The Author’s Corner with David Kirkpatrick

KirkpatrickDavid C. Kirkpatrick is Assistant Professor of Religion at James Madison University.  This interview is based on his new book A Gospel for the Poor: Global Social Christianity and the Latin American Evangelical Left (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write A Gospel for the Poor?

DK: Writing this book was an exciting journey that took me to five countries and allowed me to interview fascinating characters around the world. I was especially motivated to bring the voices of marginalized yet deeply influential Christians into established and ongoing conversations. As I started the project, I began to uncover ways in which the influence of Latin Americans had been hidden or excluded, including through translation and adoption by American leaders. As a Spanish speaker myself, I was also motivated to translate Spanish materials for an English-speaking audience and to narrate the ways in which these leaders navigated their bilingual world. At times, progressive Latin American evangelicals used their bilingualism to their advantage, saying one thing in English and another in Spanish. This type of historical recovery motivated me throughout the project. But more importantly, I think their story was worth telling: A Cold War generation of Latin Americans who demanded a place at the table of global evangelical leadership, seeking to strip Christianity of its white, middle-class, American packaging. Within a fraught and contested space, they sought to construct a gospel for the poor.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Gospel for the Poor.

DK: In A Gospel for the Poor, I argue that the intellectual scaffolding of the Evangelical Left was built not in the American public square but in Cold War Latin America. In this context, transnational conversations provoked the rise of progressive evangelical politics, the explosion of Christian humanitarian organizations, and the infusion of social justice into the very mission of evangelicals around the world and across a broad spectrum of denominations.

JF: Why do we need to read A Gospel for the Poor?

DK: A Gospel for the Poorfuses the worlds of Pope Francis and Billy Graham. Many of the main characters in the book are familiar to readers—Graham, John Stott, Carl F. H. Henry, Stacey Woods (founder of InterVarsity-USA), Gustavo Gutiérrez, and others. This story not only recasts well-known Christian leaders but also argues for the importance and inclusion of lesser-known activists such as René Padilla, Orlando Costas, and Samuel Escobar. In order to do so, I utilized a far-flung set of archival materials mostly outside the United States—dusty boxes in René Padilla’s Buenos Aires garage, binders in Samuel Escobar’s apartment in Valencia, Spain, John Stott’s travel diary at Lambeth Palace library in London, long-thought-lost meeting minutes from Seminario Bíblico in San José, Costa Rica, papers of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Oxford, and, of course, the collections at Wheaton College to name a few. Alongside bilingual interviews, this subaltern dataset flavors the narrative and reframes key events and leaders.

A Gospel for the Poor seeks to answer key questions about progressive Christianity such as, why did many evangelicals in the North greet these ideas as family rather than foein contrast to their reaction to the so-called Social Gospel of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Thus, we turn not to centers of power but to a revolutionary Latin American university environment, examining a cluster of political and social forces reshaping the post-war Americas:  rural-urban migration flows, the resulting complications of urbanization, and the rapid expansion of the universities, where Marxist ideas of revolutionary change presented a growing appeal to students around the world. In turn, this produced a renaissance of social Christianities in the U.S. and buttressed an increasingly interventionist evangelical foreign policy, as well.

For the Evangelical Left, they required theological justification for their political action and when searching for words to describe a gospel for the poor, key members turned to the Global South and language that was forged within the Cold War. In the words of Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren, the Latin American Evangelical Left provided a “different theological ecosystem.”

Ultimately, A Gospel for the Poor contributes to an exciting ongoing conversation on evangelical internationalism and social Christianity. In this story, progressive Latin Americans became trailblazers, playing the role of controversial truthtellers and prophets, bringing to bear the reality of the Majority World into the consciousness of powerbrokers in the North. The role of progressive Latin Americans as a bridge between younger, emerging evangelical leadership in the Global South and the evangelical establishment was crucial to the task of challenging loyalties. In fact, it is fair to say that one cannot understand the contextual turn of global evangelicalism in the postwar period without understanding their role within it.

JF: When and why did you decide to become a historian?

DKMy path to becoming an historian of World Christianity was rather circuitous. I have long been fascinated by the relationship between the United States and Latin America, with all their crucial intersections whether migration, religion, or politics. In college, I studied Spanish and lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, between my sophomore and junior years. Through many journeys prior and since, I fell in love with Latin American culture and history. In conversations and research, the shadow of the United States was ever-present. In grad school, I fell in love with archival research and interviewing—a love relationship that still motivates my work. But perhaps more than anything, two mentors shaped my journey as an historian—Doug Sweeney at TEDS and Brian Stanley at Edinburgh. They took me under their wing and, through hundreds of hours of mentorship, taught me how to think, research, and write. To me, they are also tremendous examples of Christian voices in our contentious contemporary world. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

JF: What is your next project?

DK: I have two current book projects that are well under way, both surrounding the issue of global religious violence. I am co-editing a collection of essays with Jason Bruner provisionally titled A Global Vision of Violence: Persecution, Media, and Martyrdom in World Christianity. We have a tremendous lineup of scholars with diverse perspectives. My second monograph is titled Blood and Borders: Violence and the Origins of the “Global War on Christians.” Blood and Borders situates American evangelicalism within in a transnational frame and foreground religious violence against Protestants in Latin America. It provides a fresh take on how American evangelicals view themselves, their neighbors, and their place in the world—a world that declared war on their perceived global family.

DK: Thanks, David!

Thanks to Elizabeth Bruening for Reminding Buttigieg Fans that the Religious Left is Not New

Buttigeig

Some of you may recall my recent post, “Pete Buttieig: What is All the Fuss About?” Here is a taste:

[Buttigieg] seems to be following some pretty well-established progressive/liberal/Democratic Christian political candidates, including George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Joe Lieberman (if you move beyond Christianity), Hillary Clinton and, of course, Barack Obama. I might even put my former Senator Bill Bradley in this group.

Perhaps it is time that we stop getting so excited about Democratic candidates who can talk about religion. They have been around for a long time.

I am glad to see Elizabeth Bruenig make a similar point yesterday at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste of her piece, “Talk of a rising religious left is unfounded. It already exists“:

Right-wing pundits were apoplectic — Fox News host Laura Ingraham called him “sanctimonious and self-righteous” — but the effect was even greater on the center-left. “Buttigieg is a symbol for a rising Christian left,” one CNN op-ed enthused. “Buttigieg is telling Democrats that they should concede nothing to Republicans on the topics of faith and values . . . because Democrats advance policies that happen to be consistent with our deepest faith traditions,” The Post’s Jennifer Rubin declared. Even Mayor Pete himself seemed to embrace the talk of a revitalized religious left with real electoral power. He told The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “I think there’s an opportunity hopefully for religion to be not so much used as a cudgel but invoked as a way of calling us to higher values.”

The religious left — perhaps a bloc of Democratic voters waiting to be mobilized, perhaps a segment of faithful people waiting for a leftward awakening — is always just about to happen. It lingers, always, on the horizon, a shadow cast by the electoral power and political clout of the religious right. Will it ever arrive? And what would it look like if it did?

Talk of a rising religious left is puzzling in part because there is an already existing religious left — it just lacks the money, numbers and partisan leverage of the religious right. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that roughly 59 percent of registered Democratic voters described themselves as Christian, with the single largest bloc inside the Christian set being black Protestants. The presence of these religious voters in the Democratic coalition is probably why so many presidential candidates do engage in faith-talk: Setting Buttigieg aside, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have also been vocal about their Christian faith on the stump this season. (Indeed, Booker, too, was once hailed as an emblem of the rising religious left.)

Read the entire piece here.  (Thanks to John Haas for bringing it to my attention)

Is Pete Buttigieg’s Religious Rhetoric Any Different Than the Rhetoric of the Christian Right?

Buttigieg

Peter Wehner makes a pretty good case at The Atlantic.  Here is a taste:

..And yet, precisely on the question of religion as an instrumental good, there is real cause for concern about Mayor Pete. His insistence that “Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction” is a bright-red flag, and ought to worry Christians regardless of their politics.

To say that Christianity points you in a progressive direction is in effect to say that Christianity and progressivism are synonymous. They aren’t. Neither are Christianity and conservatism. Christianity stands apart from and in judgment of all political ideologies; it doesn’t lend itself to being put in neat and tidy political categories. That doesn’t mean that at any particular moment in time a Christian ethic won’t lead people of faith to more closely align with one political and philosophical movement over another. But the temptation, always, is to politicize faith in ways that ultimately are discrediting.

Read the entire piece here.

Wehner’s piece is similar to the argument of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  Hunter calls out both the Religious Right and the Religious Left for turning to electoral politics to advance their missions.  He offers another way defined by “faithful presence.”

*In God We Trump*

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

Tara Isabella Burton

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

Christopher Maloney

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

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

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

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

Read the entire interview here.

Here is the teaser:

And here is a longer clip:

The “Court Evangelicals” in *The New York Times*

Trump court evangelicals

Check out Laurie Goodstein‘s piece on anti-Trump evangelicals at The New York Times.  The article focuses on Shane Claiborne and the recent Red-Letter Revival in Lynchburg, but it also mentions our phrase “court evangelicals” and links to The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog.

Here is a taste:

The revival last month was the most energetic of several recent attempts by Christians in various camps to confront what they see as Mr. Trump’s “court evangelicals” selling out the faith. The critics have written columns, and a book called “Still Evangelical?” They convened a closed-door summit last month at Wheaton College. A number of bereaved, eminent elders plan a procession to the White House soon to hand over their manifesto, “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”

Read the entire piece here.

Jim Wallis on the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

Wallis Jim

John Kasich was invited, but did not attend.  Mark Noll was there.  So was Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners and one of the primary architects of the evangelical left.

In his most recent piece at the Sojourners website, Wallis sees some continuity between the issues addressed at the Wheaton consultation and the issues addressed at some of the earliest gatherings of the so-called “evangelical left.”  He does not see progress.

A taste:

That was 45 years ago. Reading it again at the Wheaton meeting was heartbreaking — realizing how far in the wrong direction “evangelicalism” has now gone, so diminished and distorted. In my tradition, we would call that spiritual “backsliding.” Read the declaration now — all of it — and see how much we have gone backwards.

Also take a look at the list of signers back in 1973. We were “young evangelicals,” including black evangelicals, the first evangelical feminists, some global evangelical leaders, but also some of the leading establishment white evangelical leaders at the time — including some who were invoked at the Wheaton meeting last week, like the founding editor of Christianity Today Carl F. H. Henry. As the final editor of the Chicago Declaration, I can attest that Henry and I we went back and forth on every “jot and title” as those who knew him would expect! This was a multiracial and intergenerational statement unanimously agreed to after two days of retreat together. We all felt it was work that God had done.

At the time, the “Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern” gained great attention in the evangelical world, schools, and seminaries, and it was a big news story. And until 1980, we were called the “young evangelicals” in a “new evangelical” movement.

So what happened?

Read the entire piece here.  Then go get some historical context by reading two books:

Brantley Gasaway, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice and David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.

“We Need a Revival”

Liberty U
We linked to his “Photo Essay” on Wednesday.  Today we want to call your attention to David Swartz‘s report from Liberty University and the Red Letter Revival.  Swartz visited both this past weekend.

Here is a taste of his piece at the Anxious Bench:

Over the weekend, I drove our trusty red minivan from Kentucky across the Appalachian Mountains to Virginia to check out the action. I attended the revival Friday night, took a three-hour campus tour of Liberty on Saturday morning, and then returned to the revival on Saturday afternoon. As you might expect, the contrasts between the two evangelical sites—just five minutes apart—were fascinating and stark. (For a photographic essay of both sites, click here.)

If not for much of the content, Falwell might have felt quite comfortable with the Red Letter Revival. Preachers called for more piety and generous giving. They warned of sin pervading the land. They told churchy jokes (Claiborne said he wasn’t in Lynchburg to protest, but instead to “pro-testify!”), using humor along with lament to drive a spirit of old-fashioned revivalism. Attendees responded, raising their hands and exhorting the preachers from their seats. Exclamations of “We need a revival!” carried along extended periods of biblical exposition. As the gathering ended, Tony Campolo presided over an altar call.

Read the rest here.

Did Jerry Falwell Jr. Prevent the Liberty University Student Newspaper from Covering the Lynchburg Revival?

Donald_Trump_delivers_remarks_at_the_Liberty_University (1)

Jack Jenkins is reporting that this is indeed what happened.  Here is a taste of his piece at Religion News Service:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. stifled an effort by the school’s newspaper to report on an event this weekend organized by his critics, said a student editor.

That event featured speakers critical of Falwell, in particular his outspoken support for President Trump, for whom he acts as a faith adviser.

Erin Covey, an assistant news editor at the Liberty Champion and a junior at the university, said she wanted to write about the “Red Letter Revival” — a gathering of progressive evangelical Christians and others in Lynchburg to pray against “toxic evangelicalism” — because it was a large event that involved Liberty students. She said she pursued the story with the approval of her fellow editors, including the Champion editor-in-chief and a faculty adviser.

The two-day event off campus in the university town concludes Saturday (March 7). It drew speakers such as author Shane Claiborne and activist the Rev. William Barber, who have challenged Falwell to a debate. One of the speakers, evangelical pastor and author Jonathan Martin, was removed from Liberty’s campus by police in October after attending a concert there days after calling for a peaceful protest of the school.

(NOTE:  The date in the last paragraph should actually be April 7).

Read the entire piece here.  See our take on the so-called “Red Letter Revival” in Lynchburg here.

Shane Claiborne To Lead “Revival” Against “Toxic Christianity”

Red Letter

Evangelical leaders Shane Claiborne, William Barber, Lisa Sharon Harper, Tony Campolo, and of the so-called “Red Letter Christians” are going into the belly of the whale: Lynchburg, Virginia.

These progressive Christians are holding a “Red Letter Revival” in Lynchburg, Virginia on April 6-7, 2018.  It will include a worship service, music, and speakers.

Here is a taste of Jack Jenkins’s piece at Religion News Service:

A group of progressive evangelicals and other Christians are planning a “revival” this spring to protest “toxic evangelicalism” and evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. who support President Trump.

Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne announced the event on Twitter Wednesday (Feb. 7), saying he and others plan to host a “Red Letter Revival” on April 6-7 in Lynchburg, Va. — the same city where Liberty University, a conservative Christian school led by Falwell, is located.

Claiborne, co-director of the progressive Christian group Red Letter Christians, told Religion News Service he’s heard Liberty students say they want their school “to be known for its love for Jesus (rather) than its love for Trump.”

Specifics for the event remain tentative, but he said the program would begin that Friday with a “three-hour hype-filled, fiery, beautiful worship (service with) preaching.” The next day would include “a whole bunch of different breakout sessions and music” and conclude with “another big service” Saturday evening — including a “call to action.”

Read more here.

We will see how this plays out.  While I support the spirit of this effort, I wish Claiborne would cast a larger tent.  He seems to have gathered the usual suspects–Campolo, Barber, and the rest of the so-called evangelical left. The “Red Letter Christians” have been protesting GOP presidential candidates for a long time, well before Trump took office.  If Claiborne can attract more evangelical moderates, such as those who signed the recent Washington Post ad on immigration and refugees, his “revival” might have more of an impact.  I hope he can.

Jim Wallis: “America First” is a “theologically heretical statement”

Trump court evangelicals

Jim Wallis of Sojourners offers his take on the recent “Values Voter Summit.”  Here is a taste of his piece “The Religious Right Will Rise and Fall with Donald Trump“:

President Donald Trump is the logical hero for the “religious right,” judging by how he was welcomed to their Values Voter Summit last weekend. These Christians rallied around the billionaire playboy, political bully, ethno-nationalist, and purveyor of racial bigotry. As a result, he has become the moral definition of their movement.

The religious right will now rise and fall with Donald Trump.

Trump is the natural conclusion to how the religious right movement began, and what it has become. When it comes to this movement, the operative word is clearly not “religious” (or even “Christian”), but “right.” (And for the vast majority of “values voters” who are white Christians, the operative word is not “Christian” but “white.”)

The longest applause for President Trump from the right-wing white evangelicals gathered in Washington D.C. last Friday was when he brought up the flag, not the cross. Those standing and shouting “USA! USA!” were making a clear statement against black athletes who have been protesting racial injustice and police brutality during the national anthem.

Steve Bannon showed up, too, and his revivalist message of economic and cultural nationalism also wowed the crowd, with an altar call to make “war” on the Republican establishment, because “you are the transmission of the best values of the Judeo-Christian West.”

Bannon’s far-right media platform makes clear what the racial implications of this cultural nationalism are. Of course, the fact that Jewish and Christian values actually abhor the exclusion of other human beings, and hold every society accountable for how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable, was not mentioned. Muslims, of course, were also not mentioned, except for accusations of false religions and implied terrorist threats to America.

Let’s be clear. “America First” is not just a political statement — it is a theologically heretical statement. The body of Christ is the most international and racially diverse community on the planet, in keeping with the teachings of Jesus’ gospel. But that got passed over for another gospel — that of white American ethnocentrism, a worldview hateful of “others” including immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and black athletes who take a knee. Curiously, Jesus didn’t come up very often at the Values Voter Summit, except tangentially, in Trump’s pledge that everyone will once again say “Merry Christmas” at our shopping centers—where we revere the one born in a manger by lining up for holiday sales.

Read the entire piece here.

When Evangelicals Were Not Political Enough

Houghton

Richard Mouw attended Houghton College (NY)

Over at Religion News Service, Richard Mouw remembers a time when Protestant liberals criticized American evangelicals because they were not political enough.  Oh how times have changed.

Here is a taste of Mouw’s piece:

For an evangelical of my generation — born during World War II — there is some irony in the frequent complaints these days about how evangelicals have become too “politicized.” When I started thinking seriously about political matters in the early 1960s, a major complaint about evangelicalism — especially from more liberal theological types — was that we were not political enough. American soldiers were fighting a controversial and undeclared war in Southeast Asia, and the civil rights movement was struggling for justice. Yet evangelicals were espousing patriotism and calling for “law and order.”

The evangelicalism that nurtured me in my early years wasn’t, strictly speaking—“apolitical.” Rather, the pattern was a political “quietism.” Support the basic patterns of the political status quo. Be good citizens. Be proud of what your country has traditionally stood for. And vote for candidates — usually the Republican ones — who espouse these other values.

At the evangelical college that I attended, a professor put a Kennedy sign on his front lawn during the 1960 general election. The school administration quickly ordered him to take the sign down if he wanted to keep his job. (He accepted a position elsewhere for the next academic year.)

As a graduate student in the 1960s, I became active in civil rights and anti-war causes.  My extended family was convinced that this meant that I was no longer an evangelical, and for about five years I tried hard to prove them right. Eventually, though, I realized that, given my basic convictions about matters of faith, I had nowhere else to go.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Mark Lempke

My brothers keeper.jpgMark Lempke is a visiting instructor  at the University at Buffalo–Singapore. This interview is based on his new book, My Brother’s Keeper: George McGovern and Progressive Christianity (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write My Brother’s Keeper?

ML: When I was an undergraduate at Houghton College- an evangelical school in New York’s Southern Tier- I wrote a research paper on the 1972 election for one of my history classes. I was just curious how anybody could lose forty-nine states—especially to Nixon! In the process, I discovered an intriguing tidbit: George McGovern’s father, a Wesleyan pastor, had been an early alum of Houghton. Back then, it felt like every evangelical I had encountered was a conservative Republican, so it seemed very strange to me that perhaps the most leftist figure ever nominated by a major party had ties to that tradition. Over many years, curiosity gave way to research, and I found that George McGovern’s life could serve as a useful narrative arc to study the fortunes of Christian social justice in American politics.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of My Brother’s Keeper?

ML: Despite its reputation for secularism, left liberalism in the 1960s and 1970s was deeply indebted to a religious tradition rooted in the social gospel and ecumenical activism. George McGovern’s use of the prophetic tradition on the campaign trail acted as something of a conduit, channeling support from both mainline and evangelical Protestants concerned with social justice.

JF: Why do we need to read My Brother’s Keeper?

ML: My Brother’s Keeper tries to shed some light on the question of why a “Christian Left” has been so elusive. One of the big differences between the postwar “Christian Right” and the “Christian Left” is that the latter views its activism as essentially prophetic in nature. That means eschewing nationalism while supporting the vulnerable and marginalized, but it also means a willingness to strike it out on your own as well. You can’t very easily tell a prophet what to do or who to vote for! In electoral politics, there is no such thing as a “caucus of prophets;” it’s a bit like herding cats.

Each faction of a theoretical Christian Left had its own understanding of what it meant to speak prophetically against injustice. And the problem was made worse by the longstanding political, cultural, and theological disagreements between mainline and evangelical Protestants. I spend a chapter on McGovern’s visit to Wheaton College during the ’72 campaign as an act of evangelical outreach. One reason why the visit is unsuccessful is because McGovern insisted on speaking as a theological liberal. When he used words like “redeem,” he purely meant social redemption, not redemption of the soul. Even evangelicals at Wheaton who were sympathetic to McGovernism would have found that message difficult to swallow. So when the Evangelical Left took shape under Jim Wallis and Ron Sider soon after the campaign, they went to considerable lengths to distance themselves from the mainline. They often cast liberal theology as backsliding and heretical, even if they shared many of the political priorities of Clergy and Laity Concerned or the National Council of Churches. In a way, it was a form of identity politics, with evangelicals viewing themselves as a historically disadvantaged group that was just now learning to take pride in what made them distinctive.

As readers of TWOILH are probably aware, we’re had an outpouring of great scholarship on postwar social justice evangelicals recently, with David Swartz and Brantley Gasaway leading the way. Mainliners, too, have seen a revival of top-notch work—just look at Elesha Coffman, Kristin Du Mez, David Hollinger, Jill K. Gill, and many others. Each of these historians produced insightful scholarship that influenced my own, but I came to understand that the mainline and evangelical stories needed to be told in tandem. Their mutual distrust toward one another goes a long way toward explaining why Progressive Christians have struggled to be effective in the public square.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

ML: Like most eventual historians, I was a pretty strange kid. When the Mini Page children’s newspaper published a special edition on the U.S. presidents when I was five, I took to memorizing the presidents and interesting facts about them. It was fun to learn, but it was just a cool parlor trick that my grandparents loved showing off to their friends. As I grew older, some great teachers helped me see the value of a more thorough understanding of the past. My social studies teachers in high school, Jeff Jennings and Danielle Hugo, pushed me hard to make connections and explain my reasoning. When I took a class at my local community college, the late Bill Barto mesmerized me with his compelling lecture style and strong focus on narrative. At Houghton, Cameron Airhart ran the First Year Honors Program, where two dozen or so undergrads spent a semester of their freshman year abroad learning the gamut of Western history using the city of London as a resource. When you have such sharp, incisive mentors in your life, it’s hard not to want to emulate them. Once I learned that history wasn’t just facts—it could be debated, observed, touched, or turned into a story—I knew it was the career I wanted to pursue.

JF: What is your next project?

ML: After all this time in McGovernLand, I think I would like to work outside of my immediate field for a short while. My next project will explore the questions that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame raises for public history. I think that one of the great challenges of our time is the seeming contest between populism vs. intellectual expertise. Every year, music industry insiders nominate and induct a set of rock and roll artists, usually from a diverse range of subgenres that include R&B, rap, alternative, and even disco. And just as surely, every year rank-and-file rock and roll fans are angered that their favorite bands have been snubbed, believing in their hearts that it is a travesty that Grand Funk Railroad or Styx isn’t in the Hall. There is a very public debate over who controls rock and roll which taps into the anti-elitism that seems so rampant today. While some common themes do emerge, this is certainly a very different project from George McGovern and the Christian Left!

JF: Thanks, Mark! 

Why Didn’t Hillary Reach Out to White Evangelicals?

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Clinton at Messiah College in 2008

Two days before the 2016 presidential election I wrote a piece in the Harrisburg Patriot News titled “Here’s What Hillary Clinton Has To Do To Win Over Evangelicals.” In this piece I argued that Clinton has said very little to win over white evangelicals concerned with abortion and religious liberty.

My piece was written very late in the election cycle.  At the time I wrote it was clear that Clinton was not really trying to win over white evangelicals during the campaign.  As journalist Ruth Graham writes in a fascinating piece at Slate, Clinton seemed to almost ignore white evangelicals.

Here is a taste of Graham’s piece:

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama sat down for an interview during the primary with the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. He spoke about his conversion, his longtime church membership, and his belief in “the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He said abortion should be less common and that “those who diminish the moral elements of the decision aren’t expressing the full reality of it.” The interview was a valentine to evangelicals, and inside it read: “I’m listening.”

This election cycle, Christianity Today made multiple attempts to request an interview with Hillary Clinton, according to Kate Shellnutt, an editor there. The campaign never responded. Of course, campaigns turn down interview requests all the time. But the Clinton campaign was the only one that didn’t reply at all. And this wasn’t the only sign this year that the Democratic candidate had no interest in speaking to evangelical Christians. She spent little energy explaining her views on abortion to them and little time talking about religious freedom. She didn’t hire a full-time faith outreach director until June and had no one focused specifically on evangelical outreach. She didn’t give a major speech to the evangelical community and never met publicly with evangelical leaders. Religious publications reaching out to her campaign with questions were frequently met with silence. Some evangelical insiders are now asking: Why didn’t Hillary Clinton even try to get us to vote for her?

White evangelicals make up about one-quarter of the electorate, a huge group to ignore in an election that turned out to be won by very narrow margins in a handful of key states. In the end, according to exit polls, only 16 percent of that cohort voted for Clinton, compared with Obama’s 26 percent in 2008 and 20 percent in 2012. Trump’s share of the white evangelical vote, 81 percent, exceeded that of Mitt Romney in 2012 (78 percent), John McCain in 2008 (74 percent), and George W. Bush in 2004 (78 percent). “Not to have anyone reaching out to a quarter of the electorate is political malpractice,” the Obama campaign’s 2012 faith outreach director, Michael Wear, told me. Wear, whose book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned from the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America will be published in January, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post recently that argued that the “simple difference between Obama’s two presidential campaigns and Clinton’s 2016 campaign is that Obama asked for the votes of white evangelicals and Clinton did not.”

Read the entire post here.

Clinton campaign did not seem to learn anything from John Kerry’s failed 2004 presidential run.  In the wake of Kerry’s loss, the Democrats found religion. They turned to progressive evangelical Jim Wallis to help them develop a faith-based strategy.  Wallis, who had been toiling for faith-based progressive causes in relavative obscurity during the 1980s and 1990s, suddenly became a religious celebrity.  His 2005 book God’s Politics became a best-seller and unofficial blueprint for the Democratic appeal to religious voters.  During the 2008 primaries Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made appearances at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California and at Messiah College.  In 2008, Obama won nearly 25% of the evangelical vote.  No such forums took place in 2016.

Clinton’s failure to reach out to white evangelicals continues to baffle me, especially when this election was so close.

Ron Sider Endorses Hillary Clinton

siderI must have missed this when it was first published at Christianity Today last month. (Thanks to David Swartz for bringing it to my attention in the piece I blogged about last night).

Ronald Sider, perhaps the most well-known representative of the evangelical left, has endorsed Hillary Clinton president.  This is Sider’s first public endorsement of a candidate since he endorsed George McGovern in 1972.

Here is a taste of his endorsement:

So what about Clinton?

I have major disagreements with her. She and the Democratic platform are wrong on abortion—period. And I disagree with Clinton on gay marriage.

Further, I fear that Clinton will not retain the longstanding right (protected by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama) of faith-based organizations that receive government funding to hire on the basis of their beliefs. She is too close to Wall Street billionaires and made a serious mistake using private email servers as Secretary of State.

But there is also much to like about Clinton. She has a decades-long history of working hard for racial and economic justice. One of her earliest jobs was working as a lawyer at the black-led Children’s Defense Fund to improve the lives of poor children. At a time when racial injustice and mistrust threaten to tear the nation apart, her experience and trust in minority communities is invaluable.

Clinton realizes that lower-income Americans have lost ground in the past 30 years, and has advocated concrete policies to alleviate the growing divide between rich and poor. Her $350 billion college affordability program would help lower-income students afford higher education. Raising the minimum wage to $12 and tax cuts (15%) for companies that share profits with workers would help. According to officials at One Sure Insurance, her proposed expansion of health insurance to cover all Americans is surely pro-life.

Clinton has a realistic and just way to pay for these programs. The middle class would get a modest tax cut, while those with annual incomes over $5 million would have a 4-percent tax increase. She has promised to close tax loopholes that allow corporations to avoid their fair share of taxes. Warren Buffett supports Clinton, saying she would help poor working Americans. The independent, bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says Clinton’s plan would not add significantly to the national debt.

Read the entire endorsement, including Sider’s thoughts about Donald Trump, here.

David Swartz on the “Homeless” Evangelical Left

 

7b96a-swartzMost of the so-called evangelical left is theologically orthodox, progressive on economic issues, and pro-life (in a way that extends beyond just abortion). I think it is fair to say that the evangelical left is divided on the question of same-sex marriage, but mostly unified on the defense of religious liberty.

This, of course, often leaves those on the evangelical left without a political home.  David Swartz, writing at The Anxious Bench, captures this sense of homelessness quite well.  He also offers some great observations about his recent visit to a taping of the 700 Club in Virginia Beach.

Here is a taste:

And yet the evangelical left, at least as represented by the organizations and personalities that dominated in the 1980s and 1990s, has been rather impotent.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s difficult October helps explain why. The student ministry is roiled by controversy over same-sex marriage. Many more are still concerned about abortion. Despite being clearly progressive on #blacklivesmatter, poverty, and other non-sexual issues, many evangelicals have found themselves disqualified from participation on the left. At debate watch last week at my institution, evangelical students were tracking with Clinton—until she began defending partial-birth abortion. A conservative sexuality has left moderates politically homeless.

Where have all the pro-life Democrats gone? They’ve been bounced from the party. Doubling down, the Democratic Party doesn’t even use the language of “safe, legal, and rare” anymore. A triumphant celebration of rights supersedes any acknowledgement that abortion is a very sad and often tragic reality for all involved. There is no room for other narratives. There is no space for conversation.

They’re finishing the job started decades ago. As I described in Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, Democrats, who were arguably more pro-life than Republicans, in 1980 adopted an explicit pro-choice position and began to strictly enforce the new orthodoxy. Formerly pro-life, Ted Kennedy had declared to a Massachusetts constituent in 1971 that “wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized—the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” Within a decade, Kennedy reversed course. Other pro-life politicians with evangelical or Catholic backgrounds such as John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Mario Cuomo, Bob Kerrey, Dick Durbin, and Bill Clinton, also become leading defenders of the right to choose. In fact, five of the contenders for the Democratic nomination in 1988—Jesse Jackson, Joe Biden, Paul Simon, Dick Gephardt, and Al Gore—had flipped to a pro-choice position under party pressure.

This putsch, as political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio put it, poisoned many Christians’ perception of the Democratic Party. Regularly attending Catholics, a key constituency in the New Deal coalition, gradually but substantially left the Party. So did evangelicals. According to political scientist Lyman Kellstedt, the Democratic Party outpolled the Republican Party by a margin of 59 to 31 percent among evangelicals in the 1960s. By the mid-1980s, the Republican Party enjoyed a 47 to 41 percent lead. Evangelicals flocked to “God’s party” as the fault lines in the new realignment grew larger.

Read the entire post here.

Jimmy Carter for President!

Carter JCNo, this isnt’s some weird flashback from 1976 or 1980.  The title of my post comes from David Swartz’s recent piece at The Anxious Bench: “J.C. Can Save America.”  When Swartz, the author of Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, writes about evangelical Democrats, I pay attention.

In this post Swartz reminds that there was a time not too long ago when evangelicals mobilized for a Democratic candidate.  Here is a taste:

Before Ted Cruz and George W. Bush, evangelicals used identity politics to mobilize for a Democratic candidate. Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1970s, told a crowd of 15,000 that the nation needs “a born-again man in the White House . . . and his initials are the same as our Lord’s.” Supporters mass-produced posters and pins that read “J.C.,” “J.C. Will Save America,” “J.C. Can Save America,” and “Born Again Christian for Jimmy Carter.” One poster depicted Carter with long, flowing hair and dressed in biblical garb with the caption “J.C. Can Save America.”

Some of the hagiographical material surrounding Carter’s candidacy portrayed God and politician working in concert. “There is a sense of history in the making; a feeling that something mysterious and irresistible is at work behind the scenes,” wrote Bob Slosser in a book called The Miracle of Jimmy Carter (1973). God had engineered conditions “which seem to have worked together to bring [Carter] to this moment in history.” In fact, Carter and God communed regularly. “Carter often—in the midst of a conference or conversation—closed his eyes, put his fist under his chin, bowed his head slightly, and talked to the Lord for a few seconds while the conversation continued around him.” Such spiritual integrity, Slosser explained, gave the candidate special resources which could be used to reshape the nation. Slosser surmised that the election “could bring a spiritual revival to the United States and its government.”

As far as I know, Carter did not engineer this rhetoric. In fact I imagine that he would have seen it as theologically problematic. But his overenthusiastic supporters nonetheless designed initials and a ambiguous body on campaign ephemera insinuating that Jimmy Carter was a political surrogate for Jesus Christ himself.

Read the entire post here.

 

The Historiography of the Jesus People

jesuspeople2

Over at Religion & Politics, University of Tennessee religion professor Mark Hulsether examines several books on the Jesus People and the evangelical left.  He uses Shawn David Young’s Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock  as a way of framing his discussion.

Here is a taste:

Evangelical hippies in the 1970s were known for flashing their “one-way” sign—an index finger pointing upward that signaled an alternative to the counter-cultural peace sign and black power fist. Their gesture was quite often interpreted as approximate support for the moral agendas of Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” and the emerging Christian right. Shawn David Young’s book on the trajectories of Protestant youth culture, Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock, evokes such memories—but it also seeks to undermine the stereotype that these 1970s evangelicals were on a path toward buttoned-down conservatism. Young suggests that evangelicalism has been less like a one-way street leading to the right, and more like a street with two-way traffic, carrying many people leftward. Gray Sabbath features a full-scale commune, along with hard-core hippies who cleaned up their lives and became righteous social activists through Jesus People discipline—plus the world’s most influential rock festival (at least by evangelical standards). Most of this made its members gradually less, not more, conservative. We might ask, though, whether Young’s study is more than a groovy flashback to the 1970s. Can it really serve, as Young says, as a “counternarrative” that can “point to a new kind of evangelical”?

Talk of a counternarrative naturally provokes a question: counter to what? The common wisdom presumes that evangelicals have been groomed to fight on the right flank of emerging culture wars. It assumes there is a spectrum from the Christian right at the conservative end, through progressive evangelicals and mainline Protestants in the center, shading toward the recent growth of “nones,” or people who do not claim a religious affiliation. Common wisdom also takes for granted strong boundaries between mainstream liberal Protestantism (typically assumed to be in decline during these years) and evangelicals, including those drifting leftward. The story of Jesus People USA (JPUSA) is both fascinating on its own terms and illuminating because it unsettles these assumptions.

JPUSA emerged when two veterans of the West Coast Jesus People scene formed a Milwaukee commune with a touring music ministry. (JPUSA’s Rez Band became the Led Zeppelin of early CCM—its hard rock innovator.) Their group grew large enough to split in 1972, and eventually a splinter led by John and Dawn Herrin put down roots on the north side of Chicago, where it began an active social ministry. Eventually they acquired an old hotel, which they used for living space and low-income housing for the elderly. JPUSA generated income from several businesses, notably a roofing company, and ran a homeless shelter and soup kitchen. In 1989 they became a congregation and de facto mission project of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Young follows JPUSA to the present, thriving long after kindred communes folded. He contends that its outward-looking service orientation and a strong but not-overly-rigid organizational structure were keys to its success. The group came to occupy a political and theological position that may seem anomalous. On most socio-political issues the group skewed left-of-center, with a partial exception for abortion, but it maintained relatively conservative evangelical teachings. As everyone knows, the most famous evangelicals since Nixon’s time have favored a conservative populist stance harnessed to voting Republican. Many scholars have argued that conservative Christian groups like the Calvary Chapel movement or Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ recruited youth into ranks of the Christian right. However, Young presents JPUSA as an exception to this rule. For him, JPUSA blurs the lines between evangelical conservatism and other kinds of Protestantism. Young writes of the Jesus People finding “their way to a political middle ground—the gray space between black and white”—hence the title of the book. 

Read the entire piece here.

David Swartz Puts the InterVarsity Support of #blacklivesmatter in Historical Perspective

Urbana

Tom Skinner @ Urbana, 1970

Last week we did a post on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s recent embrace of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

Over at The Anxious Bench, David Swartz, the author of Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatismhas provided some historical context to this development.

Here is a taste:

Missing from the breathless reporting (one critic titled his piece “Dorothy, This Is Not Your Parents’ InterVarsity Anymore”) on Urbana ’15 was a sense of historical perspective. As I’ve written about at length in my book Moral Minority, InterVarsity in fact has a long tradition of social activism. In 1967, for example, students drafted a resolution complaining that “there are no black men in leadership positions on the national staff.” Following Urbana ‘67, InterVarsity’s magazine wrote that very little “escaped criticism at the convention. … Anything that seemed to show intolerance came under their indictment, with impatience toward racism leading the list.”

At Urbana ‘70 the funky strains of Soul Liberation, a band of black musicians wearing afros, colorful outfits, and African symbols, welcomed attendees. The mostly white audience hesitated at first, unsure of what to make of “Power to the People,” a song full of idioms from the emerging Black Power movement. But the swell of students soon rose to its feet to sing and clap along, delighted by the radical departure from the usual hymns.

Tom Skinner, a black evangelist, then rose to deliver the evening sermon, a searing critique of racial prejudice in American society. Cheered on by over 500 black students who had arrived early to secure seats right in front of the podium, Skinner preached, “You soon learn that the police in the black communities become nothing more than the occupational force in the black community for the purpose of maintaining the interests of white society. … You soon learn that what they mean by law and order is all the order for us and all the law for them.”

Echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., Skinner contended that the white evangelical moderate remained strangely silent. “Christians supported the status quo, supported slavery, supported segregation.” “Even today, evangelicals “go back to their suburban communities and vote for their law-and-order candidates who will keep the system the way it is.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Shawn Young

Shawn Young is Assistant Professor of Music at York College of Pennsylvania. This interview is based on his new book, Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock (Columbia University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Gray Sabbath?

SY: The book was a new version of my doctoral dissertation.  My interest in the topic developed after attending this community’s music festival. My wife actually introduced me to the event. 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Gray Sabbath?

SY: The collective embrace of liminality is the driving force behind communal structure and success.  This group accepted a certain amount of ambiguity and, in doing so, was able to tamper with a number of cultural assumptions often associated with both evangelical Christianity and contemporary Christian music.

JF: Why do we need to read Gray Sabbath?

SY: Given the continuance of the so-called culture wars (and as we approach a new election cycle that will most certainly be defined by religious ideology), it is important for readers to add to their understanding of the unmistakable connections between cultural production (in this case, music), religious belief, and political identity. 

JF: When and why did you decide to study American music history?

SY: My interest in music developed when I was around the age of eight, first with the music of The Beatles, then with the band Kiss. In high school I was a band geek (trumpet and bass guitar), I marched in Drum and Bugle Corps, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Band, where I performed for about five years.  After my enlistment I volunteered for my uncle, who own a Christian concert production/promotion company.  As a fan of contemporary Christian music (CCM) I welcomed the opportunity to carry equipment and rub elbows with my heroes.  

When I was in college I played in a number of rock and jazz groups, completed an internship in the Nashville CCM scene, then met my wife, who formed a new band with me and introduced me to the Cornerstone Music Festival.  After college (and after working for a local church, a record label, and MARS Music Inc.) I was hired by Greenville College (academic home to the CCM group Jars of Clay), where I taught coursework in CCM.

I suppose my interest in American music history is a synthesis of various stages in my life, not the least of which was my ongoing connection to this industry and its various subcultural expressions. 

JF: What is your next project?

SY: I’m currently working on a cultural history of rock & roll, which will be a student textbook.  The next major work of scholarship will likely involve something about Army music
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JF: Thanks, Shawn!

And thanks to Abby Blakeney for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner