Does “Evangelical” = Trump Supporter?: Three Anecdotes from the *Believe Me* Book Tour

Believe Me 3dThe media and much of the intellectual community seems to equate “evangelical” with “Trump supporter.”  And why not?  81% of white evangelical voters pulled the lever for Trump, a fact I try to explain in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here are three pieces of anecdotal evidence:

1. Back in June I was asked to appear on CNN to talk about Trump and evangelicals.  When I asked the producer if I would be appearing on CNN alone or with other “talking heads,” she said that I would be on the air with Dr. William Barber, the African-American progressive minister and outspoken critic of Trump.  I responded to this news by saying something like, “So it sounds like this will be an anti-Trump segment.” The producer did not say anything in response. About an hour later, the same producer called me up and asked me what my book, Believe Me, was about.  I told her it was largely critical of Trump.  She responded by saying something like, “Oh, I thought you were an evangelical.”  When I said that I was an evangelical, but did not support Trump, she seemed confused.  She called me back twenty minutes later to tell me that they did not realize that my position on Trump was so similar to Barber.  They wanted someone to argue with Barber.  The segment was canceled.  (I eventually did find my way back to CNN a couple of weeks later).

2. On July 10, I got up early and drove to Washington D.C. to film a segment for Rising, a new morning news show on The Hill‘s online television network.  Rising is hosted by Krystal Ball, a former MSNBC host and 2010 candidate for Congress, and Buck Sexton, a conservative pundit and radio host.  When I arrived on stage, before the cameras starting rolling, Sexton starting asking me about my background and my work on Believe Me.  When he found out I was an evangelical who was critical of Trump, he obviously did not know what to make of me.  As the cameras started rolling, it was clear that Sexton was incapable of understanding how an evangelical could oppose Donald Trump.  His grasp of evangelicalism was incredibly shallow.  He obviously only understood evangelicals through the lens of politics and he spent the entire segment trying to put me into a political box.  After about 10 minutes, Sexton, obviously frustrated that I was not giving him Christian Right talking points, told the producers that “this segment is going too long.”  I was ushered off the set.  I turned around to thank Ball and Sexton. Neither of them looked up or said anything.  They were already prepping for the next segment.  While I was in the green room one of the producers of the show told me that the segment would air in a day or two.  As far as I know, it has yet to air.  I doubt it ever will.  Too much nuance, I guess.

3. Just the other day I got an e-mail, completely out of the blue, from one of the post-War West’s great public intellectuals.  He asked me to come to Washington D.C. to participate in a civil dialogue about Donald Trump.  This public intellectual was nearly 90-years old, but he still presided over a center devoted to his thought at a D.C. university.  He told me that the event would be televised nationally on C-SPAN.  Needless to say, I was flattered.  But after the two cases mentioned above, I decided to make sure this public intellectual knew who I was and what he was getting by inviting me to participate.  I e-mailed to tell him that I accepted his invitation, but he should also know that I was an American historian and an evangelical who wrote a book critical of Trump.  Thirty minutes later he e-mailed back to tell me that he thought I was a Trump supporter.   He dis-invited me from the event.  He was very apologetic and polite about it.

Apart from the fact that CNN, the producers and hosts of Rising, and this famous public intellectual did not read my book (or apparently even the dust jacket or Amazon description of my book), what should we make of these three cases?

In all three of them, I was invited to contribute to a discussion because I was an evangelical.  But because I was an evangelical, it was assumed I was a Trump supporter.

Thoughts?

The Willow Creek Mess

Hybels

A couple of weeks ago I was lecturing about George Whitefield to a group of K-12 history teachers gathered for a summer seminar at Princeton University.  I was rambling-on about Whitefield’s celebrity and his ability to attract large crowds.  I talked about his ability to unite Atlantic provincials in a common evangelicalism.  I described his relationship with Ben Franklin, his founding of an orphanage in Georgia, and his leadership of the First Great Awakening.

At one point in the lecture, an elementary-school social studies teacher who had never heard of Whitefield raised her hand and asked, “So what happened with this guy?  As I hear you talk I am expecting some kind of scandal or moral indiscretion.  How did Whitefield fall?”  This teacher seemed surprised that Whitefield never got caught-up in some kind of sex scandal.  She assumed that the Whitefield story ended badly.  We stopped and talked about Whitefield’s self-promotion, his ownership of slaves, and the way he divided local congregations, but as far as I know there was never an Elmer Gantry or Jimmy Swaggart moment in Whitefield’s life.

I thought about this teacher’s question as I read more about Bill Hybels and his moral indiscretions while serving as pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.  She may have meant her question to be snarky or cynical, but I did not take it this way.  It seemed like she had just come to expect this kind of thing from popular and powerful evangelical preachers.

You can get up to speed on the recent developments in the Hybels case by reading Laurie Goodstein’s piece in The New York Times.  I also appreciate Scot McKnight’s critique of Willow Creek and Hybels at Jesus Creed.  McKnight once attended Willow Creek.

Here is a taste of McKnight’s post; “Willow Creek, Your Time is Now”:

The time is now to be guided by this independent council of wisdom to tell the truth about Bill, to tell the truth about the women and Bill’s inappropriate, sexual relations, to tell the truth about governance that protected Bill’s reputation rather than Willow’s congregation, to tell the truth about bullying by the leaders through the Human Resources and buying silence through NDA (non disclosure agreements), to tell the truth about how the WCA’s Board was told by the three who resigned when the WCA refused to investigate Bill Hybels, and to tell the truth about the need for an independent investigation. The investigators cannot choose those who have to be investigated. An independent leadership council must do the choosing. Willow must be willing to listen to the council.  It is also time to tell the truth, in spite of what has been said by leaders after his resignation, about Bill’s continued contact with leaders at Willow to shape decisions.

It is time now to find the truth, to be transparent, to investigate the governance, and to tell that truth honestly.

The women told the truth. The Willow narrative is a false and deceptive narrative.

Why was it so easy for the journalists at Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today to find stories from women but Willow’s so-called investigation turned up nothing?

The time is now. Willow, your time is now. Time to find the truth, tell the truth, and live into that truth.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals and Trump: The Latest Poll

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

A poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic has much to say about white evangelicals in the United States.

  • 61% of evangelicals believe that the United States is moving in the right direction.  This compares to 64% of all Americans who believe that the United States is moving in the wrong direction.
  • 79% percent of white evangelicals believe “media bias” is hurting the country.  50% of religious unaffiliated people believe this.
  • 77% of white evangelicals view Trump favorably.   17% of non-white Protestants view Trump favorably.
  • 52% of white evangelicals feel negatively about the very real possibility that whites will be a minority in the United States by 2043.

On the last point: When Trump said last week that immigration was changing the “culture” of Europe, he was appealing to a significant portion of his evangelical base.

Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s article at Religion News Service:

“I argued that white evangelical voters have really shifted from being values voters to being what I call ‘nostalgia voters,’” said Jones. “They’re voting to protect a past view of America that they feel is slipping away. That’s driving evangelical politics much more than the old culture-war dynamics.”

Brantley Gasaway, a professor of American religious studies at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., said white evangelicals’ fears about the nation’s growing racial diversity might be linked to their perception of religious diversity.

“They perceive that America becoming less white means America will become less Christian,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true. Many Latino immigrants are coming from predominantly Christian nations. But they perceive changes in racial demographics as being a threat to the predominance of Christians in the United States.”

As a group, white evangelicals are declining. A decade ago they made up 23 percent of the U.S. population; today it’s more like 15 percent, Jones said. But they have an outsize influence at the ballot box because they tend to vote in high numbers.

The one area where religious groups appeared united is in their support for legislation that would make it easier to vote — measures such as same-day voter registration and restoring voting rights for people convicted of felonies.

Read the entire piece here.  Why do white evangelicals believe all these things?  I took a shot at explaining it here.

Some Thoughts on the Audience of *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dWho is the audience for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump? There are three audiences.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. The 81% of white American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.
  2. The 19% of white American evangelicals (and non-white evangelicals) who did not vote for Donald Trump
  3. Anyone who wants to understand why 81% of American evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.

I realize that many of those in the 81% will want nothing to do with this book. But I hope some will read it.  I hope the book can serve as a way of encouraging dialogue in churches and other places where evangelicals gather together in communities of Christian fellowship that transcend politics.  (I am assuming, of course, that some of these places still exist.  I think they do).

I also realize that those who study evangelicals at the highest level–many of them former evangelicals or disgruntled evangelicals–want to take evangelicalism to the woodshed for its many sins.  Their scholarship is good and needed, but I part ways with many of them when it comes to reaching the church.  As a Christian, I am a member of the body of Christ–the Church. That is where I must find my primary identity.

Of course I still have a responsibility to live out my vocation in the academy,  the classroom, and as a professor at a Christian college.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that some posts are written with my church community in mind.  Others are written for American historians or members of the academic community.  Still others are for the general public.  These groups often overlap.  I have written books for my students, my academic discipline, the general public, and the church.

As a Christian, I have chosen to worship among American evangelicals.  In 2016, a large number of my tribe voted for Donald Trump.  I don’t think that was a good idea.  I have even written a book to tell my tribe that I do not think it was a good idea.  But in the end, I must live with the people in my tribe and try my best to fulfill my vocation as a historian and educator in their midst.  Some will say I go too far in the criticism of my people.  I know this from the letters, e-mails, and phone messages I receive–some of them pretty nasty.  Others will say I don’t go far enough in criticizing my people.  I know this from the reviews of the book.

The trashing of evangelicalism is popular these days and you can get pretty far and become pretty successful in academic/scholarly circles–especially in the fields of history and religious studies–by doing this.  I am sympathetic to scholars who call evangelicals to task for their sins.  As I am learning on the Believe Me book tour, many people had (or are having) very, very bad experiences in evangelicalism.  They are hurting.  They are angry.  I am listening to their stories.

But in the end, I will continue to defend the term “evangelical” because it still means “good news.”  For me, this “good news” is the ultimate source of hope for those who are hurting.  I am still willing to fight for the “good news” of the Gospel because this message changed the trajectory of my life and the life of my family and extended family in positive ways.  And I have seen hundreds of other lives changed by this message—men, women, people of color, poor people, rich people, gay and straight people.

In the end, I want to use my vocation as a historian to be a more direct part of the solution in the evangelical church rather than someone who merely diagnoses the problem or calls-out evangelicals for their many sins.  I am not sure I can do this as an academic, but I am willing to try.  Perhaps other Christian and evangelical scholars are called to something different.  But if they are called to something different, they will need to convince me how they will use their gifts and knowledge to serve the body of Christ.  This point relates not only to the content of their work, but also to its style and means of dissemination.

If we pursue this path within evangelicalism today, it will mean that we must serve those with whom we disagree on a whole host of political and cultural issues.  It will also require us to work hard at uncovering the common spiritual and theological ground that draws us together every Sunday morning despite our differences. I am convinced that this kind of engagement deepens our faith, helps us to see the flaws in our precious arguments, makes us better listeners and communicators, and teaches us to love.  It may also mean, in some cases (but certainly not all cases), staying in a particular religious tradition rather than leaving for a more a comfortable place of worship and fellowship where people think more like us.

Postscript:

I am sure that for some of my readers, this post just made me a subject of analysis, rather than a detached scholar.  Of course such analysis goes both ways.  I have seen many of my fellow academics as subjects of analysis for a long time! 🙂

Is the Brett Kavanaugh Nomination Uniting Evangelicals?

Kavanaugh

Emma Green has a fascinating story at The Atlantic on how Donald Trump’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh is bringing evangelicals together.  Here is a taste:

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is the consummation of one of the big bets behind the 2016 election. Many white Christians voted for Donald Trump because they believed he would appoint conservative justices who would protect religious liberty and advance the pro-life cause. Now, ostensibly, they’ve been vindicated. With less than two years in office, Trump will very possibly see the confirmation of his second Supreme Court nominee, another handpicked choice of the conservative legal establishment.

At the time, however, it wasn’t at all clear how this bet would play out. Particularly in the evangelical world, the divisions over the 2016 election were bitter. A number of prominent leaders stepped out to urge their fellow Christians to consider what their vote would say to the world. Two years later, their largely positive reaction to Kavanaugh’s nomination is one sign that the intense political fractures in the evangelical world are fading—at least on the surface, and at least for now.

“I’ve never seen the SBC this unified,” said one of these leaders—Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention—in an interview on Wednesday. That unity has emerged in personal relationships and attitudes, he said, but it also seems to be the case in politics. Eighteen months into the Trump era, evangelical leaders are looking for ways to come together under this administration, even if existential questions about the future of the evangelical movement remain.

Read the entire piece here.

If Trump is indeed winning-over his critics in the evangelical community by nominating a pro-life justice, then I wonder why these evangelicals opposed him in the first place?  Was the only case against Trump in November 2016 based on the possibility that he wouldn’t follow-through on his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices?  Now that he has followed-through on this promise, do all the other criticisms suddenly fail to hold water?

Also, if Green’s piece is correct (and I think it is), then what does it say about the church of Jesus Christ that a president’s appointment of a Supreme Court justice is what brings us together?

The *Believe Me* Tour Comes to Louisville

Louisville 1Thanks to everyone who came out last night at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky.   It was good to see some old friends and make some new ones.   I even ran into some blog readers who saw my post about the Kansas Council for History Education t-shirts, bought a couple of them, and wore them to the event!  (Attention Emily Williams and Nate McAlister!)

Louisville 2

After the talk and signing I was honored to spend a few hours with some Southern Baptist seminary faculty and church history graduate students.  We had great conversation over coffee.

As I talk with the folks who come to these events for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, a narrative seems to be emerging.  People are deeply troubled about the state of evangelical Christianity in America.  Last night I heard stories of men and women deeply scarred by experiences with authoritarian, politically-driven evangelical Christianity.  Some have left evangelicalism for the Protestant mainline.  Others have left Christianity entirely.  Still others are in search of a more hopeful Christianity.  Evangelical pastors are wondering how they can minister to congregations divided by politics.

These people are telling me their stories–sometimes through tears.  The other night I spoke with an evangelical Christian who said that he felt more at home with the people he met at the book signing than he did at his own evangelical church.  What does this say about the state of the evangelical church?

I expected a lot of knock-down, drag-out political debates on this book tour.  Instead I am hearing from a lot of hurting people.  I am trying to offer encouragement and prayers.  But mostly I am just trying to listen.

We have reached the weekend.  Tonight I will be in Charleston, West Virginia.  On Saturday I will be in Lynchburg, Virginia.  On Sunday I will be in Raleigh, NC.  On Monday I will be in Winchester, Virginia.  I hope to see you at one of these great independent bookstores.

An African-American Evangelical on the Brett Kavanaugh Nomination

 

Kavanaugh

President Donald Trump announces xxxxx as his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

John C. Richards, the Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, is not overjoyed about Donald Trump’s pick of Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retired Anthony Kennedy.  Here is a taste of his piece at Christianity Today:

This tenuous relationship between judicial appointments and partisanship is why I am less excited about Kavanaugh’s nomination—especially when couched in terms of conservatism. While a more conservative court may be good for America, it hasn’t always been good for Blacks in America.

For many Black Christians, conservative strategies have historically had a disparate impact on our communities.

In Dred Scott vs. Sandford, a conservative court previously held that people of African descent could not be U.S. citizens. For the record, in the history of the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott case is regarded as the court’s worst decision.

Conservative strategies created the War on Drugs in the 1990s that has led to the U.S. far outpacing any other nation in the world in mass incarceration rates—which has resulted in a disproportionate amount of people of color in prisons across our country.

The truth is that many Black Christians aren’t so much looking for a more conservative court as they are looking for a more fair and neutral court—devoid of political influence.

Tempered Celebration

Ultimately, I want to encourage my White brothers and sisters in Christ to temper their celebration a bit. To be fair, many Black Christians would render a hearty amen to right to life and religious freedom issues that led many White Evangelicals to vote the way they voted in November 2016.

But let me be clear here. If there’s any concern about the Black exodus from Evangelicalism, we need to be sure that right to life is a womb-to-tomb issue—valuing human life and rights from conception to death.

We need to be sure that religious freedom and free speech extends to athletes who silently protest social issues in public spaces. We need to call out the hypocrisy of NFL owners who ask athletes to “just play football” and turn around and endorse federal judicial nominations on team Twitter accounts.

To make this nomination about Roe and dough (i.e. the religious freedom highlighted in the Christian baker case) ignores other essential issues Christians should care about—including immigration, health care, and labor laws.

Read the entire piece here.

Are Trump Evangelicals Dancing with the Devil?

trump-with-evangelical-leaders

One of the subtitles in the fourth chapter of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump is titled “Playing with Politics, Getting Burned.”  In that section I offer a few historical examples of conservative evangelicals who got too close to politics and paid a price.

In his recent piece at Vanity Fair, writer and former NPR executive Ken Stern addresses the same theme.  His piece is based on several visits to an Assembly of God congregation in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  He finds a growing ambivalence to Trump among American evangelicals.

Here is a taste of “‘Trump Has Kept His End Of The Bargain‘: Can Evangelicals Dance With The Devil And Not Get Burned”:

The ambivalence to Trump, combined with a growing discontent with the state of public discourse in the country, is leading some evangelicals to contemplate a step back from politics. When I ask Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Liberty University and a well-known commentator on public issues, about the evangelical views on Trump, she barely suppresses a sigh and tells me that she is trying to avoid the anguish of politics, and focus her energy on matters of tolerance and public respect. Hours later, an e-mail pops into my inbox from Pastor Steve, expressing his initial reluctance at having me interrogate his congregation about politics. He tells me that he is distressed by the daily conflict and “we’re really trying to get back to the roots of Christianity, which is to love everyone by sharing the Good News of the Bible, and not getting caught up in issues that eternally won’t matter.” Later, he confides his fears on how politics could divide his congregation and that he, and other pastors, need to refocus on community services where they could see collective impact: feeding the hungry, helping single parents with the challenges of work and home, and supporting local schools. These are themes now being echoed by the new head of the Southern Baptist Convention, J. D. Greear, who last week told NPR that it is time “to decouple the identity of the Church from particular political platforms.“

It is a surprising irony for a coalition that has long sought to abrade the wall of church and state. Some 40 years after the founding of the Moral Majority and the emergence of the white evangelical community as a coherent force in American politics, some evangelicals are finding that the old adage “politics makes strange bedfellows” can have a distressing consequence to it, too. If you are going to revel in the economic and social policy successes of this administration, it is uncomfortably difficult to evade responsibility for the division, anger, and social dislocation engendered by Trump.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Fox News Radio Host: “Apparently… There are Some So-Called Evangelical Christians Who Have a Problem With Patriotic Church Services”

Jeffress 2

Listen to Todd Starnes of Fox News and court evangelical Robert Jeffress talk about patriotic worship services.

A preview:

  • Starnes takes a shot at the critics of patriot worship services by calling them “so-called evangelical Christians.”
  • They criticize Michelle Boorstein’s recent Washington Post piece on patriotic sermons.
  • They take some shots at The Gospel Coalition, a group of theologically conservative evangelical Calvinists.  Starnes makes the Gospel Coalition sound like they are some kind of left-wing progressive group.
  • They call Christianity Today and The Washington Post “fake news.”
  • They continue to peddle the false notion that America was founded as a Christian nation.

To be fair, Jeffress does make a good point about anti-Trump evangelicals when he says “they can’t reconcile [President Trump] with their faith.”

Does anyone else see a realignment taking place in American evangelicalism?

Jared Burkholder Reviews *Believe Me*

Believe Me Banner

When you get a chance, check out the new look at Jared Burkholder‘s blog The Hermeneutic Circle.

Today he is running a review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This is my favorite review so far! Not only is it a positive review, but I appreciate the way Jared connects Believe Me to some of my earlier work in the history of 20th-century evangelicalism and fundamentalism and my experience as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I am also guessing that he will be the only reviewer to suggest that the Anabaptist heritage of Messiah College may be rubbing-off on me!

Here is a taste:

Historian John Fea gets back to his roots in explaining the “81%.” (The percentage of evangelicals who supposedly voted for President Trump.) Though he has a long list of accomplishments in mainstream historical circles, Fea’s original forays into writing about history was as a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he studied the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism under old-school church historian, John Woodbridge. I got to know John after he moved on from Trinity, but it was through the influence of him and others like him that I enrolled in the same program. In fact, when I had Woodbridge as a professor, our class used a bibliography on American fundamentalism that Fea had compiled while he was a student. While at Trinity, he completed a thesis on hard-core conservative fundamentalists. So while Fea has moved on to weightier topics such as the American Revolution, the early Republic, and Christian nationalism, he knows a thing or two about conservative evangelicals and the roots of the Religious Right. Fea draws on all these experiences in writing about how evangelicals helped to put Trump in office and why many continue to support the president, despite the president’s lack of Christian virtue.

Read the entire review here.

Did Your Church Have Patriotic Worship on Sunday?

36008-cross-and-flag

Did your church have a patriotic service yesterday?  Did you sing any patriotic songs?  My church did not.  I came in a few minutes late, but I don’t think the 4th of July was ever mentioned.  This does not mean that the leaders of my church are unpatriotic.  It means that they probably realize it is a bad idea to mix civil religion in the form of patriotic celebrations with Christian worship.

Over at The Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein has a nice piece on the debate over whether to bring patriotism into church.  The piece quotes my recent History News Network piece on the topic.

Here is a taste:

In 2016, LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 61 percent of Protestant pastors agreed that it was “important for July Fourth worship services to incorporate patriotic elements to celebrate America. Fifty-three percent of pastors in that survey agreed that their congregation “sometimes seems to love America more than God.”

The context of 2018 may be new — rapidly changing religious and racial demographics in the United States, growing secularism, the explosion of Web-based faith — but debates about how churches handle July 4 began surfacing early in American history.

Catherine Brekus, a Harvard University historian of U.S. religion, noted that in the early 1800s, Methodists opposed Fourth of July celebrations on the grounds that they were not Christian. By the 1850s in Cleveland, Protestant ministers “usually took the lead in organizing 4th of July activities, and speeches were given in churches. After the 1850’s, ministers still gave benedictions, but the ceremonies were usually held outdoors, and commercial leaders and businesses were prominently involved,” she wrote in an email, noting historical accounts.

John Fea, a U.S. historian from Messiah College who just published a book about Christian nationalism, wrote in June for the History News Network about why activities such as July 4 services are being debated anew:

“Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished their perceived status as God’s new Israel — His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God,” he wrote. Today, the anxiety about how to be Christian and American is high because history is being reexamined.

“The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made.”

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals, American History and Support for Donald Trump

Jeffress 2

The ideas and proposals I put forth in the last section of this piece I just published with History News Network are very important to me.    Thanks for considering them and sharing the piece with those who may need to read it.  I had hoped to publish this with a Christian, evangelical or conservative media outlet, but could not find any takers.  I am thankful to Rick Shenkman for running it.

A taste:

If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

We do.

We have. 

But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

Read the entire piece here.

Are Latino Court Evangelicals Doing Enough for Immigrants?

immigrants

Over at Religion & Politics, Arlene Sanchez Walsh and Lloyd Barba call Latino evangelical and Pentecostal churches to do more for immigrants “living under the regime of daily ICE raids.”  Here is a taste:

Evangelicals and Pentecostals, by and large, have been unmoored from any deep theological tradition of social teaching regarding immigration, never having developed a systematic response to state injustices. When set in the balance against the weighty record of Catholic and mainline Protestant public social and civil advocacy, indeed the writing on the wall spells out that evangelicals and Pentecostals are found wanting. This absence of advocacy has thus far not been ameliorated by para-church organizations, such as the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, whose leader Samuel Rodriguez has been self-appointed to advocate on behalf of Latino evangelicals. In fact, Latino evangelical leaders in high places of political power—such as the once-rising State Senator Steve Montenegro, a champion of Arizona’s SB 1070, (whose bid for 8th congressional district was supported by the state’s convicted and now presidentially pardoned former sheriff, Joe Arpaio)—show that Latino evangelical politicians can, do, and will vote against the basic-human interests of those sitting in their very pews.

But perhaps, in some cases, our decoding of that writing is misguided by our interpretive code of what responses ought to look like. That Latino Pentecostal and evangelical churches have long been home to a large number of undocumented immigrants is no secret. Could an intimate setting of worship and social bonding be bereft of any political engagement?

Read the entire piece here.

My Piece at *The Atlantic*: “Evangelical Fear Elected Trump”

Trump court evangelicals

This piece draws from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, but it also include material that is not in the book.

A taste:

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 can take a God-filled soul, and turn it to devils and dust.”

When the Bible Gets Caught-Up in an Immigration Debate

Bible book

Check out Sarah Jones’s recent piece at The New Republic on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13, “Who Would Jesus Lock Up.”  The subtitle reads: “Using the Bible to defend the government’s most indefensible policies is a longstanding American tradition.”  Very true.

Here is a taste of Jones’s piece:

But exegesis belongs to the realm of theologians. Sessions’s comments are troublesome not because they misrepresent the Bible or constitute a needlessly religious justification for a secular policy, but because they echo some of the darkest chapters in American history.

As Christian historian John Fea told The Washington Post on Thursday, American southerners frequently cited Romans 13 in defense of the institution of slavery. “[I]n the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong,” he said. “I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.” Slavery was legal, after all; to question Southern law was to question God.

In fact, early debates over the morality of slavery frequently played out in churches, a practice that continued as war broke out. Abolitionists had no difficulty defending the morality of their position, given the horrors of chattel slavery. Confederates, meanwhile, took up the language of a shared faith and deployed it in the service of propaganda.

Read the entire piece here.

Of course the Bible has also been used in American history to defend what some might call “defensible” positions.  Barack Obama did this all the time.  So did the Founding Fathers.

What strikes me about this whole Sessions controversy over Romans 13 is that the debate taking place online and in the media seems less about whether it is appropriate  to invoke the Bible in public debate in the first place, and more about which Bible verses should be used.

For example, here is Chris Cuomo of CNN.  Cuomo thinks Sessions’s use of Romans 13 is reprehensible. Then he goes ahead and uses his own Bible verses to show why Sessions is wrong:

Here is a piece on my friend, Holy Cross University professor Mathew Schmalz:

So what does the Bible say? College of the Holy Cross scholar and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Mathew Schmalz examined that issue more than a year ago, in an article for The Conversation.

Schmalz said the Bible is unambiguous in affirming the obligation to treat strangers with dignity and respect.

“As Matthew 25 makes clear, the Christians should see everyone as ‘Christ’ in the flesh. Indeed, scholars argue that in the New Testament, ‘stranger’ and ‘neighbor’ are in fact synonymous,” Schmalz wrote. “Thus the Golden Rule, ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ refers not just to people whom you know – your ‘neighbors’ in a conventional sense – but also to people whom you do not know.”

Schmalz, an expert on the papacy and the founding editor of the Journal on Global Catholicism, has published opinion pieces in Newsweek, Salon, the Washington Post, Commonweal Magazine, and The National Catholic Reporter.

“It is true that the application of biblical principles to contemporary matters of policy is less than clear to the many Christians who have taken opposing sides regarding how the United States should deal with immigrants, undocumented workers and refugees,” Schmalz wrote. “However, in my reading of the Bible, the principles regarding welcoming the stranger are broad-reaching and unambiguous.”

The Southern Baptist Convention quotes Leviticus 19:33-34, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Ezekiel 47:22, Zechariah 7:9-10, Matthew 25:35-40, and Hebrews 13:23 in its recent resolution on immigration.

Here are evangelicals from the Evangelical Immigration Roundtable citing the Bible:

So when does the Bible apply to a given policy issue and when does it not?  Maybe I will just go back to being a Catholic (like Mat Schmalz and Chris Cuomo).  Then I don’t have to worry about a thousand different interpretations of the Bible and just follow what the Church teaches on the matter.

Rob Schenck Tells His Story

SchenkReverend Rob Schenck was a Christian Right leader who parted ways with his fellow cultural warriors after studying the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He tells his story in a new memoir: Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love.  

Here is a taste of his interview with Mother Jones magazine:

MJ: So, when you look at the future, what do you think the result of the evangelical embrace of Trump will be?

RS: I say in the book that the Trump phenomenon may portend the total collapse of American evangelicalism, which for me would be sad, but not the saddest thing. We have an old phrase in evangelical parlance built on some biblical texts: “What the devil means for destruction, God means for good.” So, could God use this terrible thing in the end to bring about a better form of evangelicalism in America? We may reach a toxicity level where the patient must succumb, but we believe in resurrection, so out of death can come life…So, maybe this is the demise of what we now know as American evangelicalism, and largely, the Trump phenomenon is a symptom, rather than a cause. We made this terrible deal with Donald Trump because we were already demoralized. He didn’t demoralize us—he is the evidence of our demoralization.

Read the entire interview here.

The “evangelical movement is not monolithic”

latin evangelicals

Sarah Jones, a graduate of conservative evangelical Cedarville University, has been doing a nice job covering evangelicalism at The New Republic.  Here is a taste of her latest piece: “What’s Next for Evangelicalism?“:

Evangelicals love President Donald Trump, as we all know. And every time a new poll shows evangelical support for Trump at a steady high, the commentariat wrings its hands. These Christians have fallen for a cut-rate King David, a charlatan Solomon, a false prophet. But the evangelical movement is not monolithic. America’s megachurches aren’t lined up neatly in a row, all marching to a Republican cadence. Evangelical support for Trump maps onto racial lines: He belongs to white evangelicals, who put their might behind his presidency.

However, white evangelical Protestants declined from 23 percent of the population in 2006 to 17 percent of the population in 2016. In 2017, they declined to 15 percent of the population, the Public Religion Research Institute has found. The decline can be partly attributed to the millennial generation’s relative non-religiosity, but there are other factors at work. Immigrants are changing American politics, and they’re changing American churches, too.

Janelle Wong, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of the new book Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, tells me that Latinos and Asian-Americans are key sources of growth for evangelical churches. And they differ from white evangelicals in certain key areas. “I think what’s surprising is that non-white evangelicals, especially Asians and Latinos, sometimes show higher rates of religiosity, like they go to church more. Or they exhibit a more fundamentalist kind of orientation,” she explained. “And even though they show higher levels of religiosity, they are much less conservative on almost every issue, except for abortion.”

On climate change, Black Lives Matter, and immigration, non-white evangelicals have little in common with their white brothers and sisters in Christ. Trump didn’t just accelerate an identity crisis in his party, which faces its own future demographic challenges—he also created the same problem for one of the party’s most loyal factions. White evangelicals are ascendent now, but is the Trump era their last hurrah?

Read the rest here.

Should InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Be Kicked Off Campus at Wayne State University?

Wayne State

Wayne State University

In a recent post at The Anxious Bench, historian and George Mason University religion professor John Turner defends InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Turner, some of you may recall, wrote an excellent scholarly treatment of another evangelical campus ministry:  Campus Crusade for Christ.  (Now known as CRU).  Here is a taste:

In a masterpiece of a ruling, the Supreme Court this week declared that government employees may not openly loathe Christianity. This is what court watchers call a limited ruling. The Court did not settle the question of whether or not beleaguered evangelical bakers must bake cakes for gay weddings. Nor did it provide much guidance on whether or not government employees may subtly and secretly loathe Christianity.

Some of those more subtle government employees work for Wayne State University, which this week renewed a two-year-old bid to decertify a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Admittedly, it is asking a lot for university officials to tolerate the presence of an organization that promotes social justice, racial reconciliation, and inductive Bible Study. IVCF’s problem, in the eyes of university administrators, is that it insists that student leaders sign the organization’s statement of faith.

My blood pressure rises when I read about yet another university’s attempt to do away with IVCF. My own alma mater, Middlebury College, crusaded against IVCF a number of years ago. Okay, Middlebury doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation for free inquiry these days. But back in 1990s, I spent four years as a member and leader of IVCF (I probably had to sign something to do so), and I met my wife through IVCF, so I’m emotionally invested on this issue.

Of course, it has occurred to me that IVCF may have changed since the 1990s. Perhaps its hierarchy has become bent on making evangelicalism great again and now sends members to build the wall over spring break. Or perhaps the organization harasses Muslim or LGBT students. Nope. You can read IVCF’s statement of faith here. It’s not exactly hateful. Lots of divine love, mercy, and grace.

Read the entire post here.