Court evangelicals rally around a new pro-Trump documentary titled “Trump 2024: The World After Trump”

The documentary will appear in September. Court evangelicals Paula White, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, Jack Hibbs, Eric Metaxas, Tony Perkins, Samuel Rodriguez, and Jack Graham are involved. This trailer is so over-the-top that some of it could pass for a anti-Trump parody of the Christian Right.

Here is Peter Montgomery at Right Wing Watch:

One of the primary target audiences for the movie is Christians who may be fed up with Trump’s divisive rhetoric and may be considering staying away from the polls or voting for Joe Biden in hopes that Biden ​may return the country to a sense of normalcy. The movie will try to convince those people that God is using Trump the way that God always uses flawed, imperfect people—and that ​though Trump may sometimes come across as a jerk, he is an effective champion of “biblical values.” The film will end with a virtual “altar call” inviting viewers to pray for salvation.

Read the rest here. For the record, Joe Biden is not a socialist.

I tried to offer a Christian response to this kind of propaganda in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Believe Me 3d

Episode 69: Be Like Mike?

Podcast

Did you watch “The Last Dance,” the ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls? In this episode of the podcast, Baylor University sports historian Paul Putz helps us make sense of it. Join us for a conversation about Jordan’s place in NBA history, the role of the black athlete in American culture, and some thoughts on how the stories of athletes like Jordan provide a window into our own identities as human beings. (NOTE: This episode was recorded BEFORE the anti-racism protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death).

Out of the Zoo: “American Gospel”

American GospelAnnie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie reflects on her viewing of a the documentary American Gospel.  –JF

I spent a portion of my Saturday last week watching American Gospel: In Christ Alone in the lounge juxtaposed between Miller, Grantham, and Hess residences. The said lounge is affectionately named “the fishbowl” by Messiah students because of its’ floor-to-ceiling windows. I heard about American Gospel over the summer when my old youth pastor Kenneth Price  shared his admiration of it on Facebook (read more about Kenneth’s impact on my life in one of my previous blog posts). I had been meaning to watch the documentary since then, so when one of my house-mates told me she was planning to watch it one afternoon, I opted to join her.

I could go on and on about all the points American Gospel argues, but I’ll let you watch the two and a half hour documentary on your own time. As for me though, I’m glad I remembered to bring my journal because I ended up with four and a half pages of notes. The film primarily takes a shot at the American prosperity gospel–a movement with figureheads like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn and Todd White who espouse the false doctrine that faith in Jesus will always result in an easy life full of blessings and miraculous healing. It calls such doctrine dangerous and false. If you don’t agree, please take it up with Ray Comfort or Matt Chandler or one of the documentary’s many contributors, not with me.

American Gospel emphasizes the reality that when we come to faith, while we may get to witness miraculous healing or experience prosperity, what we are really called to do is to suffer, endure trials, die to ourselves, and to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.

American Gospel also got me thinking about my future as a history teacher. Christians who expect following Jesus will be easy are like educators who believe their students will never talk back or forget a homework assignment. If teachers decided to start teaching because they thought it would be a painless or affluent undertaking they would have abandoned their posts long ago. Proponents of prosperity gospel are like historians who think they will always be able to construct a perfect, concise narrative every time, confidently tying up every loose end in a neat bow. Instead, the reality is that historians are to dive deep into the messiness of the past and meet challenges as they come–and they will come.

Some people believe that the right path to take is the easiest one, or the one that will fetch the most earthly wealth or happiness. They think one’s choices should be contingent on their own wants and desires. If I thought like this I wouldn’t have gone to college for a history degree, and I certainly wouldn’t be working towards a career in education. If David wanted to take the easy route he would have never faced Goliath. If the Apostle Paul shared this view his name would probably still be Saul. If Jesus decided to live an easy life he certainly wouldn’t have sacrificed himself for us on the cross. So instead of taking the easy way out, we are called to follow Christ’s example, keeping our eyes on him through every tragedy and every triumph.

The *Western Stars* Documentary is Coming

Springsteen’s most recent album, Western Stars, will be the subject of a music documentary that Warner Brothers will release this Fall.  Here is Variety:

Warner Bros. has nabbed global rights to “Western Stars,” the upcoming music documentary co-directed by Bruce Springsteen. The film will be released on the big screen and will open in theaters this fall after its world premiere at September’s Toronto International Film Festival.

“Western Stars” is Springsteen’s first studio album in five years and the film marks his directorial debut. It weaves in archival footage along with Springsteen’s narration, and shows him performing all 13 songs on the album, alongside a band and a full orchestra, in a nearly 100-year-old barn on the singer’s property.

The film was also overseen by Thom Zimny, a frequent Springsteen collaborator. Zimny directed the Boss in “Springsteen on Broadway” and “Bruce Springsteen: Hunter of Invisible Game” (2014), and picked up a Grammy Award for “Wings on Wheels: The Making of Born to Run” (2005).

“Bruce lives in the super rarified air of artists who have blazed new and important trails deep into their careers,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Picture Group. “With ‘Western Stars,’ Bruce is pivoting yet again, taking us with him on an emotional and introspective cinematic journey, looking back and looking ahead. As one of his many fans for over 40 years, I couldn’t be happier to be a rider on this train with Bruce and Thom.”

Read the rest here.

Naples

When Journalists Used the “tools of a novelist to tell a news story”

breslin

I need to see the HBO documentary Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.  I grew up reading Jimmy Breslin’s columns in the New York Daily News and his writing was one of the reasons I wanted to grow-up to become a journalist.

Eric Cortellessa reviews the documentary at Washington Monthly.  Here is a taste:

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artistsmight be the perfect film for today’s generation of aspiring journalists. The documentary, which premiered on HBO Monday night, has a kind of romance that only the young—at least at heart—can fully internalize.

The New York City newspaper columnists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill were both larger-than-life personalities who made journalism seem more glamorous than it normally is. (Hamill dated Jackie Onassis and Shirley MacLaine and hung out with Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.) The two writers—who bore witness to some of American history’s greatest tragedies and inflection points—lived by an unwritten code that journalism is a public service. That kind of idealism isn’t rare for a budding ink-stained wretch, but Breslin and Hamill’s approach to fulfilling it was: one of Breslin’s most memorable columns was an interview with the man who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. This was, as the sportswriter Mike Lupica says in the film, an example of using “the tools of a novelist to tell a news story.”

Read the rest here.

*In God We Trump*

268x0wThis is the name of filmmaker Chris Maloney’s new documentary.  Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton talks with Maloney.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Tara Isabella Burton

So we’ve established that white evangelicals were willing to vote for Trump, even if it was by “holding their noses.” But I’m curious, next, about what justifications evangelicals have offered to defend that vote. From the “end justifies the means” logic to, say, the propagandistic notion that Trump was chosen by God directly, it seems we’ve seen a few different defenses. Can you tell me more about them?

Christopher Maloney

That’s the question that’s at the center of the film. Certainly the Supreme Court was a really big part of it. Like [in making the film] I heard Christians, more than once, explain that, yeah, you know, Trump is maybe not a very good guy, but he’s going to change the court and then we won’t have legalized abortion anymore.

Or there’s the argument made by [prominent prosperity gospel preacher and Trump advisor] Paula White, that Trump “became a Christian” in 2015. So that’s how we can justify giving him our vote.

The most extreme narrative is, I looked at so much footage of television preachers saying that God had told them that he had chosen Trump to be the president. And so if he was God’s choice, every other thing that came up that they might object to about him was irrelevant because we don’t have to understand God’s choices. God works in mysterious ways. So if he’s chosen this guy to be president, some preacher on TV believes it, and then the preachers who pastor churches who watched that show then take the message from that and then pass it on to the congregation. That was a much bigger part of it than I think most people realized.

An interesting thing is that Kenneth Copeland, who’s one of those influential TV preachers, he had said, I believe, that same thing about Ted Cruz at one point when he thought Ted Cruz was going to get the nomination, like God chose Ted Cruz. And then when Trump got the nomination, instead it changed to “well, God chose Trump.”

Read the entire interview here.

Here is the teaser:

And here is a longer clip:

More Reviews of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War”

Nam

See our original list of reviews here.

A conservative State Department veteran says the documentary is “no profile in courage.

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried reflects on the documentary.

Salar Mohandesi says the documentary “seeks a premature closure.”

Maurice Isserman wants more on the peace movement.

Interview with a historian who advised Burns and Novick.

Thoughts from a professor of teacher education.

Sociologist Martin Wenglinsky weighs-in.

Raymond Schroth offers a Catholic perspective.

Reviews of Ken Burns’s “The Vietnam War”

Nam

I am not an expert on the Vietnam War.  I have not taught this subject in nearly sixteen years.  As a result, I am no position to offer a critique or review of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s PBS documentary, The Vietnam War.  I have now watched the first two episodes and about half of the third episode.  I am enjoying it immensely and learning a lot of new information.

I have also been reading reviews to get a sense of what historians of the era and other commentators have to say. Here are a few that caught my eye:

L.D. Burnett likes it.

Andrew Bacevich says that the series “doesn’t answer the questions about the Vietnam War that many are seeking.”

James Fallows at The Atlantic

Jeremy Kuzmarov says the documentary is “misleading

George Will thinks it is a masterpiece

Jerry Lembcke also thinks it is “flawed

Tim Lacy thinks Burns and Novick do a nice job covering the Diem regime

The Daring Women of Philadelphia

Daring Women

I am in Philadelphia today.  This morning I was interviewed for a documentary film on women, religion, and anti-slavery in the early American Republic (1789-1848) titled “The Daring Women of Philadelphia.”  The Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmakers at History Making Productions are producing the film.

I don’t pretend to be a historian of women in the early republic.   There will be many other historians in the film who will speak authoritatively on this topic.  I was asked to participate for the purpose of providing general background information about the Second Great Awakening, benevolent societies, and the religious impetus behind moral reforms movements in the early 1800s.  I have no idea if anything I said was useful or will make the cut, but it was fun talking about Charles Finney’s visit to Philadelphia, the Orthodox-Hicksite Quaker schism, Lucretia Mott, “moral suasion,” and the American Bible Society (of course).

Stay tuned.

“An Outrage”: A Forthcoming Documentary Film on Lynching in America

Some of you may recall that in the Fall 2015 I taught an online graduate course on Colonial North America through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  I was invited to teach the course by Lance Warren and had the privilege of working closely during the filming of the course with Lance and his spouse Hannah Ayers.

Since then Lance and Hannah have left Gilder Lehrman to pursue their passion for documentary film work. They are in the final stages of a project on lynching in America. Lance and Hannah spent most of the summer traveling thousands of miles conducting interviews with historians and activists and talking with descendants of people who had been lynched in the Deep South.

The title of the film is “An Outrage.”  You can read more about it here or follow the film’s Twitter account @AnOutrageFilm

A few hours ago Lance and Hannah released the first minute of the film.  Here it is:

“An Outrage” will premiere in early 2017.  Stay tuned.

Paul Bartow Checks-In With A Few Session Reviews From AHA 2016

FreemasonPaul Bartow is back with another post as Day 2 of the AHA conference comes to a close.  See his previous posts here.–JF

After a great start to the AHA Conference yesterday, I was looking forward to day two. I attended the following sessions today: “Freemasonry: The World’s First Global Social Network,” “American Society of Church History Luncheon Honoring the Career and Contributions of Mark Noll,” and “The New Tools of the Trade: How You Can and Why You Should Become a Documentary Filmmaker or Digital Historian.”

The day yielded mediocre results in my opinion, but it was salvaged by the Exhibit Alley at 5:00 PM – a reception that included discounted book sales and complimentary wine, presumably to facilitate the uninhibited purchase of books.

The first session on Freemasonry was very informative. Coming in, I already had a fair understanding of the concept of Ancient versus Modern Freemasonry, which turned out to form the crux of the session’s discussion. I was very interested in papers on Freemason lodges outside of Britain and the United States. I had no idea that the French, who hate everything English, would have Freemason lodges, and the Germans were a pleasant surprise as well. Hans Schwartz, a PhD candidate at Clark University, seemed extremely knowledgeable even when asked what appeared to be a “designed-to-stump-you” question about Freemasonry in Latin America. Furthermore, I really appreciated how they emphasized the point that Freemasonry allowed influential, well-placed, and ambitious men to make business and professional connections across the Atlantic and within European nations. Grand lodge registers or almanacs were compiled with the meeting dates, places, tavern insignias, and other helpful information to allow visiting masons to make connections with their brethren spanning many nations. Perhaps the creators of LinkedIn should take note.

The luncheon honoring Mark Noll was obviously more ceremonial than informational. It was an honor to see Dr. Noll again, a scholar who has made pioneering contributions to Christian religious history in North America and Canada. While I was an undergraduate student at Wheaton College Noll had a peculiar but well-deserved cult following. The man’s integrity, humility, and pleasant demeanor coupled with his profound ability for historical scholarship is something rarely seen in the profession today. He will retire from the faculty of the University of Notre Dame at the end of this academic year. His scholarship will be dearly missed.

I was particularly looking forward to the session on documentary filmmaking. In my early college career at Waubonsee Community College, Ken Burns’s documentaries inspired me to declare a history major. His features on the Civil War, Lewis & Clark, and Thomas Jefferson were particularly compelling. I studied history in college but was never presented with options or training regarding how to become a historical documentary film maker. The title of the session, “The New Tools of the Trade: How You Can and Why You Should Become a Documentary Filmmaker or Digital Historian” seemed to promise insights into how to begin a career in the profession. After the first half hour, however, it became clear that two different schools were presenting their findings and syllabi on how they incorporated their first attempts at documentary and digital media courses at their institutions. This was not what the title led me to believe, and this was the biggest disappointment of the day. Although the panel presented great insights into how to implement documentary and digital media into college courses, perhaps they should have re-titled their session.

Tomorrow promises some great panels, and I look forward to writing about my experiences here at the AHA Conference in Atlanta!

God In America, Part One: An Exercise in the Evangelical Whig View of Early American Religious History

I just got done watching Part 1 of the PBS series “God in America.” I know I am behind (Part 2 aired tonight), but such is the life of a blogger, professor, and a new department chair.

The series begins with the Franciscan attempts to convert the Pueblo Indians to Christianity in the 17th century.  This, of course, is a sad chapter in American history.  The Spanish friars were militant.  Their evangelistic zeal led to the destruction of Pueblo sacred sites and all sorts of brutality.  The high point of this story is the Pueblo revolt of 1680, the Indian rebellion that put an end to the Spanish presence in the west and proved that Christianity would not come to America unchanged.

This is a nice way to begin, but it has absolutely no connection to the rest of Part One’s narrative.  One gets the impression that this was just tacked on to the beginning of the program because SOMETHING needed to be said about native Americans.  The story line of the native Americans, and the Spanish for that matter, are quickly dropped in favor of what I call in the title of this post the “evangelical Whig view” of American history.  This script could have been written by George Bancroft.

And where is slave religion?  (Let’s hope it is discussed later in the series).

The Puritans are next. Steven Prothero of Boston University establishes himself as our guide through this history, but we also hear from a star-studded lineup of historians that include Michael Winship, Frank Lambert, Mary Beth Norton, Stephen Marini

Much time is spent on Anne Hutchinson. Too much time.  Prothero is very good at showing the Protestant individualism of the Puritans and how Hutchinson, in some ways, seemed more Protestant than the Puritans.  Hutchinson is clearly the star.  There is more time spent on her story than on the Puritans who removed her from the colony.  Was the Hutchinson trial really the most important moment in 17th century New England history? Would the people living in Puritan New England have seen it this way?  Absolutely not. The Halfway Covenant, King Philips War, the Salem Witch Trials, and a host of other events would have been more important to the Puritan “city on a hill,” but these events do not fit easily into the Whig narrative.

The portrayal of the Hutchinson trial is well-acted and the trial transcript is used as the script.  Winship claims that during this trial Hutchinson “rips him (John Winthrop) to shreds.”  Norton celebrates the rebellious spirit of Hutchinson.  Prothero concludes that Hutchinson is the future of America–she represents liberty of conscience and religious freedom. 

The documentary then jumps to George Whitefield. Marini stresses the individualism of evangelical religion. (By the way, I would love to take a class with Marini–so much passion and energy!)  Harry Stout mentions Whitefield’s appeal to the emotions and the imagination.  Lambert connects Whitefield’s evangelical, individualistic Protestantism to that of Hutchinson.  A clear intellectual and spiritual genealogy is developing here.

The discussion of the First Great Awakening does a great job of explaining evangelicalism as a real and powerful religious movement that impacted people’s lives.  The documentary uses a host of quotes from the diaries of Whitefield converts to make this point.  Very well done.

But overall the treatment of the Great Awakening is blatantly Whig. One is left with the impression that the Great Awakening was more of a political movement than it was a religious movement. Stout talks about the way Whitefield’s evangelicalism challenged “the old aristocratic order” and even suggests that the Great Awakening led to the popular idea that “we are the people.”  Then Daniel Driesbach talks about the way that the Great Awakening brought the colonies together.  One clearly gets the impression that these historians are setting us up for the American Revolution.  I tell my students that the Great Awakening created a transatlantic religious network that made the colonies more British and Protestant.  “God in America” would prefer to see it as the seedbed of individual liberty, revolution, and American identity.

And then, in the last three minutes of Part One, we get the triumph of the evangelical Whig narrative or, what Jon Butler has called “Born Again History.” 

The narrator states that people began to insist that it was their right to worship in the church of their choice.  Evangelical religion is said to have provided the American Revolution with a sense of “moral” urgency. Prothero says that following the First Great Awakening, the Revolution was “inevitable” and “perfectly logical.”

In the end, the story of “God in America”–at least early America– is best told by following a direct line between Hutchinson and Whitefield, culminating in the American Revolution.  At times I thought I was sitting in a lecture at Glenn Beck University.