What White Evangelicals Can Learn About Politics From the Civil Rights Movement

 

MLK GRave

In June 2017, I spent ten days with my family and several colleagues from Messiah College traveling through the American South on a civil rights movement bus tour. Our trip took us to some of the most important sites and cities of the movement. We made stops in Greensboro, Atlanta, Albany, Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, and Nashville

Along the way we spent time with some of the veterans of the movement. In Atlanta we heard from Juanita Jones Abernathy, the wife and co-laborer of Ralph Abernathy, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest associates. In Albany we sang civil rights songs with Rutha Mae Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers.

In Selma we met Joanne Bland, a local activist who, at the age of eleven, participated in all three Edmund Pettus Bridge marches. In Birmingham we talked with Carolyn Maul McKinstry and Denise McNair. McKinstry was fifteen years old when she survived the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. That explosion took the life of McNair’s sister, whom she never had a chance to meet.

In Nashville, we listened to the inspirational stories of Ernest “Rip” Patton, one of the early freedom riders, and Kwame Leonard, one of the movement’s behind-the-scenes organizers.

As I processed everything that I learned on my colleague Todd Allen’s “Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights” bus tour, I kept returning to thoughts about the relationship between religion and politics. Donald Trump had been in office for under five months, but my anger and frustration upon learning that 81 percent of my fellow evangelicals had voted for him were still fresh.

As I listened to the voices of the movement veterans, walked the ground that they had walked, and saw the photographs, studied the exhibits, and watched the footage, it was clear that I was witnessing a Christian approach to politics that was very different from the one that catapulted Trump into the White House and continues to garner white evangelical support for his presidency. Hope and humility defined the political engagement and social activism of the civil rights movement. The movement served, and continues to serve, as an antidote to a politics of fear and power.

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Those who participated in the civil rights movement has much to fear: bombs, burning crosses, billy clubs, death threats, water hoses, police dogs, and lynch mobs—to name a few. They feared for the lives of their families and spent every day wondering whether they would still be around to continue the fight the next day. For these reasons, many African Americans, understandably, did not participate in the movement and prevented their children from getting involved. The danger was very real.

Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. When we visited the old Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church where King was baptized and where he (and his father) served as pastor, his final sermon, the one he delivered in Memphis on April 3, 1968, was playing over the speakers.

King was in Memphis to encourage sanitation workers fighting for better pay and improved working conditions. I sat in the back pew and listened:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m no concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing anything. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

It was a message of hope. Because of his faith, God had given him—and the women and men of the movement he led—all the strength they would need to continue the struggle. King made himself available to do the Lord’s will. Now he was looking forward. Was he talking about his eternal life in what now seems like prophetic fashion, or was he talking about God working out his purposes on earth?

No matter: King was confident in God’s power to work out his will: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” An assassin’s bullet took King’s life the next day, April 4, 1968, but the movement went on.

Can evangelicals recover this confidence in God’s power—not just in his wrath against their enemies but in his ability to work out his purposes for good? Can they recover hope? The historian Christopher Lasch once wrote this: “Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity. Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to most who lack it.”

I saw this kind of hope in every place we visited on our trip. It was not mere optimism that things would get better if only we could elect the right candidates. Rather, it was a view of this world, together with an understanding of the world to come, forged amid suffering and pain.

Not everyone would make it to the mountaintop on this side of eternity, but God’s purposes would be worked out, and eventually they would be able to understand those purposes—if not in this life, surely in the world to come. The people in the movement understood that laws, social programs, even local and voluntary action, would only get them so far. Something deeper was needed.

There was something kingdom-oriented going on in these Southern cities. I thought of the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I saw this kind of hope in the eyes of Rip Patton as he sat with us in the Nashville Public Library and explained why (and how) he had such a “good time” singing while incarcerated with other freedom riders in Parchman Prison in Jackson, Mississippi.

I heard this kind of hope in the voice of Rutha Mae Harris as she led us in “This Little Light of Mine” and “Ain’t Gonna Turn Me ‘Round” from the front of the sanctuary of the Old Mount Zion Baptist Church in Albany.

As I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, I wondered if I could ever muster the courage of John Lewis and Joanne Bland as they marched into the face of terror on Bloody Sunday. Such audacity requires hope.

But too often fear leads to hopelessness, a state of mind that political scientist Glenn Tinder had described as a “kind of death.” Hopelessness causes us to direct our gaze backward toward worlds we can never recover. It causes us to imagine a future filled with horror. Tyrants focus our attention on the desperate nature of our circumstances and the carnage of the social and cultural landscape that they claim to have the power to heal.

A kernel of truth, however, always informs such a dark view of life. Poverty is a problem. Rusted-out factories often do appear, as Trump once described them, like “tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” Crime is real

But demagogues want us to dwell on the carnage and, to quote Bruce Springsteen, “waste our summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.” Hope, on the other hand, draws us into the future, and in this way it engages us in life.

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It is nonsensical to talk about the civil rights movement in terms of political power, because even at the height of the movement’s influence, African Americans did not possess much political power. Yes, the movement had its leaders, and they did have time in the national spotlight. But when the movement leaders entered the halls of power, they were usually there to speak truth with a prophetic voice. King, for example, was willing to break with Lyndon Johnson when he disagreed with him on the Vietnam War, even if it meant losing access to the most powerful man on earth.

Most of all, though, the civil rights movement was shaped by people of humble of means who lived ordinary lives in ordinary neighborhoods. Many of them never expected to step onto a national stage or receive credit for leading the great social movement in American history. These ordinary men and women fought injustice wherever God had placed them. They offer us a beautiful illustration of what scholar James Davison Hunter has called “faithful presence.”

For Hunter, a theology of faithful presence calls Christians to serve the people and places where they live. The call of faithful presence, Hunter writes in his book To Change the World, “gives priority to what is right in front of us—community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people in which these are constituted. It is in these places, through “the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, concerns, desires, and worries of people with whom we are in long-term and close relation—family, neighbors, co-workers, and community—where we find authenticity as a body of believers. It is here, Hunter adds, “where we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality, and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness, and joy. This is the crucible with which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context in which shalom is enacted.”

I thought about Hunter’s words as I stood in the hot Selma sun and listened to Joanne Bland explain to us the significance of a small and crumbling patch of pavement in a playground behind Brown Chapel AME church. This was the exact spot, she told us, where the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches began. For Bland, who was raised in a housing complex across the street from the church, this was a sacred space.

The humility on display during the civil rights movement was just as countercultural then as it is now. This is usually the case with nonviolent protests. Those who participated thought of themselves not as individuals but as part of a movement larger than themselves.

Rip Patton was a twenty-one-year old music major at Tennessee State University when he met Jim Lawson in 1959. Lawson trained Patton (and others) in nonviolent protest. Soon Patton found himself seated at a lunch counter in downtown Nashville, where he would be spit on, punched, covered with ketchup, mustard, salt, and water.

Patton did not retaliate because he had been educated in the spiritual discipline necessary for a situation like this. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a political and social movement, but he was also the high priest of a spiritual movement, something akin to a religious revival.

The civil rights movement never spoke the language of hate or resentment. In fact, its Christian leaders saw that all human beings were made in the image of God and sinners in need of God’s redemptive love. Many in the movement practiced what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr described as “the spiritual discipline against resentment.” They saw that those who retaliated violently or with anger against injustice were only propagating injustices of their own.

Instead, the spiritual discipline against resentment unleashed a different kind of power—the power of the cross and the resurrection. This kind of power could provide comfort amid suffering and a faithful gospel witness to the world.

The Mississippi voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer said it best: “The white man’s afraid he’ll be treated like he’s been treating the Negroes, but I couldn’t carry that much hate. It wouldn’t have solved any problems for me to hate whites because they hate me. Oh, there’s so much hate! Only God has kept the Negro sane.”

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Where does all this reflection leave us? Where did it leave me as I got off the bus and headed back to my working-class, central Pennsylvania neighborhood. How might hope and humility inform the way we white American evangelicals think about politics and other forms of public engagement?

It is time to take a long hard look at what we have become. We have a lot of work to do.

This essay draws heavily from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, which was recently released in paperback by Eerdmans Publishing

Ron Sider: I’m Still an “Evangelical”

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Ron Sider on the cover of Eternity magazine, April 1979

Ron Sider, one of the elder statesmen of American evangelicalism and someone who I deeply respect, is sticking with the label:

Why would I continue to call myself an evangelical when 81% of white evangelicals voted for a man who is a racist, violates women, lies constantly, ignores (and makes worse)  the environmental crisis, tries to undo a law that expanded healthcare for 20 million Americans and gave a huge tax cut to the richest Americans while trying to cut effective programs for the poor? To make matters (much) worse, many prominent evangelical leaders uncritically support President Trump as God’s anointed.

Many Christians who have long identified as evangelicals and many millennials who grew up in evangelical congregations now consider the label evangelical irreparably toxic. To vast numbers of people both inside and outside the church, it means “Religious Right”, homophobic, anti-science, anti-immigrant, racist, and unconcerned about the poor.

I have struggled with this issue for the last three years. Some of my good friends have stopped identifying as evangelicals.  I must confess that in spite of my many decades of strong identification as an evangelical, there are times when I think that it may be time to use a different word. 

But then I remember the long, distinguished history of the term. I recall the fact that the word essentially means a commitment to Jesus’ Gospel.  I ponder the fact that we need some label to distinguish theologically liberal Protestants from those who remain committed to the central beliefs of historic Christianity.  And I note the fact that many millions in the United States and 600 million around the world in the World Evangelical Alliance still want to use the label evangelical…

Read the rest here.

If it’s good enough for Ron Sider, it’s good enough for me. 🙂

I’m Really Dating Myself With This Post

Earlier today I posted a song by an anti-Trump evangelical trying to convince his fellow evangelicals that Trump is hurting their Gospel witness.  The song is written in a classic “praise song” style that will undoubtedly connect with many evangelicals in a way that books like Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump will not.

As I listened to the “A Hymn for the 81%” I thought about this 1980s classic (1984 to be exact) from the Christian group “Sweet Comfort Band.”  Who remembers it?  Remembering this song requires a very deep dive into the evangelical subculture.

 

Evangelical Support for Trump in Rural Wisconsin

Forest County\

Wisconsin is a big swing state.  Trump needs to win it in 2020.

Today I was chatting about Trump with fifteen Dutch college students visiting Messiah College during their January term.  One of them asked me if I thought Trump might win again in 2020.  I told him that anything is possible because the country is so evenly divided right now.  In this day and age, American elections revolve around small slices of voters living in swing states.  This means that places like rural Forest County, Wisconsin are important.

Chris McGreal, a reporter at The Guardian, spent some time with evangelicals in this Wisconsin county–a county that went for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Pastor Franz Gerber is worried that so many members of his congregation appear to idolise Donald Trump more than they worship Jesus.

The preacher at the Praise Chapel Community church was among those who voted for Trump in rural Forest county, Wisconsin, which swung heavily from Barack Obama to the Republican in 2016 and so helped deliver a state that put the president in the White House.

Gerber now has some regrets about his vote but what really disturbs him is an unquestioning and even aggressive adulation for Trump within his flock.

“It seems like there are many evangelical Christians that are willing to die on the hill of supporting the Republican president, supporting Donald J Trump. And to me, that hill is not worth dying on. No matter who the candidate is, no matter who the individual is,” he said. “To put all your hope into that individual is a dangerous road. Scripture would warn us against that.”

Gerber’s concern reflects a deepening political polarisation within sprawling Forest county, home to about 9,000 people and two Native American reservations across about 1,000 square miles, where friendships are strained over Trump and more than a few people shy from talking politics.

Read the rest here.

Sadly, pastor Gerber may not have a chance.  His influence over his congregation pales in comparison to the influence that Fox News and other conservative media have over his congregation.

My Piece Today at *USA TODAY* on the Evangelicals for Trump Rally

Miami Trump

Here is a taste of “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God“:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson), and the hosts of Fox and Friends.

Read the entire piece at *USA TODAY*.

*Christianity Today* Announces Its New Editor-in-Chief

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His name is Daniel Harrell.

Here is his bio:

As of January, 2020, Daniel M. Harrell is Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today. Formerly, he served ten years as Senior Minister of Colonial Church, Edina, Minnesota, and for 23 years before that as preaching minister at Park Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts. Daniel holds a BA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Psychology and Religion), an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his PhD from Boston College (Developmental & Educational Psychology).

He has taught at Gordon-Conwell, Fuller and Bethel seminaries, as well as at Boston University and Harvard University. He served for many years on the Community Ethics Committee of the Harvard University Hospitals and on the Advisory Council of Biologos.

Daniel has written for Christianity Today and The Christian Century, appeared on PBS and regularly blogged for Cultivare at patheos.com. He is widowed (Dawn, 2019) and lives with his lovely daughter in Minneapolis and will be moving to Chicagoland.

Learn more about him here.

White Evangelicals Fear the Future and Yearn for the Past

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at USA TODAY on July 8, 2018:

Donald Trump is about to name his second conservative Supreme Court justice now that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Conservative evangelicals are celebrating. They have been waiting, to quote the Old Testament book of Esther, “for a time such as this.”

For the last year I have been thinking deeply about why so many of my fellow evangelical Christians support Donald Trump.

I have wondered why they backed his zero-tolerance immigration plan that separated families at the border. I have tried to make sense of why some of them give him a “mulligan” (to use Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ now famous phrase) for his alleged adulterous affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Why did so many evangelicals remain silent, or offer tepid and qualified responses, when Trump equated white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer?

What kind of power does Trump hold over men and women who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ? Evangelical support for Trump goes much deeper than simply a few Supreme Court justices.

Like most Americans on Nov. 8, 2016, I sat in front of my television to watch election returns, fully expecting that Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president. When this did not happen, I was saddened and angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the way my fellow evangelicals were using their social media feeds to praise God for Donald Trump’s victory.

I sent off a quick tweet: “If this is evangelicalism — I am out.”

Five days later, I could barely muster the will to attend services at my central Pennsylvania evangelical megachurch. As I stood singing Christian worship songs, I looked around the room and realized that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every 10 people in that sanctuary — my brothers and sisters in my community of faith — had voted for Trump.

I eventually calmed down and decided that, at least for now, I would still use the word “evangelical” to describe my religious faith. The word best captures my belief in the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have experienced the life-transforming message of this Gospel and I have seen its power in the lives of others.

My raw emotions gave way to my training as a historian and my study of American religion. My distress about Trump’s election did not wane, but I should have seen this coming. Trump’s win was just the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to politics.

Read the rest here.

A Short History of Evangelical Fear

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at The Atlantic on June 24, 2018:

White conservative evangelicals in America are anxious people. I know because I am one.

Our sense of fear, perhaps more than any other factor, explains why evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Donald Trump in 2016 and continue to support his presidency.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” The great poet of the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen, sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing, it can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Robinson and Springsteen echo verses in nearly every book of the Bible, the sacred text that serves as the source of spiritual authority in evangelical life. Moses told the Israelites to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” The Hebrew God told Job: “At the destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth.” The Psalmist wrote: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

The Gospel of John teaches Christians that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” St. Luke writes: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Despite all these scriptural passages, it is still possible to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of a people failing miserably at overcoming fear with hope, trust, and faith in their God. But it is also possible to find evangelicals, drawing deeply from Christian theological resources, who sought to forge an alternative history.

A history of evangelical fear might begin with the 17th-century Puritans in Salem, Massachusetts, who feared that there were witches in their midst threatening their “city upon a hill” and their status as God’s new Israel. They responded to this fear by hanging 19 people.

But other evangelical options were available. As Puritans began to lose control over Massachusetts Bay, they might have turned to their sovereign God for guidance and trusted in his protection to lead them through a new phase in the history of the colony. Or they could have heeded the warnings put forth by those—such as Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, or the growing number of Baptists in the colony—who saw potential problems with such a close relationship between church and state.

Our history of evangelical fear might also include a chapter on the early 19th-century Protestants who feared the arrival of massive numbers of Catholic immigrants to American shores. They translated their panic into political organizations such as the nativist Know-Nothing Party and religious tracts cautioning fellow believers of the threat that such “popery” posed to their Christian nation.

Read the rest here.

The Court Evangelicals Take a Photo

Most of them were there on Friday night:

COurt Evangelicals

I don’t recognize everyone, but I see Alveda King, Jack Graham, Jenetzen Franklin, James Dobson, Shirley Dobson, James Robison, Michael Tait, Greg Laurie, Michelle Bachmann, Eric Metaxas, Tony Suarez, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Johnnie Moore, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, Richard Land, Cissie Graham, Tim Clinton, Harry Jackson, and Jim Garlow, Paula White, and Guillermo Maldonado.

I wonder if Trump can identify them all.

Many of these people feature prominently in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

The Imaginary Turn in Evangelical Scholarship

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Historian David Bebbington

Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City.  Enjoy his latest post.  –JF

This roundtable was the closest to my own research interests, and has thus provoked my longest response!

Five scholars of American Evangelicalism explored the shift of Evangelical studies toward understanding Evangelicalism less as a community united by concrete, discernable beliefs (a la David Bebbington’s famous quadrilateral), and more as an “imagined community,” constructed through affections, affiliations, and self-fashioning.

Kristin Kobes Du Mez (Calvin University) introduced the theme, and  Devin Manzullo-Thomas (Messiah College), Lindsey Maxwell (Gulliver Preparatory School), Hilde Løvdal Stephens (University of South-Eastern Norway) and Daniel Silliman (Valparaiso University) followed-up with particular studies.

On the one hand I found myself in full agreement with the panelists. In my book Heaven on Earth: Reimagining Time and Eternity in Nineteenth Century British Evangelicalism I wrote  that Evangelicalism “can be described as one of the eighteenth century’s several new ‘imagined communities.’”. Meanwhile, in an article in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology back in 2012 I argued that “the bestowal of Evangelical identity comes not through historians or other observers measuring individuals and communities against such a set of predefined characteristics…but rather by the self-determining authority of the Evangelical Leviathan itself, which silent yet ineluctably confirms or rejects constituents by relentlessly and almost impenetrably complexly subjecting them to its unspoken protocols of mutual appraisal and authentication:  [Martin Spence “Unravelling Scottish Evangelicalism (Part One)”. Scottish Bulletin of Theology 30.1 (Spring 2012), 30-50]

So yes and amen to the panelists’ central insight. I enjoyed much of what they had to bring to the table.

Yet I found myself wanting to register some dissent.

First, there was the unfortunate Bebbington-bashing that has become somewhat de rigueur at church history conferences that I have attended in the United States.

On this occasion Kristin du Mez contended that by privileging the beliefs of Evangelicals over their social and cultural attitudes, Bebbington (along with Noll, Marsden, Noll and Thomas Kidd) are in some ways supporting a culturally conservative, politicized Evangelicalism. Her point was that by defining Evangelicalism as primarily a theological movement, these historians imply that the political and cultural elements of the movement are extraneous to an undefiled “real” Evangelicalism. They thereby excuse Evangelicals of their cultural and political sins by telling its critics to overlook these aspects and focus on beliefs, not practices.

In as much as this can be construed as a call to provide an integrated account of theology and socio-cultural identity (perhaps of the kind attempted by Matthew Avery Sutton in American Apocalypse) I am all for it. We should not be Nestorians: in Christian history beliefs and social-cultural-political actions exist in hypostatic union. And I agree that Bebbington, Marsden et al did not consciously pursue the “imaginary turn” and may thus, to some degree, appear a little old-fashioned in their methodological assumption to those scholars alert to more avant-garde theoretical approaches to religious identity formation.

But to see Bebbington and Marsden as fortifying the Age of Trump seems far-fetched. After all, they would no doubt be counted among the elite “faculty lounge” who dissent from the current socio-political views of the majority white American Evangelical community. David Bebbington could more plausibly be accused of wanting to make Britain Gladstonian again than of aiding and abetting American Evangelical nationalism.

Of course, the assertion that these historians are blind to the cultural-political realities of the movement is also itself somewhat of a caricature. It is true that this may not be the dominant paradigm of their scholarship, but George Marsden has always argued that Evangelicalism is not just a set of beliefs, but also a “transdenominational community with complicated infrastructures of institutions and persons which identify with ‘evangelicalism’;” while David Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain is a forensic study of a variety of Evangelicalisms at work in modern British history.

Indeed, any time that Bebbington comes up in discussions among American religious historians, I am left wondering whether anyone has actually read more than the first few pages of the book from which his infamous quadrilateral is culled. It is true enough that Bebbington maintains an unflinching loyalty to his definitional matrix that some might think rigid and inflexible. But it only takes up a couple of pages of his opus magnum, and there can be no doubt that Bebbington is well aware of the intricacies, particularities, and varieties of Evangelicalism across time and space. Indeed, anyone who has been supervised, examined or politely interrogated by him after a conference paper will attest that he rarely lets an over-generalization live.

Second, despite the claims of the panelists to break out of old paradigms, it was noticeable that their discussion focused almost exclusively on white American Evangelicalism. In one sense, this is no less than they said they were doing. Since the premise of the imaginary turn is that we must break Evangelicalism into its constituent parts in order to map its particularities and self-constructions, it is certainly a legitimate project to discern and dissect the affinities and protocols of the white American Evangelical community.

Yet given that the scholars wanted to propose a new methodological approach to the study of Evangelicalism to replace the old one, they perhaps needed to recognize that one great selling point of the older paradigm was and is its internationalism: it has proffered trans-national categories of religious belief and piety that transcend place and time. I would argue that any new methodological approach must deliver no less. I am not saying that the imaginary turn cannot do this, but that by only giving examples from American scene, the global serviceability of the imaginary turn was left unproven by the panel. The imaginary turn cannot simply be the justificatory foundation for more studies of the subculture of contemporary white American Evangelicalism. I enjoy such studies as much as anyone and long may they continue; but I sense that there is a danger that the imaginary turn also becomes an inward turn. We need to be careful how we imagine our imagining.

Trump’s Choice of Church for His “Evangelicals for Trump” Rally Today

King JesusAs we have discussed a few times already here at the blog, Trump will be speaking at a big “Evangelicals for Trump” rally later today in Miami. The event will take place at the King Jesus Ministry Church,  evangelical megachurch.  A few things are worth noting about this church:

  • The King Jesus Ministry Church fits squarely within the Prosperity Gospel branch of American Christianity.  These Christians teach God always blessing his faithful followers with financial wealth and physical health.  Trump staffer and prominent court evangelical Paula White, the woman who claims she led Trump through a born-again experience, is the most important pro-Trump player in this movement.  As I chronicled in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, the president’s support among the prosperity gospelers is strong.  The pastor, Guillermo Maldonado, is from Honduras.  He calls himself “The Apostle.”  His wife, Ana Maldonado, is known as “The Prophetess.” Together, they run the University of the Supernatural Ministry,
  • The King Jesus Ministry Church is also a Hispanic evangelical megachurch.  Many members of the congregation are undocumented immigrants, or, to use the language of the court evangelicals, “illegals.”  Most of the evangelical leaders who will attend this event believe these undocumented workers need to be deported.  Donald Trump also believes that they should be deported.  Many of those in attendance at today’s rally cannot even vote.  As we have already seen, some of these church members fear that if they come to the rally they will be deported.  So let’s remember that two of Trump’s signature issues–the courting of evangelicals and immigration–will be at odds tonight.  (Some of you may recall Paula White’s attempt to use Romans 13 to justify the separation of children from their families at the Mexican border).
  • I don’t know how the program will unfold, but if the rally looks anything like a Pentecostal church service there is bound to be some awkwardness.  Many of the court evangelicals–including Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas–have serious theological disagreements with Pentecostal theology and worship.  And, of course, Trump never looks comfortable in these settings. Let’s see how this unfolds.
  • An atheist group is not happy about this event.  This group wants the IRS to commence an immediate investigation into King Jesus Ministry for violating the clause in the tax code prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in and/or intervening in a political campaign.  It certainly seems like this group has a point.  If Pastor Maldonado is promoting Trump from the pulpit and using his authority to urge his people to attend a political rally at the church he may be in violation of the so-called Johnson Amendment.  Trump and many of his evangelical supports think that the president brought an end to the Johnson Amendment through executive order in May 2017 (Maldonado was present for the event).  This is not true.  The clause forbidding churches (and other organizations with tax exempt status) from endorsing political candidates is still on the books.  It can only be changed by Congress.  I can’t think of a more blatant violation of the Johnson Amendment than a pastor urging his congregation to attend a political rally.  I doubt anything will come of this, but it is worth noting.

For more on what to expect tonight, check out my posts here and here.  I will be on NBC News Now (live stream) with Alison Morris around 3:15pm tomorrow (January 3rd) to talk about the rally.

What is Populism?

lasch millerI have been writing about populism in light of the recent Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump.  You can read my posts here and here and here and here.

What is populism?  How should we think historically about this term?  I would encourage you to listen to Episode 41 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  In this episode we talk with Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, the author of several books on populism.  Listen here.

I was also thinking about Eric Miller‘s biography of intellectual historian Christopher Lasch, Hope in a Scattering Time:  A Life of Christopher LaschLasch was attracted to a particular version of populism.  Here is Miller:

The regnant American belief in “progress,” Lasch contended, far from being a misty vesitge of an older, mythical, millenarian worldview that saw history moving in an upward direction, was instead mainly the mental effect of so many decades of unending improvements in the “quality of life.”  True, these improvements  were only material in nature–which had once upon a time troubled the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  But the apologists for the new order had emerged quickly, having “mastered the tone and bluff of jocular dismissal, the unapologetically pristine defense of everyday comforts,” and such worries were allayed with impressive dispatch.  “No one could argue very long against abundance,” Lasch acidly noted.  Progress, “this tawdry dream of success,” was here to stay.  Lasch’s entirely unsparing depiction to the merest pleasures cast the reign of industrial capitalism not as the triumph of an ideal but as the effecting of a seduction, and the seduced were now sleeping to the steady rhythms of The Economy, shamelessly content, degradingly weak, confident in progress and lost in nostalgia, burning up the world to maintain their tenuous state of warmth.

Between these polar tendencies, “progressivism” and “conservatism,” lay the radical option.  Recognizing humans’ perennial need for the renewal of life, radicals did not give in to the life-denying forms of political and intellectual dependence–whether “traditional” or “progressive”–that characterized both right and left.  Rather, radicals sought through particular practices to cultivate an independence of mind and spirit that, structured within and by the community, could give a person the keenness to detect and strength to resist the political and economic powers that sought always to enthrone themselves as the necessary ends of human life.  In short, while conservatives defaulted wearily to “tradition” and liberals ran after “progress,” radicals pursued virtue–and so justice, Lasch pointed out, if at times only as a hope against hope.

In the nineteenth century this radical political sensibility came to be most fully embodies by populism, Lasch argued, but its antecedents included, along with the Puritans (and other Christian streams), the republicans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and even some species of liberal thinkers, such as Thomas Paine, who saw in incipient industrial capitalism a threat to the communal world of craftsmen and farmers they thought more desirable.  In the nineteenth century these varying populist trajectories had in the crucible of the industrial economy melded oddly but powerfully to yield a “producer ethic” that was “anticapitalist but not socialist or social democratic, at once radical, even revolutionary, and deeply conservative”; it was preserved most fully in the lives of the petty- bourgeoisie–the lower middle class.  Poised between the “fatuous optimism” of the scientific progressives and the “debilitating nostalgia” of Burkean conservatives, the populist sensibility held firmly to a way of life that is understood to be the foundation of the nation’s promise–the old understanding of the American dream.  “A whole way of life was at stake in the struggle against industrialism,” Lasch concluded, following with special appreciation the argument of populist scholar Lawrence Goodwyn.  “Producerism; a defense of endangered crafts (including the craft of farming); opposition to the new class of public creditors and to the whole machinery of modern finance; opposition to wage labor”: all of these were the battlefronts of the great populist attempt to keep alive another America, another meaning of citizenship.  But at that moment of direct confrontation at the end of the nineteenth century they had lost, steamrolled by progress–by progressives.

The victors had been led by H.L. Mencken’s “civilized minority,” and they became the new ruling class.  Their sociologists lost themselves in fruitless attempts to understand “gemeinschaft” and “gesellschaft” dynamics, typologies that only quickened their sense of disconnection from the past.  Their historians (most eminently, Hofstadter) told self-congratulating tales of their own righteous ascent, stories that only increased their distant from the “uneducated” masses.  Blinded by their confidence in their own progressive march, they misunderstood the past and misread its inhabitants, veering sharply between sentimentality on the one hand and contempt on the other, remaining convinced all the while that, whatever its pitfalls, “modernity” made possibly an undeniably superior way of life….

What to Expect at the “Evangelicals for Trump” Rally. (Or the People are Always Right).

God's megachurch

Trump will be at a Hispanic Pentecostal megachurch in Miami tomorrow afternoon for an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally.  There has not been a whole lot of details released about who will be present at the event or what Trump will say, but I think we can expect a lot of contractual language.  In other words, Trump will remind evangelicals about his Supreme Court nominations, his pro-life views on abortion, his defense of religious liberty, and his support for Israel and then he will ask evangelicals to vote for him in 2020.  I am expecting that there will be some digs at the Democratic candidates and Christianity Today magazine.

I will be on NBC News Now (live stream) with Alison Morris around 3:15pm tomorrow (January 3rd) to talk about the event.  Trump is scheduled to speak in Miami at 5:00pm.

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress will be in Miami for the event.  He talked about his appearance earlier today on the Todd Starnes Radio Show.  Jeffress makes no bones about the fact that the “Evangelicals for Trump” event is a response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for Trump’s removal from office.

Starnes mentions “a couple of professors from Oklahoma Baptist University who have been bashing President Trump and his supporters.” (I am guessing that this is a reference Matt Arbo and Alan Noble).  Starnes also references Wayne Grudem’s response to Christianity Today and calls is “terrific.”  He also brings up Beth Moore’s criticism of Trump.  Here is Jeffress’s response: “[Sarcastic laugh] These people are losing such credibility and its very obvious one motivating reason as to why they are against Trump is that they were wrong about Trump and their pride won’t allow them to admit that.”  Jeffress goes on: “It’s those ivory tower elites that just don’t get it….”

I am continually amazed at how this has now turned into a class-based war on “elites.” The assumption is that what “the people” want is always morally correct.  There is some truth to this idea.  This is why many of our founding fathers feared the growth of democracy.  After all, in a democracy 51% becomes the highest moral good.

Let’s remember that the opponents of slavery were “out of touch” with the majority of people of the South in the 1850s.  Martin Luther King was also “out of touch” with the majority of people living in the South in the 1950s and 1960s.  And Andrew Jackson was “in touch” with the people (white males Democratic voters who wanted to settle on Indian lands) when he sent the Cherokee on the “Trail of Tears.”

This morning I was reading Alexander Hamilton’s June 1787 speech at the Constitutional Convention as recorded by Robert Yates.  A taste:

The voice of the people has been said to  be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact.  The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right.  Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government.  They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.  Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily  to pursue the public good?   Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy.  Their turbulent  and uncontrouling disposition requires checks.

Sometimes I wonder if Hamilton may have been right.

*Christianity Today* Editor Mark Galli Says His Critics are Ethically Naive

Galli

Mark Galli, the outgoing editor of Christianity Today and the author of an editorial calling for Donald Trump’s removal, recently spoke with Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs of The New York Times.

Here are some highlights of the interview:

  • On the day after the editorial appeared Galli’s landline at Christianity Today “literally rang–this is not hyperbole–all day.” He took media inquires via cell phone and e-mail.
  • When asked about the criticisms of the article from Franklin Graham and Donald Trump, Galli said:  “And it did strike me as a bit ironic that they both said that it wasn’t significant or going to make any difference. It makes you immediately think that they do think it’s significant, or they wouldn’t comment on it.”
  • On other critics of his piece:  “I’ve been surprised by the ethical naïveté of the response I’m receiving to the editorial. There does seem to be widespread ignorance — that is the best word I can come up with — of the gravity of Trump’s moral failings. Some evangelicals will acknowledge he had a problem with adultery, but now they consider that a thing of the past. They bring up King David, but the difference is King David repented! Donald Trump has not done that. Some evangelicals say he is prideful, abrasive and arrogant — which are all the qualities that Christians decry — but they don’t seem to grasp how serious it is for a head of state to talk like that and it does make me wonder what’s going on there.”
  • Galli suggests that some of Trump’s closest followers are “in a sense, being discipled by him.”
  • In retirement, Galli will write on evangelicalism for the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian.

Read the entire interview here.  It is also worth noting that Galli’s critics are logically naive.

Losing Faith in Franklin

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James Seawel, a social worker and Christian counselor from Maynard, Arkansas, was once a Franklin Graham fan.  No longer.  Here is a taste of his piece at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

My critique of Rev. Franklin Graham (Christianus rectus) might appear predictable, although he excels in making himself an easy target with his wholesale approval of the president. As a Christian progressive and a frequent detractor of “Billy’s Boy,” it also might appear as if I simply enjoy throwing stones. I do not.

In our American tribal culture, many evangelical friends–my tribe–feel that challenging any evangelical leader borders on heresy. Attention, friends and neighbors! Franklin Graham is not and never will be either the church or its head. Not even the esteemed and beloved Billy Graham could’ve claimed that title, though his diplomacy and graciousness appealed to the masses.

On my spiritual journey I have learned and grown tremendously from theological and political conservatives. I also have been a lifetime fan of Billy Graham and, once upon a time, a fan of the entire Graham family.

One Christmas, as a junior at Harding University and a devoted member of the Church of Christ, I responded to a chapel challenge to stuff a shoebox full of Christmas gifts for Franklin’s Christian relief agency, Samaritan’s Purse. I made a quick Walmart run, then mailed a Nike box full of toys and chocolates to a deserving Appalachian orphan.

Some time later, after coming to grips with my conviction that Christianity was bigger than the faith group to which I belonged, I looked beyond my fundamentalist roots to the greater evangelical Christian culture. Enter Billy and Franklin Graham. They had “personal relationships” with Jesus– something I’d never been taught. I developed my own connection with the Lord when I transitioned from fundamentalism into evangelicalism and reveled in my newfound association.

Read the rest here. I think it is safe to say that Seawel is not alone.

Have You Visited the Billy Graham Center Archives?

Graham Center archives

Last year evangelist Franklin Graham moved the papers of his father, Billy Graham, from the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.  We commented here and here and here.

Despite the transfer of the Billy Graham papers, the Billy Graham Center Archives continue to be the country’s most important repository for the study of American evangelicalism.  Here is a taste of archivist Katherine Graber‘s recent piece at Christianity Today:

What makes the BGC Archives unique is its focus on collecting records that have traditionally been overlooked by other research libraries.

While church denominations collect their own records, many nondenominational and parachurch organizations simply do not have the resources to preserve their history, let alone make it available to outside researchers.

Often, these records are lost or destroyed, and with them invaluable pieces of American evangelical history. The BGC Archives exists to preserve those materials that might otherwise fall through the documentary cracks. After more than40 years of collecting, the BGC Archives now holds records documenting a broad range of missions and evangelism efforts.

Organizations like the Lausanne Movement and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship are perennially popular. More recently, we have witnessed renewed interest in role of American evangelicals in 20th-century global missions.

Records from organizations like Africa Inland Mission, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, or Latin America Mission are frequently requested by both scholars and laypeople. While documenting evangelical missions and evangelism is the core of the BGC Archives’ collecting focus, we also hold records that chronicle American evangelicalism more broadly, such as the records of Moody Memorial Church, the Fellowship Foundation, and Evangelicals for Social Action, as well as papers from figures like missiologist Donald McGavran, theologian Harold Lindsell, and even hymn-writer Fanny Crosby.

In addition to making our current collections available to researchers, the BGC Archives is continually receiving new materials, usually faster than we can open them for research. Some new and noteworthy collections donated in 2019 include a treasure trove of Elisabeth Elliot materials, such as recordings from her Gateway to Joy radio program, lecture notes from her many speaking engagements, and years of correspondence between her and Jim Elliot written during their courtship.

We also gathered new materials from a longtime missionary to Kenya that document the growth of evangelical missions efforts in East Africa and supplement our extensive Africa Inland Mission records.

Read the entire piece here.

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

Trump iN Dallas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Archives: “What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998”

Grudem 23

Yesterday I offered some analysis of Wayne Grudem’s article defending Donald Trump and criticizing Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for Trump’s removal from office.  You can read my post here.

Today I am running a post I published on August 2, 2016.  It is titled “What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998.”  Here it is:

I am guessing a lot of my readers have never heard of Wayne Grudem.  He is an evangelical theologian and the author of a very popular one-volume treatment of evangelical systematic theology. He is also well-known within evangelical circles for defending a “complementarian” view of gender roles in the church and society.

Grudem is the quintessential evangelical insider.  He speaks and writes for evangelical churches and rarely ventures out of this subculture to engage a broader American public. This is why most people outside of evangelicalism have never heard of him.

When I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1989-1992) I took a theology course with Grudem.  I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that Grudem spent a lot of time talking about his work on the Biblical idea of prophecy. (I also remember having to read all of Calvin’s Institutes!). He would eventually argue that today’s Christians needed to reclaim the gift of prophecy.  If I remember correctly, he argued that the Holy Spirit could bring divine revelation to a believer’s mind.

During my time at Trinity I attended a major conference called “Evangelical Affirmations.” The purpose of the conference was to draw clearly defined theological boundaries around the word “evangelical.”  Leading evangelical theologians and pastors (mostly conservative evangelicals who upheld the doctrine of biblical inerrancy)  gathered on the Trinity campus in Deerfield, Illinois to try to figure out who was “in” and who was “out.”

One of the most heated debates focused on whether one could truly be called an “evangelical” if he or she did not believe that hell was a literal place–a place of fire and brimstone where unbelievers would spend eternity suffering for rejecting the Christian gospel.  I am guessing that most of the delegates to the Evangelical Affirmations conference would have affirmed the existence of such a place of eternal torment, but whether its literal existence should serve as a defining marker of evangelical faith was complicated by the beliefs of one man: John Stott.

Next to Billy Graham, John Stott is probably the most important and well-respected evangelical of the post-war era.  Even New York Times columnist David Brooks has sung his praises as a thoughtful, wise, humble, and respectable voice of modern evangelicalism.

Stott did not believe in a literal hell.

When the majority of delegates said that a true “evangelical” must believe in a literal hell, someone stood up (I can’t remember who it was) and begged, quite passionately I might add, that the group not define evangelicalism so narrowly that someone as influential as Stott would be excluded. (Stott was not present at the meeting).  Debate raged

Midway through this heated discussion about hell and John Stott, Wayne Grudem stood up.  I remember it vividly.  Grudem recognized Stott’s evangelical faith and his contribution to global evangelicalism, but he also articulated his strong conviction that the evangelical movement must, Stott or no Stott, affirm a belief in a literal hell.

I remember Grudem speaking with a great deal of certainty that day.  Frankly, I could not interpret his words apart from what he was teaching in his class about the so-called gift of prophecy.

I thought about this moment, and Grudem’s views on prophecy, when I read his recent article endorsing Donald Trump for President of the United States.  You can read it here.  I am not going to use this post to argue with his political views.  Later this week I will be a guest on a Christianity Today podcast that, from what I understand, will be using Grudem’s piece as a framing device for a larger discussion on evangelicals and the 2016 election. I will probably offer some history-informed commentary there.  I also appreciate the responses to Grudem’s piece written by Jonathan MerrittThomas KiddWarren ThrockmortonDavid FrenchBeth Allison BarrScot McKnightRandal RauserDavid Moore, and John Mark Reynolds. Check them out.

In his argument in favor of Trump, Grudem wrote:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

It seems like Grudem wants to ignore these character issues when it comes to Trump’s candidacy.  But back in 1998 he thought that the character of the POTUS was important. Here is a taste of a statement that evangelical leaders signed in response to the moral indiscretions of President Bill Clinton:

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

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

(Thanks to Katie Manzullo-Thomas and Devin Manzullo-Thomas for digging up this statement when I was writing in June about James Dobson’s support of Trump).

I am not sure which Wayne Grudem to believe–the 1998 anti-Clinton version or the 2016 pro-Trump version.  Perhaps Grudem has changed his mind about presidential character.

Whatever one thinks about Grudem’s views of prophecy, it is worth noting that he does think that prophets are human and sometimes may be wrong. On page 69 of his book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today he writes: “The prophet could err, could misinterpret, and could be questioned or challenged at any point.”