Who Presided Over Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment Trial?

Chase

On Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts began presiding over the Donald Trump impeachment trial.

Over at The Washington Post, Michael Rosenwald writes about Salmon P. Chase, the Chief Justice who presided over Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial in 1868.  Here is a taste of his piece, “The chief justice who presided over the first presidential impeachment trial thought it was political spectacle“:

Johnson was on trial for, among other things, violating the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, which said the president couldn’t fire important government officials unless he got the go-ahead from the Senate. Johnson had fired the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, without consulting the Senate. Cue impeachment.

Chase thought the whole thing was much ado about nothing.

“Chase had profound misgivings about the trial,” Niven wrote. “He considered the articles more of partisan rhetoric than substantive evidence for a conviction.”

In a letter to Gerrit Smith, a fellow abolitionist and former congressman, Chase wrote that “the whole business seems wrong, and if I had any opinion, under the Constitution, I would not take part in it.”

Chase suspected the whole business would become a public spectacle.

Read the entire piece here.

Who is Jay Sekulow?

Sekulow

The New York Times is profiling the lawyer who will be leading Trump’s impeachment defense.  Read it here.

Now allow me to add a few things to this profile based on our work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

First, Sekulow has strong court evangelical connections.  He was (and still may be) friends with Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma Magazine, a Christian magazine that represents Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in the United States.  Many of the so-called evangelical “prophets” who think Trump is the new King Cyrus are regularly featured in Charisma. (See our section on Strang and Independent Network Charismatics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump). In 2005, Time named Strang one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”

In 1989, Strang was editing Charisma and Sekulow was a thirty-two-year old lawyer coming out of bankruptcy.  Somewhere around May 1, Strang gave Sekulow a copy of Oral Roberts’s latest book How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor.  Roberts, of course, was the controversial Pentecostal televangelist and president of Oral Roberts University.  Here is a taste of the dustjacket of How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor: “Christians today commonly believe that Jesus was poor.  And they believe that God wants them to be poor, too.  Oral Roberts says nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus was not poor, and He wants Christians to prosper in every way, including financially.”  Strang wrote a short message to Sekulow on the first blank page of Roberts’s book.  It read: “This book is a little different in its approach.  But after you read it, I’m sure you’ll agree he has some unique insights into what the Bible says about this important subject.”

oral-roberts-1

This is exact copy of the book Strang gave to Sekulow

oral-roberts-2

So perhaps you are wondering how I got this book.  Read this post to find out.

Second, Sekulow, who mostly handles religious liberty cases, has done very well for himself.  (Perhaps Oral Roberts and the prosperity gospelers were right).  In a June 28, 2017 post I suggested that “defending religious liberty is good for business.”  According to a 2005 article in Legal Times, Sekulow used over $2.3 million from a nonprofit organization he controlled to buy two homes and lease a private jet.

And here is a taste of a 2017 article on Sekulow from The Guardian:

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.

“I can certainly understand how that would make it difficult for you to share a gift like that right now,” they told retirees who said they were on fixed incomes and had “no extra money” – before asking if they could spare “even $20 within the next three weeks”.

In addition to using tens of millions of dollars in donations to pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms, Case has also been used to provide a series of unusual loans and property deals to the Sekulow family.

Attorneys and other experts specialising in nonprofit law said the Sekulows risked violating a federal law against nonprofits paying excessive benefits to the people responsible for running them. Sekulow declined to detail how he ensured the payments were reasonable.

“This is all highly unusual, and it gives an appearance of conflicts of interest that any nonprofit should want to avoid,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a Chicago-based group that monitors nonprofits.

The Washington Post also covered this story.

Third, Sekulow jams with John Elefante (former of Kansas front man) and John Schlitt (former lead singer of the Christian rock band Petra) in a group called The Jay Sekulow Band.  Watch them cover the Doobie Brothers’s “Jesus is Just Alright”:

 

The National Archives Edited-Out Anti-Trump Signs in an Image of the 2017 Women’s March

 

Archives

Here is Joe Heim at The Washington Post:

The large color photograph that greets visitors to a National Archives exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage shows a massive crowd filling Pennsylvania Avenue NW for the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

The 49-by-69-inch photograph is a powerful display. Viewed from one perspective, it shows the 2017 march. Viewed from another angle, it shifts to show a 1913 black-and-white image of a women’s suffrage march also on Pennsylvania Avenue. The display links momentous demonstrations for women’s rights more than a century apart on the same stretch of pavement.

But a closer look reveals a different story.

The Archives acknowledged in a statement this week that it made multiple alterations to the photo of the 2017 Women’s March showcased at the museum, blurring signs held by marchers that were critical of Trump. Words on signs that referenced women’s anatomy were also blurred.

In the original version of the 2017 photograph, taken by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama, the street is packed with marchers carrying a variety of signs, with the Capitol in the background. In the Archives version, at least four of those signs are altered.

A placard that proclaims “God Hates Trump” has “Trump” blotted out so that it reads “God Hates.” A sign that reads “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women” has the word Trump blurred out.

Signs with messages that referenced women’s anatomy — which were prevalent at the march — are also digitally altered. One that reads “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED” has “vagina” blurred out. And another that says “This Pussy Grabs Back” has the word “Pussy” erased.

The Archives said the decision to obscure the words was made as the exhibit was being developed by agency managers and museum staff members. It said David S. Ferriero, the archivist of the United States who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, participated in talks regarding the exhibit and supports the decision to edit the photo.

Read the rest here.

Here is presidential historian Douglas Brinkley: “There’s no reason for the National Archives to ever digitally alter a historic paragraph…If they don’t want to use a specific image, then don’t use it.  But to confuse the public is reprehensible.”

It is hard to argue with Brinkley here.

A Southern Evangelical Businessman Breaks With Trump

 

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

Fred Rand is an evangelical Christian and Memphis business man.  He described his background in a recent piece at the Jackson (MS) Free Press:

I cut my teeth as a College Republican working for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I have never in my life cast a ballot for a Democrat candidate in almost 40 years as a registered Republican.

I am also a committed Evangelical Christian who grew up in Mississippi as a devoted follower of the Rev. Billy Graham and am now a follower of Andy Stanley. I joined my wife at North Point Church in Atlanta when we first married and briefly attended his Buckhead Church before moving to Charlotte, N.C., when our first grandson was born. We joined Andy’s wonderful startup church called Ridge, where our daughter was on full-time staff and her husband a volunteer youth counselor. Our daughter has recently completed (another) degree in Christian counseling at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary here and is currently in private practice, but still very active in our church….

I first heard Rev. Graham speak at an unofficial Reagan event in 1980. I was honored to be among a number of young people he spoke to briefly afterward. Rev. Graham warned us not to be seduced by the lights and excitement of politics. All fame is fleeing. And all men are human and will disappoint you, as Richard Nixon disappointed him. He urged us to put our trust first in God. He will never disappoint you. He will never turn His back on you. He will always love you. And we must honor that love by choosing Him, putting Him first and not turning our backs on Him.

I was a huge fan of the inspirational movie “Brian’s Song” in junior high. But it was my hero Gayle Sayer’s book “I am Third” that changed my life. I adopted his beliefs outlined in the book and have tried to live a life based on this guiding principle. God is first. My friends and family are second. And I am third. Rev. Graham’s off-the-cuff remarks that night echoed that same philosophy, and I saw the truth in his words to us.

That night had a profound effect on my life. I read an article about Rev. Graham in Parade Magazine less than a year later that I kept framed on my wall for 30 years that was 100% consistent with his testimony to us Young Republicans that night.

“I told (Jerry Falwell) to preach the Gospel,” Rev. Graham said in the Parade article. “That’s our calling. I want to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. Liberals organized in the ’60s, and conservatives certainly have a right to organize in the ’80s, but it would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

That has been my political lodestone ever since.

In his Jackson Free Press piece, Rand defends Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today and says that “Donald Trump fits the scriptural definition of a fool.”

Read it all here.

I Think the Circus Just Came to Washington

Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz

In case you haven’t heard, Trump has added Ken Starr, Alan Dershowitz, and Robert Ray to his defense team.  I think the days of Dershowitz receiving dinner invitations on Martha’s Vineyard are over.  The shunning will only get worse.

In case Trump needs more lawyers, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, and Barry Scheck are still alive.  (Unfortunately for Trump, Johnnie Cochran and Robert Kardashian have passed away).

Let the show begin.  This trial is going to be reality television at its “finest.”

International Bonhoeffer Society Calls for Ending of the Trump Presidency

bonhoffer

The International Bonhoeffer Society is an organization of scholars who study the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who the Nazi’s hanged after learning of his role in a plot to assassination Adolph Hitler.

On January 15, 2020, the Society issued the following “Statement of Concern” regarding the presidency of Donald Trump:

As grateful recipients, and now custodians, of the theological, ethical, and political legacy of the German pastor-theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we believe all persons of faith and conscience should prayerfully consider whether our democracy can endure a second term under the presidency of Donald Trump. We believe it cannot. In 2017, we issued a statement expressing our grave concerns about the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the rise in deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening of respectful public discourse ushered in by the election of Donald Trump. We articulated the need for Christians to engage in honest and courageous theological reflection in the face of the threat posed by his leadership. Over the last three years, the need for such discernment has grown more urgent.

A hallmark of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy is his insistence that we see the great events of world history from “the view from below” (1942). That is, he urges us to see from the perspective of those who suffer. The policies of the Trump administration both threaten and disempower the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims and other religious minorities, immigrants, refugees, the poor, the marginally employed, and the unemployed. Moreover, Donald Trump has now taken ill-advised military action that raises the specter of war. One of the greatest lessons learned from the history of the Christian churches during Germany’s Third Reich is that it is crucial to respond to threats to human life, integrity, and community when they first appear, and to continue to challenge them.

As Bonhoeffer scholars, religious leaders, and confessing Christians, we have a special responsibility to name crises and discern responsible actions of resistance and healing. We confess our own complicity in the social order that has produced Donald Trump’s presidency, for many of the social and economic injustices we confront predate it. As we take responsibility for these injustices, we resist the policy goals of this administration that have contributed to everdeepening divisions and growing vulnerability among the marginalized sectors of our population, including the dehumanizing treatment of migrants, systematic attempts to strip rights from LGBTQ persons, the increased rapacious destruction of the environment, the marginalization and assault on communities of color especially through voter suppression, and the economic policies that have contributed to the largest disparity of wealth in the nation’s history. We believe that an honest reckoning with these realities must lead to dismantling the dehumanizing ideologies and systemic inequities in which they are rooted.

We believe that one crucial step in this reckoning is ending Donald Trump’s presidency. We do not make this statement lightly. Bonhoeffer’s writings have been influential for Christians from a wide range of churches and political views, but we feel called to address the grave moral concerns we have outlined here that call every one of us to account. During this new year, debates and discussion will continue to be held concerning the best way for America to move forward. We believe that the United States has the human resources to provide capable and willing leaders, and that together a more just and respectful future can be forged. Acknowledging that all human community and leadership is a mixture of blessing and brokenness, health and dysfunction, we stand with all those who believe this country deserves and needs a constitutional and peaceful change in leadership. And we commit ourselves to listen to the call and obey the commands of Jesus as we enter the year 2020.

We make this statement, in part, because we know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a theologian and martyr – is often cited in times of political contention. We offer the following theological lessons from Bonhoeffer’s work as a glimpse into the ways he understood his faith and his responsibilities as a citizen in his own times, and to encourage discernment about how these words might resonate for us today:

  • He spoke of God’s freedom and human freedom as “freedom for others” not “freedom from others.” (1932)
  • He preached that the gospel is “the good news of the dawning of the new world, the new order … God’s order,” and therefore it is good news for the poor. (1932)
  • He warned that leaders become “misleaders” when they are interested only in their own power and neglect their responsibilities to serve those whom they govern. (1933)
  • He warned that when a government persecutes its minorities, it has ceased to govern legitimately. (1933)
  • He reminded Christians that the church has an “unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” (1933)
  • He wrote, “For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. … The hour is late. The world is choking with weapons. … The trumpets of war may blow tomorrow. For what are we waiting?” (1934)
  • He believed that Jesus’s commands in the Gospels – like love your neighbor as you love yourself, welcome the stranger, and love your enemies – are to be obeyed in the social and political realm. He wrote: “From the human point of view there are countless possibilities of understanding and interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus knows only one possibility: simply go and obey.” (1936)
  • He wrote, “Behold God become human … God loves human beings. …Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are. … What we find repulsive … namely, real human beings … this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” (1941)
  • He wrote from prison, “… one only learns to have faith by living in the full thisworldliness of life. …then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is [metanoia/repentance]. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian. … How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?” (1944)
  • He wrote from prison, “How do we go about being ‘religionless-worldly’ Christians, how can we be [ecclesia/church], those who are called out, without understanding ourselves religiously as privileged, but instead seeing ourselves as belonging wholly to the world?” (1944)

Signed by the Board of Directors, International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section,

Jennifer M. McBride, President
Lori Brandt Hale, Vice President
John Matthews, Secretary
H. Gaylon Barker, Treasurer
Christian Collins Winn
Stephen Haynes
Matt Jones
David Krause
Michael Mawson
Dianne Rayson
Robert Vosloo
Reggie Williams
Philip Ziegler
Keith Clements, Emeritus
Barry Harvey, Emeritus
J. Patrick Kelley, Emeritus
Michael Lukens, Emeritus 

NOTE: I added the links to these names.

Sojourners covered this story here.

It is worth noting that one of America’s most popular Bonhoeffer biographers, Eric Metaxas, is a Trump supporter.  His biography has been widely criticized by Bonhoeffer scholars.  The most recent critique of Metaxas came from Rhodes College professor Stephen Haynes.

Today…

Trump Iowa

  • The trial to impeach Donald Trump got underway.
  • We are discussing the fact that Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, told two different media outlets that Trump knew about attempts to hold aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into a political opponent and lied about it.
  • We learned that Trump broke the law by withholding Ukraine aid.
  • Trump gave a speech supporting prayer in schools.

We are living in strange times.

Evangelical Support for Trump in Rural Wisconsin

Forest County\

Wisconsin is a big swing state.  Trump needs to win it in 2020.

Today I was chatting about Trump with fifteen Dutch college students visiting Messiah College during their January term.  One of them asked me if I thought Trump might win again in 2020.  I told him that anything is possible because the country is so evenly divided right now.  In this day and age, American elections revolve around small slices of voters living in swing states.  This means that places like rural Forest County, Wisconsin are important.

Chris McGreal, a reporter at The Guardian, spent some time with evangelicals in this Wisconsin county–a county that went for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Pastor Franz Gerber is worried that so many members of his congregation appear to idolise Donald Trump more than they worship Jesus.

The preacher at the Praise Chapel Community church was among those who voted for Trump in rural Forest county, Wisconsin, which swung heavily from Barack Obama to the Republican in 2016 and so helped deliver a state that put the president in the White House.

Gerber now has some regrets about his vote but what really disturbs him is an unquestioning and even aggressive adulation for Trump within his flock.

“It seems like there are many evangelical Christians that are willing to die on the hill of supporting the Republican president, supporting Donald J Trump. And to me, that hill is not worth dying on. No matter who the candidate is, no matter who the individual is,” he said. “To put all your hope into that individual is a dangerous road. Scripture would warn us against that.”

Gerber’s concern reflects a deepening political polarisation within sprawling Forest county, home to about 9,000 people and two Native American reservations across about 1,000 square miles, where friendships are strained over Trump and more than a few people shy from talking politics.

Read the rest here.

Sadly, pastor Gerber may not have a chance.  His influence over his congregation pales in comparison to the influence that Fox News and other conservative media have over his congregation.

“The boys mostly like Trump”

Dunmore

This is a really interesting article on how 18-year-olds in the Scranton, Pennsylvania area are thinking about the 2020 election.  Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Julia Terruso explores some of the gender differences among first-time voters in this important swing state.

Here is a taste:

At seventh period lunch, Brian Fabricatore, 16, completed an unofficial survey of his friend group — six guys and one girl. “This is pretty much an all-Trump table,” he said. With some exceptions, the young men at Dunmore say they lean Republican, largely because they support Trump. Most of the girls consider themselves to be Democrats.

That reflects national polling, which shows Trump is viewed more favorably by men (42% of men supported him in an Economist/YouGov poll this month, compared with 34% of women).

Back when Trump first came on Stanco’s radar, he said, the appeal was mostly humor. The jokes have stuck.

TikTok and Instagram are high school political battlefields. Following the recent Iranian crisis, the boys shared memes of World War III jokes — including one fake tweet where Trump says he’s drafting all people with Android phones to go to war first.

The girls mostly roll their eyes, but sometimes the jabs cross a line. Last year, when Alabama passed an anti-abortion bill, some of the boys shared a series of Instagram posts from women outraged by the ban, with the song “Hoes Mad” playing in the background.

“The boys mostly like Trump. There’s an attention side of it,” Chiaro said. “It’s just like a way to get people upset, to rile up the girls, the whole masculine group loves Trump.”

Stanco admits that’s a part of it. “Just historically, when you think Republican, you think males, and when you think liberals, you think more female,” said Stanco.

Read the entire piece here.

Mike Bloomberg’s Critique of the Primary System Makes Sense

Bloomberg

Why are Democratic candidates running all over Iowa when the nominee will have no chance of winning the state in November?  Former New York mayor and presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is asking this question.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at CNN:

It’s true the party has come a long way from the days of candidates being selected in smoke-filled back rooms by party bosses. But our current system—in which two early states dominate the candidates’ time and resources—is in urgent need of reform.

The Democratic Party reflects America’s incredible diversity. But the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire, are among the most homogenous in the nation. While it’s great that candidates reach out to voters in these states at every pancake breakfast and town hall around, what about African-American, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islanders, and other voters in places like Detroit, Montgomery, Phoenix, and Houston? I’ve visited them all recently, and almost to a person, voters tell me the other campaigns have almost no presence in their cities.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the two early voting states are unlikely to be consequential in the general election. So as a party, we are spending all of our time and resources outside of the battleground states we need to win.

Meanwhile, President Trump is spending his time in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina — all states we lost in 2016 by razor-thin margins. In 2020, we need to reverse at least some of those results — and we also have the chance to flip other states that voted for Trump, including Arizona and even Texas.

But right now, we are in danger of repeating 2016 in large part because, as Democrats focus on Iowa and New Hampshire, Trump is operating at full-speed in the battleground states, with field staff and targeted television and digital advertisements. Tuesday, while Democrats are on stage in Des Moines, he’ll be speaking to thousands of supporters in Wisconsin — a state Democrats need to rebuild the Blue Wall.

Read the entire piece here.

Andrew Johnson’s 1866 Anti-Impeachment Tour

Johnson

This sounds familiar.

Over at The Washington Post, Ronald Shafer describes Andrew Johnson’s attempt to rally supporters against his possible impeachment.  Johnson took the road to make his case.

Here is a taste:

“Congress, factious, domineering, tyrannical Congress has undertaken to poison the minds of the American people,” the embattled president declared in fiery speeches. His political foes have been aided, he charged, by their “hirelings” in a “mercenary and subsidized press.”

The president was Andrew Johnson, who in 1866 was already facing impeachment threats just a year after succeeding assassinated Republican President Abraham Lincoln. So Johnson sought to rally his supporters in speeches outside of Washington in much the way President Trump has done for months.

Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, was under attack from Radical Republicans in Congress for his post-Civil War unity policy of bringing Southern white supremacists back into government. Although he was anti-slavery, he vetoed bills giving black Americans new rights, but Congress overrode his vetoes.

In the late summer of 1866, the 57-year-old president began an 18-day speaking tour to promote what he called “My Plan.” The trip’s purpose ostensibly was to travel to Chicago to lay a cornerstone for a monument honoring late U.S. senator Stephen Douglas. But “the unmistakable object,” the Philadelphia Press said, “is of course to influence the fall elections.” Johnson hoped to help elect more Democrats and moderate Republicans to Congress.

The route would take the president by train from Washington through Upstate New York, then as far west as St. Louis and back through Maryland. The press called it “Andy’s Swing Around the Circle.”

Read the rest here.  The tour did not help.  The House impeached Johnson on February 24, 1868.  He was the first president ever to be impeached.

My Piece Today at *USA TODAY* on the Evangelicals for Trump Rally

Miami Trump

Here is a taste of “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God“:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson), and the hosts of Fox and Friends.

Read the entire piece at *USA TODAY*.

Zakaria: “Trump does not have a foreign policy. He has a series of impulses”

Trump Iowa

Great insight here from Fareed Zakaria:

Three months ago, President Trump suddenly withdrew U.S. forces from northern Syria that were, in part, thwarting Iran’s efforts to dominate the country, declaring, “Going into the Middle East is one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of our country. It’s like quicksand.” Well, last week he dramatically escalated America’s military engagement in the region, ordering a strike on Iran’s most important military leader and deploying thousands more troops. How to make sense of this Middle East policy?

It gets more confusing. Around the same time that he was urgently withdrawing U.S. troops from what he called the “bloodstained sand” of Syria, Trump sent 3,000 additional troops to Saudi Arabia. (When asked why, he answered that the Saudis were paying good money for this deployment.) And just a few weeks after announcing the Syria withdrawal, he reversed himself and left some troops in the north “for the oil.” All clear now?

After the killing last week of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Trump warned that were Iran to attack “any Americans, or American assets,” he would retaliate “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” And yet after Iran did attack two bases in Iraq hosting U.S. forces, Trump essentially did nothing, announcing that Tehran “appears to be standing down.” I’m glad Trump chose to deescalate, but that doesn’t change the fact that he reversed himself yet again.

The problem with Trump’s foreign policy is not any specific action. The killing of Soleimani could be justified as a way to respond to Iranian provocations, but this move, like so much of Trump’s foreign policy, was impulsive, reckless, unplanned and inconsistent — and as usual, the chief impact is chaos and confusion. Trump did not bother to coordinate with the government of Iraq, on whose territory the attack was perpetrated. After the Iraqi government protested and voiced a desire to have U.S. troops leave Iraq, he threatened to sanction the country and stay put until it paid the United States billions of dollars for an air base.

Read the rest here.  Diplomacy requires prudence and patience.  Trump does not possess these virtues.  As a result, he is a foreign policy disaster.  His narcissistic passions control his ability to think rationally and consistently.

Deconstructing the MAGA Church Video

Watch (again):

The Lincoln Project, a GOP anti-Trump group headed up by George Conway (Kellyanne’s husband) and Rick Wilson, produced the video.

0:00 to 0: 16: This is from the recent “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami.  We discussed this event here.

0:17 to 0:22:  This is court evangelical Robert Jeffress praying for Donald Trump at a 2017 day of prayer in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Paula White also prayed.

0:23 to 0:25: Candidate Trump telling pollster Frank Luntz that he has never asked for forgiveness.  This is also the event where Trump said, “When I drink my little wine–which is the only wine I drink–and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness….”

0:26 to 0:29: Trump says “why do I need to repent, why do I need to ask for forgiveness.”  This is from a Trump interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN during the early days of the campaign in 2015.

0:30 to 0:33: This is court evangelical Paula White praying at a June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.

0:34 to 0:35: This is Trump telling CNN’s Abby Phillip that she “asks a lot of stupid questions.”

0:36 to 0:40: This is former GOP congresswoman Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota claiming in the Spring of 2019 that “I have never seen a more biblical president than I have seen in Donald Trump.”

0:41 to 0:42: This is Paula White praying at a June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.  She is asking God to “remove every demonic network” from the anointed one.

0:43 to 0:44: This is Trump telling CNN reporter Jim Acosta in November 2018 that he is an “enemy of the people.”  He also called him a “rude, terrible person.”  Earlier in the year, court evangelical Lance Wallnau said Acosta was a “demon.”

0:44 to 0:47: Paula White again in  the June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.  This is the second half of the “every demonic network” line above.  White prays that if there is a demonic network working against Trump,  “let it be broken, let it be torn down, in the name of Jesus.” Spiritual warfare language was pretty common  the during the impeachment inquiry.

0:48 to 0:49: This is a clip from prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland‘s show “Believers Voice of Victory.” Copeland’s son-in-law, George Pearsons, says “here is the Republican platform.” Paula White is also a guest on the show.

0:50 to 0:52: Trump engaging in blasphemy at a September 2019 rally in Baltimore.

0:53 to 0:54: Robert Jeffress on the Lou Dobbs show saying “if Trump is not re-elected.”

0:55 to 0:57:  George Pearsons of Kenneth Copeland ministries (see my comments at the 0:48 mark above) saying “the Word of God.”

0:58 to 1:01: Back to Jeffress on Lou Dobbs.  He finished the line he started at the 0:53 mark: “If Trump is not re-elected… there will be a backlash against people of faith like we cannot imagine.”  In this interview Jeffress says that Pete Buttigieg “doesn’t have a clue” about what the Bible says and defends Trump’s border wall.

1:02 to 1:07: George Pearsons from the 0:48 and 0:55 mark asks “where do you stand.”  This is followed-up by Trump’s claim that he “could stand on the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

1:08 to 1:12: Paula White says, “I want a man who stands for righteousness.”  This line is juxtaposed with Trump saying he’d like to punch a protester in the face at a February 2016 rally.

1:13 to 1:16: This comes from Trump’s arguments with the Pope in the first half of 2017.  In February the Pope said “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.”  Trump responded on Facebook: “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS…I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would never have happened.”  This picks up again at the 1:20-1:21 mark.  Needless to say, it is pretty clear that Pope Francis is no fan of Donald Trump or his administration.

1:17 to 1:19:  Back in the Oval Office for the day of prayer following Hurricane Harvey.

1:22 to 1:25:  Robert Jeffress saying that the Pope needs to “seek Donald Trump’s forgiveness.”  This happened in February 2018 on the Sean Hannity Show.  Here is the quote:

Sean, I think the Pope needs to ask Donald Trump’s forgiveness for making such an outlandish statement. I want to remind our listeners that it was exactly one year ago this week that 21 Coptic Christians’ had their heads chopped off by ISIS on a Libyan beach and then ISIS said, “we are coming to Rome next.” The Pope ought to think through that very seriously. And the fact that we have a candidate like Donald Trump who wants to protect America, that’s not unbiblical. The Pope is confused between the role of the Church, which is to show compassion, and the role of government, which is to uphold order and to protect its citizens. And I want to make a prediction. I think the Pope has succeeded in doing what no other man on Earth could do, and that is creating a martyr in Donald Trump.

1:26:  Donald Trump calling Ted Cruz “a pussy” in February 2016.

1:27: Franklin Graham in January 2018 telling CNN’s Don Lemon that God put Trump in the office of the presidency.  Franklin Graham comes across looking very foolish in this interview.

1:28 to 1:29: This is Trump speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama in September 2017.  He is talking about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.  He said: “wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.’”

1:30 to 1:32: More Paula White in Orlando.  Here she is praying that for the “angel of the Lord” to “encamp around and about” Trump.

1:33 to 1:34:  Back to Michelle Bachmann.  This is the former Minnesota congreesswoman and former GOP presidential candidate in an August 2016 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.  The full quote: “But I also see that at the end of the day God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump who was going to be the nominee in this election.”

1:36 to 1:39: Paula White: “to say no to Donald Trump would be saying no to God.”  Watch the entire video here. Pick it up around the 34:00 minute mark (White also says that Trump “is a huge history buff.”  Wow, that’s new).

1:40 to 1:41:  This is another cut from Trump’s interview with Frank Luntz at the Iowa Family Leadership Conference in the summer of 2015.  Luntz asked Trump if he had ever asked God for forgiveness.  Trump responded: “I don’t think so.  I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right.  I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t”

1:41 to 1:48 and 1:53: Robert Jeffress on Fox News citing Romans 13 as a biblical mandate for Trump to bomb North Korea. The full quote: ” And I wanted to clarify that I believe the Bible, especially Romans 13, does give President Trump moral authority to use whatever force necessary, including assassination or even war to topple an evil dictator like Kim Jong Un.”  Romans 13 has been used a lot by pro-Trump evangelicals to justify many of his policies.

1:49 to 1:50: Trump at a 2015 campaign rally saying he  is going to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS.

1:51 to 1:52: Paula White hawking her book Something Greater. Here is the full quote: “There is a department of treasury in Heaven, which says God is watching over everything you do and you are storing up eternal treasure that will go so far beyond what we can even imagine…you need to send in $3,500; you need to send in $35,000; you need to send in that 100,000 check.”

1:54 to 1:55: This is Buddy Pilgrim on Kenneth Copeland’s show “Believers Voice for Victory.” He points to the Bible and says, “this book right here will tell you how to vote.”  Prior to getting aboard the Trump train he was the National Director for Faith & Religious Liberty for the Ted Cruz presidential campaign.

1:56 to 1:57:  This is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network.  In this interview he said he believes that Trump is a new Queen Esther. We wrote about this interview here.

1:58 to 1:59:  A clip from the Access Hollywood tape.

2:00: Jerry Falwell on CNN in March 2018 telling Erin Burnett that Trump “has had a change of heart.”  Falwell is defending Trump in the wake of the Stormy Daniels affair.  Here is the entire interview.  Falwell was also on Burnett’s show in January 2018.

2:00-2:01: Trump at a 2019 rally in Michigan. Here is the full quote: “The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit.” He is referencing the Mueller Report.  Trump use of vulgarity in January 2018 prompted me to write a post titled “Are Court Evangelicals More Concerned With Trump’s Vulgar Language or the Racism Behind It?

2:03 to 2:11: More clips from prosperity preacher Paula White asking for money.  She tells her audience that if they don’t send her money they will never see “sustainment” in their lives and their dreams will die.

2:12 to 2:16:  Televangelist Jim Bakker says that support for Trump is a mark of one’s eternal salvation.  This is from January 7, 2020.

2:25 to 2:26:  Trump claiming that he is “the chosen one.” This was Trump in August 2019.  The context is a little more complicated.  Trump said he was “chosen” to “take on China” in trade.  Others have called Trump “The Chosen One,” including former Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump”

 

 

Eric-Metaxas-Graphic-TBN

Stephen Haynes is the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  He is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholar and author of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship  in the Age of Trump (Eeerdmans, 2018). In this book, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Today Eerdmans has published the postscript to The Battle for Bonhoeffer.  It is titled “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support TrumpSome of you may recall that Eric Metaxas recently published an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal under the title “The Christian Case for Trump.”

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Your embrace of Trump is eerily reminiscent of German Christians’ attachment to Hitler in the early 1930s. I make this point not to convince you that Trump is Hitler but to remind you of the troubling ways Christians have compromised themselves in endorsing political movements in which they perceived the hand of God. I developed a scholarly interest in the churches’ role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist the wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants.

Being familiar with this history, I have been struck by how reminiscent many of your responses to Trump are of the way Christians in Germany embraced a strong leader they were convinced would restore the country’s moral order. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Christians in Germany let themselves be persuaded that Hitler was a deeply pious man, placed in power by God through a graceful act of intervention in German history. Hitler encouraged these ideas not by claiming any allegiance to Christ but by employing vague religious language, promising a return to the “good old days,” and posing for photographs as he left church, prayed, and entertained ecclesiastical leaders.

Here are a few examples of how Protestant Christian leaders in Germany spoke about God’s role in Hitler’s accession to power:

• “With National Socialism an epoch in German history has begun that is at least as decisive for the German people, as for example the epoch of Martin Luther.”
• “No one could welcome January 30, 1933 more profoundly or more joyfully than the German Christian leadership.”
• “Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God became the framer of German destiny and the liberator of our people from their spiritual misery and division.”
• “[Hitler is] the best man imaginable, a man shaped in a mold made of unity, piety, energy and strength of character.”
• “[Hitler], the most German man, is also the most faithful, a believing Christian. We know that he begins and ends the course of his day with prayer, that he has found in the Gospel the deepest source of his strength.”
• “If the German who truly believed in Jesus could find the Spirit of the kingdom of God anywhere, he could find it in Adolf Hitler’s movement.”
• “In the pitch-black night of Christian church history, Hitler became like a wonderful transparency for our time, a window through which light fell upon the history of Christianity.”
• “[God has granted us an] hour of grace . . . through Adolf Hitler.”
• “God has once again raised his voice in a singular individual.”13 Compare these statements with those made in recent months by American charismatic and evangelical leaders:
• “God raised up . . . Donald Trump” (Michelle Bachman).
• “God has righteously chosen [Trump] to affect the way that this nation goes forward” (Chuck Pierce).
• “Donald Trump represents a supernatural answer to prayer” (James Robison).
• “God had raised up [Trump] for such a time as this” (Stephen Strang).
• “Donald Trump actively seeks God’s guidance in his life” (James Dobson).
• Trump’s victory “showed clear evidence of ‘the hand of God’ on the election” (Franklin Graham).
• “[Trump is] a bold man, a strong man, and an obedient man” (Kenneth Copeland).
• “I see this as a last-minute reprieve for America, and the Church” (Rodney Howard-Browne).
• “[Trump] does look like he’s the last hope” (Phyllis Schlafly).
• “God was raising up Donald Trump as He did the Persian king Cyrus the Great” (Lance Wallnau).
• “[Trump is] a man of faith . . . truly committed to making America great again through principles that honor God rather than defy Him” (Stephen Strang).
• “In the midst of . . . despair, came November the 8th, 2016. It was on that day . . . that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were gonna choose the next president of the United States. And they chose Donald Trump” (Robert Jeffress).
• “We thank God every day that He gave us a leader like President Trump” (Robert Jeffress).14

How is Trump able to convince these Christian leaders that he is worthy of their support? Mostly by paying attention to them, inviting them to Trump Tower, and indulging their need to be listened to in an increasingly post-Christian culture. It is truly remarkable that they have been taken in by Trump’s vague and barely comprehensible statements about his “faith,” such as “I’ve always been spiritual,” “belief is very important,” and “I’m going to do a great job for religion.” Honestly, Hitler was better at pretending to be a Christian.

Read the entire letter here.

Thoughts on GOP Congressman Doug Collins’s Recent Comments About the Democrats and Terrorism

Watch Georgia GOP representative Doug Collins tell Lou Dobbs on Fox Business that Democratic congressmen love terrorists and mourn the death of Iranian military commander Qased Soleimani:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, pick-it-up at the four minute mark.

Collins says: “I did not think she [Nancy Pelosi] could become more hypocritical than she was during impeachment, but guess what, surprise, surprise, Nancy Pelosi does it again and her Democrats fall right in line. One, they’re in love with terrorists.  We see that.  They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who were the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

Thoughts:

  1. The main points of Collins’s statement are not true.  The Democrats are not “in love with terrorists” and they are not mourning Soleimani.  (Although perhaps all Christians might mourn the taking of a human life that is created in the image of God and has dignity and worth).
  2. Collins is an evangelical Christian.  He has a Masters of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He served as the senior pastor of Chicopee Baptist Church.  He currently attends Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Georgia.
  3. Do you see what Collins is doing here?  He is misrepresenting the truth to score political points.  He is trying to scare ordinary Americans into believing that the Democrats love terrorists.  This is a pretty standard Christian Right strategy.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not Collins is telling the truth about his Democratic colleagues. He just needs to convince ordinary evangelicals and everyday Americans that what he says is true.  He is betting that most ordinary evangelicals will not fact-check him. It’s a good bet.
  4. Another example of this strategy is Eric Metaxas’s recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.  In that piece the Christian author suggests that a vote for anyone other than Donald Trump will lead to the murder of babies, the influx of socialism, the prevalence of cultural Marxism, and an immigrant invasion through open borders.  I addressed all these issues yesterday in this post.  Metaxas’s piece, which is filled with bad theology and unproven statements, is written to Trump’s base, so it doesn’t matter whether or not his theology is bad or his facts are misleading.  Trump’s base will believe him.  Metaxas is doing his part for the pro-Trump cause in the wake of Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.  By the way, has anyone noticed that the court evangelicals have been writing a lot since the “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami last week.  Tony Perkins wrote that Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”  Charlie Kirk, the new colleague of Jerry Falwell Jr.,  wrote that Trump is our last best hope against socialism.  Ralph Reed praised Trump for “reviving America’s Christian heritage.”  And Metaxas suggests that Trump will protect Christians from “woke mobs.”

Something is happening to American evangelicalism.  Former Ohio governor John Kasich has been noticing:

 

Court Evangelical Tony Perkins: “Donald Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”

Perkins

Of all the court evangelicals, Tony Perkins talks the most about the contractual relationship between Donald Trump and conservative evangelical Christians.  Perkins supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primaries, but now he is all-in for Trump.

But Perkins has been clear about one thing: if Trump stops delivering on the issues he and other evangelicals hold dear, the president can expect to lose evangelical support in 2020.  So far that is not happening.

In a piece republished at Life News, Perkins calls Trump “the best president Christians have ever had.”  Perkins may be right, assuming that one defines “Christians” as political identity group of white,  right-wing, Christian nationalist, evangelical culture warriors.

There is nothing in Perkins’s piece that we haven’t seen before.  It all comes down to abortion and religious liberty.  I critiqued this two-pronged approach to politics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But this time around I was struck by how court evangelicals claim that they “didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office.”  Here is Perkins:

Christians, the president repeated, “have never had a greater champion — not even close — than you have in the White House right now. Look at the record,” Trump urged. “We’ve done things that nobody thought was possible. We’re not only defending our constitutional rights, we’re also defending religion itself, which is under siege.” That’s important, he argued, because “America was not built by religion-hating socialists. America was built by churchgoing, God-worshiping, freedom-loving patriots.”

And those patriots, President Trump insisted, are the ones being attacked. “Faith-based schools, charities, hospitals, adoption agencies, pastors were systematically targeted by federal bureaucrats and ordered to stop following their beliefs,” he pointed out. That all changed when his teams at HHS, Justice, and Education got involved rolling back the waves of hostility aimed directly at men and women of faith. “The day I was sworn in, the federal government’s war on religion came to an abrupt end,” he said. “My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith,” Trump vowed. “We will restore the faith as the true foundation of American life.”

Maybe that, as Pastor Jentezen Franklin prayed, is what believers appreciate most about this administration. “…America didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office,” he said, bowing his head. “It did not need a professional politician in the Oval Office. But it needed a fighter and a champion for freedom. Lord, that is exactly what we have.” And more than that, I thought, as I watched pastors lay their hands on the president, we have a fighter who isn’t ashamed of the people he’s fighting for. After all, when was the last time you saw a president of the United States from either party surrounded by faith leaders in a completely public and unscripted prayer? It’s rare, I assure you.

On that last sentence:

Obama Prayer

OBama praying

OBama in prayer

Bush prayer

Bush project prayer

Hillary-prayer_810_500_75_s_c1

I know Hillary has never been president, but this was too good to pass up

I am not sure if Perkins would count what is happening in these images as “public prayers.”  But I am reminded of Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

But I digress.

So what do the court evangelicals mean when they say “we didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office?” They seem to be suggesting that they don’t need to have a person of Christian character in the office as long as he is delivering on Christian Right policy.  The court evangelicals are essentially saying that Trump’s character–the lies, the misogyny, the narcissism, the demonization of enemies–don’t matter.  “Sure he is a rough dude, and we don’t like some of his tweets, but look what he is doing for us!”  Or “At least he’s not Hillary!” (Christians are not supposed to hate, but they sure hate Hillary).

The court evangelicals have every right to think about politics in this way.  They are free to ignore Trump’s many indiscretions because he is delivering on the things they hold dear.  But if they are going to take this route they need to stop appealing to the Founding Fathers.  These framers of the Constitution understood that the leader of the United States needed to be a person of character.

Here is James Madison in Federalist 57: “The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain 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, while they continue to hold their public trust.”

Supporters of Donald Trump must ask if he has the “wisdom” to lead us, the commitment to the “common good” (not just his so-called “base”), and the character to make us a more “virtuous” people. If the president does not measure-up in these areas, the founders believed that he should not be leading the American republic.

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68:

Talents 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 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. 

“Low intrigue” and the “little arts of popularity.”  It almost sounds like Hamilton wrote this with Trump in mind.

According to the Founding Fathers, Trump is unfit for office.   The court evangelicals are supporting an unfit president and breaking with the views of the men who supposedly founded a Christian nation.  But look at the bright side: at least we get to say “Merry Christmas” again!