“Give it up. You have Trump derangement syndrome. Start writing about something else.”

I often get asked something like this: “Why do you waste your time writing about Trump’s court evangelicals?” Or angrier people say this to me: “Give it up. You have Trump derangement syndrome. Start writing about something else.” I get several e-mails a week from people who feel the need to tell me these things.

These are fair questions/observations. I, of course, am no Trump fan. I think he is bad for the nation and the church. My book Believe Me covers this and my blog serves as a form of anti-Trump criticism.

But what I do here is also related to my calling as an American historian. Historians serve society in many ways. Sometimes we write new interpretations of well-known events. At other times we shed light on characters whose stories have yet to be told. Occasionally historians write magisterial accounts of the past that change the way we think about the world. And, of course, we teach people about the past and how to think historically.

And every now and then historians serve society by documenting, curating, and describing what happened in the past so that we have a record upon which future historians–maybe even this historian–can build. This dimension of the historian’s vocation is needed more than ever in the age of Trump.

As Harvard historian Jill Lepore wrote recently in a Washington Post op-ed:

In the aftermath of the Trump administration…the need for a full and accurate historical record will be especially great. There is every reason to fear that the administration will destroy the evidence of its malfeasance and incompetence, especially its abuses of human rights, its violations of the Constitution, and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Does Lepore’s concern apply to the story of evangelicals in the age of Trump? I doubt any Trump evangelicals are destroying documents, but one day people will need to remember what evangelicals did and said between 2015 and 2020.

I hope my blog might serve as a record for future historians writing about evangelicalism during the Trump ascendency. Sometimes it is good to have this stuff all in one place. For example, when I wrote The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society I benefited immensely from mid-20th-century church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette‘s notes on his unfinished history of the American Bible Society.

I hope people will read my court evangelical posts as both a form of criticism and a kind of public notetaking. Maybe one day someone will find my posts helpful as they try to make sense of the Trump presidency.

I love being a historian. Throughout my career I have tried to practice my vocation in as many ways as possible: teaching, writing monographs, writing trade books, writing textbooks, blogging, tweeting, working with teachers, YouTube videos, podcasting, public speaking, reviewing, and consulting. And right now the historian’s call to document, curate, and describe (with perhaps a little criticism thrown-in for good measure 🙂 ) feels right.

A Trump supporter is the new president of the Evangelical Theological Society

From the website of the Evangelical Theological Society:

Founded in 1949, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) is a group of scholars, teachers, pastors, students, and others dedicated to the oral exchange and written expression of theological thought and research. The ETS is devoted to the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Society publishes a quarterly journal, the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), an academic periodical featuring peer reviewed articles, as well as extended book reviews, in the biblical and theological disciplines. ETS also holds national and regional meetings across the United States and in Canada.

Yesterday Al Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and a Trump voter, was elected president of the organization.

Here is a press release from Southern seminary:

Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler was elected president of the Evangelical Theological Society Thursday during the organization’s 72nd annual meeting. Due to the pandemic, the meeting of evangelical scholars met virtually this week. The meeting was originally scheduled to meet in Providence, Rhode Island.

Previously, Mohler had served as vice president of ETS, having been elected to that office during the 2018 annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.

“I am deeply honored to serve as president of the Evangelical Theological Society,” Mohler said. “As a young evangelical, I came to respect and admire this society for its identity as a society of evangelical theologians that would demonstrate the highest quality of theological and biblical scholarship.”

“Formed by men of the stature of Carl F. H. Henry and others, this has been the central point of scholarly conversation for evangelicals in the United States for well over half a century. I’ve been pleased to serve as an officer of the society and I’m now very honored to be its president.”

Mohler is the third member of the Southern Seminary faculty to serve as ETS president in the past 11 years. Bruce Ware—T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology— served in that role in 2009 and Tom Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament, was elected in 2014. Gregg Allison, professor of Christian Theology, is the current secretary of ETS.

“Southern Seminary has had a deep and abiding commitment to ETS and leadership roles in the society as seen by the fact that several of our faculty members have also served as president and each annual meeting sees dozens of our faculty and students presenting important papers defining and defending conservative evangelical scholarship,” Mohler said.

Serving in ETS leadership is an important stewardship, Mohler said, because of the way the society helps frame the conversation among conservative evangelicals. It is vital that ETS continue to promote scholarship built upon the inerrancy of Scripture and a commitment to biblical orthodoxy, he said.

“It’s important to realize the Evangelical Theological Society is first and foremost a society of evangelical theologians, not merely a society devoted to interest in American evangelicalism. It is a confessional society in which every member must annually affirm a commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture.”

Southern Seminary has seen its role in ETS grow virtually every year over the past decade. This year, many SBTS professors and students presented academic papers on a wide range of topics and Ayman Ibrahim, Bill and Connie Jenkins Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, delivered one of the society’s keynote addresses. The 2020 theme was Christianity and Islam.

“In recent decades the ETS has been a forum for the discussing and debating some of the biggest controversies in contemporary evangelical theology from the openness of God to questions of the nature of the Trinity and the shape of biblical ethics.

“This kind of conversation is sure to continue and it will be vitally important that the society maintain its evangelical convictions and not allow itself to become an amorphous collection of scholars who merely claim some kind of evangelical identity. At the same time the strength of the ETS and the size of its membership and exploding participation in its annual meetings points to the vigor and theological vitality found among American evangelicals and for that we must be most grateful.”

Anyone who studies American evangelicalism will not be surprised that a Trump voter could ascend to this position. But it does speak volumes about the current state of this movement.

Evangelical doctors and dentists say those who hold large gatherings are selfish

Christian doctors and dentists are saying that Christians who continue to hold large gatherings “appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don’t care that we may be contributing to others getting illness because of our selfishness.”

Here is Sarah McCammon at National Public Radio:

As coronavirus cases spike, a national group that represents thousands of evangelical Christian doctors and other healthcare providers is asking churches to stop holding services in person.

In a statement provided to NPR, titled, “A Plea to Our Churches,” leaders of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations say that Christians who persist in holding large gatherings at this time could “appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don’t care that we may be contributing to others getting this illness because of our selfishness.”

Churches in several states have violated local rules or filed lawsuits claiming that coronavirus restrictions that limit in-person gatherings violate their religious rights.

The Christian Medical & Dental Associations statement asks congregations to consider meeting online until the current surge is over. The organization had previously urged churches to obey authorities who’ve implemented coronavirus restrictions.

The statement, prepared for release on behalf of the group’s 20,000 members nationwide, also says that the group is “saddened to learn not only that many churches have ignored our guidelines but that congregants have become infected with SARS-CoV-2 as a result of those decisions.”

Read the rest here.

Why is Amy Coney Barrett’s Christian faith off limits, but Raphael Warnock’s Christian faith is fair game?

Conservative news websites are freaking-out because Georgia senate candidate Raphael Warnock decried the “moral bankruptcy” of the American church for supporting Donald Trump in such large numbers.

Watch this 2016 speech at Howard University:

He is right. I hope Georgia elects him to the United States Senate.

Conservatives are also upset about remarks Warnock made about militarism.

Jack Holmes of Esquire makes a great point when he asks why Amy Coney Barrett’s faith is “off-limits,” but Warnock’s faith is “fair game.” Here is a taste:

We saw this ahead of the nomination hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, when Republicans got pre-outraged about potential Democratic questioning that might probe Barrett’s religious faith—including her membership in People of Praise, a Catholic group with rituals and traditions thatfall outside mainstream Church practice. Senator Dianne Feinstein blundered her way through some questioning on this front during hearings on Barrett’s appointment to an appeals court in 2017, but there was virtually no Democratic probing here this time around, surely at least in part because the pre-outrage was so intense. This stuff works.

Among the early outrage merchants was Senator Marco Rubio, who issued a statement on September 26 that was preemptively indignant. “Sadly, I expect my Democratic colleagues and the radical left to do all they can to assassinate her character and once again make an issue of her faith during her confirmation process,” he said. Assassination by radicals! That does sound bad. Questioning someone’s fitness for public office based on their religious beliefs is completely unacceptable, you see. It shouldn’t factor into how you assess their candidacy at all. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, who offered some thoughts on Wednesday regarding Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate in one of Georgia’s two upcoming Senate runoff elections.

Never mind that what Warnock is saying appears to be an adaptation of the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus Christ, a guy who never was big on militarism. And never mind that Warnock can often be found speaking from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, once home to Martin Luther King, Jr., who himself said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Read the entire piece here.

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley says Trump evangelicals have hurt the church’s ability to reach people outside the church

Andy Stanley is the pastor of one of the largest evangelical churches in the country. Here is a taste of Emma Green’s article on him at The Atlantic:

In the gospels, Jesus calls on his followers to go out, teach his message, and baptize people. Stanley has organized his life around this imperative, called “the Great Commission.” The question for evangelicals, now, is whether the undeniable association between Trump and their version of Christianity will make that work harder. “Has this group of people who have somehow become ‘evangelical leaders’” aligned with Trump “hurt the church’s ability to reach people outside the church? Absolutely,” Stanley said. But he’s not overly worried: A year or two from now, he said, “all that goes away.” New leaders will rise up. The Trump era of evangelical history will fade. Stanley chuckled. “And this will just be, for a lot of people, a bad dream.”

And this:

At least on Fox News and at Trump rallies, these figures have been granted the authority to speak for the whole of the evangelical world. And yet their version of Christianity only reflects one corner of the wildly diverse expanse of evangelicalism, which includes roughly one-quarter of the American population. Trump’s advisers are “not evangelical leaders. They’re evangelicals who have had their status elevated because they hang around and get invited to the White House,” Stanley said. “Those people were virtually in the marketplace, unknown, until all this happened.” It’s not that Stanley isn’t the kind of evangelical Trump would want by his side. The pastor just didn’t want any part of it. Hang around the White House for too long, “and the next thing you know, you think you’re somebody,” he said. “I just don’t have any business getting sucked into that.”

Read the entire piece here.

If you want an illustration of the fractured nature of evangelical politics right now consider the Graham family

Billy Graham’s children and grandchildren are split over Franklin Graham’s ardent support for Donald Trump. Both sides of this debate are claiming the legacy of the family patriarch. Here is Tom Feidler’s piece at The Charlotte Observer:

Aram [Tchividjian, Graham’s grandson] and Jerushah [Duford, Graham’s grandaughter and Aram’s brother] concede that their criticisms make them outliers in both the extended Graham family and among many evangelicals. Their mother, Gigi, staunchly supported both Trump and Franklin. His daughter, Cissie Graham Lynch, was among the speakers at the Republican National Convention heaping praise on the president and vilifying the Democratic candidates. “The Biden-Harris vision for America leaves no room for people of faith,” she said in painting a dystopian portrait of the nation if Democrats gain control. (She didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article).

But Jerushah said she has private support from other cousins who have thanked her for speaking out while they feel they cannot. And she said she is confident that her positions on such issues as gay rights, the treatment of refugees and respect for “the most marginalized” are those that not only resonate with the future generation, but that align with those of her grandfather.

“I have spoken out as much as I have because I feel that some of these evangelical leaders are tarring (Christianity) with shame,” she said, in a pointed reference to her uncle. “People who don’t know Jesus are not being introduced by the leadership to the Jesus I know.”

Read the entire piece here.

Gordon College students hold a sit-in protest to call attention to a racist incident on campus

Students walk through campus at Gordon College during the Spring on 2016. Photo by Mark Spooner, courtesy of Gordon College

On November 1, 2020, a pro-Black Lives Matter T-shirt sitting on a Gordon College residence hall laundry room table was defaced with a racist slur. Gordon is an evangelical liberal arts college in Wenham, Massachusetts.

Michael Gryboski has the story at The Christian Post. Here is a taste:

A group of some 100 students at Gordon College held a sit-in on campus in response to a racial incident involving a defaced T-shirt, with organizers arguing that not enough is being done to ensure African American students feel safe at the Massachusetts Christian institution. 

The student group, All For Reclaiming Our Hamwe and Gordon College Student Association President Shineika Fareus, organized the sit-in protest last week at Frost Hall, which is the administrative building for the Wenham-based higher education institution with over 1,500 students. 

And this:

Gordon College spokesman Rick Sweeney told CP the school is investigating the incident and that the college’s police department “has involved the local town of Wenham police officials and are handling this as a hate crime.”

He added that the school is also investigating another incident in which someone wrote an anti-Asian message on a whiteboard near an apartment where some Asian students live.

“The investigation is ongoing and will remain so until completed. Rather than set a timetable, our goal is to bring closure on both incidents,” Sweeney said. “We have urged students with any information to contact our chief of police or a staff member in Student Life.”

Regarding the sit-in, Sweeney said that school leaders, including Lindsay, met with organizers. He told CP that the college “wanted to be responsive to student concerns.”

Read the rest here.

Why evangelicals in Sweden are politically progressive

Swedish church historian Joel Halldorf explains why white evangelicals in America lean right and white evangelicals in Sweden lean left. Here is a taste of his piece at the new website Breaking Ground:

The struggle for democracy and economic solidarity shaped Swedish evangelicalism into a liberal, left-leaning political movement. This identity was strong and enduring. In the 1956 election, 58 percent of the evangelicals voted for the Liberal party (Folkpartiet), which was more than twice the figure for the party in the general election (24 percent). The second largest party was the Social Democrats, with close to 30 percent of the evangelical vote. The Conservative party gained 10 percent of the evangelical vote, a mere half of the support among the general electorate.

The politics of Swedish evangelicalism changed somewhat in the 1960s, when Lewi Pethrus, leader of the Pentecostal movement, founded the Christian Democrats. Pethrus was culturally conservative, and wanted to halt secularization, particularly of schools and entertainment. But he was still in favor of progressive economic politics. In their first official political declaration, the party began by affirming the “appreciation and respect” for the welfare state, and declared that it was ready to “wholeheartedly support and develop it further.” They described unions as “indispensable,” and warned against fiscal and corporate centralization. Pethrus, a theologically conservative Pentecostal, emphasized his whole life that “Christianity and social justice are intimately connected.”

Swedish evangelicals were skeptical of socialism, not social justice—even when that justice was mediated through state-sponsored welfare. Polls from the late twentieth century show that Swedish evangelicals continue to be against the death penalty, and for welfare, migration, humanitarian aid, and the environment. Compared to secular voters, Swedish evangelicals are more engaged in environmental issues, more supportive of migration and humanitarian aid, and more critical of military export.

White American evangelicals tend toward the opposite in all those issues. They are, as we shall see, shaped by another and very different story.

Read the entire piece here. Then read Chris Gehrz’s helpful reflections on the piece at The Anxious Bench.

Evangelicals and Trump: What have we learned?

I published Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump in June 2018. I wrote the book in November and December of 2017 and finished it on New Years Day 2018.

Since then, we have learned a lot more about Trump and evangelicalism. Recently, historian Michael Hamilton of The Issachar Fund asked me to pick the best three books on Trump and evangelicalism and write a short piece on how these books have shaped my thinking since Believe Me.

The three books I chose were Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne, Sarah Posner, Unholy, and Gerardo Marti’s Blindspot. Here is a taste of my piece at Faith and Leadership, a publication of Duke Divinity School:

Upon learning that an overwhelming number of white evangelical voters — 81% by some estimates — voted for Donald Trump in November 2016, I was shocked, dismayed and angry.

How could my fellow evangelicals support a narcissistic reality television star with a checkered moral past and an adverse relationship with the truth? On the evening of the election, as I watched evangelicals take a victory lap on their social media feeds, I wrote a tweet of my own: “If this is evangelicalism — I am out.”

About a month later, in a piece(link is external) for The Atlantic, religion writer Jonathan Merritt quoted my tweet. Within hours, two types of messages started filling my inbox. Evangelical friends wrote to encourage me to stay in the fold. “We need your voice,” they told me.

Nonevangelical friends — Christians and non-Christians alike — wrote to praise me for my tweet. Many said that it was “about time” I disavowed a religious movement with a long history of racism, patriarchy and intolerance.

After a few months of soul searching and prayer, I concluded that I was not yet willing to abandon the word “evangelical” to describe my religious identity. For me, an “evangelical” is someone who believes in the gospel, the “good news” that Jesus died and rose again to reconcile broken human beings to God.

I believe that evangelicals, motivated by the demand the “good news” makes on our lives, have done wonderful things in this world. We have a long history of loving our neighbors, serving the poor and oppressed, and working for justice. The gospel transforms sinners into saints and offers hope to the hopeless.

Four years later, I am still an evangelical Christian.

Nevertheless, as an American historian, I also know that evangelicals have participated in some of the nation’s darkest moments, and in many cases, have led the way.

Read the rest here.

Thomas Howard, RIP

Catholic writer Thomas Howard has died.

When evangelicals of a certain age think about Howard several things may come to mind:

  1. He is the brother of Elisabeth Elliott, the husband of Jim Elliott, one of the evangelical missionaries killed by the Huaorani people of eastern Ecuador in 1956. Kathryn Long tells this story well in God in the Rainforest: A Tale of Martyrdom and Redemption in Amazonian Ecuador.
  2. His book Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament traced his move from evangelicalism into Anglicanism.
  3. His eventual conversion to Roman Catholicism shocked much of the evangelical world. Howard had to give-up his job teaching English at evangelical Gordon College.

Back in 2000 or 2001, while I was a postdoctoral fellow at Valparaiso University’s Lilly Fellows in Humanities and the Arts Program, I led my fellow fellows in a discussion of Howard’s powerful Christ the Tiger (1967). In fact, I think it’s time I revisited this work.

Here is David Mills’s at The Catholic Herald:

A final story, that illustrates Tom’s mundane kindness, the kindness of the man who cares for people, celebrity though he was. A friend, one of the brightest people I know, had a horrifically bad education in his city’s public schools. His first assignment in Prof. Howard’s intro to English class was a three-page paper.

No one had taught him how to write a paper. He found a writer who said what he thought, wrote an introductory paragraph, typed out a three-page block quote, and finished with a concluding paragraph.

Tom called him into his office. Apparently realizing — as some professors wouldn’t have done — that the young man had done his best, explained that this would not do. My friend replied that the writer had said what he wanted to say much better than he could. Tom worked with him patiently — doing a great deal than most professors would have done — to teach him what he did not know about writing papers.

I grew up in an academic world and have spent most of my adult life working with academics. The number who would have seen the need and responded to it the way Tom did is small.

Read Mills’s entire piece here. John Burger has a piece at Aleteia and Mark Wilson has a piece at his Patheos blog.

Church historian Richard Hughes on how white evangelicals “lost their way”

Here is my friend and former Messiah University colleague Richard Hughes at Baptist News Global:

Finally, a book published a quarter-century ago pointed to another guardrail that white evangelicals would abandon over time. That book was Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, whose opening sentence says it all: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Noll lamented then that evangelicals have “largely abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of ‘high’ culture.”

Today, the “scandal of the evangelical mind” includes not only failure to seriously engage the biblical text or know history. It also includes failure to engage in critical thinking. That failure helps explain why they so often take blatant and demonstrable falsehoods for objective truth, why they fall prey to conspiracy theories, and why they so readily imagine that demonstrable good is really evil and demonstrable evil is really good.

Having lost their cultural dominance, white evangelical Christians in the United States now live in a perfect storm — a storm defined by their ignorance of the biblical text, their ignorance of Christian history, and their loss of any significant measure of critical thinking.

And having abandoned all those constraints, it is little wonder that 81% of those Christians still pay homage to a man who promises to defend and exalt them, even as that man promotes policies that exalt the rich, that undermine impoverished and marginalized people, and that stand opposed to Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals and QAnon

At last night’s town hall meeting on NBC, Donald Trump refused to condemn QAnon.

Many evangelicals are embracing QAnon conspiracy theories. (Never heard of QAnon? Read this Atlantic cover story).

I continue to be interested in the connections between QAnon and its prediction of a coming “great awakening.” Here is Daniel Burke at CNN:

Friedberg said he sees elements of his experience as a young evangelical in the QAnon movement: Its seamless blend of Christianity and nationalism, its promise of spiritual knowledge and the primacy of scripture, and, finally, the desire to evangelize to friends and family.

But Friedberg said he doesn’t see QAnon itself as a religion.

“This is an information operation that has gotten out of the direct control of whoever started it,” he said. It’s an operation, he added, that likely would not exist in a less polarized, confusing and frightening time.

Under somewhat similar strains, a group of 1840s Baptists called the Millerites predicted the Second Coming of Jesus.

When Jesus didn’t arrive, the Millerites were greatly disappointed, but they adjusted their apocalyptic timetables and soldiered on, eventually becoming the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Travis View said he sees echoes of the Millerites in QAnon. Numerous QAnon “prophecies” have proven false. Hillary Clinton was not arrested in 2017, Republicans didn’t rout Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections and Trump has not imprisoned his political enemies at Guantanamo Bay.

These days, Q shies away from giving specific dates, View noted, suggesting a shift in tactics. Even so, believers attempt to explain away any contradictions between QAnon and reality, just as the Millerites did centuries ago.

Park Neff, the Baptist pastor, said the failed prophecies are all part of QAnon’s master plan.

“Some of it seems like deliberate misinformation to throw off the other side,” Neff said, “as should be apparent to anyone who watches the news. Sometimes he (Q) does it to rattle their cages, sometimes to keep them guessing. It seems to work.”

Meanwhile, Neff, like many interested in QAnon, looks forward to the Great Awakening. The pastor said it won’t be like the other Great Awakenings, the religious revivals that torched through early America.

This one, he said, will concern the state, not the church.

It will start when the prevailing evil in our government is finally revealed, he said, and end with Trump validated and all the bad people jailed on an island far, far away.

Read the entire piece here. This is not the first time evangelicals have fallen for conspiracy theories.

Why isn’t Amy Coney Barrett a model for conservative evangelical women?

Katelyn Beaty writes at The New York Times: “But to set the record straight, on handmaid and beyond, conservative Christians must do their part to imagine a broader and more humanizing vision for women’s place in the public square.”

Here is more:

So it’s worth asking: If Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith and indisputable career accomplishments make her such a young heroine of the Christian right, why doesn’t the traditional Christianity to which she adheres encourage more women to be like her?

To be clear, few in even secular communities can be like Judge Barrett. Most Americans do not enjoy the privileges of class and elite education that she has had as a federal judge and legal scholar. A flexible workplace and supportive spouse — things many men take for granted — remain elusive for many women.

But there’s another reason few Christian women can simultaneously pursue career ambitions and family life in the ways Judge Barrett has: In traditional Christian communities, women are often asked to sacrifice the former at the altar of the latter.

Read the entire piece here.

Hillary Clinton is right about young people and Christianity

Hillary Clinton recently started a podcast. Rev. William Barber was her first guest. During the course of the conversation she said something that I am afraid is very true:

HRC: How do you see now what the church should be doing? Because a lot of people are leaving the church. A lot of young people are leaving the church, in part because the way they understand what Christianity has become is, you know, so judgmental, so alienating that they think to themselves, well, I don’t need that. I don’t want to be part of that. So this should also be a time for the church to take a hard look at itself and try to figure out how it can be a real partner in this moment of moral awakening.  

BARBER: So there’s a book that I – when I studied my doctoral degree at Drew University, it was in pastoral care and public policy. And one of the books that was read said, you do not care about your people from a pastoral perspective, if you are not willing from a prophetic perspective, to challenge the systems that make them have the problems that need pastoral counseling in the first place. So in this moment, we have to stop separating the two. You know, a lot of young people are leaving so-called white evangelicalism. And I was told when we started working with young people, you know, “you’re not going to be able to be a preacher because they’re not, they don’t like that.” I said “no.” I said “what they don’t like is this bland form of religion that tells them all religion is about is just praying and wishing for stuff.” 

Young people are very open to faith that is about transformation, about love, about justice, about equality, about the essence, the essence of what it means to be people of faith. And I think we have to be engaged. There’s no way in the days in which we live, the church can stay quarantined inside of the four walls of a building because that’s never what it was intended to do. You know, I’ve made a pact with some pastors, for instance, and we’ve said if anybody in our church dies from the lack of health care, we’re going to do just like Emmett Till’s momma. Call the media in and say this is what bad government policy looks like.

Read the rest here.

Why don’t white evangelicals vote for Democrats?

Historian Daniel Williams, in a thought-provoking piece at The Anxious Bench, asks:

Why have white evangelicals been so antipathetic to Democrats, even before their disagreements with Democrats over abortion or LGBT issues emerged?  And can anything ever convince them to support a Democratic presidential candidate?

And here is part of his answer:

I am convinced that as far as evangelicalism is concerned, there are deeply rooted theological and cultural reasons for white evangelicals’ rejection of the Democratic Party.  In other words, white evangelicals who vote Republican really are acting consistently with their own theological worldview, as can be seen in at least three areas where evangelical theology has clashed with liberal Protestantism and, by extension, with a Democratic Party that is today a largely secularized form of liberal Protestant theology.

Here are the three areas Williams identifies:

  1. White evangelical commitment to individualism means that they do not except political policies that address systemic or structure inequity.
  2. White evangelicals are suspicious of the state.
  3. White evangelicals do not view inequality as a social problem

I totally agree with Williams’s assessment here.

But then, if I read him correctly, Williams suggests that the “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” movement embodies these ideals as well.

He writes:

Trump, they argue, is not a moral leader for the nation.  His racially charged rhetoric is dividing the church and making Christian racial reconciliation more difficult.  While the website for Pro-Life Evangelicals does note some areas in which pro-life Christians should support the policies of the Democratic Party (except, of course, on abortion), the explanations given by leading evangelical pastors as to why they joined the group focus much more on familiar evangelical arguments about individual character than on policy proposals.  “I’ve never seen someone so divisive and accusatory,” Joel Hunter, who voted for Trump in 2016 and now regrets it, declared. “We’re becoming divided and angry, and it’s the opposite of pro-life.”

In other words, the argument of many members of Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden is that in a world of imperfect political choices, the Democratic presidential nominee this time around would be better than the Republican incumbent for the cause of the gospel.  Whether a majority of white evangelical voters will accept this argument and vote Democratic is highly doubtful.  But even if they don’t, it’s hard to imagine an argument that has a greater claim to being authentically evangelical.  If any argument could conceivably convince white evangelicals who genuinely believe in their own theological tradition to consider breaking with the Republican Party in this election, an argument about individual moral leadership and the cause of the gospel is the one that should.

This is a fair critique of the statement on the Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden website, but I am not sure it accurately describes the positions of the men and women who signed this statement.

  1. I don’t know the policy positions of all of the signers, but John Perkins, Ron Sider, and Richard Mouw certainly believe in systemic injustice.
  2. I don’t think any of the signers of the statement are suspicious of the state.
  3. I would imagine everyone who signed this statement believes that inequality is a social problem.

Read Williams’s entire piece here.

Evangelical homeschooling in a pandemic

We did not homeschool our kids and never really thought seriously about it. I am not an expert on the movement, but I do know that people–even evangelical Christians–homeschool their kids for all kinds of reasons. Many of them use the materials Elena Trueba describes in her informative piece on homeschooling at Religion & Politics, and many do not. (It seems like everyone I know who is homeschooling is using some kind of classical Christian curriculum).

Here is a taste of Trueba’s piece:

The educational materials promoted by HSLDA [Home School Legal Defense Association] and its affiliates across the U.S. may not mention Rushdoony by name, but many of them carry his narrative of dominion-taking nonetheless. There’s K-12 curriculum produced by Bob Jones University, notorious for banning interracial relationships on its campus until the year 2000, which teaches that God gave the United States to Protestant Christians. There’s Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), which has seen an increase in demand for its materials during the pandemic and describes the history taught in public schools as “revisionist.” There’s Abeka, which denounces evolution, labels gay rights as a “radical social agenda,” and claims that enslaved people who “knew Christ” were better off than free people who did not. Besides being incredibly popular among Christian homeschoolers, what these curricula have in common is that they portray the United States as a nation belonging to Christians—and as a nation that Christians have to take back.

Christian nationalist narratives like these have existed in predominantly white and conservative religious spaces long before this pandemic, but their prevalence in homeschooling materials means these ideologies may infiltrate a new, unwitting audience. The pandemic-induced withdrawal from public schools poses what one homeschooling advocate recently called “the biggest opportunity for domestic victory the Right has had in 70 years.” Julie Ann Smith, a homeschooling mother and writer, explains it like this on her website: “When I started homeschooling in the early 90s, I went to listen to Christian homeschoolers speak and they would often sell curricula in another room. But one thing I didn’t consider was this: those running the homeschool conventions had an agenda and they only sold curricula which matched their agenda.” Later, she came to understand that the homeschooling materials and circles she encountered were embedded with patriarchal and Reconstructionist ideologies. It’s not difficult to imagine families facing a similar version of Smith’s problem, as they try to quickly cobble together a semester to a year’s worth of education for their student and opt for the materials that are the most heavily promoted and widely lauded by homeschoolers. They should understand that these materials come with an agenda.

In the era of Covid-19, homeschooling is, for many families, the only option. It has the potential to be a positive one, providing students and their families the opportunity to chart the course of their education. However, even in the midst of a pandemic and with so many responsibilities, parents have yet another fraught task on their to-do list: They must be mindful of the history and ideological backbone of American homeschooling. Many of the materials they may encounter have roots in Christian nationalism. Families who wish to take advantage of all the good that homeschooling has to offer are responsible not just for their children’s education but their own knowledge as well.

Read the entire piece here.