguides our young people. Much like Wallace’s struggle for freedom, we need brave, tenacious, passionate fighters to prevail in our war to save the greatest nation on earth. The Falkirk Center will remain on the front lines of this war. And we believe, like the passionate freedom fighters that courageously charged into the breach before us, we will eventually see victory.

The first group of fellows were:

Erika Lane Frantzve: She was Miss Arizona USA.  I am not sure what qualifies her as a “fellow” at a think tank.

Josh Allen Murray: He apparently was a winner on the ABC reality show “The Bachelorette.”

Antonia Okafor Cover: She runs a non-profit organization that teaches women how to use guns and advocate for their Second Amendment rights.

David Harris Jr.: He is the author of a book titled Why I Couldn’t Stay Silent: One Man’s Battle as a Black Conservative

Jaco Boovens: Runs a film company

As of today, Murray, Cover, and Booyens are no longer associated with the Falkirk Center. Does anyone know what happened? Why did they leave? Perhaps a religion journalist might want to follow-up.

Harris Jr. continues to tweet on behalf of the Falkirk Center. So does Frantzve.

The list of fellows now includes Eric Metaxas, Jenna Ellis, Darrel B. Harrison, Sebastian Gorka, and David Brat. I don’t know much about Harrison, but the other four are more high-profile culture warriors with bigger platforms.

My sources tell me that the Liberty University Board of Trustees is meeting today. Will its members address the Falkirk Center and its brand of gutter politics? What they decide to do with the Falkirk Center will speak volumes about how the board understands Liberty’s future. Here are just a few tweets from the last 48 hours. All of them come from current Falkirk Center fellows:

Retweeted by Sebastian Gorka:

Eric Metaxas recently said that Kamala Harris is an “evil protean figure” and agreed with a guest who said that she has a “Jezebel spirit.”

All of these people speak on behalf of a Center run by Liberty University, a self-identified Christian college.

What has Liberty University’s Falkirk Center said about Jerry Falwell’s “indefinite leave of absence”?

Falkirk band

Nothing.

The co-creator of the Christian Right, pro-Trump, attack-dog “center” which has become the public voice of Liberty University’s culture war agenda has just lost its leader. And here is what the Falkirk Center is tweeting about:

The Falkirk Center, more than any other part of the Liberty campus, represents the divisive and corrosive spirit of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership. The way the Board of Trustees handles the Center will speak volumes about the future course of this university. So far it looks like business as usual.

Remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton opposes “cancel culture.” Unless, of course, it is the 1619 Project

1619

I just learned today that Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is trying to pass legislation to prohibit schools from using federal funds to teach the New York Times‘s 1619 Project. (If you are unfamiliar with the 1619 Project, read our coverage here. We’ve collected most of the pertinent articles).

This week I am doing Q&A sessions with about 100 hundred high school teachers enrolled in my Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History course on British North America. They are watching a series of lectures I recorded with Gilder-Lehrman back in 2015 and I am meeting with them live via ZOOM to answer their questions.

Yesterday, we talked about the colonial Chesapeake and, as might be expected, most of the conversation revolved around race, slavery, and the 1619 Project. My comments about the Project focused on several points:

  1. The 1619 Project has some serious historical problems, especially in its claim that the American Revolution was primarily about preserving slavery.
  2. We cannot ignore the relationship between slavery, race, and the American founding. (Several teachers, for example, had read Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery–American Freedom).
  3. We should not hesitate to use the 1619 Project in our classrooms if we think it might help students understand issues of systemic racism.
  4. Very few essays in the 1619 Project are written by historians.
  5. The claim that the 1619 Project should be the final word in the classroom concerning the subject of slavery, race, and the historical roots of American identity is a claim that is insulting to history teachers. Which leads me to my final, and most important point:
  6. Much of the debate over the 1619 Project in the classroom fails to grasp the nature of good history teaching. While citizenship and equitable coverage is certainly important, the primary goal of the history classroom is to get students to think and read historically. This requires a sensitivity to bias, context, authorial intent (sourcing), close reading, and complexity. As Sam Wineburg says in Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, students should not only learn what a document is saying, but also what a document is doing. If this is our goal, then why should we be afraid of the 1619 Project? Use it in class, interrogate it, and teach your kids to read it like any good historian would read a document.

Read Cotton’s “Saving American History Act.  Here is an opinion piece at Forbes.

Thoughts on Trump’s Proposed “National Garden of American Heroes”

 

Trump Rushmore

At his July 3, 2020 speech at Mount Rushmore, Donald Trump said:

More here.

And here is the text of the executive order:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Purpose.  America owes its present greatness to its past sacrifices.  Because the past is always at risk of being forgotten, monuments will always be needed to honor those who came before.  Since the time of our founding, Americans have raised monuments to our greatest citizens.  In 1784, the legislature of Virginia commissioned the earliest statue of George Washington, a “monument of affection and gratitude” to a man who “unit[ed] to the endowment[s] of the Hero the virtues of the Patriot” and gave to the world “an Immortal Example of true Glory.”  I Res. H. Del. (June 24, 1784).  In our public parks and plazas, we have erected statues of great Americans who, through acts of wisdom and daring, built and preserved for us a republic of ordered liberty.

These statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal.  They preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten.  These works of art call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation.  These monuments express our noblest ideals:  respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect union.  They are works of beauty, created as enduring tributes.  In preserving them, we show reverence for our past, we dignify our present, and we inspire those who are to come.  To build a monument is to ratify our shared national project.

To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance.  In recent weeks, in the midst of protests across America, many monuments have been vandalized or destroyed.  Some local governments have responded by taking their monuments down.  Among others, monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, leaders of the abolitionist movement, the first all-volunteer African-American regiment of the Union Army in the Civil War, and American soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars have been vandalized, destroyed, or removed.

These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn.  My Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory.  In the face of such acts of destruction, it is our responsibility as Americans to stand strong against this violence, and to peacefully transmit our great national story to future generations through newly commissioned monuments to American heroes.

Sec. 2.  Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes.  (a)  There is hereby established the Interagency Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes (Task Force).  The Task Force shall be chaired by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary), and shall include the following additional members:

(i)    the Administrator of General Services (Administrator);

(ii)   the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA);

(iii)  the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH);

(iv)   the Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP); and

(v)    any officers or employees of any executive department or agency (agency) designated by the President or the Secretary.

(b)  The Department of the Interior shall provide funding and administrative support as may be necessary for the performance and functions of the Task Force.  The Secretary shall designate an official of the Department of the Interior to serve as the Executive Director of the Task Force, responsible for coordinating its day-to-day activities.

(c)  The Chairpersons of the NEA and NEH and the Chairman of the ACHP shall establish cross-department initiatives within the NEA, NEH, and ACHP, respectively, to advance the purposes of the Task Force and this order and to coordinate relevant agency operations with the Task Force.

Sec. 3.  National Garden of American Heroes.  (a)  It shall be the policy of the United States to establish a statuary park named the National Garden of American Heroes (National Garden).

(b)  Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Task Force shall submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy that proposes options for the creation of the National Garden, including potential locations for the site.  In identifying options, the Task Force shall:

(i)    strive to open the National Garden expeditiously;

(ii)   evaluate the feasibility of creating the National Garden through a variety of potential avenues, including existing agency authorities and appropriations; and

(iii)  consider the availability of authority to encourage and accept the donation or loan of statues by States, localities, civic organizations, businesses, religious organizations, and individuals, for display at the National Garden.

(c)  In addition to the requirements of subsection 3(b) of this order, the proposed options for the National Garden should adhere to the criteria described in subsections (c)(i) through (c)(vi) of this section.

(i)    The National Garden should be composed of statues, including statues of John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

(ii)   The National Garden should be opened for public access prior to the 250th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2026.

(iii)  Statues should depict historically significant Americans, as that term is defined in section 7 of this order, who have contributed positively to America throughout our history.  Examples include:  the Founding Fathers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery or participated in the underground railroad, heroes of the United States Armed Forces, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor or Presidential Medal of Freedom, scientists and inventors, entrepreneurs, civil rights leaders, missionaries and religious leaders, pioneers and explorers, police officers and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty, labor leaders, advocates for the poor and disadvantaged, opponents of national socialism or international socialism, former Presidents of the United States and other elected officials, judges and justices, astronauts, authors, intellectuals, artists, and teachers.  None will have lived perfect lives, but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying.

(iv)   All statues in the National Garden should be lifelike or realistic representations of the persons they depict, not abstract or modernist representations.

(v)    The National Garden should be located on a site of natural beauty that enables visitors to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and be inspired to learn about great figures of America’s history.  The site should be proximate to at least one major population center, and the site should not cause significant disruption to the local community.

(vi)   As part of its civic education mission, the National Garden should also separately maintain a collection of statues for temporary display at appropriate sites around the United States that are accessible to the general public.

Sec. 4.  Commissioning of New Statues and Works of Art.  (a)  The Task Force shall examine the appropriations authority of the agencies represented on it in light of the purpose and policy of this order.  Based on its examination of relevant authorities, the Task Force shall make recommendations for the use of these agencies’ appropriations.

(b)  To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law and the other provisions of this order, Task Force agencies that are authorized to provide for the commissioning of statues or monuments shall, in expending funds, give priority to projects involving the commissioning of publicly accessible statues of persons meeting the criteria described in section 3(b)(iii) of this order, with particular preference for statues of the Founding Fathers, former Presidents of the United States, leading abolitionists, and individuals involved in the discovery of America.

(c)  To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law, these agencies shall prioritize projects that will result in the installation of a statue as described in subsection (b) of this section in a community where a statue depicting a historically significant American was removed or destroyed in conjunction with the events described in section 1 of this order.

(d)  After consulting with the Task Force, the Administrator of General Services shall promptly revise and thereafter operate the General Service Administration’s (GSA’s) Art in Architecture (AIA) Policies and Procedures, GSA Acquisition Letter V-10-01, and Part 102-77 of title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, to prioritize the commission of works of art that portray historically significant Americans or events of American historical significance or illustrate the ideals upon which our Nation was founded.  Priority should be given to public-facing monuments to former Presidents of the United States and to individuals and events relating to the discovery of America, the founding of the United States, and the abolition of slavery.  Such works of art should be designed to be appreciated by the general public and by those who use and interact with Federal buildings.  Priority should be given to this policy above other policies contained in part 102-77 of title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, and revisions made pursuant to this subsection shall be made to supersede any regulatory provisions of AIA that may conflict with or otherwise impede advancing the purposes of this subsection.

(e)  When a statue or work of art commissioned pursuant to this section is meant to depict a historically significant American, the statue or work of art shall be a lifelike or realistic representation of that person, not an abstract or modernist representation.

Sec. 5.  Educational Programming.  The Chairperson of the NEH shall prioritize the allocation of funding to programs and projects that educate Americans about the founding documents and founding ideals of the United States, as appropriate and to the extent consistent with applicable law, including section 956 of title 20, United States Code.  The founding documents include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.  The founding ideals include equality under the law, respect for inalienable individual rights, and representative self-government.  Within 90 days of the conclusion of each Fiscal Year from 2021 through 2026, the Chairperson shall submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy that identifies funding allocated to programs and projects pursuant to this section.

Sec. 6.  Protection of National Garden and Statues Commissioned Pursuant to this Order.  The Attorney General shall apply section 3 of Executive Order 13933 of June 26, 2020 (Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence), with respect to violations of Federal law regarding the National Garden and all statues commissioned pursuant to this order.

Sec. 7.  Definition.  The term “historically significant American” means an individual who was, or became, an American citizen and was a public figure who made substantive contributions to America’s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history.  The phrase also includes public figures such as Christopher Columbus, Junipero Serra, and the Marquis de La Fayette, who lived prior to or during the American Revolution and were not American citizens, but who made substantive historical contributions to the discovery, development, or independence of the future United States.

Sec. 8.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Does Trump think he is building another Trump Tower?

I digress.

Just to reiterate, there will be statues of: John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Quick thoughts:

1. We should not get too worked-up about this order because there is a chance Trump will be voted out of office in November 2020. In other words, this national garden may never happen.

2. Let’s not get too caught-up in debating who should be “in” and who should be “out.” This is actually what Trump wants to happen. Historians should just ignore these plans. By giving too much attention to this we lend credibility to the proposal. (I know–I should be taking my own advice here!).  This is not a debate over state history and social studies standards.

3. How much will this national garden cost the American taxpayer? If Trump really cares about history he should fund its study in schools. His budgets should provide more money for already existing historic sites and teacher training.

4. Let’s say Trump wins in 2020 and this national garden becomes a reality. Would I visit it? Maybe. But I would not go there to teach my students about the lives of these so-called “heroes.” I rely on my classroom lectures and discussions, primary sources, legitimate public history sites, and good books and articles to do that. I would, however, consider taking students to this place to teach them about the Trump administration much in the same way that I take students to Confederate monuments at Gettysburg to teach them about the Lost Cause. This is what historians mean by contextualizing monuments. Like the Confederate monuments we are fighting over today, monuments often tell us more about the time when they were erected than the moment in history that they commemorate. Confederate monuments were erected in the early 20th century as symbols of white supremacy and Jim Crow. Some of the figures Trump wants to memorialize in his national garden seem like random choices, but others speak volumes about Trump’s America and his 2020 re-election bid.

For example, the founding fathers are revered by Trump’s white conservative base. Good history teachers visiting this garden might say something to their students about founders chic. They might note that on the very day of this executive order millions of Americans were watching a movie-version of a Broadway play about Alexander Hamilton. All of this explains why George Washington, John Adams,  Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were chosen. (I don’t know why Dolley Madison was chosen over Martha Washington and Abigail Adams). I am sure Abraham Lincoln was chosen as an honorary founding father.

The African American selections (there are no native Americans) are Martin Luther King Jr.,  Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and Jackie Robinson. These are all safe choices, although a good history teacher might show this video in preparation for the class trip. There are reasons why W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, or Barack Obama were not chosen. (Future students will certainly wonder why the first Black president in American history was not selected). When viewed in the larger context of the Trump presidency, a legitimate argument could be made that these men and women were picked in an attempt to show Trump is not a racist.

Trump and his people are obsessed with military strength. We thus get Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Audie Murphy, George Patton, Ronald Reagan, and Douglas MacArthur.

And Trump needs his white evangelical base in November. He hopes a statue of Billy Graham, or at least the announcement of such a statue, might help deliver these votes.

Trump has an obsession with space and aviation. (Trump mentioned going to Mars during his Mount Rushmore speech). I would have my students read or watch his recent Cape Canaveral speech before we visited the national garden. We thus get Christa McAuliffe, Amelia Earhart, and the Wright brothers. Frankly, I am surprised he did not pick Charles Lindbergh, an early proponent of “America First.”

Was Henry Clay, the architect of the American System, chosen because of Trump’s infrastructure plans? Future history teachers will tell students that these plans never got off the ground, despite multiple “infrastructure weeks,” because Trump undermined them with tweets and other self-initiated scandals.

And, of course, any historian would have a lot to say about why Antonin Scalia made the cut instead of John Marshall, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hugo Black, or Oliver Wendell Holmes.

But in the end, I would put money on this national garden of heroes going the way of Trump’s border wall and many of his other grandiose plans.  It won’t happen.

 

Thoughts on Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech

Trump Mount Rush

In case you missed it, Trump gave a speech at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota on the night of July 3, 2020.

Read the text here.

Watch the entire event here:

Thoughts:

1. Mary Hart

2. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem introduced Trump by appealing to America’s founding ideals. She said, “Let’s not destroy history.” This is in interesting exhortation from the governor of South Dakota. What is Noem doing to fund the teaching of history in South Dakota schools? In 2015, the state dumped early American history. I am not sure if things have changed since 2015, but back then I wrote this piece.

3. Noem said that her state prides itself “on the close-knit nature of our community.” She praised all the South Dakotans for showing-up and then said that the crowd included people “from across the nation.” The crowd was packed like sardines into what looked like a small space. I saw very few masks.

4. Noem and Trump did not mention anything about the tearing-down, removal, and defacing of Confederate monuments. The focus was entirely on the monuments to the “founding fathers.” Does anyone know how many non-Confederate monuments were defaced or torn down in the last month?

5. If we want to talk about American history, let’s remember that this entire event occurred on Lakota land. And yes, Trump talked about “manifest destiny” in his speech.

6. Historian Seth Cotlar tweeted this: “I can’t stress enough how angry and reactionary this speech is, on a day that celebrates the violent, statue-destroying revolution that birthed America.” Is Cotlar right? Let’s start here. You may also want to read this book.

7. Trump tried to make the case that Democrats and protesters are trying to “erase American history.” Meanwhile, millions of Americans were ignoring his speech because they were watching a movie about the American founding on Disney+.

8. At one point Trump said, “George Washington will never be removed, abolished, or forgotten.” I am sure the good folks at Mount Vernon are on it.

9. At another point of the speech, Trump threw thousands of history teachers under the bus when he said, “Our children are taught in school to hate their own country.” The only people who would believe this are Fox News viewers or people who have never set foot in a real history classroom.

10. As I watched the speech, I could not help but wonder what Frederick Douglass would have thought about Trump invoking his name. The same goes for Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali, not to mention Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt.

11. It sounds like white supremacist Steven Miller wrote this speech. There is a reason why he is one of the few people who have been with the administration since the beginning.

Here is Ron Brownstein of The Atlantic:

It sounds like Trump was at it again earlier this evening:

When it comes to American history, Trump is the one who has “absolutely no clue.” He doesn’t even read the teleprompter in an inspiring way.  And then he has the nerve to attack history teachers.

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

…the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them. His approach to history also reveals his narcissism. When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of nonviolent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American history he is about to enter.” Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.” The columnist is right: Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself. Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office. Our best presidents thought about their four or eight  years in power with historical continuity in mind. This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it. Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity. This isn’t conservatism; it is progressive thinking at its worst. Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “Not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is forever thrown back on himself alone, and there is a danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.”

 

Jerry Falwell Jr. and Eric Metaxas Unite

Metaxas FalkirkAs the November 2020 election nears, Donald Trump’s court evangelicals are beginning to consolidate their forces under the banner of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Falkirk Center for Faith & Liberty. (See our posts on the Falkirk Center here). Today, Liberty University appointed Eric Metaxas Senior Fellow at the center.

Here is the press release:

No. 1 New York Times bestselling author and nationally syndicated radio host Eric Metaxas has joined Liberty University’s Falkirk Center for Faith & Liberty as a senior fellow, contributing his breadth of intellect and passion for traditional freedoms to combat the surge of progressive worldviews affecting American society.

Metaxas joins forces with co-fellows Dr. David Brat, a former U.S. Congressman and dean of Liberty’s School of Business; Jenna Ellis, a constitutional expert and senior legal advisor for President Donald Trump; David Harris Jr., a political activist, author, and conservative podcast host; and many other public influencers.

“Having Eric Metaxas join the Falkirk Center is very significant,” said Ryan Helfenbein, executive director of the Falkirk Center. “He is one of the wisest Christian men I know, and his passion for Jesus and the conservative cause will surely aid our mission.”

The Falkirk Center for Faith & Liberty is a conservative think tank formed by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk and Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. to provide a biblical, measured response to questions about the intersection of faith and politics in the public sphere.

The center, which launched last fall, equips convicted Christians with educational resources to preserve traditional American freedoms like religious liberty, limited government, free market principles, personal and national defense, and protection of life in all developmental stages.

“It’s an honor for me to serve the Falkirk Center,” said Metaxas, who was Liberty’s 2014 baccalaureate speaker. “I’m thrilled at the work the center is doing to shed light on many important issues.”

The Falkirk Center’s growing ambassadorship program allows Christians of all ages — from Liberty students to members of the public nationwide — an opportunity to advocate for these values using their social media accounts.

What does it all mean? It’s not clear. Metaxas already has a pretty high profile among the Trump-loving evangelical base. So far the Falkirk Center seems little more than a group of conservative evangelicals who use their platform to defend the president and the idea that the United States is a Christian nation. (Oh yes, I almost forgot, it also wants central Virginia to secede from the state and join West Virginia). The “fellows” write things at outlets like Breitbart, appear on conservative media shows, and tweet.

Metaxas’s appointment comes in the wake of Liberty University’s decision to eliminate its philosophy department.

It also comes following Falwell Jr’s battle with The New York Times over a reporter who apparently trespassed on Liberty University property during the COVID-19 lockdown.

I am sure Metaxas wants an even bigger platform than the one he already has. I am sure Falwell Jr. wants Metaxas’s help in the fight to defend Liberty from the “liberal media,” “fake news,” and other forces of evil. 🙂

Trump’s evangelical supporters can breathe a sigh of relief today. Metaxas and Falwell Jr. are on the job! Fears will now subside, at least for the moment. Metaxas, Falwell Jr., and the rest of the Falkirk Center team will be everywhere on conservative media in the coming months trying to convince the white evangelical faithful to once again vote for Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the rest of the evangelical faithful–those who do not like Trump (but may have voted for him in 2016) or “don’t do politics,” will remain quiet.

The Attacks on Samaritan’s Purse Reveal a Fundamental Misunderstanding of Evangelical Relief Work

Samaritan Purse

As I wrote about yesterday, Franklin Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse has built a field hospital in Central Park to service coronavirus patients. Not everyone is happy about it.

For example, Brad Hoylman, a New York state senator representing Manhattan, wants to make sure that Graham’s views on traditional marriage do not get in the way of helping all New Yorkers.  In this NBC News piece, Hoylman says that it “is a shame that the federal government has left us in the position of having to accept charity from such bigots.” He added, “this health crisis is too delicate to leave it to televangelists, purveyors of the faith, to handle our medical needs.” New York Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement describing Graham’s efforts in New York City as “extremely disturbing.”

The Gothamist is also up-in-arms about Samaritan Purse’s presence in Central Park.

As anyone who reads my work knows, I am no fan of Franklin Graham’s culture-war language and diehard support of Donald Trump. I do not support his Christian nationalism. He should not be surprised when some New Yorkers don’t want him there. Sadly, his support of Trump and his caustic attacks on the LGBTQ and Muslim communities have damaged his Christian witness. I wrote about him and other court evangelicals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But I defend Graham’s right to practice his faith and preside over a relief mission that reflects the beliefs of that faith. Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical Christian organization. Millions of American evangelicals believe that sex is something reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. This is a deeply-held religious conviction. Samaritan’s Purse, in order to uphold the integrity of its ministry, should have the freedom to employ volunteers willing to embrace this belief.

The attacks on Samaritan’s Purse’s presence in New York City reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of evangelical relief work. I know of no evangelical relief organization that discriminates in the area of care. To suggest that the doctors, nurses, and volunteers working in the Central Park field hospital would refuse to treat LGBTQ coronavirus patients says more about Graham’s critics than it does about the mission of Samaritan’s Purse and the work of evangelical social concern generally.  Watch Franklin Graham here.

Two final thoughts:

  1. We live in a pluralistic society. I have argued that those on the Christian Right, Franklin Graham included, need to understand this. Today it is time for those on the Left to come to grips with this reality.
  2. The preservation of life is paramount right now. It is more important than church attendance. It is more important than the culture wars. The extreme ends of both the Left and the Right need to learn this lesson.

Conservative Culture Warriors Are Trying Figure Out How to Operate in our Current Moment

What do conservative, pro-Trump media pundits do when faced with a crisis that calls them to use their platforms to serve the common good? What happens when one’s entire brand is built on disparaging enemies? In a time of public crisis, how does one maintain a loyal audience of people who need culture warriors to give them a consistent diet of red meat?

Eric Metaxas has apparently figured out how to do it:

Metaxas

Or maybe you can retweet Ann Coulter propagating a story that has been thoroughly debunked:

Metaxas 3

And then there is conservative radio host Todd Starnes:

And here is Trump’s wonder-boy, Charlie Kirk. Have I mentioned that he is also the co-director of a “think tank” at Liberty University?

First, a word about this whole “China virus” controversy.  There are many Americans–especially Chinese-Americans–who are offended by people calling COVID-19 the “China Virus.” So why do we continue to call it that? It now seems like Metaxas, Starnes, and Kirk (and Trump)–all self-identified white Christians–are defending this description of the coronavirus (and others like it) precisely because they want to throw more salt in the wounds of those who are offended by it. Why else would they continue to insist on calling it the “China virus?”

A word to my fellow evangelicals: please stop denying the fact that our gospel witness in this world is damaged.

Yes, the First Amendment gives us free speech. But how does your right to exercise such speech help us in our current crisis? At what point do we curb our obsession with “rights” in order to serve the common good? Save the fight over political correctness for another day. Wage your political battles another day. Why go down these roads at a time like this?

Let’s remember that these media personalities have a brand that is only successful when it instills outrage and anger in their followers. It’s sad to see their inability to produce any other kind of content in these troubled times. It’s almost as if they do not know how to operate in our current moment without stoking the flames.

The Court Evangelical Anti-Abortion Playbook

Abortion

Court evangelical Ralph Reed’s recent tweet says so much about how the Christian Right thinks about politics:

Earlier today Adam Schiff offered ten convincing reasons why Donald Trump “put himself first” in the Ukraine scandal.  Donald Trump always puts himself first.  To suggest, as Ralph Reed does, that “protecting the unborn” is one of Trump’s “top priorities” is not supported by the facts. Trump talks about “protecting the unborn” because it is politically expedient.  Throughout his entire public life, Trump’s views on abortion have changed with the political winds.  He did not become pro-life on abortion until he ran for president.  You don’t get pro-life bona fides by showing up at the March for Life.

There is little evidence that Trump cares about human dignity after the baby leaves the womb.  His policies on immigration, health care, guns, and the environment do not suggest a commitment to life.

I am often asked how the Christian Right can support a president of such immoral character and still sleep at night.  The answer is abortion. The Christian Right privileges abortion over all other issues.  It makes perfect sense that Reed thinks abortion is the primary reason conservative evangelicals should vote for Trump in 2020.  Reed is a political operative.  He knows his audience.

Of course it is certainly possible that a person could be pro-life on abortion, and even attend Saturday’s March on Life, and still conclude that Trump does not deserve the support of pro-life & evangelical voters. I know of several anti-Trump evangelicals who will be marching for life in Washington D.C. on Saturday.

Others might believe that Trump’s appointment of pro-life Supreme Court justices is a good thing, but not good enough to tolerate the rest of Trump’s immoral administration, both in terms of policy and presidential character.

Someone else might argue that overturning Roe v. Wade will do little to end abortion in America. They might wonder why millions and millions of dollars are spent on electing the right political candidates when the money could be used to reduce the number of abortions in ways that do not require the unsavory Christian Right pursuit of political power.

Reed knows only one political playbook.  It is the one he helped write.  It has proven to be a very effective.  In 2016, it led the Christian Right into bed with Donald Trump.  For at least a generation or two, evangelical Christianity will be associated less with its Gospel witness and acts of justice in the world and more with the corrupt and immoral presidency of Donald Trump.  It is too early to tell how this will change evangelical Christianity, but I guarantee future historians will explain it to us.

When Trump Tweets about “Civil War”

jeffress

Donald Trump recently tweeted court evangelical Robert Jeffress’s remarks about impeachment:

As historian Nicole Hemmer writes today at CNN, it is one thing for loud-mouth apocalyptic preachers like Jeffress to invoke civil war, and quite another thing for the President of the United States to do so.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Trump has continued to encourage violence during his presidency, as when he spoke before police officers in 2017 and told them “please don’t be too nice” to the “thugs” they arrest.

Trump’s exhortations to violence are not new, but they are almost certain to increase in the weeks and months ahead as the impeachment inquiry advances. Painted into a corner, his presidency under threat, Donald Trump will do what he has done in the past: double-down on appeals to his base and attacks on his enemies. And since those attacks are targeted and specific, they are especially dangerous.

In recent days, he has appeared obsessed with treason and spying. He charged the whistleblower in the Ukraine case with both, and Monday morning, suggested that Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, should be arrested for treason.

That is not a neutral statement coming from the President of the United States. It is alarming on its own, given the seriousness of a treason charge. But it also does not exist in a bubble. Last week at a private event, Trump intimated that anyone who shared information with the whistleblower was a treasonous spy and alluded darkly to consequences: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? With spies and treason, right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.”

We used to execute them.

President Trump may not explicitly be calling for the murder of his political enemies, but he has stepped right up to the line.

Read the entire piece here.

Sean Spicer: Take a “Stand for Christ” and Vote for Me on “Dancing with the Stars”

Sean Spicer, the former Trump press secretary, wants everyone to know that if you vote for him on the ABC show “Dancing with the Stars” you will be taking a stand for Christ.

It all started when Christian Right politician Mike Huckabee tweeted this:

Spicer responded:

Let the record show that evangelical victimization complex has now extended to televised dance competitions.   At this point, I will just let Princeton historian Kevin Kruse respond:

 

Falwell Jr: Champion for Christ!

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

Jerry Falwell Jr. has turned to Charisma magazine to defend himself against a recent Politico article that exposed a host of questionable practices at Liberty University.  In case you have never heard of Charisma, it is the unofficial periodical of the Trump-loving Independent Network Charismatic (INC) movement.  I wrote about this movement in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Liberty University and the Falwell family are not directly connected to the INC movement, but I imagine that there are some families in the movement who send their kids to the school.  Moreover, I think it’s fair to say that Charisma is one of the only major evangelical outlets that would publish a pro-Falwell piece in the wake of the Politico article.  (Christianity Today, which has been quick to cover other scandals and controversies in the evangelical world, has been silent).

Here is what we learn from Charisma‘s interview with Falwell Jr.:

  • Falwell Jr. does not believe that he has created a “culture of fear” at Liberty University.  “We have 9,500 employees,” he told Charisma, “and I’m sure it’s easy to find 10 or 12 who are upset because they didn’t get a promotion for something.”  He claims that instead of creating a climate of fear at Liberty, he has been “too merciful” and has let “people stay much longer than I should have when they were incompetent, because I felt bad for their families.”
  • Falwell claims that Liberty’s financial records are above board and the university “has nothing to hide.”
  • Falwell claims that his internal critics “couldn’t handle” the fact that he pulled Liberty up “by the bootstraps” after Jerry Falwell Sr. died.  “They were always looking for ways to enrich themselves, personally.  And I always shut them down.”
  • Falwell says that if the FBI does not prosecute the Liberty board and staff members who talked to Politico and shared e-mails with reporter Brandon Ambrosino, he will bring a civil suit.  And then the article adds: “Falwell admits that this course of action may not look like turning the other cheek to some people.  But he believes Jesus taught that His followers must do what’s in the best interest of the government or corporation they are part of.”  Interesting.  I have spent some time studying the Bible over the years and I don’t seem to remember Jesus saying anything about doing what is “in the best interest of the government or corporation they are a part of.”
  • But Falwell does not stop there: “When you deal with people personally, you have an obligation to love your neighbor as yourself…So this is not personal.  This is corporate…And I believe Jesus’ teachings to do what’s in the best interest of the corporation , just like Donald Trump has a job to do.  It’s in the best interest of the nation.  So that’s my take on it all.  And I’m glad to go to war.  I just actually enjoy it probably a little too much.”  So let me get this straight–the command to love our neighbors does not apply to the business world.  Christian ethics go out the window when you enter the boardroom.  Is Falwell Jr.’s approach to “corporations” taught at the Liberty University School of Business? I wonder what former Congressman David Brat, the Dean of the  School (who also has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary), thinks about this? The Business School’s website says: “Here, you’ll be taught from a Christian perspective, building the kind of ethics, character, and integrity that makes a difference in the marketplace.”  So should the Christian call to “love your neighbor as yourself” apply to the marketplace?  Or should Christians think about their place in the business world as “going to war,” much in the same way that many conservative evangelicals think about their relationship to the culture?
  • The Charisma piece ends with Falwell complaining about the “media backlash” that Christians who support Donald Trump are facing: “I think they can’t get to [Trump] because he’s so tough, so now they’re going after anybody who supported him.  And good luck to them, because I am going to have fun with it.” Again, Falwell seems to revel in conflict, especially when it comes to his fellow Christians.  Go get ’em Jerry!  “Champions for Christ!” 😦

I am not convinced that Jerry Falwell Jr. is running Liberty University in a Christian manner.

My 2013 Piece on Christmas at the *Pacific Standard*

Another magazine has bit the dust.  Read Lloyd Grove’s piece at The Daily Beast on the end of the Pacific Standard.

I wrote a piece for the Standard website back in December 2013.  I don’t know if it will disappear or not, so I am re-posting it here.  Here is “Was There a Golden Age of Christmas in America?“:

The so-called “War on Christmas” has reared its ugly head again. Conservative Christians—most of them evangelicals—have hit the airwaves and lecture circuits to warn their followers about the supposed threat to the only event on the Christian calendar to have the status of a federal holiday.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin visited Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, recently to promote her new book and alert undergraduates and other assorted culture warriors to the way “revisionists” are trying to turn December into a “winter solstice season.” She told her audience that “protecting the heart of Christmas” (the subtitle of her book) is “really about protecting the heart of America.”

Leave it to Palin to use this most sacred of Christian celebrations for political purposes by comparing its “message of hope and change” to the “stuff you hear coming out of Washington.” At the heart of Palin’s defense of Christmas is an understanding that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a Christian nation. In her talk to Liberty students she connected the “War on Christmas” to a much larger assault on the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage as embedded in our history and founding documents, concluding that Christianity has made America an “exceptional” nation.

According to Palin and her fellow soldiers in the fight, if stores start replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” if schools will not let children sing Christmas carols with strong Christian themes, or if city hall is not permitted to display a manger scene, then America’s Christian civilization is eroding. Those who complain about the “War on Christmas” want us to return to a golden age when Christmas was a more important part of American culture.

Did such a golden age of Christmas ever exist in America? Yes. But if the Christmas culture warriors took an honest look at the history of this holiday in America they may not like what they find.

From the perspective of Christian theology, Christmas is about the Incarnation. It is the story of God revealing himself to humankind in the form of a baby. As the Gospel of John describes it, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But in America, the sacred meaning of Christmas has always existed in tension with the profane.

For those who carried English holiday traditions to North America, Christmas was an important day on the church calendar, but the celebration of the birth of the Christ child always took a backseat to week-long festivities characterized by feasting, shooting guns, playing rough music, drinking to excess, disorderly public activity, and all kinds of raucous behavior. Indeed, this was the golden age of Christmas in early America.

And what did the Puritans, those godly Christians who arrived to New England in the early 17th century to establish what their first governor John Winthrop described as a “city upon a hill,” think about Christmas? Certainly in towns like Boston and Plymouth, the places where defenders of American exceptionalism turn today to find the roots of a “Christian America,” Christmas was revered and respected as a sacred day, a fundamental part of the Christian civilization that these settlers were trying to build?

Not really.

The Puritans of New England frowned upon the celebration of Christmas and outlawed it for more than half a century. They believed it was necessary, as Christians pursuing pious living, to separate themselves from the sinful behavior associated with the way the holiday was celebrated in jolly old England. And since few of these Christian American forefathers had anything good to say about materialism or commercialism, it is likely they would have similar feelings about the way we celebrate Christmas today.

In the mid-17th century the governors of Massachusetts would have probably banned Palin from the colony because she insisted on defending Christmas. After being banned, there is a possibility that Palin would end up in Rhode Island, a colony that had complete religious freedom and where it would have been anathema to consider making any December religious celebration an official or unofficial holiday.

There is an important history lesson in all of this. When we try to use history to score political points in the present we end up picking the things in the past that suit our needs and ignoring the rest. This is bad history.

The history of Puritan New England works just fine for us if we want to show that parts of early America were founded by Christians with Christian motivations for settlement. Ronald Reagan loved to compare America to a “city upon a hill.” Christian nationalists turn to the Pilgrims to teach their children about the nation’s “Godly heritage.” But the history of Puritan New England does not help us at all if we want to win the “War on Christmas.”

Of course, we are free to think anything we want about how our culture should or should not acknowledge Christmas. But let’s be careful when we use history to make our points.

Is the Founder of The Veritas Forum Behind an Anti-Muslim Facebook Campaign?

Jullberg

What is going on with Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder of the Veritas Forum?  Here is a taste of Asysha Kahn’s piece at Religion News Service:

Fact-checking website Snopes linked the network to Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder and president of The America Conservancy, whose aims, as Kullberg has described online, are “advancing Biblical wisdom as the highest love for people and for culture.” All 24 Facebook pages had financial ties to Kullberg directly or organizations she helps lead.

Posts on the network decry “Islamist Privilege and Sharia Supremacy” and claim that Islam is “not a religion”; that Islam promotes rape, murder and deception; that Muslims hate Christians and Jews; that Muslims have an agenda to “spread Sharia law and Islam through migration and reproduction”; and that resettling Muslim refugees is “cultural destruction and subjugation.”

The tactics seem to mirror the playbook of Russian troll farms, with page titles purporting to originate with diverse demographic groups like “Blacks for Trump,” “Catholics for Trump,” “Teachers for Trump” and “Seniors for America.”

Snopes found that Kullberg and her associates’ agenda appeared, at least in part, to be working to re-elect President Donald Trump in 2020. The “astroturfing” campaign — referring to efforts made to look as if they come from legitimate grassroots supporters — was at least in part funded by right-wing political donors, including a prominent GOP donor who served as a fundraiser and campaign board member for 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I was happy to contribute to the Khan’s report:

“If you would have told me about this investigation 20 years ago I would have been very surprised,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College and author of the book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” But given Kullberg’s more recent politics, he said, it’s hardly shocking.

Once a mainstream evangelical Christian figure, Kullberg is the founder of the The Veritas Forum, a prominent non-profit organization that partners with Christian college students to host discussions on campus about faith. The discussions attract non-evangelical, non-Christian and secular speakers as well as leading mainstream evangelical voices.

Her 1996 book “Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians” topped bestseller lists. Now based in Columbus, Ohio, she has served as a chaplain to the Harvard Graduate School Christian Fellowship and spent time as a missionary in Russia and several Latin American countries.

Most recently, Kullberg appears to have shifted further right politically, taking what Fea described as a “pro-Trump, Christian Right, culture war posture” laced with anti-social justice rhetoric. The American Association of Evangelicals, for which Kullberg is the founder and spokeswoman, is “essentially a Christian Right organization whose supporters read like a list of evangelical leaders who have thrown their support behind Donald Trump as a savior of the country and the church,” he said.

“She seems obsessed with the influence of George Soros on progressive evangelicals and believes that social justice warriors have hijacked the Gospel,” Fea noted.

Read the entire piece here.

While running the Veritas Forum, Kullberg worked with Christian speakers such as Francis Collins, Robert George, Os Guinness, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, Madeleine L’Engle, George Marsden, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Alister McGrath, Richard John Neuhaus, Alvin Plantinga, John Polkinghorne, Dallas Willard, Lauren Winner, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and N.T. Wright.  She put some of these speakers into dialogue with the likes of Anthony Flew, Christopher Hitchens, Nicholas Kristof, Steven Pinker, and Peter Singer.

In her new role with the “The American Association of Evangelicals” she works with court evangelicals and pro-Trump evangelicals such as Eric Metaxas, James Garlow,  Everett Piper, Tim Wildmon, Wayne Grudem, Steve Strang, David Barton, and Lance Wallnau (the Trump prayer coin guy).

The divisions in American evangelicalism are widening.   The American Association of Evangelicals (AAE) is now the conservative, Christian Right alternative to The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Here is how it understands its relationship to the NAE:

Kullberg is also a leader with Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (EBI) a more conservative evangelical immigration group that appears to be an alternative to the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).  While the EBI includes many of the culture warriors I mentioned above, the EIT includes people like Leith Anderson (President of the NAE), Shirley Hoogstra (President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities), and Russell Moore (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission).

New alignments are forming.  Evangelicalism is changing and fracturing.