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

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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

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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


The New Republic Asks: "Will the Evangelical Left Rise Again?"

Elizabeth Stoker Bruening’s piece on the Evangelical left provides a nice overview of the progressive wing of evangelical Christianity.  The title is a bit deceiving, since she does not really attempt to answer this question.  So let me ask it again, “Will the Evangelical left rise again?”

Sometimes I feel many progressive evangelicals tend to look back longingly and nostalgically on three main periods of American religious history:

1.  Antebellum America:  This was a time when Evangelicals were on the cutting edge of social justice issues such as abolitionism and women’s rights.  (Of course there were also a lot of Evangelicals who were not in favor of abolitionism or women’s rights–it would be interesting to know the demographics here).

2.  The Progressive Era: A time when some Evangelicals were concerned about social Christianity in the context of industrialization.

3.  The 1970s:  The era when Carter brought together a coalition of “born-again” Christians concerned with some progressive issues.

Sometimes I wonder if the longing to reclaim the spirit of these eras is the mirror image of the longing for a Christian founding usually associated with the Religious Right.

We are all in search of a useable past–a past that inspires us to move forward in the present.  We just look for it in different places.

The New "Books and Culture" is Here

I just got my copy in the mail today.  I immediately read the following two reviews:

Eric Miller’s review of Peter Hales’s Outside the Gates of Eden: The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now.  Miller writes:

However [John] Winthrop may hover over Hales’ story, his own vision and hope are most decisively inspired by the classic Emersonian ideals: the spontaneous discovery of an inward connection to a greater reality; a harmonic convergence of self and society; above all, a religious confidence that The Self Knows, and that our true enemy is the enemy of the self.  Will these ideals be enough to save us from the mighty surges of history Hales with such acuity uncovers?  Many of us, still poised at that watchtower, listening to that howling wind, find ourselves looking for rescue from another direction.  Still: Read this book

Todd Ream and Drew Moser’s review of Randall Balmer’s Redeemer; The Life of Jimmy Carter. Ream and Moser write:

Redeemer is a biography of Jimmy Carter that has little to do with Jimmy Carter in critical places. As the story advances, it reads at times more like an account of the rise of the Moral Majority in evangelical America, with Carter cast as an almost accidental antagonist.  The book’s epigraph sketches its narrative and theological arc and its fundamentally ironic perspective: He came unto his own, and his own received him not, John 1:11 (King James Version).”  But Balmer’s irony isn’t calculated to elicit cheap sneers; it grows out of the tangle of American history.  And if his book isn’t entirely satisfying as a biography, he does succeed–in contrast to previous biographers–in rightly portraying Jimmy Carter’s Christianity as the driving force behind his political and personal life

We did an interview with Balmer last week about this book.

I am sure these reviews will appear soon on the B&C website.  Stay tuned.

I should also add that there is an ad on page 18 for the 29th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History to be held on September 25-27 at Pepperdine University.  Learn more about the conference here.  Though the ad does not provide details, and the conference program has not been released, I can spill some of the beans and let you know that the following historians/authors/friends of this blog will be speaking in various capacities over the course of the weekend: Charles Marsh, Daniel Williams, Lendol Calder, Allen Guelzo, John Wigger, Jim LaGrand, Colleen McDannel, Thomas Albert Howard, Margaret Bendroth, Beth Barton Schweiger, Jay Case, Eric Miller, Chris Gehrz, Jonathan Den Hartog, Timothy Hall, Christopher Shannon, Darren Dochuk, Mark Noll, Molly Worthen, David Bebbington, Shirley Mullen, Jana Riess, Mike Kugler, Randall Stephens, Ed Blum, Randall Balmer, Jonathan Yeager, Bill Trollinger, Tracy McKenzie, Brad Gundlach, Warren Throckmorton, Paul Contino, John Wilson, Don Yerxa, and Wilfred McClay.

See you in Malibu.

The Author’s Corner with Randall Balmer

Randall Balmer is Mandel Family Professor in the Arts & Sciences and Chair of the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College. This interview is based on his forthcoming book, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter (Basic Books, May 2014).

JF: What led you to write Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter?

RB: I was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Deerfield, when Jimmy Carter emerged onto the national stage. Like many evangelicals, especially those reared within the evangelical subculture, I was astonished to hear a politician speak unapologetically about being a “born again” Christian. It was a bracing moment, especially for someone who was considering a bid for elective office someday (I actually ran for a seat in the Connecticut legislature in 2004). Mark Hatfield was a hero of mine, of course, especially because of his advocacy for progressive evangelicalism, and I served as an intern for John B. Anderson and the House Republican Conference in 1975. But Carter’s boldness about his faith made a deep impression on me.

It’s axiomatic among historians that history is written by victors, but I’ve always been drawn to the underside of those triumphalist narratives. My first book was an account of the Dutch Reformed Church in the decades following the English Conquest of New Netherland in 1664, and when I first started writing about evangelicalism, evangelicals were hardly culturally ascendant, although they were beginning to make a bid for cultural and political power.

Jimmy Carter, following his bruising political defeat in 1980, is not generally seen as a victor, although his activities since leaving the White House have burnished his reputation considerably. But I’ve always been drawn to his story, replete as it is with the evangelical tropes of striving, success, failure, and redemption. In purely historical terms, the narrative is quite remarkable—coming out of political obscurity to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency in 1976 with his grassroots campaign. In doing so, by the way, he rid his party—and the nation—of its most notorious segregationist, George C. Wallace of Alabama, by beating Wallace in the Florida Democratic primary. I don’t think that Carter has ever received sufficient credit for that.

I’d been batting about the idea for a biography of Carter for several decades, but I always found reasons to delay, in part because I didn’t have an angle on the project. I did research at the Carter Center and the presidential libraries of Reagan and Ford. I also did archival work at Liberty University and Bob Jones University, but the most important work I did was in Paul Weyrich’s papers, which (improbably enough) are held at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. My findings there allowed me, finally, to demonstrate beyond all doubt that the genesis of the Religious Right had nothing to do with the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

Even with all of this research, the book itself remained elusive. I remember that I sat down at Thanksgiving 2012 and considered seriously the possibility of abandoning the project altogether. After a bit more dithering, I simply started writing; an entire draft emerged about six weeks later. Writing is how I think.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter?

RB: Redeemer argues that Jimmy Carter rode to the presidency on the twin currents of his reputation as a “New South” governor and a brief recrudescence of progressive evangelicalism as articulated in the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern. As president, he sought to govern by those lights—and was, to a remarkable degree, successful in doing so—although many of the same evangelicals who supported him in 1976 turned rabidly against him four years later.

JF: Why do we need to read Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter?

RB: Redeemer is the first biography of the thirty-ninth president of the United States to take his faith seriously as a way of understanding Carter and the religiously turbulent times in which he lived.

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

RB: The short answer is that I was profoundly influenced by two historians at Trinity College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: Douglas Frank and John D. Woodbridge, respectively, both of who remain friends to this day. For the longer answer, I’d have to take you along on automobile trips we took as a family when I was growing up as a preacher’s kid. My father, a pastor for forty years in the Evangelical Free Church, would plan our vacations around the denomination’s annual conference at different venues throughout North America. In mid-June every summer, we would pile into the family sedan (my father despised station wagons) and head off from southern Minnesota to Denver or Wisconsin or from Bay City, Michigan, to Ocean Grove, New Jersey, for the annual conference. In 1970, I recall, the sedan carried my parents and all five sons, pulling a travel trailer from Des Moines across the Rockies to Seattle and back. I loved those trips. I would look out the window and watch the landscape scrolling by hour after hour. I became enchanted with America and all of its regional diversity.

JF: What is your next project?

RB: Twenty-five years ago, I published a book entitled Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. This summer (2014), Oxford University Press will release the fifth edition of that book, with a new chapter (Latino evangelicals) and an afterword that provides an update on many of the people and the places I wrote about in the previous editions. Beyond that, I’m planning to collaborate with my son, Christian, on a film documentary about Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska. Finally, my wife, the estimable Catharine Randall, and I are working on a biography of a fascinating turn-of-the-twentieth-century Canadian woman who was a spiritualist, a journalist, a labor organizer, a women’s rights activist, an entrepreneur, an environmentalist, and a fan of Walt Whitman.

JF: Thanks Randall!

Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author’s Corner

Schrag Lecture Recap

David Swartz

David Swartz’s Schrag Lecture on Thursday night was very well-received by the 70+ members in attendance in Messiah College‘s Alexander Auditorium. Swartz’s lecture, “Anabaptists, Evangelicals, and the Search for a Third Way in Post-War America,” focused on some of the main themes of his book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.  Swartz talked extensively about how the so-called “Evangelical Left,” represented by Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Doris Longacre (author of the More-With-Less Cookbook), John Howard Yoder and others, struggled to navigate a middle ground between the Christian nationalism and free market principles of the Religious Right and the secularism and pro-choice stance of the Democratic Party in the 1970s.  

The audience was filled with people interested in the history of Messiah College, Anabaptism, evangelicalism, and the Brethren in Christ Church.  Their questions focused on the relationship between the Evangelical Left and the largely secular New Left, the role that the Internet is playing in strengthening the followers of the “third way,” and how many evangelical pastors such as Bruxy Cavey and Greg Boyd are either finding a home in Anabaptism or seriously considering moving in that direction.
It was fascinating to chat informally with some members of the audience after the lecture.  So many of them had lived through the early days of the Evangelical Left.  They followed Jim Wallis and the Post-American (later Sojourners) community, supported Ronald Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action, or used the More With Less Cookbook.  They had come to hear Swartz, a young historian from Asbury College, treat their 1970s evangelical world as a subject worthy of historical investigation.  It was a great night.
My comments were brief.  I wondered aloud what role Catholic Social Teaching might have played in the thinking of the Evangelical Left.  I also noted, borrowing from James Davison Hunter, that it appeared that the Religious Right and the Evangelical Left were both trying to “change the world” through politics.  In other words, they both wanted to create their own version of a “Christian nation.”  I also wondered what role Messiah College played in the Evangelical Left.  Ron Sider wrote his famous Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger while he was directing the Messiah College Philadelphia campus.  How did the administration of a very apolitical Anabaptist school like Messiah College handle Sider’s willingness to use politics as a means of social change?
It was great to finally meet David Swartz.  I am so glad that Devin Manzullo-Thomas, the director of the Sider Institute, invited him to deliver this year’s Schrag Lectures on Anabaptism.  Both of them hit a home run on Thursday night and I was glad to be a part of it.

David Swartz at Messiah College: TONIGHT

If you are in the south-central Pennsylvania area tonight stop by Messiah College to hear Asbury University historian David Swartz deliver the Schrag Lecture, an annual lecture on Anabaptism sponsored by the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies.  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know Swartz for his outstanding book, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age Conservatism.

I am a big fan of Swartz’s work.  A year or two ago I read his Notre Dame dissertation, “Left Behind: The Evangelical Left and the Limits of Evangelical Politics, 1965-1988” (love the title!) when I was working on an essay on evangelical political engagement.  I started reading Moral Minority last year and finished it last night.  Since I am responding to Swartz’s talk tonight, I do not want to give too much away here, but I will say that this was one of the most interesting and engaging monographs I have read in the last year.

Swartz’s talk is entitled “Anabaptists, Evangelicals, and the Search for a Third Way in Post-War America.”  The lecture will be held at 8pm in Alexander Auditorium (Frey 110).  Don’t miss it!

Gasaway Interviews Swartz on the History of the Evangelical Left

When I think of the historiography of the evangelical left in American religion and politics, I think of David Swartz and Brantley Gasaway.  Swartz teaches history at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky and he is the author of Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.  Gasaway teaches religion at Bucknell University and is the author of a forthcoming study of the evangelical left with University of North Carolina Press.

Over at Religion in American History, Gasaway interviews Swartz on his new book.  In part one of the interview, their conversation ranges from evangelical historiography to how Swartz chose his topic for research.  Here is a taste:

Brantley Gasaway (BG): Many people are interested in how authors come to study their subjectstell us what led you to write about the evangelical left. 

David Swartz (DS): Like any enterprising graduate student slogging through comprehensive exam lists, I was on the lookout for a gap in the scholarship of American religious history—and archival materials to exploit that gap. When I read a piece by progressive evangelical activist Ron Sider online suggesting that some “enterprising graduate student” take a look at the Evangelicals for Social Action archives, I knew immediately that I had a project. 

On a more personal level, this project was an attempt to figure out my own parents (history is ultimately autobiography, right?). They had grown up in the 1970s. They ran a pretty egalitarian marriage.
They sang “They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love” during worship services and would have been dismayed by an American flag in the church sanctuary. I ate food my mother (and father!) cooked out of More-with-Less, a cookbook with lots of vegetarian recipes. And I knew many like them, church-goers who were not comfortable with the idea of American as a Christian nation, a budget that prioritized the military over poverty, a punitive criminal justice system, and the like. And yet they shared their faith and lived out the kind of warm piety so common among evangelicals. This was an idiosyncratic combination that I never read about in news reports and scholarly books. I was curious about how typical they were—and why they seemed so marginalized in the public eye.

Moral Minority

David Swartz put it best at his blog: “The first review is in–and it’s a big one.” 

Yes indeed. 

David’s book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Lefts in an Age of Conservatism is reviewed in this weekend’s New York Times Sunday Book Review.  Here is a taste of Molly Worthen’s review:

So why did the evangelical left seem to dissolve into irrelevance? Swartz argues that evangelicals’ mass enlistment in the conservative Republicanism of the “culture wars” was not the inevitable consequence of doctrine or history: Jesus did not leave behind a clear party platform. But while members of the Christian right set aside doctrinal differences to rally around a shared cultural agenda, the left fell victim to internal identity politics and theological disputes. Black and female evangelicals argued that the left’s leadership was too white and too male. Anabaptists who emphasized nonviolence clashed with Reformed evangelicals who had ambitious plans to transform American culture. Meanwhile, secular liberals, eager to make abortion rights a nonnegotiable plank of the Democratic platform, drove anti-abortion Christians into the arms of savvy Republicans.
Progressive evangelicals tried to halt this migration: “The energy of the pro-life movement must be removed from the ideological agenda of the New Right,” Wallis warned in 1980. As conservatives transformed the fight against abortion from a “Catholic issue” into the defining battle of the culture wars, Wallis and others countered with another idea borrowed from Catholics, the “consistent life ethic” opposing poverty, war and the death penalty as well as abortion. Yet left-wing evangelicals’ measured arguments were no match for cries that abortion is murder and family values are under siege. It seems they were not so mainstream after all: efforts at fund-raising fell flat, and by the mid-’80s half of the subscriptions to Wallis’s magazine, Sojourners, went to Catholics.
Congratulations, David.

David Swartz on Pro-Life Democrats

I am really looking forward to reading David Swartz‘s forthcoming book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservativism.

In a recent post at his blog, Swartz reflects historically on the Democratic Party’s recent decision to reject “differing positions” on abortion.  Here is a small snippet from his book:

As President Carter soon discovered, insurgent resolve launched the Party on a new pro-choice trajectory. Calling abortion “wrong” and explaining that Roe v. Wade was “one instance where my own beliefs were in conflict with the laws of this country,” Carter’s equivocations on abortion offended growing numbers on the political left. Pro-choice feminists denounced the Democrats’ official 1976 platform that recognized “the legitimacy of both pro-life and pro-choice views.” They condemned Carter’s support of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited most Medicaid payments for abortion. They resented the fact that devout, pro-life Catholic Joseph A. Califano, Carter’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, enforced the Amendment strictly. Presidential assistant Margaret Costanza fielded an extraordinary number of phone calls from public interest groups, the public, and even other White House staff members “expressing concern and even anger” over Carter’s position. Costanza urged Carter to reconsider. The President wrote a stark “no” on her written request, adding that his public statement was “actually more liberal than I feel personally.” Costanza, in turn, called a protest meeting of nearly 40 high-level pro-choice female members of the administration in July 1977. Carter did not yield, and Costanza eventually resigned. In 1980 Democrats adopted an explicit pro-choice position and strictly enforced 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.

The Historiography of the Religious Left

Ray Haberski is looking for the historiography of the religious left.  It is coming, Ray! 

In the next few years two young American religious historians will be releasing important books about the religious left.  I am happy to say that both of them are friends of this blog.

David Swartz of Asbury University will strike first.  (Or maybe I shouldn’t use such military metaphors for books on the religious left).  His book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism will be out with the University of Pennsylvania Press in September.

After you read Swartz’s book, check out the forthcoming study of progressive evangelicalism from Bucknell University’s Brantley Gassaway.  I don’t have a working title, but it will appear with the University of North Carolina Press in 2013.

I should also add that the picture above is from a December 2005 march on Capitol Hill to protest budget cuts that will hurt the poor.  It includes Tony Perkins, Jim Wallis, Mary Nelson, and Ron Sider.  The guy on the left holding the “Budgets Are Moral Documents” sign is Ron Tilley, a local Harrisburg evangelical activist and a pastor who I went to college and divinity school with.

The History and Future of the Evangelical Left

David Swartz, a history professor at Asbury University (KY), is one of our foremost authorities on the evangelical left.  His book Left Behind: Progressive Evangelicals in an Age of Conservatism will be out sometime this year.  In the meantime, check out his recent article in Society entitled “The Evangelical Left and the Future of Social Conservatism.”  Here is a taste:

In 1970 Mark Hatfield, a U.S. senator from Oregon, noted
critic of the Vietnam conflict, and an evangelical, gave the
commencement address at Fuller Theological Seminary in
Pasadena, California. Expecting to find seminarians who
viewed war in Vietnam as a holy cause against godlessness
and communism, Hatfield was shocked by shows of
solidarity with his own dovish stance. During the processional,
students in the balcony unfurled a banner that read,
“We’re with you, Mark.” Two-thirds of the seminary
graduates marching forward to receive their diplomas wore
black armbands over their gowns in protest against the war.
Hatfield, co-author of the Hatfield-McGovern Amendment
to end the Vietnam War, wrote later that for the first time he
sensed that “there were countless evangelicals, who
because of their faith in Christ, could not condone the
immoral and barbarian violence our nation was inflicting
throughout Indochina.”
 

Imagine Hatfield—a liberal Republican, an antiwar
evangelical, a pro-life and pro-welfare environmentalist—
surviving in today’s political climate. In the 1960s and
1970s Hatfield not only survived, but he flourished. He
never lost an election after high school and served in the
U.S. Senate for over 30 years. It seems surprising now,
given the ascendance of the religious right in the 1980s, but
there were many evangelicals who, like the senator, were
pro-life on abortion, antiwar on Vietnam, internationalist in
diplomacy, and pro-government intervention on poverty….


…We would do well to remember Hatfield and his cohort
as we consider the increasingly fragmented, amorphous,
and fluid nature of contemporary conservatism. The
evangelical left reminds us that social conservatism is an
unstable construct whose political and moral commitments
change over time—and that evangelicals, one of its primary
constituencies, are likewise culturally and politically ambivalent.
On one hand, younger Americans are more pro-life on
abortion, one of the typical measures of social conservatism.
On the other hand, younger Americans increasingly support
gay marriage and seem to be elevating economics above
traditionalist morality. The old categories—social conservative
opposition to civil marriage, biological intervention in
young and old life, economic regulation, and the privatization of religion–do not seem to hold.