Hoaxes

First there was this:

Now there is this:

Believe me.  These hoaxes are real.  Believe me.  🙂

Two Minutes of Fame on CNN

As some of you know, I made my CNN debut today. 🙂  I am glad that they featured Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The interview took place via Skype in my small office (more like a bunker) in the basement of my house!

Here it is (starting at about the 30:00 mark):

A few quick comments:

  1. I was honored to share the segment with Nahal Toosi of Politico.  Here is her most recent piece.
  2. I have a large head, but the producers insisted that I move even closer to the camera.
  3. Once they had the camera angle they wanted, they told me not to move!  (So no, I am not usually that stiff!).
  4. I obviously heard the audio, but I could not see Christi Paul or Nahal Toosi.  I was just staring at a black screen for the entire interview.
  5. I used less than 1% of my preparation for the interview on the air.  I guess that’s show business!  🙂

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress Stays the Course

As I said this morning on CNN (no video available yet), it doesn’t matter what Trump did with Karen McDougal or whether or not he is lying about it. As long as Trump keeps appointing Supreme Court justices like Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch and continues to give lip service to religious liberty (as understood by conservative evangelicals) he will have the support of evangelicals.

This kind of thing should thus no longer surprise us:

I have not yet heard Jeffress compare Trump’s lack of morality to Ronald Reagan’s indiscretions.  Interesting.  Actually, I think there are comparisons we can make between Reagan and Trump.  For example, evangelicals in pursuit of political power got into bed with both of them.  It wasn’t a good idea then (just ask Cal Thomas) and it isn’t a good idea now.

 

Salem Radio “has unambiguously encouraged their radio hosts to be as pro-Trump as possible”

Gorka

Sebastian Gorka

Salem Radio, the home of conservative talk hosts Hugh Hewitt, Lou Dobbs, court evangelical Eric Metaxas, and others, is in negotiations with “MAGA rock star” and former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka.  Here is a taste of the Daily Beast report:

Perhaps more salient a factor than his age, however, is that the former Trump aide is an unabashed booster and staunch defender of the president—and Salem Radio is interested in more talent like him and fewer dissenters and Republican squishes.

Multiple sources tell The Daily Beast that in the Trump era, Salem has unambiguously encouraged their radio hosts to be as pro-Trump as possible. This trend also extended as far back as the 2016 presidential campaign, according to private Salem messages obtained by CNN earlier this year.

An idea being pitched around Salem Radio is to have Gorka replace nationally syndicated host Michael Medved, a veteran of conservative media who happens to be a vocal on-air critic of President Trump. According to sources, Medved’s three-year contract expires at the end of the year and the long-time radio host intends to continue going on-air for the duration of it.

Some people familiar with the internal deliberations predict a wider dismissal of Trump skeptics, perhaps similar to Salem Media-owned RedState.com’s “purge” of its prominent anti-Trump writers earlier this year. One source described the current Salem Radio atmosphere and chatter as clear indicators of an incoming pro-Trump “coup,” while others simply hope for the best.

Read the rest here.

The Salem Media Group also runs evangelical Christian talk stations around the country.  I wonder if they are applying their pro-Trump emphasis to these stations as well.

FBI Has Tapes of Trump Directing Michael Cohen to Pay-Off a Playboy Model

trump mcdougal

This is not going to move the needle for the court evangelicals one bit.  It just confirms Trump is an adulterer and a liar.  But we already knew that.  For many conservative evangelicals, Brett Kavanaugh washes-away all sins.

Here is a taste of The Washington Post story:

Federal investigators have an audio recording in which then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and his personal attorney Michael Cohen discussed in September 2016 making payments for the story of Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, who allegedly had an extramarital affair with Trump, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

The recording, made by Cohen, was seized by federal agents now investigating Trump’s longtime confidant for potential bank and campaign finance crimes, according to multiple familiar with the probe.

In a statement Friday, President Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani confirmed the recording’s existence and said no payment was ever made. The New York Times first reported the existence of the recording.

Trump and Cohen discussed the possible payment after AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, bought the rights to McDougal’s story for $150,000 in August 2016, then sat on it.

Read the rest here.

Evangelicals and Trump: The Latest Poll

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

A poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic has much to say about white evangelicals in the United States.

  • 61% of evangelicals believe that the United States is moving in the right direction.  This compares to 64% of all Americans who believe that the United States is moving in the wrong direction.
  • 79% percent of white evangelicals believe “media bias” is hurting the country.  50% of religious unaffiliated people believe this.
  • 77% of white evangelicals view Trump favorably.   17% of non-white Protestants view Trump favorably.
  • 52% of white evangelicals feel negatively about the very real possibility that whites will be a minority in the United States by 2043.

On the last point: When Trump said last week that immigration was changing the “culture” of Europe, he was appealing to a significant portion of his evangelical base.

Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s article at Religion News Service:

“I argued that white evangelical voters have really shifted from being values voters to being what I call ‘nostalgia voters,’” said Jones. “They’re voting to protect a past view of America that they feel is slipping away. That’s driving evangelical politics much more than the old culture-war dynamics.”

Brantley Gasaway, a professor of American religious studies at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., said white evangelicals’ fears about the nation’s growing racial diversity might be linked to their perception of religious diversity.

“They perceive that America becoming less white means America will become less Christian,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true. Many Latino immigrants are coming from predominantly Christian nations. But they perceive changes in racial demographics as being a threat to the predominance of Christians in the United States.”

As a group, white evangelicals are declining. A decade ago they made up 23 percent of the U.S. population; today it’s more like 15 percent, Jones said. But they have an outsize influence at the ballot box because they tend to vote in high numbers.

The one area where religious groups appeared united is in their support for legislation that would make it easier to vote — measures such as same-day voter registration and restoring voting rights for people convicted of felonies.

Read the entire piece here.  Why do white evangelicals believe all these things?  I took a shot at explaining it here.

*Believe Me* in the *Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle*

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Last week I had a great phone conversation with Toby Tabachnik of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle for her story on evangelicals and Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of her piece: “They love Israel and Trump–the complex world of evangelicals“:

More than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for President Donald Trump, a candidate whose personal behavior arguably conflicts with the family values of traditional Christianity.

His purported marital infidelities, the vulgar way in which he spoke of women in the now infamous “Access Hollywood” interview and now, his alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels all seem pretty contrary to the ways of the church.

But in “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” a new book by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., the politicization of evangelicals and their overwhelming support of Trump can be explained as a natural corollary of their “culture war” begun in the 1970s — which includes a resolute stance against abortion and the defense of “religious liberty,” as they define it.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Thoughts on the Audience of *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dWho is the audience for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump? There are three audiences.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. The 81% of white American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.
  2. The 19% of white American evangelicals (and non-white evangelicals) who did not vote for Donald Trump
  3. Anyone who wants to understand why 81% of American evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.

I realize that many of those in the 81% will want nothing to do with this book. But I hope some will read it.  I hope the book can serve as a way of encouraging dialogue in churches and other places where evangelicals gather together in communities of Christian fellowship that transcend politics.  (I am assuming, of course, that some of these places still exist.  I think they do).

I also realize that those who study evangelicals at the highest level–many of them former evangelicals or disgruntled evangelicals–want to take evangelicalism to the woodshed for its many sins.  Their scholarship is good and needed, but I part ways with many of them when it comes to reaching the church.  As a Christian, I am a member of the body of Christ–the Church. That is where I must find my primary identity.

Of course I still have a responsibility to live out my vocation in the academy,  the classroom, and as a professor at a Christian college.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that some posts are written with my church community in mind.  Others are written for American historians or members of the academic community.  Still others are for the general public.  These groups often overlap.  I have written books for my students, my academic discipline, the general public, and the church.

As a Christian, I have chosen to worship among American evangelicals.  In 2016, a large number of my tribe voted for Donald Trump.  I don’t think that was a good idea.  I have even written a book to tell my tribe that I do not think it was a good idea.  But in the end, I must live with the people in my tribe and try my best to fulfill my vocation as a historian and educator in their midst.  Some will say I go too far in the criticism of my people.  I know this from the letters, e-mails, and phone messages I receive–some of them pretty nasty.  Others will say I don’t go far enough in criticizing my people.  I know this from the reviews of the book.

The trashing of evangelicalism is popular these days and you can get pretty far and become pretty successful in academic/scholarly circles–especially in the fields of history and religious studies–by doing this.  I am sympathetic to scholars who call evangelicals to task for their sins.  As I am learning on the Believe Me book tour, many people had (or are having) very, very bad experiences in evangelicalism.  They are hurting.  They are angry.  I am listening to their stories.

But in the end, I will continue to defend the term “evangelical” because it still means “good news.”  For me, this “good news” is the ultimate source of hope for those who are hurting.  I am still willing to fight for the “good news” of the Gospel because this message changed the trajectory of my life and the life of my family and extended family in positive ways.  And I have seen hundreds of other lives changed by this message—men, women, people of color, poor people, rich people, gay and straight people.

In the end, I want to use my vocation as a historian to be a more direct part of the solution in the evangelical church rather than someone who merely diagnoses the problem or calls-out evangelicals for their many sins.  I am not sure I can do this as an academic, but I am willing to try.  Perhaps other Christian and evangelical scholars are called to something different.  But if they are called to something different, they will need to convince me how they will use their gifts and knowledge to serve the body of Christ.  This point relates not only to the content of their work, but also to its style and means of dissemination.

If we pursue this path within evangelicalism today, it will mean that we must serve those with whom we disagree on a whole host of political and cultural issues.  It will also require us to work hard at uncovering the common spiritual and theological ground that draws us together every Sunday morning despite our differences. I am convinced that this kind of engagement deepens our faith, helps us to see the flaws in our precious arguments, makes us better listeners and communicators, and teaches us to love.  It may also mean, in some cases (but certainly not all cases), staying in a particular religious tradition rather than leaving for a more a comfortable place of worship and fellowship where people think more like us.

Postscript:

I am sure that for some of my readers, this post just made me a subject of analysis, rather than a detached scholar.  Of course such analysis goes both ways.  I have seen many of my fellow academics as subjects of analysis for a long time! 🙂

Explaining White Conservative Evangelical Support for Donald Trump in One Tweet

Jack Graham

I have been on the road for ten days speaking to audiences about why so many white evangelicals support Donald Trump.  At almost every stop on the Believe Me book tour someone asked me why evangelicals can support a man who is a nativist, xenophobe, nativist, adulterer, etc., and a man who separates children from families, trashes our NATO allies, and refuses to confront a Russian leader who undermined American democracy.

I have tried to dutifully answer that question at every stop along the way, but now it is time to let one of Trump’s supporters answer the question.  This tweet from court evangelical and Southern Baptist pastor Jack Graham explains a lot.  Graham tweeted this in response to Trump’s remarks in Helsinki.

It doesn’t matter what Trump does, as he long as he delivers the Supreme Court and follows the Christian Right’s political playbook.

Would or Wouldn’t?

Here is Trump today

It took Trump and his team 24 hours to come up with this explanation?  Does he expect the American people to believe this?

And then he said that he accepts the intelligence community’s conclusion about Russia meddling in the 2016 election and immediately follows that statement with “could be other people also, there are a lot of people out there.”

So who else could it have been?  Maybe it was the 400-pound guy sitting on his bed:

Like the post-Charlottesville video, Trump went off script today and made it worse.

Thanks to CNN and Anderson Cooper for inspiring this post.

Hey George Will, Why Don’t You Tell Us What You REALLY Think About Donald Trump?

George Will

Conservative columnist George Will has already told conservatives to vote for Democratic candidates in 2018.  In today’s column he calls Trump a “sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”  Here is a taste:

Like the purloined letter in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story with that title, collusion with Russia is hiding in plain sight. We shall learn from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation whether in 2016 there was collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign. The world, however, saw in Helsinki something more grave — ongoing collusion between Trump, now in power, and Russia. The collusion is in what Trump says (refusing to back the United States’ intelligence agencies) and in what evidently went unsaid (such as: You ought to stop disrupting Ukrainedowning civilian airlinersattempting to assassinate people abroad using poisons, and so on, and on).

Americans elected a president who — this is a safe surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained — his compliance — is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Read the rest here.

Court Evangelical Radio

Metaxas

This is my new name for the Eric Metaxas Radio Show.

Today I listened to Metaxas defend Donald Trump’s remarks in Helsinki with three guests: comedian Joe Piscopo, Newt Gingrich, and Fox News commentator Judge Jeanine Pirro.  Even when Gingrich wanted to criticize Trump’s remarks in Helsinki, Metaxas kept steering the conversation toward Trump’s “accomplishments” and “reforms.”

Click here for previous posts on Metaxas and his court evangelicalism.

“Narcissism as a Foreign Policy Doctrine”

Russia US Summit in Helsinki, Finland - 16 Jul 2018

Here is Michael Gerson at The Washington Post:

In the run-up to Helsinki, Trump actively advanced many important national objectives — of Russia. He claimed Crimea to be Russiancredited Putin’s denials of cyberaggressionattacked NATO, called the European Union a “foe,” openly supported Brexitdisparaged the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushed for a trade war with Europe and blamed tension in the U.S.-Russia relationship on the United States. At Helsinki, having imitated Neville Chamberlain in every detail but the umbrella, he declared a famous victory. And so our president, who shows how tough he is by abusing migrant children, was a cringing coward before a dictator.

One of the problems with narcissism as a foreign policy doctrine is that it hides national challenges from the president that are blindingly obvious to everyone else. While Trump employs a mirror, others in the federal government have been using a magnifying glass to find a direct and growing threat to U.S. national security.

Read the entire piece here.

More Court Evangelicals Defend Trump’s Helsinki Remarks

Here is court evangelical Franklin Graham:

Here is Southern Baptist minister Jack Graham:

Why are these evangelicals so supportive of Donald Trump?  I try to answer that question in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

Male Authoritarianism and the Southern Baptists

0ed47-southern-baptist-convention

R. Marie Griffith directs the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  Some of you may remember our interview with her in Episode 32 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. During that interview we talked with Griffith about her recent book Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics.

Over at Religion & Politics, Griffith makes some important links between Southern Baptists, religious authoritarianism, and evangelical support for Donald Trump.  She draws upon her own Southern Baptist upbringing in Chattanooga.

Here is a taste:

Ironically or fittingly enough, Pressler and Patterson, the takeover titans, were themselves taken down by sex scandals of various types. Earlier this year, Pressler’s name hit the national news for disturbing accusations of same-sex sexual misconduct and assault leveled against him; shortly thereafter, Patterson was ousted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary over substantiated charges of damaging sexist behavior against women (from counseling an abused woman to stay with her husband and commenting on the body parts of young women to mishandling rape reports). That the architects of the “wives submit graciously” addition to the edifice of Baptist theology turned out to be men tainted by sexual misbehavior and chauvinism shocked many but could hardly surprise. As more sexual abuse scandals come to light, we’re getting a sad lesson in the ways that some respected leaders have ignored, neglected, and covered up injurious and even criminal behavior against vulnerable church members.

If that sounds like a plot from a movie, this is unfortunately not fiction, and the calculated strategy for retaining power regardless of fairness or due process has persisted in the denomination to this day. That the leaders of a tradition long known for touting its tolerance of independent thought within the wide bounds of the Bible became so thoroughly intolerant, not only of difference of opinion but of mere questioning and debate, has been a painful pill for many cradle Baptists to swallow. Untold numbers of people in the pews who have been perturbed by the machinations of denominational leaders and dismayed by the church’s patriarchal entrenchment have left the church for more democratic, egalitarian climes, even as many of those remaining have apparently grown comfortable with its top-down dogmatism. As one Baptist, removed as a trustee from the International Mission Board in 2006 for trying to prevent other trustees from removing some women from leadership there, put it recently: “Southern Baptist pastors are infatuated with and captivated by authoritarianism.”

No wonder so many white evangelicals are infatuated with and captivated by the authoritarian occupying the White House. It’s been a long time coming.

Read the entire piece here.

Is the Brett Kavanaugh Nomination Uniting Evangelicals?

Kavanaugh

Emma Green has a fascinating story at The Atlantic on how Donald Trump’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh is bringing evangelicals together.  Here is a taste:

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is the consummation of one of the big bets behind the 2016 election. Many white Christians voted for Donald Trump because they believed he would appoint conservative justices who would protect religious liberty and advance the pro-life cause. Now, ostensibly, they’ve been vindicated. With less than two years in office, Trump will very possibly see the confirmation of his second Supreme Court nominee, another handpicked choice of the conservative legal establishment.

At the time, however, it wasn’t at all clear how this bet would play out. Particularly in the evangelical world, the divisions over the 2016 election were bitter. A number of prominent leaders stepped out to urge their fellow Christians to consider what their vote would say to the world. Two years later, their largely positive reaction to Kavanaugh’s nomination is one sign that the intense political fractures in the evangelical world are fading—at least on the surface, and at least for now.

“I’ve never seen the SBC this unified,” said one of these leaders—Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention—in an interview on Wednesday. That unity has emerged in personal relationships and attitudes, he said, but it also seems to be the case in politics. Eighteen months into the Trump era, evangelical leaders are looking for ways to come together under this administration, even if existential questions about the future of the evangelical movement remain.

Read the entire piece here.

If Trump is indeed winning-over his critics in the evangelical community by nominating a pro-life justice, then I wonder why these evangelicals opposed him in the first place?  Was the only case against Trump in November 2016 based on the possibility that he wouldn’t follow-through on his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices?  Now that he has followed-through on this promise, do all the other criticisms suddenly fail to hold water?

Also, if Green’s piece is correct (and I think it is), then what does it say about the church of Jesus Christ that a president’s appointment of a Supreme Court justice is what brings us together?

What Does Trump Mean When He Says Immigration is “Changing the Culture” of Europe?

Trump May

Here is a taste of CNN’s coverage of today’s Donald Trump–Theresa May press conference:

President Donald Trump said Friday that European leaders “better watch themselves” because immigration is “changing the culture” of their societies.

“I think it has been very bad, for Europe. … I think what has happened is very tough. It’s a very tough situation — you see the same terror attacks that I do,” Trump said at a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May outside of London.

“I just think it is changing the culture, I think it is a very negative thing for Europe,” Trump said.

“I know it is politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I will say it and I will say it loud,” Trump added.

Let’s face it.  Trump’s remarks have very little to do with England or Europe.  I think he could care less about what happens to these countries.

These comments are about the United States.   They represent his ongoing nativism and racism.  Comments like this appeal to his white Christian base and trigger the kind of fear I write about in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Trump is telling white Christian Americans afraid of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity that he will be a strongman who will protect them from such diversity.