Roy Moore and the “Invisible Religious Right”

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

The phrase “court evangelicals” has made it into in a New Yorker article.  Read Benjamin Wallace-Wells’s piece here.

A taste:

As Trump became more prominent, a few significant figures from the religious right arranged themselves as what the historian John Fea, of Messiah College, in Pennsylvania, calls “court evangelicals.” These figures—such as Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell, Jr., or the Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress—were willing to cheer on the collapse of distance between the evangelical grassroots and the Republican Party. A few weeks ago, Jeffress welcomed Sean Hannity to his church. The young Alabama pastor I talked to had watched Hannity’s appearance, and thought of the liberal who might have entered the church that day on a spiritual quest, only to be alienated by Hannity’s rhetoric. “Then I had a second, more horrifying thought,” the pastor told me. “What about the lost person who comes in because he watches Hannity? He assumes he’s already a Christian. He’s not looking for grace, because he doesn’t realize he needs it.”

Also this:

One view that I heard from evangelical intellectuals is that Trump and Moore represent a last, furious spasm of the culture wars. John Fea, of Messiah College, pointed out to me how thoroughly the Trump and Moore campaigns were invested with a baby-boomer mixture of nostalgia and fear. “It’s like Pickett’s Charge,” Fea said. “The next generation may reject these political power plays among Christians.” But no such rejection had yet happened. The Roy Moore campaign in Alabama has not so much seemed like a battle in the culture war as a reunion of some of its most devoted veterans. “I am loyal to my friends,” Gonnella, of Magnolia Springs Baptist Church, told me, in explaining why he had stood by Moore. “I don’t desert them.”

Read the entire piece here.

Yes, I did teach the Civil War this semester.  This probably explains why I made the “Pickett’s Charge” reference.

I wish I had more time to blog about this whole Roy Moore mess, but I have been too busy with this.

Quotes of the Day

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Federalist 57The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society, and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, whist they continue to hold their public trust.

Federalist 68Talents for low intrigue, and the  little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of the President of the United States.”  It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.

My Visit to Calvin College Made the Student Newspaper!

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Read all about it in the December 1, 2017 issue of Chimes.

Here is a taste of Hannah Butler’s article:

Concluding the history department colloquium for the fall semester, John Fea lectured on President Trump’s Christian advisers and the historical context of their position.

Fea, who identifies as an evangelical Christian, visited from Messiah College, where he is a professor of early colonial history. His latest book , entitled “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”covers evangelical Christians and Donald Trump The book was prompted by several blog posts as well as nearly thirty op-ed newspaper articles throughout the 2016 election cycle.

John Fea encouraged students to become active citizens through engaging the relationship between religion and politics in American life.

“I think any Calvin student, in order to be a responsible citizen, needs to understand how we’ve gotten to the particular political moment that we’re in,” stated Fea, whose own daughter is a sophomore at Calvin. “Christians who voted for Donald Trump or who didn’t vote for Donald Trump just didn’t fall from the sky. There’s a long trajectory of changes that have happened through the years that brought 81% of American Evangelical Christians to vote this man for president.”

In his lecture, Fea created a narrative to answer how history facilitates our understanding of the democratic government and our political community on campus. He stated that “political dimensions need to be understood in context.”

Read the entire piece here.

We Have An Amazon Page!

Still too early to pre-order, but the book does appear to exist in the minds of the good folks at Eerdmans.  Here is a brief description of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting the Christian heritage, the refrain is constant. And to the surprise of many, about 80% percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump-at least enough to help propel him into the White House. Historian John Fea is not surprised-and in Believe Me he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past. In the process, Fea challenges his fellow believers to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

We Have a Title!

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Yesterday I was at Calvin College to try out some of the material from my forthcoming book on Donald Trump.  A lot of smart people at Calvin gave me a lot of things to think about as I wrap-up the manuscript.  Thanks to Kristin Kobes Du Mez of the Calvin College History Department and Kevin Den Dulk of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics for inviting me to speak.

At the start of my lecture I announced the book’s title:

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Let me know what you think.  The book will be out with Eerdmans in the Spring.

Here is how I closed my lecture at Calvin:

When Donald Trump speaks to his followers in the mass rallies that have now become a fixture of his populist brand, he loves to use the phrase “believe me.”  The internet is filled with video montages of Trump using this signature catch phrase.  (He says it even more than “Make America great again!”):

            “Believe me folks, we’re building the wall, believe me, believe, me, we’re building the wall.”

“I love women.  Believe me, I love women.  I love women. And you know what else, I have great respect for women, believe me.”

“I am the least, the least racist person that you’ve ever met, believe me.”

“The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out, OK.  That’s what I do. I fix things.  We’re going to straighten it out, believe me.”

And, perhaps most importantly:

“So let me state this right up front, [in] a Trump administration our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you’ve never seen before. Believe me.”

Why do the the court evangelicals and their followers believe in Donald Trump?  They believe in this man because fear paralyzes them, power seduces them, and nostalgia blinds them.  Donald Trump will be gone in 2021 or 2025.  Let’s pray that he does not take the evangelical church with him.

“And meet me tonight in Atlantic City” (Trump Version)

Gabrielle Bluestone is brilliant!  An editor at Vice News and and an attorney, Bluestone also appears to be a Bruce Springsteen fan.  Here is her unique twitter-take on a Springteen classic:

Read the rest here.

Liberty University: The “Fox News of Academia”

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

Education journalist Rick Seltzer has an extensive piece at Inside Higher Ed on Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.  Read it here.

A few highlights:

  • Falwell Jr. once told the Liberty University students that he is a “redneck at heart.”  (He said this while introducing comedian Jeff Foxworthy).
  • When Falwell Jr. took over in 2007, Liberty University had 27,000 students.  Today it enrolls 110,000.  Only 15,000 study on the university’s Lynchburg. Virginia campus.  The rest study online.
  • Falwell Jr. dreads public speaking.  Seltzer says that he speaks with a “resonant, wandering, mumble.”
  • The Green family of Hobby Lobby and Museum of the Bible fame have an academic building named after them on the Liberty campus
  • During the interview with Seltzer, Falwell Jr. took a call from Don McGahn, the White House counsel. #courtevangelical
  • Falwell Jr.  thinks that Liberty University needs a “Trump Tower.”
  • Many Liberty administrators thought Falwell would endorse Ted Cruz, not Donald Trump
  • When Falwell Jr.  spoke at the Republican National convention in 2016 he was instructed by a speech coach.
  • Falwell Jr.  has a habit of dismissing criticism as “grandstanding” or “publicity stunts.  He did this the other day in the Jonathan Martin incident.  In the IHE article he said that the Liberty alumni who wanted to return their diplomas to protest Falwell Jr’s support for Trump are a “joke.”
  • Kenneth Carren, the president of Lynchburg College, often consults with Falwell Jr. on local issues.  Carren said that Falwell Jr. “has always been helpful and supportive” and is “a really nice guy.”
  • Falwell Jr. claims that his support of Trump has led to a “whole lot of money” in donations.  He also says that Liberty’s student body is now “bursting at the seams” because of his support of the POTUS.
  • Falwell Jr. talks regularly with Trump.
  • Since Liberty does not have tenure, they can easily fire professors if their online programs stop bringing in revenue.  Falwell Jr. says that because Liberty does not have tenure it attracts professors who are “risk-takers.”  He claims that his “risk-taking” faculty is “one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”  I would be interested in knowing if the faculty see this the same way.
  • The faculty understand that the “rule” at Liberty University is to “keep your head down and teach.”
  • Falwell Jr. said he would be happy to host comedian Bill Maher at Liberty.
  • When asked if Liberty would invite Colin Kaepernick to campus to speak, Falwell  Jr. claimed he did not know who Kaepernick was.
  • Falwell Jr. believes that for every student who did not come to Liberty because of his politics, “I think there’s probably two that did.”
  • Falwell Jr. says Liberty is the “Fox News” of academia.
  • Falwell Jr. gets bored a lot.  When this happens he sends out a controversial tweet.

 

The Latest from Liberty University

The details are still coming in, but it appears that a Christian minister named Jonathan Martin was removed from the campus of Liberty University yesterday after coming to Lynchburg to see a Johnnyswim concert.  He also invited students to meet with him for the purpose of praying for the university and its court evangelical president, Jerry Falwell Jr.

Here is what Martin wrote on his Facebook page this morning:

First off, I want to apologize to the group of @LibertyU students who were going to meet me at 7am for prayer tomorrow outside the library. This is a crucial moment in history, & what you do with it matters–so I hope you will still come & seek divine wisdom to be faithful in it. Tonight after the JOHNNYSWIM show, 3 armed Liberty University police officers (& I think 2 not in uniform) came & escorted me out of their green room. They served me papers & took my picture, told me I would be immediately arrested if I ever stepped foot on Liberty property again.

This was evidently in response to my strong criticism of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s alignment not only with the darkest contours of Trumpism, but expressly with Steve Bannon & the alt-right he represents. I came to the show tonight as a guest of JOHNNYSWIM. I committed no crime (except perhaps to sing too loudly to my favorite JOHNNYSWIM songs 🙂 ) I was openly considering some sort of future action oriented around prayer & repentance, but came this time only for the show & for a time of prayer tomorrow morning to seek divine guidance as to what faithful, humble-but-clear Christian resistance might look like. What does it mean for a college administration to be this afraid of free speech? What precisely is Jerry Falwell Jr. afraid of? He openly encourages students to carry weapons, but is afraid of public prayer from Christians who openly embrace nonviolence.

This confirms what I’ve heard repeatedly of the authoritarianism of Falwell from students & faculty at Liberty: like the president for whom he serves as a full-time apologist, Falwell does not easily tolerate robust dissent. One might rightly ask what sort of Christianity Falwell represents, or what it has to do with “liberty.” I encourage those students who rightly discern his syncretistic blend of nationalism & Christianity to still come & pray in the morning at 7am. The power of God’s Spirit inside of you is greater than the forces that conspire against your faithful witness. After that, if any students want to meet for further prayer & conversation, I will be in the lobby at the Lynchburg Fairfield Inn at 8am.

This is a heavy moment in history. Sons & daughters of the church, those of us who have gone before you have overwhelmingly lost the plot. I am sorry for the ways in which we have failed you (& by we I do include “me”). We need your voice, your wisdom, your courage, now. It seems much of evangelical faith in America has been hijacked, doesn’t it? But the future is worth fighting for, friends. Press on.

Martin is a popular Pentecostal pastor (Church of God–Cleveland, TN) at a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma who has been a vocal opponent of Donald Trump and his presidency.

After the concert and his removal from campus he posted pictures of himself with the members of Johnnyswim, who apparently invited him to the concert.

Martin, who apparently has a following among the student body at Liberty, originally invited students to meet him for prayer in front of the university library.

But this all changed after he was removed from campus last night.  The prayer event was move to the Fairfield Inn in Lynchburg.  (Not sure how many students showed up).

It also seems that Martin had something bigger planned than just a prayer meeting with a few friends.  This is what probably caught the attention of the Liberty University security team (and Jerry Falwell Jr.).

Let’s see how this develops.  Whatever the case, Martin seems to have the ear of some Liberty University students and Falwell Jr. seems nervous.

What Trump Followers Believe:

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Anthropologist Robert Leonard listened to Trump’s speech at the recent Values Voter’s Summit.  Here his take on Trump voters:

Trump began by saying we are a nation of believers and that “together we are strengthened and sustained by the power of prayer.” Democrats want prayer out of the public sphere.

Trump called the Las Vegas shooting a “horrific mass murder” and an “act of pure evil.” Democrats blame the guns and want to take yours away.

Trump honored the heroes of Las Vegas, including the police officers and other first responders. Democrats elevate thugs and view our protectors in blue with disdain.

Trump quotes scripture. Democrats ridicule those who do.

Trump stresses unity. Democrats divide American society into victims and oppressors.

Trump says, “We love our country.” Obama went on an international apology tour.

Trump says, “We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life.” Democrats murder babies.

Trump says, “We believe in strong families.” Democratic policies pull them apart.

Trump says, “We are proud of our history.” Democrats tear down monuments.

Trump says, “We respect our great American flag.” Democrats take a knee.

I could go on. There’s much, much more in Trump’s speech that’s fodder for conservative thought.

The first instinct among Democrats, moderate Republicans and other anti-Trumpers will be to point out that many of these statements are wrong.  But does that really matter?  This is what Trumpers believe. The more you condemn these beliefs, the more they will be ensconced among the Trump faithful.  The real question is whether or not it is possible to change a few hearts and minds on at least some of these issues.

Read Leonard’s entire piece in the Kansas City Star

Is Anything “Unprecedented” About Donald Trump?

Trump Jackson Tomb

Trump places a wreath at site of Andrew Jackson’s tomb in Nashville

I teach my students that historians often think in terms of change and continuity.  In the age of Trump I have been hammering this lesson home more than usual.  Is Trump just another manifestation of nativism, populism, xenophobia, narcissism, etc.?  Or is Trump something completely new?

Historian and public intellectual Julian Zelizer reflects on this issue in a piece at The Atlantic.  Here is a taste:

As a “public intellectual” who takes to the airwaves frequently, I often find myself fielding this question about all sorts of issues. The gatekeepers of the chyron perpetually have their ears open to hear a guest utter those words. Because of how unpredictable and bizarre so much of the news seems to be in the era of Trump, the desire to blurt out “unprecedented!” when discussing the state of American politics is always strong.

For a historian such as myself, using the term is always trickier than it seems. The knee-jerk response to the “unprecedented” question is to instantly reach back into our database and recall a person, a moment, or a crisis that reveals unexpected similarities to what is happening today. If we misuse the term unprecedented, we risk missing what is really new while ignoring the deep political roots to what is currently taking place in Washington. We fall prey to Trump Exceptionalism by forgetting how much of the ugliness and dysfunction did not appear out nowhere. If we look into the window of history, we can see that much of Trump’s presidency has a pretty solid foundation.

If we use “unprecedented” with care, then we are able to see what is genuinely distinct about the moment within which we live. Never have we had a president, for instance, who directly communicates with the public in the same kind of unscripted, ad-hoc, and off-the-cuff manner as we have witnessed with Trump. The kind of unbridled rhetorical attacks that he has unleashed on every enemy from the news industry to Puerto Rican officials to kneeling NFL football players to Republican legislators has been a striking contrast to what we have witnessed in American presidential history. In contrast to FDR, who spoke directly to the public through fireside chats on the radio that were carefully crafted, thoughtfully edited, and broadcast strategically, President Trump has used Twitter to literally say what is on his mind at any moment without much consideration for the consequences. This is a new style of presidential communication and a dramatic lowering of the editorial barrier as to what the commander in chief is willing to utter before the world.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Defends Trump Amidst Criticism from Flake, Corker

KuoThe latest court evangelical defense of Donald Trump comes from Johnnie Moore, the founder and CEO of The Kairos Company public relations firm.  Moore is a self-proclaimed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”  He also claims to be responsible for a “comprehensive rebranding of Liberty University in the more secularly-minded press.”  Hmm.  I wonder how that is going.

Recently Moore told CBN News that the United States is in good hands with Mr. Trump at the helm:

“Any of us that have interacted with Pres. Trump knows [he is] someone who’s competent, who’s kind, who’s credible, who has the best of intentions,” Moore said the same week the president has come under a barrage of blistering criticism from members of his own party.

“These leaders are playing politics,” Moore said of Senators Bob Corker, of Tennessee, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, who earlier this week offered public rebukes of the commander-in-chief – one in a testy exchange captured on Twitter; the other in an emotional speech announcing his retirement in 2018 on the Senate floor.

Read the entire piece here.

Competency, kindness, and credibility is in the eye of the beholder.

Moore can’t be this naive.  Of course Trump comes across as competent, kind, and credible when the court evangelicals come to the White House.  Who acts like a jerk when a clergyman is in the room? How does Moore reconcile such competence, kindness, and credibility with the incompetence, meanness, and lack of truth-telling that Trump displays on a daily basis?

Moore and the court evangelicals should read the late David Kuo’s book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction.  Here is a description:

David Kuo came to Washington wanting to use his Christian faith to end abortion, strengthen marriage, and help the poor. He reached the heights of political power, ultimately serving in the White House under George W. Bush. It was a dream come true: the chance to fuse his politics and his faith, and an opportunity for Christians not just to gain a seat at the proverbial table but also to plan the entire meal. 

Yet his experience was deeply troubling. He had been seduced, just as so many evangelical conservatives had been seduced by politics. Tempting Faith is a wrenching personal journey and a heartfelt plea for a Christian reexamination of political and spiritual priorities.

 

 

More on Historical Analogies

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From the moment Trump announced his candidacy for POTUS historians began making analogies.  Then, after nearly all of the analogies were exhausted, they began interrogating the very idea of historical analogies.  Zachary Jonathan Jacobson‘s recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education fits into the latter category.

Here is a taste of his piece, “Trump is the New ______”:

But analogies persist — and they can prove potent. Drawn from a shared past, they can serve as rhetorical weapons: Don’t favor a war? It’s the next Vietnam! Abhor your compatriots’ military forbearance? Brand their hesitation a Munich moment! Don’t like the president? He’s a Tricky Dick. This matchy-matchy juvenilia may score quick points and spawn memes, but flimsy historical analogy can blind the historian from the grail he truly seeks. As the Viscount James Bryce, the one-time British ambassador to the United States, tut-tutted in his classic 1888 tract The American Commonwealth,”the chief practical use of history is to deliver us from plausible historical analogies.”

What Temkin and other critics really target is not so much historical analogy as an epidemic of bad ones. Temkin winces at the “rapid-fire, superficial” takes in the mass media. Once in front of the camera, leaning back pensively in their studio chairs, historian-heavyweights trade in their sweeping, exhaustive, and often beautiful scholarship for trivia-minded TV punditry. They hawk banality. Quizzed by anchors, boxed into panels, these academics have become cable contestants in a game of History-wood Squares.

“Sure, there are similarities,” Temkin wrote of Trump and Long. Like Trump, the Kingfish “ran in the name of the ‘people,’ attacked the establishment.” Both their opponents branded them “demagogues” and “fascists.” But Temkin ably rehashes their fundamental dissimilarities: “Long was self-made, a genuine populist who took on powerful interests, and as governor was responsible for building roads, bridges, and hospitals and helping the poor.” Trump may dream out loud of massive infrastructure projects, but he has yet to exhibit any of the skill and ingenuity to follow through with them.

And yet just because a historical analogy is flawed or even misleading does not make the exercise in historical comparison, in Temkin’s word, “meaningless.” For we compare to discover similarities, and we compare to dredge up differences. By studying the political minutiae, social and economic structures, and cultural milieu that made Long’s projects work, we may be able to tease out the differences for what today makes Trump falter. From another angle, one possibly fruitful question from the Trump-Long analogy: However different, why did these two anti-elitist populists both become ensnared in allegations of profligate corruption?

Read the entire piece here.

Two Quick Thoughts About Jeff Flake

Get up to speed:

1). A lot of folks on the Left are not taking Flake’s speech seriously because he still votes most of the time with Donald Trump.  This is a fair observation, but I think it misses the point and lacks nuance.  Flake never said he was leaving the Republican Party or ceasing to vote conservative.  His primary criticism of Trump is grounded in the way the POTUS debases the office, tarnishes the reputation of the United States around the world, enables the alt-Right, etc….  I think you can say the same thing about Bob Corker and John McCain.  I understand the intellectual purity of those on the Left.  Flake is not a progressive and probably never will be a progressive.  But by attacking Flake for voting with conservatives, those on the Left fail to recognize gravity of this particular moment.  Their criticism of Flake’s voting record would be the same no matter who was in the White House.  I don’t understand why those on the Left can’t bring themselves to be happy about the potential political implications of Flake’s speech.  In other words, if those on the Left want Trump out of office, isn’t what Flake did a step in the right direction?

I like Philip Bump’s piece on this issue at The Washington Post and Kevin Drum’s take at Mother Jones.  Jana Riess, a Mormon who votes Democrat, wants to buy Flake a cup of coffee.

2). Why aren’t more moderate Republicans concerned that their party will be held hostage by the extremists when Flake, Corker, McCain, and others leave?  Shouldn’t they stay in the Senate and fight?  Ana Navarro actually made this argument yesterday on CNN.

OK–have at it.

Court Evangelcal Jerry Falwell Jr. Backs Steven Bannon Effort to Oust “Fake Republicans”

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

On Sunday, Robert Jeffress invited Sean Hannity to talk politics in his Sunday morning worship service.  Not to be outdone, fellow court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. is now backing Steve Bannon’s attempt to oust “fake Republicans” from office. Breitbart has published an article based on an “exclusive interview” with the Liberty University president.  I am assuming this is not fake news.

Here is a taste:

“I’ve coined the term ‘Fake Republicans,’” Falwell, a key early endorser of President Trump in the 2016 GOP primaries, told Breitbart News. “There are four or five ‘Fake Republicans’ in the Senate and many in the House. If they can be replaced in 2018—the political class needs to go. If the people can go out and find candidates like Donald Trump who have been successful in the private sector and go out and primary those people—I’m talking about, I know it’s not going to happen in Maine, but I’m talking about people like Susan Collins, [Lindsey] Graham, [Jeff] Flake, [John] McCain, [Mitch] McConnell. Even the ones that don’t—I heard somebody on the radio this morning, one of Mitch McConnell’s friends, bragging about how the Republicans have gone 95 percent with Trump’s agenda. Well, the five percent is always the one—the issues that matter. It’s always the issues that matter. They don’t always, the group of ‘Fake Republicans,’ they don’t always vote against it. They just make sure enough of their buddies vote against it to kill it. It’s all done behind closed doors. They got to go. And I think if they go, Trump is going to be the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.”

When asked specifically about Bannon’s season of war, Falwell says: “I love it.” Falwell also praised nationally syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham, who’s another leader in the movement to oust “Fake Republicans.”

“I knew when he left the administration, he was doing it for a reason,” Falwell said. “A good reason. And now we all know what it was. He sees that for Trump to be successful, those guys got to go. I’m so proud of him for going after them and leading the effort and Laura Ingraham is out there helping the effort too. She spoke here last week. Actually, she did her radio show live from Liberty.”

 

Read the rest here.