Wednesday Night Court Evangelical Roundup

Court Evangelicals at Table

Since my last update, a few things have changed in court evangelical land. Neil Gorsuch, one of two Donald Trump Supreme Court nominees, has defended LGBTQ rights and has proven he may not be the best court evangelical ally when it comes to questions of religious liberty. I imagine some evangelicals who are looking for a reason to reject Trump at the ballot box in November may have just found one.

Police reform and debates over systemic racism continue to dominate the headlines. On the COVID-19 front, more and more churches are opening this weekend and Donald Trump is preparing for a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What do the court evangelicals have to say?

In an interview with Charisma magazine, James Dobson writes:

In an outrageous ruling that should shake America’s collective conscience to its core, the U.S. Supreme Court has redefined the meaning of “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Not only was this decision an affront against God, but it was also a historical attack against the founding framework that governs our nation.

Dobson says nothing about Trump or how Gorsuch burned white evangelicals on this decision.

I don’t know if Louie Giglio supports Trump, but he is now apologizing for his use of the phrase “White Blessing”:

The apology seems honest and sincere.

Jenetzen Franklin praises Trump as a great listener and defender of law and order.  But Trump’s police reform speech failed to address the systemic problem of racism in America. It attacked Obama and Biden and it defended Confederate monuments. Is this big action?

Johnnie Moore, the guy who describes himself as a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” is doing the same thing as Jenetzen:

Greg Laurie interviewed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on police reform. Scott talks about the “character” of police officers and shows a solid understanding of the Bible, but the issues of racism in America go much deeper than this. I encourage you to listen to Gettysburg College professor’s Scott Hancock upcoming interview at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

The Laurie-Scott conversation is a step in the right direction, but it focuses on striking a balance between law and order (Scott quotes Romans 13) and individual acts of racism.  The real conversation should be over to have an ordered society and address systemic racism. Today, for example, Scott said that the United States is not a racist country.

Robert Jeffress is “thrilled” to have Mike Pence speak at his church for “Freedom Sunday.” Expect fireworks. Literal fireworks! Once again, it will be God and country on display.

Here is another view of Pence.

Last Sunday, Jeffress addressed the Floyd murder and its aftermath with his congregation at First Baptist-Dallas. He summarized his response to our current moment in three statements:

1. God hates racism. Jeffress FINALLY admits that First Baptist Church was on “the wrong side of history” on matters relating to race. This is a huge step! It would have been nice to have this history included in the church’s 150th anniversary celebration, but I don’t think I have ever heard Jeffress say this publicly.  Let’s see where this goes. First Baptist-Dallas has some reckoning with the past to do.

2. God hates lawlessness. Jeffress says that there is “nothing wrong” with peaceful protests, but he condemns the looting and riots. He does not say anything about the root cause of the riots. One more question: Does God hate Christians who disobey unjust laws? I think Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about that. So did most of the patriotic pastors during the Revolution. You know, the guys who created America as a “Christian nation.”

3. Racism and lawlessness is not the problem, the problem is sin. Agreed. The sin of racism pervades every institution in America. In order to address the problem of racism we need to go beyond mere calls for personal salvation. American history teaches us that some of the great evangelical revivals led to abolitionism and other forms of social justice. At the same time, some of the great evangelical revivals led to a deeper entrenchment of racism in society. Jeffress’s church, which celebrates its history of soul-winning, is one example. Also, let’s remember that when Frederick Douglass’s master got saved during an evangelical revival, he became more, not less, ruthless in his treatment of his slaves. We will see what happens this time around, but individual spiritual regeneration does not always solve the deeply embedded problems of race in America.

Now I want to hear how this generally good, but also insufficient, message applies to Jeffress’s support of Donald Trump.

James Robison is right. But so is Jurgen Moltmann when he said that Christians must “awaken the dead and piece together what has been broken“:

Tony Perkins is talking with David Brat, the dean of the Liberty University School of Business, about law and order and the breakdown of K-12 and higher education. Perkins thinks the real problem in America is a “lack of courage.” I did a post about courage a few weeks ago.

Brat wants Christians to be “prophets, priests, and kings.” Yes. Here is something I wrote last month about such royal language:

What does it mean, as Scot McKnightN.T. Wright, and Matthew Bates, among others, have argued, that Jesus is King? What role do Christians play as a royal priesthood, proclaiming the truth of God to the darkness and, as Wright puts it, “reflecting God’s wisdom and justice into the world.”And there’s the rub. Reed’s Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God as understood by many conservative evangelicals, looks the other way when a ruler from another kingdom (so to speak) practices immorality. They do not seem to take their citizenship in this Kingdom as seriously as they take their American citizenship or, at the very least, they seem unwilling to say more about the tensions between the two. (There is, of course, a deep history behind the conflation of these two kingdoms).

Gary Bauer just retweeted this:

Perhaps he should have made a caveat for Christians in prayer. But let’s face it, the court evangelicals don’t do nuance very well.

Ralph Reed is fully aware of the fact that Gorsuch and Roberts have betrayed him and his followers. Yet don’t expect him to throw out the Christian Right playbook anytime soon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is ready to retire and Reed will no doubt try to make the 2020 election about the Supreme Court:

Rob McCoy, the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Thousands Oaks in Newbury Park, California, invited Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonderboy, to preach at his church last Sunday. McCoy introduced him by quoting Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever it admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Kirk then got up and gave a fear-mongering political speech that ripped evangelical pastors who have participated in anti-racist protests. At one point, Kirk told the Christians gathered on this Sunday morning that if the Left “takes him down” he “will be on his feet” not “on his knees.” This was an applause line. If you want to see hate preached from an evangelical pulpit, watch this:

And let’s not forget Charles Marsh’s twitter thread exposing Eric Metaxas’s use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to attack Black Lives Matter.

Until next time.

Thursday Night Court Evangelical Roundup

Trump Court Evangelicals 2

So what has happened in the country since yesterday’s update?

  • Donald Trump continues to deny systemic racism in the police department and American society generally. At a speech at a Dallas megachurch today he said that there is no real problem with the police department apart from a few “bad apples.” He added: “we’re dominating the streets with compassion.” At the same event, Attorney General Bill Barr said that “we’ve never had a president who was more committed to reforming law enforcement.” I am trying to figure out how Trump can believe in police reform and still think the problem is just a few “bad apples.” It doesn’t make sense. It is also worth noting that Trump came to Dallas to discuss race and policing in America, but the Dallas Police Chief, Dallas County Sheriff, and District Attorney were not invited. They are all black.
  • Mark Millery, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman and the nation’s top military officer, apologized for taking part in Trump’s photo-op on June 1. He called his participation a “mistake.”
  • Local and state officials are removing Confederate statues from public spaces and the protests over the death of George Floyd continue.
  • Trump announced that he will be back on the campaign trail. He will hold his first mass campaign rally since the COVID-19 lockdown in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Juneteenth (June 19). This is the day African Americans celebrate the 1865 reading of the Emancipation of Proclamation. This event will take place a few weeks after the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying today?

Jack Graham called out the individual sin of racism on Sunday, but there is not much here about how racism is embedded in our economic, legal, and cultural institutions. (To be fair, I have not listened to the entire sermon). This is usually how far most of the court evangelicals will go on the question of race.

Martin Luther King’s niece is on Fox News defending Trump:

The Family Research Council (FRC), run by court evangelical Tony Perkins, is talking about abortion. But the video the FRC tweeted today actually makes a good argument for the fact that abortion is directly related to systemic racism and poverty. Yet Perkins and his fellow court evangelicals deny the existence of systemic racism and support politicians with policies that favor the rich over the poor. When will the court evangelicals get serious about reducing the number of abortions in America?

Johnnie Moore, who hails himself a “Modern Day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” shares a video of HUD Secretary Ben Carson saying that under Trump’s leadership the American people will realize that “we are not each other enemies.” What world does Moore live in? Trump a healer? Trump a unifier?

Ralph Reed is talking about Trump’s accomplishments. He is “flummoxed” that some Christians and political conservatives do not support Trump. No surprise here. Reed helped to write the Christian Right political playbook. He has executed it his entire life. He knows no other way.  As I have argued, the playbook is unChristian and ineffective.

Franklin Graham’s daughter:

Today Eric Metaxas interviewed a conservative African-American author named Horace Cooper who wrote a book titled How Trump is Making Black America Great Again. Cooper works for an organization called the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Until next time.

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

Trump iN Dallas

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

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

 

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Dallas

SMU 1

Last Thursday night the Believe Me book tour visited Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  The Center for Presidential History served as host.  Thanks to Brian Franklin, Assistant Director of the Center, and Jeff Engel, Director, for the invitation.  And thanks to Ronna Spitz for coordinating all the details.  They did a great job promoting the event in the greater Dallas area and as a result more than 200 people showed-up!  The crowd was largely sympathetic, but there were clearly some Trump supporters in the room who did not agree with everything I said in the lecture.  And no, Robert Jeffress did not come to the lecture (I have now been asked that a couple of times), but the first question from the audience was from a man who occasionally attends Jeffress’s church (First Baptist–Dallas) and was trying to figure out how the Dallas megachurch pastor reconciled his biblical sermons with his Fox News pundit.

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The SMU student newspaper covered the event here.

SMU 3

On Wednesday, October 17 I  will be at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.   Stay tuned.

The Court Evangelicalism of Robert Jeffress: A Guide

jeffress

Stephen Young of the Dallas Observer has assembled some of court evangelical Robert Jeffress greatest hits.   Here is a taste:

First Baptist Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress deserves some credit. Motivations, politics and decency aside, he picked the right horse way back in the summer of 2015 when he decided to back then-candidate Donald Trump’s nascent presidential campaign.

For his trouble — Jeffress frequently worked “Make America Great Again” into invocations and Trump rallies and shows up to lay hands on the president whenever the news calls for that sort of thing — the pastor has achieved a kind of celebrity. He’s on Fox News almost weekly and gets exponentially more news attention than he did in the good old days, back when he was accusing President Barack Obama of paving the way for the Antichrist or proclaiming that the Catholic Church was an example of the genius of Satan.

Jeffress has also carved out a niche as the president’s personal excuse Rolodex.

This week, as the water in which the president’s political future sits begins to simmer, if not boil, Jeffress has been back in action. Monday, he attended a special dinner for Trump’s evangelical supporters at the White House before making the rounds again on Trump’s behalf.

Starting with two examples from this week, here are Jeffress’ best, or worst, excuses for the president:

1. Jeffress explains why evangelical support for Trump isn’t wavering, despite Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen admitting in federal court that Trump was aware of and helped direct payments before the 2016 election to two women with whom he had affairs.

“Well, it’s really not that hard to figure out when you realize he is the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-conservative judiciary in history, and that includes either Bush or Ronald Reagan. I think that is why evangelicals remain committed to this president and they are not going to turn away from him soon,” Jeffress told Fox News Monday night after the meeting. “We have to understand these are still allegations against the president, so I’m not going to judge the president on these things. But even if they were true, some of these allegations, I mean, obviously, we don’t support extramarital affairs, we don’t support hush-money payments, but what we do support are these president’s excellent policies.” 

Read the rest here.

And here is an even more extensive list of Jeffress’s greatest hits.  Just scroll down.

Or you can find our take on Jeffress in this book:

Believe Me 3d

Churches and the Legacy of Racism: A Tale of Two Congregations

Interior_of_St._Pauls_Episcopal_Church_Richmond_VA_2013_8759347988-e1443705658980

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA

Back in June, I wrote a post about the 150th anniversary of the founding of First Baptist Church in Dallas, the congregation led by court evangelical Robert Jeffress.  In that post I referenced Tobin Grant’s 2016 Religion News Service piece on the long history of racial segregation at First Baptist. Daniel Silliman’s piece at Religion Dispatches is also worth a look.

Here is the 150th anniversary video that the congregation has been promoting:

A few comments:

  1.  The narrative revolves around three authoritarian clergymen:  George Truett, W.A. Criswell, and Robert Jeffress.
  2. It says nothing about the fact that the Southern Baptist Church was formed because southern Baptists defended slavery and white supremacy.
  3. It says nothing about Truett’s and Criswell’s commitment to racial segregation and Jim Crow.
  4. It does include an image of Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump.  Let’s remember that Jeffress defended Trump last year after the POTUS equated white supremacists and those protesting against white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rather than taking a hard look at its past, First Baptist-Dallas has whitewashed it.

I thought about this June 2018 post a couple of weeks ago when I had the privilege of teaching the Adult Faith Formation class at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, Virginia.  St. Paul’s occupies and amazing building in the heart of Richmond.  It is located across the street from the Virginia State Capitol and adjacent to the Virginia Supreme Court.  The church was founded in 1844.

During the Civil War, when Richmond served as the Confederate capital, both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis worshiped at St. Paul’s.   After the war, the church used its windows to tell the story of the Lost Cause.  It is often described as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”

But unlike First Baptist-Dallas, St. Paul’s decided to come to grips with its racist past.  In 2015, the church began its “History and Reconciliation Initiative” (HRI) with the goal of tracing and acknowledging the racial history of the congregation in order to “repair, restore, and seek reconciliation with God each other and the broader community.”  I encourage you to visit the HRI website to read more about the way St. Paul’s is trying to come to grips with the darker sides of its past.

Public historian Christopher Graham, who co-chairs the HRI when he is not curating an exhibit at The American Civil War Museum, invited me to Richmond to speak.  He is doing some amazing work at the intersection of public history and religion.

When I think about St. Paul’s, I am reminded of Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.”  It is also refreshing to see the words “repair” and “restore” used in conjunction with the word “reconciliation” instead of “Christian America.”

Southern Baptists, and American evangelicals more broadly, may immediately conclude that they have little in common theologically with St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond and can thus dismiss the congregation’s history-related efforts as just another social justice project propagated by theological liberals.  But this would be a shame.  They can learn a lot from this congregation about how to take a deep and honest look into the mirror of the past.

First Baptist Dallas “Christian America” Billboard Comes Down

Jeffress Billboard

Last week we wrote about the billboard in Dallas advertising Robert Jeffress’s upcoming sermon at First Baptist-Dallas: “America is a Christian Nation.”  Read our post here.

The billboard company pulled the signs down.

Here is a taste of Tre Goins-Phillips’s piece at Independent Journal-Review:

Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch pastor and one of the Trump administration’s evangelical advisers, is facing criticism over billboards his church erected declaring America a “Christian nation.”

In fact, after a bit of online outrage, including an editorial from The Dallas Morning News, the billboard company contracting with the church, Outfront Media, decided to pull the signs down, describing the declaration — “America Is a Christian Nation” — as “anger provoking,” according to a statement from the church that was obtained by IJR.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a Democrat, seemed to take issue with the billboards, too. In a statement to the newspaper, Rawlings said he doesn’t mind people “being proud of the Christian tradition in America” but added it’s important for the faith-based community to promote “a city of love versus a city of hate.”

And Metroplex Atheists, a branch of the national group American Atheists, is staging a protest at First Baptist Church to confront Jeffress’ patriotic message.

Read the rest here.

If a baker is allowed to deny services to same-sex couples, then I guess a billboard company can reject a message that they find offensive.

In my opinion, this billboard should come down because it makes a claim based on bad history.  It is fake news.  I wrote a book about this a few years ago and some of these themes will also appear in my latest book:

Believe Me Banner

The “Powerful Threads” That Run Through the History of First Baptist Dallas

First Baptist

I am sure much of what court evangelical Robert Jeffress has tweeted here is true.  I rejoice with all those women and men who experienced redemption and changed lives through the ministry of First Baptist Church–Dallas.  I know some of you.

But I am also a historian.  It is my calling.  It is what I do.  So let me note that there are other “powerful threads” that run through the history of First Baptist Dallas.  Let’s start with political scientist Tobin Grant‘s 2016 Religion News Service piece on longtime pastor W.A. Criswell.  The piece draws on the research of Curtis Freeman and Joseph Davis.

Here is a taste:

Whatever role pastors and other clergy had during the fight against slavery and Jim Crow, there is a specific history that Jeffrees is ignoring. Obviously, his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, was not on the side of abolitionists. More notably, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas was a prominent segregationist who long saw the fight against integration as part of the gospel.

W.A. Criswell led the church from the 1940s to the 1990s. During this time, the church tripled in size to 22,000 members, including notable members such as Billy Graham. Criswell’s election to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1968 marked the beginning “battle” of the conservative takeover of the denomination.

The election of Criswell was surprising. In the 1968 convention, the SBC voted to integrate its churches and welcome all races to membership. Criswell, however, was the most prominent segregationist in the SBC.

In 1956, Criswell spoke at the State Evangelism Conference in South Carolina. Against instructions to stay clear of segregation, Criswell gave a fiery sermon that linked the fight against integration with evangelism. All Southern Baptist pastors should, according to Criswell, speak out against those who were advocating integration.

Criswell did not mince words. He railed against both the National Council of Churches and the NAACP as those “two-by scathing, good-for-nothing fellows who are trying to upset all of the things that we love as good old Southern people and as good old Southern Baptists.”

He even used racist humor to make his points: “Why the NAACP has got those East Texans on the run so much that they dare not pronounce the word chigger any longer. It has to be cheegro.”

Criswell saw integration an attack on both state rights and democracy by carpetbaggers. Even more so, it was a blow to Southern Baptist religious liberty: Churches had the right and the responsibility to keep their congregations segregated.

Segregation was best for blacks and whites, Criswell said. Blacks, he argued, would never be able to excel, teach, or lead in a congregation of whites. Instead, they should stay in churches with other blacks. Segregation also limited miscegenation. And that, Criswell warned, was going to cause problems for everyone.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress’s “Freedom Sunday” is Coming

It’s that time of year again.  Time for Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and a prominent court evangelical, to hold his annual “Freedom Sunday.”  This year’s celebration of God and country will take place on June 24.  Last year’s celebration got a lot of attention.

Robert Wilonsky writes about the city of Dallas for the Dallas Morning News.  He took the above picture while sitting in traffic.  And then he wrote an article about Jeffress at the Morning News.  Here is a taste:

The newly planted billboard touts a “Freedom Sunday” worship service June 24 at the downtown church and hosted by the man who serves as one of President Donald Trump’s main spiritual advisers — a job that appears to be part propagandistpart contortionist. According to a video Jeffress prepared for Freedom Sunday, there will be “inspiring patriotic worship” and “a salute to our armed forces,” followed by the Fox News’ commentator’s “special message” advertised on that billboard. 

There will be indoor fireworks, too, which is not how they concluded the Last Supper. And first-time visitors to First Baptist will receive a copy of Jeffress’ book Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Days Can Be Your Best Days, a grim piece of work about “the coming collapse of our nation,” according to Mike Huckabee’s foreword.

Consider this your semi-regular reminder that Jeffress, Fox News’ go-to religious authority, is among this city’s most divisive voices. Nothing he says shocks me anymore. I mean, this is a preacher — a follower of Christ — who actually said, “America is not a church where everyone should be welcomed regardless of race and background.” 

Which is the opposite of Hebrews 13:1. And, I think, the rest of the Bible. 

Read the rest here.

Dallas Civil Rights Activist Tapes “95 Theses” to First Baptist Church

peter_johnson

Rev. Peter Johnson, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement who now lives in Dallas, just taped his 95 Theses to the doors of court evangelical Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Church.

If you are not familiar with the Martin Luther and the 95 Theses, click here to learn more.

Here is a taste of the story in Dallas Magazine:

Hoofing it through downtown a bit ago to grab lunch, I ran into the Rev. Peter Johnson, near the corner of St. Paul and San Jacinto streets. He had a sheaf of papers under his arm and a cameraman at his elbow.

“Hey, Peter, what are you up to?” I asked.

“I just taped my 95 theses to the doors of First Baptist,” he said, handing me an 8-page stapled copy. “Channel 8 was there, and we were filming, too, until a security guard made me leave.”

I looked over at the church — or, rather, at the crazy fountain and St. Paul Cafe. One wonders what Martin Luther would have to say about all that and about Robert Jeffress himself, the senior pastor at First Baptist, the one who scurries to television in defense of every Trump utterance, including his recent “shithole” remark. 

“Did you get every door?” I asked Peter.

“Yup.”

“Including the ones to the original sanctuary?”

“Sure did.”

“Were you tempted to use nails, like Martin Luther did it? Oh, I guess you needed tape. Too many glass doors.”

“I didn’t want them to get me for destroying property,” Peter said. “I still thought they might arrest me. I told my personal lawyer not to bail me out. Just let me stay in jail. My wife was giving me all kinds of hell this morning.”

I think he was a little disappointed that he didn’t get to take a ride in the back of a squad car. We parted ways after I promised to write something about what he’d just done. As for his 95 theses, they are a mix of scripture and quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.

Read the rest here.

What Was Being Worshiped Yesterday at First Baptist Church in Dallas?

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Yesterday was “Freedom Sunday” at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  The pastor of First Baptist is Robert Jeffress.  He is a Trump supporter, Christian nationalist, and prominent court evangelical. As the pictures attached to this tweet indicate, it was a day of patriotic celebration in the church sanctuary.

People waved American flags during the service.

The last time I checked, the waving of the American flag was a sign of support or loyalty to the nation.  Jeffress had no problem allowing such an act to take place in a church sanctuary–the place where Christians worship God as a form of expressing their ultimate loyalty.  Patriotism is fine. Flag-waving is fine.  But I wonder if any of the congregation felt uncomfortable that all of this took place in the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

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There were fireworks.  Yes, fireworks.  Somehow the pyrotech crew at First Baptist figured out a way to pull this off without burning the place down.  I assume that these fireworks did not represent the pillars of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness in the Old Testament. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me if someone during the service connected these patriotic fireworks to God’s leading of his new “chosen people”–the United States–through the desert of extreme religious persecution). I also don’t think the fireworks were meant to represent the “tongues of fire” present on the day of Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts, chapter 2.  (Also, from what I am able to tell from the church website, First Baptist did not celebrate Pentecost Sunday on June 4, 2017).

It also looks like the congregation of First Baptist sung the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land is Your Land.”  I am guessing they did not sing all of the original verses.

How can this not be a form of idolatry?

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Leave Dubya Alone!

George W. Bush is taking a lot of heat for this:

If you think that Bush’s dancing and moving to the beat of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was inappropriate for a memorial service, check out this piece at The Atlantic.

Here is a taste:

It has come to the attention of our editorial board—a group of august, Harvard-educated, middle-aged Boston Brahmins in tweedy suits sitting at heavy wooden desks and smoking fine pipe tobacco * —that there’s a controversy afoot involving “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” To wit, former President George W. Bush is being criticized for swaying just a little too zestily during a rendition at Tuesday’s memorial service in Dallas for five police officers killed by a gunman…

Let us (we tweedy band of editors) stipulate that this is hardly the most important or momentous news of the day. Let us stipulate further, however, that as the periodical that first published Julia Ward Howe’s abolitionist poem, The Atlanticfeels a special obligation to weigh in on the matter.

So here it is: Eh, let the guy be.

Look, any criticism delivered can only pale in comparison to the greater penalty Bush faces in this case, which is for anyone to watch this video, in which he looks like—to use the scientific term—a doofus. The true star of this clip is First Lady Michelle Obama, who looks at Bush with what looks like affectionate shade and helpless embarrassment as he rocks out, even as the rest of the dais stands somberly. But when the choir hits the chorus (“Glory, glory hallelujah!”) both Obamas seem to get into the act, swaying along with Bush.

Two points here: First, it’s not the case that getting in the spirit and even laughing are incompatible with memorializing the dead, a point made eloquently by Obama’s own rendition of “Amazing Grace” at a memorial in Charleston for those slain at Emanuel AME Church. Second, it’s the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” not the “Battle Dirge of the Republic.” The tune was borrowed from a religious camp meeting song, and even before Howe wrote her lyrics, Union soldiers hadadopted it as a marching song, under the name “John Brown’s Body….”

In short, it’s a song made for movement, not stiffness.

In conclusion, leave Dubya alone.

Read the entire post here.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #85

Southern Methodist University

Want to get some context for this post? Click here

I am writing from my hotel room in Dallas across the street from the beautiful campus of Southern Methodist University.  As noted in a previous post, last night I gave a lecture to about 75 students and faculty entitled “The American Bible Society and the Creation of the Christian Nationalism.”   The lecture was drawn from Chapter One and Chapter Two of the project. Some of you who have been following along will remember that these were the two chapters that served as my “sample chapters” for potential publishers.  Last night was the first time I shared my ABS research in a public forum of this nature and I got some good questions from the audience that will force me to do a better job of refining my arguments.

As I spent time editing the lecture on the plane from Philadelphia to Dallas I realized that the prose in these chapters still need a lot of work.  What I thought was in pretty good shape in August now seemed overly wordy and full of extraneous information that was unrelated to my argument.  

On a related matter, the demands of my academic life at Messiah College combined with my visit to Dallas made for a very unproductive writing week.  While I continue to do background reading for my chapter on the ABS benevolent empire, I have still not started writing the chapter.  Here’s hoping for a return next week to a more regimented writing schedule.  


Most of the research is now in place for the story of the ABS through World War I.  It is now a matter of putting that research into accessible prose.  Stay tuned.