Should We Choose the Economy or the Life of Senior Citizens? Ethicists Respond

I can’t believe we are asking this question right now. It seems like some kind of dystopian movie. Sadly, it is Christians who seem to be taking the lead here.  See our post on R.R. Reno here.

By this point you have all heard about Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick:

Patrick is an evangelical Christian who says his faith influences his political decisions.

I am glad we have Christian ethicists to give us perspective. Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post talked to some of them. Here is a taste:

We cannot define people in terms of their age or their perceived usefulness,” Moore said.

Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and theology at Boston College, said people are talking about the economy and the coronavirus-directed shutdown in ways that don’t make sense.

“We’re talking about a planned moment of rest. We’re not talking about an uncontrolled crash,” she said. “The economy is important because it allows people to flourish. It isn’t a demigod we sacrifice human beings to.”

Faith, she said, can offer people a bigger framework for how to think about the crisis.

“Faith gives you hope that this can be worked out with time, patience and ingenuity,” she said. It also offers “a sense of finitude of knowledge of science, the sense that we’re fragile.”

On the policy front, Arthur Brooks, who was formerly president of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, said policy analysts will need to find a balance between economic and health concerns, just as they did between national security and the economy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The big question is: Who’s going to win? The economists? Public-health people? And the answer is both and neither,” he said. “The ethical thing to do is how to think about the balance between these policy poles.”

Read the entire piece here.

Gerson: “This is a world where ethical rules count for nothing. A world where character is for chumps.”

Mitch and Trump

Here is the latest from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:

With the impeachment trial of President Trump beginning in earnest, right-wing populism has come full circle. Trump was elected on the theory that American politics had become corrupt and broken. Now he is calling upon his party and his followers to normalize corruption and brokenness as essential features of our political order. It is a bold maneuver by a skilled demagogue. Trump has cultivated disrespect for politics as a dirty business and now seeks to benefit from dramatically lowered public standards.

The question at stake in the Senate trial is plain: Is the use of public funds as leverage to gain private, political benefits from a foreign government an impeachable abuse of presidential power? The matter is so simple that Trump’s Republican defenders are reduced to babbling incoherence in trying to avoid it. When asked whether Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election was proper, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) responded, “Well, those are just statements, political. They make them all the time. . . . People do things. Things happen.”

“Things happen.” This is a revealingly ludicrous response to a charge of public corruption. No, trying to cheat in a presidential election is not like losing your keys or getting caught in the rain without your umbrella. Those are the kinds of “things” that just happen. The evidence that Trump cut off military aid to a friendly government in the middle of an armed conflict to compel that government to announce the investigation of a political rival is overwhelming. Several administration officials found this action so unethical, dangerous and disturbing that they expressed their alarm to relevant authorities. Those who dismiss such accusations as a political vendetta or a coup attempt are engaged in willful deception.

And because Trump denies any wrongdoing — pronouncing his own actions “perfect” — senators who vote for his vindication are effectively blessing such abuses in the future. Their action would set an expectation of corruption at the highest levels of our government.

Read the rest here.

Gerson’s words take on added significance in the wake of the release of Midnight Mitch’s rules for the Senate impeachment trial.

Some More Thoughts on the Populist Critique of “Elite Evangelicals”

Trump iN Dallas

For most evangelical Christians, the message of the Gospel transcends the identity categories we place on human beings.  All men and women are sinners in need of redemption.  Citizenship in the Kingdom of God, made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection, is available to all human beings regardless of their race, class, or gender.

I also think that most evangelicals believe that good Christians strive to live Holy Spirit-filled lives that conform to the moral teachings of the Bible. In other words, evangelical Christians follow the 10 Commandments, Jesus’s teachings in  the Gospels (including the Sermon on the Mount), and the ethical demands of the New Testament epistles.

Since Mark Galli wrote his Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump, the evangelical defenders of the POTUS have been playing the populist card. Let’s remember that the populist card is an identity politics card.

The opponents of Christianity Today have tried to paint Galli and other evangelical anti-Trumpers as “elites” who look down their noses at uneducated or working class evangelicals.  In their minds, Galli and his ilk are guilty of the same kind of supposed moral preening as university professors, Barack Obama, and the progressive legislators known as “The Squad.”  They view these educated evangelicals–some of whom they might worship with on Sunday mornings–through the lens of class-based politics rather than as fellow believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This populist argument has come from a variety of sectors, including First Things magazine (here and here), the court evangelicals (here), and Calvinist Front Porcher and American religious historian Darryl Hart (here).

So I ask: Has Trump’s class-based identity politics co-opted Christian ethics?

Trump has openly lied or misrepresented the truth. He has engaged in speech that is misogynistic, nativist, and racist. He has advanced policies that have separated children from their parents.  He regularly demonizes and degrades his political enemies.  It seems like these things, on the basis of biblical morality, are always wrong, regardless of whether an educated person or an uneducated person brings them to our attention.  Last time I checked, the minor prophets and John the Baptist did not have Ph.Ds.

Mark Galli of Christianity Today has offered a stinging moral criticism of Trump.  We can debate whether Trump’s actions in Ukraine are impeachable, but Galli is on solid ground when he says the president is “grossly immoral.”

Is it right to say that a Christian is “out of touch” when he calls out such immoral behavior?  (Or maybe one might take evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem’s approach and try to make a case that Trump’s indiscretions are few and inconsequential).

Would a non-college educated factory worker in the Midwest who claims the name of Jesus Christ think that racism, misogyny, nativism, the degradation of one’s enemies, and lying are moral problems?  Wouldn’t any Christian, formed by the teachings of a local church and the spiritual disciplines (as opposed to the daily barrage of Fox News), see the need to condemn such behavior?  What does social class have to do with it?  Shouldn’t one’s identity in the Gospel and its moral implications for living transcend class identity?

For those who are lamenting disunion in the church, I have another question:  Shouldn’t the church be an otherworldly, counter-cultural institution that finds some unity in the condemnation of immoral behavior in the corridors of national power?  Or should we take our marching orders from the divisive, class-based identity politics of Donald Trump?

Wayne Grudem Lives in a Different Moral Universe Than I Do

Grudem

In case you missed it, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem has turned to the politically conservative website Townhall to defend Donald Trump and criticize Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.

Grudem begins:

Galli gives six reasons why Trump should be removed, either by impeachment or at the next election: (1) He attempted to “coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of his political opponents,” and this was “a violation of the Constitution.” (2) This action was also “profoundly immoral.” (3) “He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals.” (4) He has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women,” and he “remains proud” about these things. (5) His Twitter feed contains a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and this makes it “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” Finally, (6) although the president has admittedly done some good things, “none of the president’s positives” can outweigh his “grossly immoral character.” Later he says that Trump has a “bent and broken character” and is guilty of “gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”

He concludes by warning evangelicals who support Trump not to “continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency,” because this will damage “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the gospel.”

These are strong words indeed. But are they true? Consider them in order:

(1) Did Trump violate the Constitution? 

Here is Grudem:

Regarding the Constitution, I claim no specialized expertise or legal knowledge. Like Galli himself, on this point I write as an interested citizen, not a legal expert. But I read in the Constitution that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Art. II, Sec. 1, 3). That implies the president is empowered to investigate allegations of illegal activity. And (I speak here as an ordinary citizen, not an expert) I know of nothing in our Constitution or laws that says there is anything wrong with seeking help from a foreign government in investigating possible corruption. 

“Oh, but the situation is different because Biden is a political opponent and President Trump was asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden for the sake of personal political benefit,” some critics have objected.

My response is that I see nothing wrong with the president doing things that will bring him personal, political benefit. In fact, I expect that every president in the history of the United States has done things that bring him personal political benefit every day of his term. It is preposterous to claim that it is unconstitutional for the president to act in a way that is politically beneficial. In addition to that, when someone announces that he is running for political office, that does not mean he can no longer be investigated for prior wrongdoing. The opposite should be true.

If I read Grudem correctly, he seems to be suggesting that Donald Trump did indeed act out of self-interest when he called the president of Ukraine.  At least he admits it. This makes his argument different from many court evangelicals.  Grudem sounds more like Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who told reporters that Trump did engage in a quid pro quo (“we do that all the time”) and we should all just “get over it.”  Grudem seems to be suggesting that it was perfectly fine for Trump to investigate a political opponent in this way.  While Grudem is right about the self-interest of past presidents, this particular president’s self interest was an attempt to get a foreign country to interfere with an election and undermine the democratic process.

Even Jonathan Turley, the George Washington law professor who testified in opposition to impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee, said that if Trump acted out of political self-interest his call was an impeachable offense.  Turley’s primary concern was that the the Democrats in the House did not yet have enough evidence to make a case for impeachment.  And of course, the other three law professors who testified, over 500 more law professors, and more than 2000 historians have also argued that what Trump did was an impeachable offense.

I am afraid that Wayne Grudem, a man who I took a course with as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School,  is out of his league here.

(2) Was Trump’s phone call “profoundly immoral”?

Grudem writes:

But is it wrong to investigate possible wrongdoing by someone’s political opponent? Apparently the Democrats do not think so, because the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has been investigating President Trump for the entire past year. I do not see how it could be “profoundly immoral” to request information about possible corruption on the part of Joe Biden. I do not even see how it could be “minimally immoral,” and certainly not “profoundly immoral.” 

Once again, Grudem shows a lack of understanding about how the government works. In the United States we have separation of powers.  Congress is a check against the power and potential tyranny of the Executive Branch.  It is the duty of Congress to investigate the president.  Perhaps Grudem remembers when the House investigated Bill Clinton in 1998. Grudem had a lot to say about presidential character in those days.  In the end, the House was doing its duty in 1998 and it is doing its duty now.  Will there be a partisan dimension to impeachment?  Absolutely.  Alexander Hamilton, the author of Federalist 65, said we should expect this.  The people voted the Democrats into office in 2018. They control the House and they impeached the president. There is nothing unconstitutional about this.

(3) What about Trump’s association with convicted criminals?

Here’s Grudem:

Another reason to remove Trump from office, according to Galli, is that he hired and fired people who later became “convicted criminals.” This is a new argument. Previously, I was under the impression that our country holds a person responsible for his or her own wrongdoing, but not for the wrongdoing of others (unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it). However, now Galli is implying that Trump should be held accountable – and removed from office! – for the wrongdoing of people who worked for him. This is the unjust principle of “guilt by association.” I’m glad that God did not hold Jesus to that same standard (remember Judas, who served as treasurer for the 12 disciples and Jesus; see John 12:6; 13:29). In the Old Testament Scriptures, Ezekiel says this: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

Back to the Constitution: it says that a president shall be “removed from office” on the basis of impeachment for and conviction of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (Art. II, Sec. 4). It does not say, “or the crimes of those who worked for him.” Galli is arguing that Trump should be “removed from office” on the basis of grounds that are not in the Constitution, and not even morally just. It seems ironic that, in an editorial urging Trump’s removal because of “ethical incompetence,” Galli condemns Trump on the basis of a standard (guilt by association) that is itself ethically unsound. 

The key phrase here is “unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it.” And what about Trump’s claim that he hires “all the best people?”  Granted, hiring bad people is not an impeachable offense, but it certainly says something about the moral decision-making of the president when such a large number of his associates end-up in jail or are under investigation.  The names Cohen, Manafort, Papadopoulus, Pinedo, Stone, Gates, and Flynn come to mind.

Grudem has his head in the sand.  He makes Trump sound like some kind of saint who just happens to be surrounded by corrupt people and its not his fault.

(4) Immoral actions before Trump became president

Grudem writes:

Galli also wants to remove Trump from office because he has admitted to “immoral actions in business and his relationship with women.” At this point Galli must be referring to actions done before Trump was elected president, because he has not admitted to any immoral actions while in office. In addition, I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business, so Galli’s accusations seem overly broad.

Let’s leave the Access Hollywood tape, the porn stars, the sexual harassment, and the mocking of women’s appearances to the side for the moment and stick with “immoral actions in business.”  Grudem says, “I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business.”  First, Grudem seems to think that Trump would actually admit that he has done something wrong. He assumes we are dealing with an upright and moral person here.  Second, did Grudem forget about Trump University or Trump’s fake charity, to name just a few of his immoral business practices?

(5) Do evangelical leaders brush off Trump’s immoral behavior?

Grudem again:

Galli claims that evangelicals “brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior.” But I know of no evangelical leader who “brushed off” Trump’s words and behavior, for they were roundly condemned. 

I myself wrote on Oct. 9, 2016, in Townhall.com, “I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election. His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) … His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.”

OK, fine.  But where was Grudem when Trump separated families from children at the border, said that there were “fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville, lied or misrepresented the truth over 15,000 times, tried to take healthcare away from millions of Americans, pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, prevented Muslims from entering the country, left Syrian Christians for dead, hired nativist and racist Stephen Miller, refused to release his tax returns, eliminated an ethics court for incoming White House staff, stood by as children bullied their classmates in his name, said Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” backed racist Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, defended Confederate monuments, and tried to end the DACA program?

More Grudem:

Galli does not claim that Trump has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women” during his three years in the White House. Shouldn’t we evaluate Trump primarily on the basis of his time as president? The Christian gospel includes the message that people can repent of past sins, ask God for forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and (often gradually) become better people (see Luke 24:47; Acts 20:21; 26:20).

With the exception of the Access Hollywood tape, Trump has not apologized or “asked for forgiveness” for any of these sins.  Compare Trump to Bill Clinton on this matter.

(6) Do Trump’s tweets show that he is immoral?

Grudem:

But what about Trump’s Twitter feed? Galli says it contains “a habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and is “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” But is this true?

Before people condemn Trump’s tweets by merely reading about them in a hostile press, they should read them for themselves. Anyone can do this at Twitter.com. I just read through every one of Trump’s tweets from the entire past week (December 19-25), to see if Galli is correct in his accusation. Here is a representative sample of those tweets, in Trump’s own words: 

December 25: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

2019 HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES WERE UP 3.4% FROM LAST YEAR, THE BIGGEST NUMBER IN U.S. HISTORY. CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA!

December 24: 187 new Federal Judges have been confirmed under the Trump Administration, including two great new United States Supreme Court Justices. We are shattering every record!

December 23: STOCK MARKET CLOSES AT ALL-TIME HIGH! What a great time for the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats to Impeach your favorite President, especially since he has not done anything wrong!

NASDAQ UP 72.2% SINCE OUR GREAT 2016 ELECTION VICTORY! DOW UP 55.8%. The best is yet to come!

Nancy Pelosi, who has already lost the House & Speakership once, & is about to lose it again, is doing everything she can to delay the zero Republican vote Articles of Impeachment. She is trying to take over the Senate, & Cryin’ Chuck is trying to take over the trial. No way!….

…What right does Crazy Nancy have to hold up this Senate trial. None! She has a bad case and would rather not have a negative decision. This Witch Hunt must end NOW with a trial in the Senate, or let her default & lose. No more time should be wasted on this Impeachment Scam!

December 22: Melania and I send our warmest wishes to Jewish people in the United States, Israel, and across the world as you commence the 8-day celebration of Hanukkah.

December 21: Last night I was so proud to have signed the largest Defense Bill ever. The very vital Space Force was created. New planes, ships, missiles, rockets and equipment of every kind, and all made right here in the USA. Additionally, we got Border Wall (being built) funding. Nice!

December 20: Just had a great call with the President of Brazil, @JairBolsonaro . We discussed many subjects including Trade. The relationship between the United States and Brazil has never been Stronger!

December 19: The reason the Democrats don’t want to submit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate is that they don’t want corrupt politician Adam Shifty Schiff to testify under oath, nor do they want the Whistleblower, the missing second Whistleblower, the informer, the Bidens, to testify!

My question for Mr. Galli is this: how can you say that such tweets are “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused”? The expression “near-perfect example” suggests that something like 90% or 95% of his tweets reflect morally evil choices. But, after reading these tweets, it seems to me that Galli has made a false accusation. The most objectionable thing that I see in these tweets is that Trump labels his political opponents with derogatory nicknames (Crazy Nancy Pelosi, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and Adam Shifty Schiff), but that impoliteness is a comparatively trivial matter that comes nowhere close to being a “near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” 

I see in these tweets a president who is rightfully proud of a healthy economy, a stronger military, and the appointment of 187 federal judges who are committed to judging according to what the law says and not according to their personal preferences. Such accomplishments are morally good benefits for the nation as a whole, and they have been accomplished by Trump in the face of relentless opposition from Democrats. Far from being “morally lost and confused,” Trump seems to me to have a strong sense of justice and fair play, and he is (I think rightfully) upset that the impeachment process in the House was anything but just and fair. 

Grudem is making an argument here based on one week (during the Christmas season) of Trump tweets.  I would encourage folks to read Trump’s Twitter feed.   The fact that Wayne Grudem, a Christian theologian and ethicist, would defend Donald Trump’s twitter feed is preposterous.

Are Trump’s tweets full of lies?

Grudem:

Galli also claims that Trump’s tweets contain a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders.” Do Trump’s tweets contain lies? Galli himself gives no examples, but the Washington Post on December 16 carried an article, “President Trump Has Made 15,413 False or Misleading Claims over 1,055 Days.”

What exactly are these alleged lies?

Grudem then goes on to suggest a few areas where he thinks The Washington Post is wrong.  He writes:

And so it goes with one supposed “lie” after another. Upon closer inspection, the accusations do not hold up.

Do I think that Trump has ever intentionally told a lie? I don’t know. Perhaps. I admit that he often exaggerates and boasts that something is the “biggest” or “best,” a habit that probably comes from his years in promoting his Manhattan real estate deals. In some cases, I think he has made incorrect claims not because he was intentionally lying but because he was given misleading information (as in his claim that the crowd at his inauguration was the biggest ever), and I think that the White House should correct any such inaccurate statements. But do I believe that he intentionally and habitually tells lies? Absolutely not.

Grudem suggests that Trump rarely lies intentionally. Grudem, a Calvinist who believes in human depravity, has the audacity to say that he does not believe Donald Trump “intentionally and habitually tells lies.” Has Grudem ever watched a Trump rally?  This is very disappointing from a guy who wrote a systematic theology textbook that a lot of evangelicals read.

(6) Does Trump have a “grossly immoral character”?

Grudem writes:

It is a deeply serious matter to accuse someone of having a “grossly immoral character,” for if the accusation is believed, it destroys a person’s reputation for lifetime, and a good reputation is more valuable than untold riches. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Therefore, before we make an accusation like this, it is important that we base it on an abundance of clear and compelling evidence, for false accusation inflicts substantial harm on another person. God commands, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16), and the Mosaic law code imposed strict penalties on anyone who made a false accusation (see Deuteronomy 19:18-19; compare Proverbs 6:19).

I think Galli is on pretty solid biblical evidence when he says that Trump has a “grossly immoral character.” Galli has no need to worry about bearing false witness or making false accusations.  Even some of the court evangelicals believe Donald Trump is immoral.  They just think that God uses immoral people to accomplish His will.

Grudem goes on:

“You are a bad person” strategy of the Left: Although I do not believe that Galli himself is part of the political Left, it is also important to realize the kind of political climate in which Galli’s claim occurs. One Fox News commentator rightly observed that the political Left has realized that it can’t beat conservatives by arguing, “You have bad policies,” so it has shifted to attacks that take the form, “You are a bad person.” And the result is that President Trump has been the target of incessant character assassination by the media for the past three years (as have many other conservatives).

But Jesus told us how to evaluate someone’s character: we should look at the fruit that comes from his life. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:43-44).

We now have three years of results (or “fruit”) that have come from Donald Trump’s presidency, and, in my judgment, the fruit has been overwhelmingly good.

If we understand the idea of “fruit” in a larger New Testament context, we might turn to Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

For Grudem, Trump’s “fruits” are basically a long list of GOP talking points.  His op-ed assumes that there is a one-to-one correlation between these talking points and the teachings of the Bible.  There is not.

What about the negative results?

Here is Grudem:

At this point someone will ask, “But what about the negative fruit from Trump’s presidency? Isn’t he responsible for the toxic, highly polarized political atmosphere we now live in?”

Grudem blames most of our highly polarized political atmosphere on the “political Left.”  He then tries to quell Trump critics by quoting Romans 13:

Yet the New Testament tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1).

We have seen these appeals to Romans 13 before.

Harm to the Christian gospel?

Grudem:

Galli concludes by warning that evangelical Trump supporters will harm “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the world’s understanding of the gospel.” My response is that is not correct for Galli to say that character “doesn’t really matter” to evangelical Trump supporters, for we have roundly and universally condemned his past immoral behavior. Character matters. But the moral character that Trump has demonstrated while in the White House, his unswerving commitment to his campaign promises, his courage, and his sound judgment on one policy issue after another, are commendable.

I’m sorry, but I just have a very different understand of morality than my former professor.  To suggest that evangelical leaders have “roundly and universally condemned” Trump’s behavior–past or present–does not make sense to me.  Grudem lives in a different moral universe than I do.

What Did Theologians and Ethicists Say About Bill Clinton’s Impeachment in 1998?

Impeachment trial

Today I was talking to a reporter about impeachment and recalled a statement issued in 1998 by prominent American theologians and ethicists.  A really interesting mix of evangelical and non-evangelical moral philosophers signed this statement.  I have copied it below.

Could we bring such a coalition of thinkers together today as we watch another POTUS  impeached?

Why are we not getting the same kind of ecumenical statements of moral clarity today?  Legal scholars have commented on the legality of the entire Trump impeachment affair.  Historians have weighed-in as well.  Where are the ethicists?  Here you go:

Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998

The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org

To be released on 13 November 1998

As scholars interested in religion and public life, we protest the manipulation of religion and the debasing of moral language in the discussion about presidential responsibility. We believe that serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage. The resulting moral confusion is a threat to the integrity of American religion and to the foundations of a civil society. In the conviction that politics and morality cannot be separated, we consider the current crisis to be a critical moment in the life of our country and, therefore, offer the following points for consideration:

1. Many of us worry about the political misuse of religion and religious symbols even as we endorse the public mission of our churches, synagogues, and mosques. In particular we are concerned about the distortion that can come by association with presidential power in events like the Presidential Prayer Breakfast on September 11. We fear the religious community is in danger of being called upon to provide authentication for a politically motivated and incomplete repentance that seeks to avert serious consequences for wrongful acts. While we affirm that pastoral counseling sessions are an appropriate, confidential arena to address these issues, we fear that announcing such meetings to convince the public of the President’s sincerity compromises the integrity of religion.

2. We challenge the widespread assumption that forgiveness relieves a person of further responsibility and serious consequences. We are convinced that forgiveness is a relational term that does not function easily within the sphere of constitutional accountability. A wronged party chooses forgiveness instead of revenge and antagonism, but this does not relieve the wrong-doer of consequences. When the President continues to deny any liability for the sins he has confessed, this suggests that the public display of repentance was intended to avoid political disfavor.

3. We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

4. We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

5. We urge the society as a whole to take account of the ethical commitments necessary for a civil society and to seek the integrity of both public and private morality. While partisan conflicts have usually dominated past debates over public morality, we now confront a much deeper crisis, whether the moral basis of the constitutional system itself will be lost. In the present impeachment discussions, we call for national courage in deliberation that avoids ideological division and engages the process as a constitutional and ethical imperative. We ask Congress to discharge its current duty in a manner mindful of its solemn constitutional and political responsibilities. Only in this way can the process serve the good of the nation as a whole and avoid further sensationalism.

6. While some of us think that a presidential resignation or impeachment would be appropriate and others envision less drastic consequences, we are all convinced that extended discussion about constitutional, ethical, and religious issues will be required to clarify the situation and to enable a wise decision to be made. We hope to provide an arena in which such discussion can occur in an atmosphere of scholarly integrity and civility without partisan bias.

The following scholars subscribe to the Declaration:

1. Paul J. Achtemeier (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

2. P. Mark Achtemeier (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

3. LeRoy Aden (Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia)

4. Diogenes Allen (Princeton Theological Seminary)

5. Joseph Alulis (North Park University)

6. Charles L. Bartow (Princeton Theological Seminary)

7. Donald G. Bloesch (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

8. Carl Braaten (Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology)

9. Manfred Brauch (Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary)

10. William P. Brown (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

11. Don S. Browning (University of Chicago)

12. Frederick S. Carney (Southern Methodist University)

13. Ellen T. Charry (Princeton Theological Seminary)

14. Karl Paul Donfried (Smith College)

15. Richard Drummond (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

16. Jean Bethke Elshtain (University of Chicago)

17. Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (Calvin College)

18. Gabriel Fackre (Andover Newton Theological School)

19. Robert Gagnon (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

20. Joel B. Green (Asbury Theological Seminary)

21. Robert H. Gundry (Westmont College)

22. Scott J. Hafemann (Wheaton College)

23. Roy A. Harrisville (Luther Theological Seminary)

24. Stanley M. Hauerwas (Duke University)

25. Gerald F. Hawthorne (Wheaton College)

26. S. Mark Heim (Andover Newton Theological School)

27. Frank Witt Hughes (Codrington College)

28. Robert Imbelli (Boston College)

29. Robert Jenson (Center for Theological Inquiry)

30. Robert Jewett (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

31. Jack Dean Kingsbury (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

32. Paul Koptak (North Park Theological Seminary)

33. John S. Lawrence (Morningside College)

34. Walter Liefeld (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

35. Troy Martin (Saint Xavier University)

36. James L. Mays (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

37. S. Dean McBride (Union Theological Seminary in Virginia)

38. Sheila E. McGinn (John Carroll University)

39. John R. McRay (Wheaton College)

40. Robert Meye (Fuller Theological Seminary)

41. David Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

42. Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

43. Carroll D. Osburn (Abilene Christian University)

44. William A. Pannell (Fuller Theological Seminary)

45. Jon Paulien (Andrews University)

46. John Piper (Bethlehem Baptist Church)

47. Stephen Pope (Boston College)

48. J. E. Powers (Hope College

49. Mark Reasoner (Bethel College),

50. John Reumann (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia)

51. David Rhoads (Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago)

52. W. Larry Richards (Andrews University)

53. Daniel E. Ritchie (Bethel College)

54. Joel Samuels (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

55. David Scholer (Fuller Theological Seminary)

56. Keith Norman Schoville (University of Wisconsin)

57. J. Julius Scott (Wheaton College)

58. Mark Seifrid (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

59. Christopher R. Seitz (St. Andrews University)

60. Klyne Snodgrass (North Park Theological Seminary)

61. Max Stackhouse (Princeton Theological Seminary)

62. W. Richard Stegner (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)

63. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner (University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

64. R. Franklin Terry (Morningside College)

65. David Tiede (Luther Theological Seminary)

66. Reinder Van Til (Eerdmans Publishing Company)

67. Warren Wade (North Park University)

68. J. Ross Wagner (Princeton Theological Seminary)

69. David H. Wallace (American Baptist Seminary of the West)

70. Timothy P. Weber (Northern Baptist Theological Seminary)

71. Merold Westphal (Fordham University)

72. Jonathan R. Wilson (Westmont College)

73. Edward and Anne Wimberly (Interdenominational Theological Center)

74. Harry Yeide (George Washington University)

Is Paula White Bringing Her “Ponzi Scheme” to the White House?

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

Many of you recall that court evangelical and prosperity preacher Paula White is now working in the White House.  Learn more here.

Former George W. Bush Administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter suggests that White is using her new position in the White House to make her spiritual “sales pitch” to her television followers.

Here is Newsweek:

Richard W. Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s White House, blasted President Donald Trump’s personal spiritual adviser Paula White, suggesting the religious leader was committing “fraud” and running a “Ponzi scheme.”

The White House recently announced that White, who previously served as the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, would officially spearhead Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Since taking on the official role, the prominent televangelist has continued to sell religious items that she claims will provide spiritual and material benefits to buyers.

“This ‘prosperity gospel’ scam by ⁦@Paula_White⁩ tests the boundaries between ‘religious freedom’ and criminal mail fraud and wire fraud,” Painter argued in a Wednesday morning tweet. “‘Send me money and God will make you rich.’ Now she uses her White House position to make her sales pitch.”

On Tuesday, Painter raised related concerns about White. “Paula White now is running her faith based Ponzi scheme from inside the White House,” he wrote in a tweet, sharing a link to a Newsweekarticle that reported on criticism of Trump’s adviser. ‘”Send me your January paycheck and God will pay you back with interest …. [perhaps out of somebody else’s February paycheck],'” he added.

Read the entire piece here.

Marianne Williamson is Right. We Have a Gun Problem AND a Culture Problem

Odessa

I am getting tired of the way the gun debate plays out in the wake of mass shootings.  Everyone tries to score political points or use the deaths of innocent lives to advance their own agendas.

For example, here is court evangelical Tony Perkins claiming that the problem is not guns, but evolution and the “driving of God from the public square.”

Others naively believe that mass shootings will stop if we just ban certain weapons.

Why can’t it be both?

Do we live in a violent culture?  Yes.  In one sense, the United States has always been a violent culture.  In another sense, there are clearly things going in our culture right now that were not present fifty years ago. It is thus worth thinking about changes over time when we try to explain why we have so many mass shootings.

Are guns a problem?  Yes.  If Tony Perkins is correct, and we do have a moral problem in the country, then why wouldn’t he support bans on assault weapons that can kill large numbers of people in short periods of time?  If Perkins believes that human beings are sinners, then I think he would be the first person to want to take these weapons out of the hands of sinful people who will use them to kill people.

I think Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson gets it mostly right.  Here is a taste of her recent op-ed in The Washington Post:

America does not just have a gun crisis; it has a cultural crisis. America will not stop experiencing the effects of gun violence until we’re ready to face the many ways that our culture is riddled with violence.

Our environmental policies are violent toward the Earth. Our criminal justice system is violent toward people of color. Our economic system is violent toward the poor. Our entertainment media is violent toward women. Our video games are violent in their effect on the minds of children. Our military is violent in ways and places where it doesn’t have to be. Our media is violent in its knee-jerk shaming and blaming for the sake of a better click rate. Our hearts are violent as we abandon each other constantly, breeding desperation and insanity. And our government is indirectly and directly violent in the countless ways it uses its power to help those who do not need help and to withhold support from those who do.

The darker truth that Americans must face now is this: Our society is not just steeped in violence; we are hooked on violence. And in area after area, there are those who make billions of dollars on deepening the hook. Until we see that, we will just have more violence. Our minds must awaken so we can see all this. Our hearts must awaken so we can change all this. And our politics must change so we can discuss all this.

Read the entire piece here.

“It seems strange that a university would praise an employee for helping to rig online polls”

Liberty U

Inside Higher Ed is running a follow-up story on the Liberty University Chief Information Officer who accepted a bag of cash from Michael Cohen in exchange for rigging online polls to make Donald Trump look like a successful businessman.  We covered this here.

Here is a taste of Lindsay McKenzie’s piece:

Gauger did not respond to request for comments, but Liberty University released a written statement last week supporting him.

“Liberty University, like many other educational institutions, has permitted its employees for many years to engage in business, consulting and other side work that does not interfere with their employment obligations to the University,” it states. “Also, like other organizations, Liberty recognizes the strong demand for highly skilled IT professionals creates special challenges in recruiting and retaining talented employees with those skills and experience. The opportunity for Liberty’s IT employees to develop businesses and products is particularly important to attracting and maintaining Liberty’s IT talent. John Gauger is one example among many outstanding LU employees who have made great contributions in their official roles and also enjoyed success as independent entrepreneurs, allowing them to enhance their capabilities and generate more revenue for their families while allowing the University to retain them on our team.”

The university’s response surprised outside observers.

“It seems strange that a university would praise an employee for helping to rig online opinion polls,” said Tom Davenport, professor of information technology and management at Babson College, a private business school in Wellesley, Mass. “But Liberty University seems to me not a typical university in many respects — it is mostly an advocacy organization for evangelical conservatives and, more recently, Donald Trump.”

Davenport described the incident as “highly irregular on many fronts,” not only because of Liberty’s response but because Gauger was running a business on the side.

“That the CIO had a separate company is unusual in my experience, said Davenport. “Most CIOs in universities and elsewhere are plenty busy with their primary jobs and don’t have time to freelance even if their employers would allow it.”

Read the entire piece here.

This article contains quotes from several Chief Information Officers at secular institutions who say that what Gauger did was unethical.  Why doesn’t the leadership of a Christian institution understand this? When it comes to ethics, shouldn’t a Christian institution be setting the bar?

I also wonder if Falwell Jr. would have defended Gauger if he was working for Barack Obama or another Democrat? Is this just another example of situational ethics at Liberty University?

In most eras, the behavior of Gauger and Falwell Jr. would be embarrassing for Liberty University.  But not in the age of Trump.

Hey Liberty University, This is What Happens When You Get Into Bed with Donald Trump and “All the Best People” Who Work for Him

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

A top-level administrator at one of the largest universities in the world rigged online polls to promote Donald Trump as a great businessman.  These polls were used to puff Trump in preparation for his presidential run.  Cohen paid John Gauger, Liberty University’s Chief Information Officer, to manipulate the polls in Trump’s favor.  Gauger claims that Cohen paid him between $12K and $13K in a blue Walmart bag.  (Cohen claims he paid with a check, but that’s not really the point here).  Cohen says that Donald Trump directed him to find someone who could rig the polls.

Lindsay Ellis of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

President Trump’s former top lawyer paid Liberty University’s chief information officer to manipulate online polls in an effort to raise Trump’s profile before his successful presidential campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The news shows a deeper relationship than previously reported between the president and employees of the university, a private Christian institution located in Virginia and led by Jerry L. Falwell Jr., a prominent Trump ally.

The Liberty technology administrator, John Gauger, also created a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, to promote the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, according to the Journal. “Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference,” the account’s description read on Thursday.

In one post reviewed by The Chronicle, the @WomenForCohen account shared a photo of Cohen, Falwell, and his wife. “Love to see good #Christian people on board the #TrumpTrain #Liberty #Trump2016,” the account wrote. The Journal reported that a female friend of Gauger operated the @WomenForCohen account.

Gauger told the Journal he had been paid by Cohen with a blue Walmart bag filled with $12,000 to $13,000 in cash, as well as a boxing glove once used by a Brazilian athlete. Cohen disputed that characterization, telling the Journal that Gauger had been paid by check, not cash.

Those previously unreported connections are the latest in a longstanding series of ties between Trump and Liberty. Trump has delivered multiple speeches at Liberty in recent years, including at a 2017 commencement. An administrator and Liberty students also produced a film about a former firefighter who said he had heard God say that Trump would be the next president.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of Liberty University and a prominent court evangelical, said that he knew Gauger was working for Trump, but claims he did not know the nature of the work.  Frankly, I find the latter claim hard to believe.  When it comes to Trump, Falwell seems to know just about everything that happens on his campus.  He refused to allow the student newspaper to run an anti-Trump story. He prevented anti-Trumper Shane Claiborne and others from coming on campus to pray.  And he forced an anti-Trump member of the Board of Trustees (and longtime Falwell family friend) to resign.  Falwell is thorough.  How could he have missed the fact that one of his administrators was rigging polls to try to manipulate the American public on behalf of the man who Falwell has described as the evangelical “dream president.”

When I read this story I decided to take a look at Gauger’s @womenforcohen Twitter account.  The tweets reveal that this Liberty University employee got into political bed with Michael Cohen and, by extension, Donald Trump.  As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this is what happens when you get too close to political power  As you read these tweets, please recall that Cohen is going to jail for violation of campaign finance laws and the person responsible for the tweets is a senior administrator at Liberty.

 

*The New Republic* Weighs-In on American Missionary John Allen Chau

 

ChauYesterday I posted Kate Carte’s twitter thread on the connections between the missionary killed by an indigenous tribe on North Sentinel Island and the American celebration of Thanksgiving.  Read the post here.

Over at The New Republic, Ryu Spaeth provides some ethical nuance.  Here is a taste of his piece, “The Strange Ethics of Killing John Allen Chau“:

It is basically a miracle that the Sentinelese, numbering as few as a few dozen people, continue to exist. Other indigenous tribes were wiped out when the British turned the Andaman and Nicobar Islands into a penal colony in the nineteenth century. Still others withered when they came into a more benign contact with anthropologists in the twentieth. It is no wonder the Sentinelese are wary of foreigners. For them to have successfully turned back yet another encroachment by the West, even in the figure of an irrepressible fool, seems like a rare victory amidst so much defeat. It feels like well-earned revenge.

But this is where the story’s underlying moral logic becomes almost too beguiling. Perhaps we want it to be that simple, for a man’s life to cost exactly that of a trespass of sacrosanct ground. Just as the Sentinelese appear to modern eyes to stand outside of time, with their rough-hewn weapons and ocean-bound lives, so does their rough administration of justice, suggesting some iron decree that is immemorial, nearing the divine: Cross this line and you will be struck down.

In much of the world, the rules that govern borders and sovereignty, that determine who can go where, are not so brightly defined. They are tacked together from a host of precedents and compromises, and riven with ambiguities and ethical pitfalls. Some people can cross, others cannot, and the difference is sometimes literally arbitrary, determined by lottery. There is nothing close to a consensus on what these rules should ultimately be, with the options ranging from walls to the abolition of borders altogether. At the root of this issue are fundamental questions about what it means to be a culture, a nation, a people. It is arguably the most divisive problem of our time, and easily one of the most explosive.

Just last week, as news was spreading of Chau’s death, no less a liberal eminence than Hillary Clinton declared that Europe “must send a very clear message—‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’” to migrants. Clinton said this position was necessary because a flood of migrants to Europe, starting in 2015, had played into the hands of right-wing anti-immigration parties, feeding their popularity. The latter part of that statement is undoubtedly true, but critics pointed out that that is no reason to deny refuge entirely to those fleeing appalling conditions in their home countries.

There is no equivalence between Clinton’s callous remarks and the hostility of the Sentinelese—for one thing, the dynamics at play between the powerful and the vulnerable in these two situations are reversed. But the comparison reminds us that the world we live in is necessarily imperfect and often unjust, because its laws are the product of competing claims made in pluralistic societies. The fascination with Chau’s killing is multifaceted, but perhaps it is at least partly driven by the impossible fantasy of a world where solutions arrive with the directness of an arrow’s flight—and where justice and the law are one and the same.

Read the entire piece here.

Paige Patterson and Richard Land Will Co-Teach an Ethics Course

PaigePatterson(2)

Yes, you read the headline correctly.

Paige Patterson, who was ousted at Southwestern Theological Seminary for dismissing women’s concerns about domestic abuse and rape  (see our coverage here), is teaching an ethics course at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.

But it gets better.  Patterson is co-teaching the class with Southern Evangelical Seminary president and court evangelical Richard Land.  In 2013, Land retired early from his post at the Southern Baptist Church’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission because he made racially insensitive remarks in the context of the death of Trayvon Martin.  (Russell Moore replaced him in the post).

Here is Adelle Banks’s piece at Religion News Service:

Patterson plans to co-teach a mid-October weeklong class on “Christian Ethics: The Bible and Moral Issues” with Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, a school that is not affiliated with the SBC.

“Dr. Patterson’s one of the most significant figures in evangelicalism in the last 20 years, at least, of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century,” Land told Religion News Service, “and we believe that there are a lot of people who would like to hear from him about living the Christian life in America. I believe he’s an asset to evangelicalism and we’re looking forward to it.”

Read the entire piece here.

Scott Pruitt on “Providence” and “Blessings”

Pruitt

Scott Pruitt has resigned as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Trump announced the resignation via Twitter.

Here is his letter of resignation:

Mr. President, it has been an honor to serve you in the Cabinet as Administrator of the EPA. Truly, your confidence in me has blessed me personally and enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated at the beginning of your Administration. Your courage, steadfastness and resolute commitment to get results for the American people, both with regard to improved environmental outcomes as well as historical regulatory reform, is in fact occurring at an unprecedented pace and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you and the American people in helping achieve those ends.

That is why is hard for me to advise you I am stepping down as Administrator of the EPA effective as of July 6. It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring. However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.

My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.

                          Your Faithful Friend,

                           Scott Pruitt

As this letter makes clear, Pruitt is an evangelical Christian.  He is a former deacon of First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and served on the Board of Trustees of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  If you just change a few words in this letter it could pass for his resignation letter as a church deacon.

His appeal to God’s providence should not surprise us.  This is pretty common evangelical language and Pruitt sees little difference between the church and the government.  I am assuming that Pruitt means that God specifically chose Donald Trump to deliver His “chosen nation” from the hands of the Obama-Clinton threat.  I assume he means that God brought him to the EPA to prevent climate-change advocates from actually doing something about climate change.  He is sincere about all of this.  This is what he believes.  I have no doubt that he thinks that he was doing God’s will for a divinely-appointed POTUS.  These appeals to providence, coupled with regular Bible studies that no doubt use the Bible to endorse GOP politics, is what passes for evangelical political engagement today among Christian Right politicians.

The satirist Ambrose Bierce described “providence” as an idea that is “unexpectedly and consciously beneficial to the person so describing it.”

The use of the phrase “bless” or “blessing” (used four times in the short letter) is also pretty common in evangelical circles.  When evangelicals do something to encourage another Christian they are “being a blessing” to that person.  It is a pretty common way of talking about showing Christian love to a neighbor or friend.   When I was a teenager, I often listened to “Walk with the King,” the radio of show of The Kings College president and National Association of Evangelical president Robert A. Cook.  He used to end every broadcast by saying “Until I meet you once again by way of radio, walk with the King today, and be a blessing.”

Pruitt no doubt believes that he was a “blessing” to Donald Trump.  He was serving God’s anointed.

He also apparently  received his own “blessings” by working for the EPA.  I don’t think the prosperity gospel is popular in Southern Baptist circles, but in the context of this resignation letter it sure seems like Pruitt believed God was blessing him when he

  • rented a bedroom near Capitol Hill from a lobbyist for $50.00 a night.
  • tried to use his role at the EPA to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise.
  • spent over $3.5 million on his security detail.
  • asked an aide to get him a used mattress from a Trump hotel.
  • paid $1560 for 12 fountain pens.
  • lied about asking for a 24/7 security detail
  • flew first class to avoid “lashing out from passengers.”
  • spent $5700 for biometric locks.
  • installed a $43,000 phone booth in his office.
  • told his motorcade to use flashing lights and sirens in order to get to brunch on time.
  • went $60,000 over budget on an EPA trip to Morocco.
  • sent his security detail to buy him lotions and pick-up his dry cleaning.
  • takes a personal security detail on family trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.
  • spent $120,000 for opposition research on the media.
  • hired a coal lobbyist to be his deputy EPA administrator.

I am glad Pruitt is gone for two reasons:

  1. The GOP will spin Pruitt’s resignation by saying that they agreed with his policies as EPA director, but disagreed with the ethics violations.  This position fails to take seriously the Christian responsibility to care for the creation.  Government must play a role in this work.  Having said that, I am guessing Trump will replace him with someone else who believes that climate change is a hoax.
  2. Pruitt’s ethical violations reveal that he is unfit for this cabinet position or any cabinet position.  The fact that he would make appeals to evangelical words like “providence” and “blessing” in his resignation letter is appalling.

And let’s not forget that many evangelicals have defended this guy.

Trump Evangelicals Line-Up Behind Scott Pruitt

Pruitt

Scott Pruitt’s ethical problems are abundant.  Here is how Aaron Weaver describes them in his recent piece at Sojourners:

A $50-a-night condo deal from a lobbyist pal. More than $100,000 for first class airfare and $40,000 on a soundproof phone booth. A twenty person 24-hour protective detail and emergency sirens en route to a French restaurant. Travel costs closing in on $3 million. Big raises for top aides and demotions for officials who dare question the spending habits of their boss and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt.

Yet many evangelicals are standing by him, including Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.

Here is another taste of Weaver’s piece:

The evangelical leaders called Pruitt “well qualified” to head the EPA and said he deserved “the full support of the United States Senate in his confirmation.” These evangelicals aimed to counter the claims of climate change denialism leveled against their Southern Baptist brother, insisting that he had been “misrepresented as denying ‘settled science.’” Pruitt had just called for “a continuing debate” on the impact and extent of climate change, they said.

With this public defense of Pruitt, these evangelicals were continuing down a path started more than a decade ago as awareness about the urgent global challenge of climate change was increasing within evangelicalism. In 2006, a coalition of well known evangelical pastors and professors calling themselves the Evangelical Climate Initiative released a declaration urging environmental concern and imploring Congress to adopt legislation to curb carbon emissions. Shortly after, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a statement warning that climate change was “threatening to become a wedge issue to divide the evangelical community” and distract its members from “the priority of the Great Commission.”

Read the rest here.

 

 

Randall Balmer on the Christian Right’s Changing Code of Ethics

Trump court evangelicals

Randall Balmer, a lifelong observer of American evangelicalism, reflects on the “flexible” values of the Christian Right.

Here is a summary of Balmer’s sense of the “new” Christian Right ethical code:

  1. “Lying is all right as long as it serves a higher purpose.”
  2. “It’s no problem to married more than, well, twice.”
  3. “Immigrants are scum”
  4. “Vulgarity is a sign of strength and resolve”
  5. “White live matter (much more than others)”
  6. “There’s no harm in spending time with porn stars”
  7. “It’s all right for adults to date children”
  8. “The end justifies the means”

See how Balmer develops this points here.

Do You Trust Your Pastor?

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According to a recent Gallup poll, 48% of Christians trust members of the clergy.  This means that they have more trust in nurses, military officers, grade school teachers, medical doctors, pharmacists, and police officers.

Here is a brief summary:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the 16th consecutive year, Americans’ ratings of the honesty and ethical standards of 22 occupations finds nurses at the top of the list. More than eight in 10 (82%) Americans describe nurses’ ethics as “very high” or “high.” In contrast, about six in 10 Americans rate members of Congress (60%) and lobbyists (58%) as “very low” or “low” when it comes to honesty and ethical standards.

Read the entire report here.

Christianity Today puts the story in context here.

Evangelicals Have Suddenly Become More Forgiving of the Sins of Elected Officials

First_Baptist_Church_of_Dallas,_TX_IMG_3043

First Baptist Church–Dallas

Hmm….  I wonder what explains this?

Back in 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) asked voters if “an elected official who commits and immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”

In 2011, evangelical Christians were the least forgiving.

In October 2016, when PRRI asked the same question, evangelical Christians were the most forgiving.  In other words “white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.”

PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones calls this “a head-spinning reversal.”

I’m not sure how “head-spinning” this is.  Seems pretty par for the course.  Just ask Dr. James Dobson and Dr. Wayne Grudem.

Read all about it in this piece at The New York Times.

Martin Marty on Football: “The memories are vivid; the agonies of conscience thus grow stronger.”

Football

In his regular column at the University of Chicago Divinity School website, Martin Marty wonders how long we can in good conscience continue to celebrate football.  He writes: “The question ‘What Would Jesus Think About Football?’ sounds silly and is inaptly posed.  But, then again….”

Here is a taste of his piece: “Football Religion“:

…Regularly cited was a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association on a study of the brains of 111 deceased former NFL players. Finding? “110 had the degenerative brain disease [CTE].” Let it be noted that the sports commentators who have been roused by this issue are not anti-sports (or anti-billion-dollar businesses). Most of them recognize the positive role that athletics can play in character formation and physical prowess, and many of those who now oppose the violent sport display signs of ambiguity and regret. Realists are aware of how hard it would be to introduce radical change to professional sports, given their market value.

Who stands apart from the debate, the questioning, the confusion? The author of this column still cherishes his own score chart of the 1941 Rose Bowl, when he was a 13-year-old in the midst of the Great Depression and then World War II, and our Nebraska Cornhuskers brought home name and fame, those things which were absent from our lives and newspapers each year until the time when we could turn our radio dials to college football. In high school the only letter available to little me was awarded for my announcing games on local radio. The memories are vivid; the agonies of conscience thus grow stronger

Read the entire piece here.

Howeverism

I am hearing a lot of this in the wake of the Donald Trump–Morning Joe tweeting scandal.  In this case, “howeverism” is a rhetorical strategy being used by conservatives and Trump supporters, but it could apply to people of all parties and affiliations.

I’ll just explain it with my tweet:

Howeverism is an example of how politics pervades almost every dimension of public discourse.  Trump’s tweets about Mika Brzezinski require complete moral condemnation.  Howeverism weakens moral condemnation with an unhealthy dose politics.

Rich People are Immoral

wealth-05This is the argument made by journalist  A.Q. Smith at the website of Current Affairs: A Magazine of Politics and Culture.  

Here is a taste of his essay “It’s Basically Just Immoral to be Rich.”

Of course, when you start talking about whether it is moral to be rich, you end up heading down some difficult logical paths. If I am obligated to use my wealth to help people, am I not obligated to keep doing so until I am myself a pauper? Surely this obligation attaches to anyone who consumes luxuries they do not need, or who has some savings that they are not spending on malaria treatment for children. But the central point I want to make here is that the moral duty becomes greater the more wealth you have. If you end up with a $50,000 a year or $100,000 a year salary, we can debate what amount you should spend on helping other people. But if you earn $250,000 or 1 million, it’s quite clear that the bulk of your income should be given away. You can live very comfortably on $100,000 or so and have luxury and indulgence, so anything beyond is almost indisputably indefensible. And the super-rich, the infamous “millionaires and billionaires”, are constantly squandering resources that could be used to create wonderful and humane things. If you’re a billionaire, you could literally open a hospital and make it free. You could buy up a bunch of abandoned Baltimore rowhouses, do them up, and give them to families. You could help make sure no child ever had to go without lunch.

We can define something like a “maximum moral income” beyond which it’s obviously inexcusable not to give away all of your money. It might be 50 thousand. Call it 100, though. Per person. With an additional 50 allowed per child. This means two parents with a child can still earn $250,000! That’s so much money. And you can keep it. But everyone who earns anything beyond it is obligated to give the excess away in its entirety. The refusal to do so means intentionally allowing others to suffer, a statement which is true regardless of whether you “earned” or “deserved” the income you were originally given. (Personally, I think the maximum moral income is probably much lower, but let’s just set it here so that everyone can agree on it. I do tend to think that moral requirements should be attainable in practice, and a $30k threshold would actually require people experience some deprivation whereas a $100k threshold indisputably still leaves you with an incredibly comfortable lifestyle better than almost any other had by anyone in history.)

Of course, wealthy people do give away money, but so often in piecemeal and self-interested and foolish ways. They’ll donate to colleges with huge endowments to get needless buildings built and named after them. David Geffen will pay to open a school for the children of wealthy university faculty, and somehow be praised for it. Mark Zuckerberg will squander millions of dollars trying to fix Newark’s schools by hiring $1000-a-day-consultants. Brad Pitt will try to build homes for Katrina victims in New Orleans, but will insist that they’re architecturally cutting-edge and funky looking, instead of just trying to make as many simple houses as possible. Just as the rich can’t be trusted to spend their money well generally, they’re colossally terrible at giving it away. This is because so much is about self-aggrandizement, and “philanthropy” is far more about the donor than the donee. Furthermore, if you’re a multi-billionaire, giving away $1 billion is morally meaningless. If you’ve got $3 billion, and you give away 1, you’re still incredibly wealthy, and thus still harming many people through your retention of wealth. You have to get rid of all of it, beyond the maximum moral income. 

The central point, however, is this: it is not justifiable to retain vast wealth. This is because that wealth has the potential to help people who are suffering, and by not helping them you are letting them suffer. It does not make a difference whether you earned the vast wealth. The point is that you have it. And whether or not we should raise the tax rates, or cap CEO pay, or rearrange the economic system, we should all be able to acknowledge, before we discuss anything else, that it is immoral to be rich. That much is clear.

Read the entire piece here.