Crowds at Penn Station, New York City awaiting the arrival of evangelist Billy Sunday, 1915.
Source: Library of Congress
Crowds at Penn Station, New York City awaiting the arrival of evangelist Billy Sunday, 1915.
Source: Library of Congress
Steven Waldman, author of Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom, makes a very interesting point in a recent piece at Talking Points Memo. After mentioning Trump’s anti-immigration policies and his defense of Christianity, Waldman writes: “It’s a stance we’ve come to expect, but there’s an irony to this. At a moment when more and more Americans are unaffiliated with religion, immigration is providing a counterbalance.”
Here is a taste:
Beyond that, it is well known that for the past few decades Latino immigration has energized, and in some ways saved, the Catholic Church in the United States. About 40 percent of American Catholics are Hispanic, and they’re more likely to say religion is “very important” in their lives than white Catholics.
Beyond the specifics, I’d argue that immigration has been a key factor in strengthening religious freedom in the U.S. New immigrants are more likely to be religious and to say it’s important in their lives than the general population.
Read the entire piece here.
The Washington Post has published a long-form piece by writer Elizabeth Bruenig on Trump and evangelicals. Her work is based on some shoe-leather reporting in Texas during Easter weekend, 2019. Bruenig talked to court evangelical Robert Jeffress, evangelicals at a small Baptist church, progressive Christians, and members of her own family.
Here is a taste:
However he reached them, Trump has undoubtedly made greater inroads with his evangelical adherents. Jeffress predicted an even bigger win for Trump among evangelicals this time around, surpassing his record-setting success last time; all of the Farmersville Christians were prepared to vote for him in 2020, as was Joe Aguilar. Much depends on the many months between now and the general election, but I would no longer underestimate the possibility that evangelicals will turn out in stronger numbers for a second Trump term than they did in 2016, partly to ensure another Supreme Court pick and partly because the backlash against them has cemented so much of what they already suspected about liberals’ attitudes.
Which raises a series of imponderables: Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.
Or was a truly evangelicalpolitics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?
Read the entire piece here.
I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 45,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said ‘shit’ than the fact that 45,000 kids died last night.
I thought about Campolo’s line again as I read about evangelicals in West Virginia who were upset that Trump used profanity at his recent Greenville, NC rally. Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s piece at Politico:
Paul Hardesty didn’t pay much attention to President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., last month until a third concerned constituent rang his cellphone.
The residents of Hardesty’s district — he’s a Trump-supporting, West Virginia state senator — were calling to complain that Trump was “using the Lord’s name in vain,” Hardesty recounted.
“The third phone call is when I actually went and watched his speech because each of them sounded distraught,” said Hardesty, who describes himself as a conservative Democrat.
Here’s what he would have seen: Trump crowing, “They’ll be hit so g–damn hard,” while bragging about bombing Islamic State militants. And Trump recounting his warning to a wealthy businessman: “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be so g–damn poor.”
To most of America, the comments went unnoticed. Instead, the nation was gripped by the moment a “send her back” chant broke out as Trump went after Somali-born Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, an American citizen. But some Trump supporters were more fixated on his casual use of the word “g–damn” — an off-limits term for many Christians — not to mention the numerous other profanities laced throughout the rest of his speech.
Read the entire piece here.
Here is a taste:
Just last Spring, Chesna Hinkley published an illuminating article about how poorly evangelicals have preserved the history of women. After examining every issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society from 1988-2018 as well as the conference proceedings across the same years, Hinkley found women were included in just 2% of all history content. As she writes, “In contrast to the mere 29 articles, book reviews, and conference presentations on women in the whole history of the church, over the same period I counted 137 articles on Jonathan Edwards alone.” Likewise, in her study of 15 evangelical seminaries, she found that women constituted only 2.2% of the subject matter. “Men who train at these schools learn nothing about women academically, leaving them with the impression that women have been unimportant–indeed, unnecessary–throughout Christian history.”
Not only are evangelicals failing to preserve women’s history, we are failing to teach it to our male leaders. Without courses or content on women’s history, as Hinkley writes, “men are never asked to interact with the ways in which women” do not conform to complementarian theology. …
I have a mug in my office which bears the slogan, “Write Women Back Into History.” Isn’t it time we wrote women–as leaders, teachers, and preachers–back into evangelical history? Isn’t it time we demanded our seminaries use textbooks that include women? Isn’t it time we use Sunday School and Bible Study curriculum that also includes women in church history? Isn’t it time we recognized women as leaders in the church in the same way that Paul did in Romans 16? Isn’t it time we demanded our pastors and church leaders include women just like Jesus did? Isn’t it time we made sure our church leaders learned about women’s history too?
Read the entire piece here.
American religious historians have made great strides in the last several decades in bringing women into the story of American Christianity. I am thinking here of historians such as Catherine Brekus, R. Marie Griffith, Dana Robert, Kate Bowler, Kristin Kobes Du-Mez, Emily Clark, Edith Blumhofer, Matt Sutton, Allan Greer, Lori Ginzburg, Gerda Lerner, Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher-Ulrich, Anthea Butler, Robert Orsi, Amy Koehlinger, Margaret Bendroth, Judith Weisenfeld, Marilyn Westerkamp, Janet Moore Lindman, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Kathy Sprows-Cummings, Rebecca Larson, Nancy Hardesty, Susan Juster, Julie Byrne, Ann Little, Gail Bederman, Carol Karlsen, Amanda Porterfield, Elizabeth Reis, and others. But I am not sure that the work of these historians has found its way into the stories many evangelicals tell about the past. As I read Barr’s piece I was reminded of Anne Braude’s wonderful essay: “Women’s History is American Religious History.”
Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, endorsed the Williams and Woods’s piece with this tweet:
— Albert Mohler (@albertmohler) August 6, 2019
And then came the critical tweets:
As each day passes you prove more-so what @tomascol and other faithful men are warning us about.
— Jason Harris (@JasonHarris2819) August 7, 2019
Anti white, liberal incrementalist rhetoric like this ignore the many crimes committed by other races daily, deny whites an ethnic community that African Americans and Hispanics enjoy, and legitimize replacement level migrations.
— Jacob Dodson (@tradistjacob) August 6, 2019
The problem is that the gospel of Christ states the fact that all men are sinful before God. You seem to taint the gospel by putting the call of repentance for racism on only one group when the other group is just as culpable. And that only brings more tension.
— Gil Martinez (@gimar63) August 7, 2019
How is any faithful Christian supposed to heed the advice of this article in fighting racism and White Supremacy when you and your brothers are promoting such gross redefinitions of those terms––the very redefinitions by which the faithful are also being abused in the culture?
— Jacob Brunton (@JacobTBrunton) August 7, 2019
I am guessing that these tweeters endorse this video.
Jemar Tisby, author of Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism called them it out.
Al Mohler is nobody’s liberal, and neither are the writers of the article he shares, but look at the replies. In all this talk of white nationalism, we ignore Christian fundamentalism to our peril. There’s always a spiritual/religious element that gives authority to ideologues. https://t.co/HP77KlzzCY
— Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) August 7, 2019
Yes and no. Or at least this is the argument of Oklahoma University sociologist Samuel Perry in his new book Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants.
Perry argues that evangelical men who take their faith seriously and try to practice it in everyday life view porn less than non-evangelicals. The real porn problem is the church’s perception that is has a serious problem.
Here is a taste of Jana Riess’s interview with Perry at Religion News Service:
There are several. Drawing on numerous studies, Perry finds that:
Despite the statistical finding that conservative Christians are less likely to use porn, the perception within evangelical churches is that this has become an enormous problem for the faithful. To them, the fact that only 40% of conservative Protestant men under age 40 have seen porn in the last year is not cause for rejoicing but for alarm—and the alarm itself may be creating, or at least exacerbating, psychological and marital problems for those Christian users.
Whereas many other Americans seem to be able to view porn without it causing significant mental health problems, for conservative Christians it’s different. The church’s zero-tolerance policy for porn means those who consume it only occasionally might see themselves as addicts from the first viewing. Even though conservative Christians use porn less than other Americans, they are statistically twice as likely to consider themselves “addicted” to it. Their shame can be soul-crushing.
Read the entire interview here.
In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, conservative evangelicals are offering lots of thoughts and prayers. Many of them are saying that we need to solve the problem of mass shootings through a spiritual reformation. The real problem, they preach, is the moral degradation of our culture. Guns don’t kill people, mentally disturbed and sinful people kill people.
Here are a few recent tweets:
Just like Bonhoeffer, who said “let’s not point fingers, perhaps God is allowing the rise of the Nazi Party so that we will return to him in prayer & repentance.” 🤦♂️
— Punk God (@the_punk_god) August 6, 2019
The tragic shootings we’ve seen in El Paso and Dayton prove the reality of evil. Laws are important to help regulate evil but they can never eliminate evil—only Christ can transform a person’s heart 2 Cor. 5:17.
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) August 4, 2019
— Jack Graham (@jackngraham) August 5, 2019
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) August 5, 2019
R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, says that the problem is not guns, but marijuana, out-of-wedlock births, relativism, multiculturalism, progressivism, and a general “cultural collapse.” In a strange turn in his piece, he randomly defends the late Southern Baptist segregationalist W.A. Criswell.
In some ways, these conservative pundits are correct. We do live in a coarse culture. I imagine future historians, if they are good, will see the rise of violent video-games, toxic social media, unprecedented access to unhealthy material online, intense political partisanship, and the presidency of Donald Trump as contributing to a culture that might lead to mass shootings. David Brooks is correct when he says that we have a culture problem. And let’s not forget that the renewal of white supremacy and racism is also part of this cultural decline, something that Reno and most court evangelicals do not mention.
I agree that prayers are important. We Christians have a spiritual responsibility to pray for those suffering in the wake of these horrendous shootings in El Paso and Dayton. I am not entirely sure that calls for prayer and spiritual renewal will bring deep change in the culture (I am with James Davison Hunter on this point), but I do think that these things are important and our churches and pastors should be encouraging them. I am enough of an evangelical to believe that anything is possible with God.
But I also worry that appeals to thoughts, prayers, and spiritual revival are often an excuse for not doing anything real and practical about guns in America.
Many Christian nationalists like to claim that our rights come from God. They jump from Thomas Jefferson’s line in the Declaration of Independence about our rights coming from our “Creator” (1776) straight to the Bill of Rights (1791). They assume that because Jefferson said it, it must be true for both founding documents. But does the Bible really affirm a “right” to bear assault style rifles? Did James Madison write the Second Amendment to reflect some kind of biblical mandate about self-defense, or was it written in the context of the colonial militia system practiced in eighteenth-century America, as historian Saul Cornell has argued? (For the record, it is the latter).
The idea that the Constitution is a sacred document, ordained by God and informed by biblical principles, is popular among many American evangelicals. As a result, sensible reforms in the area of gun control pose a threat to what is affirmed in a document that, for many God and country patriots, carries a level of cultural authority that is barely one notch below the Bible. We can’t let those liberals take our guns! Our right to bear arms comes from God and we must defend the document that makes us a Christian nation! (See Carol Kuruvilla’s recent piece at HuffPost. I was happy to contribute to it).
So we offer thoughts and prayers and calls for spiritual awakenings. The problem is not guns, it is the people who use them. Legislation will not solve the problem, so why bother with it? Let a thousand assault rifles bloom. It is our right to have them. What did Charlton Heston say about his “cold, dead hands?”
I think most Christian nationalists would say that human life is valuable. If this is true, then mass shootings are a “life issue.” Christians of all stripes believe that life is precious because God created us in His image. This idea is at the heart of the anti-abortion crusade in America, but it has not gained any traction in the area of gun control. When babies are aborted the Christian Right rarely talks about praying for the mothers who have the abortion or the families who have suffered through the decision. Instead, they seek to solve the problem of abortion by trying to legislate morality through political organization, proposing bills, and voting for the right political candidates who will appoint the right justices who share their sacred (and borderline idolatrous) view of the Constitution. (I have critiqued some of this approach in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).
In other words, when it comes to abortion, conservative evangelicals act. But when it comes to gun control, we just get thoughts, prayers, and calls for revival.
Over 600,000 babies were aborted in 2015. What if evangelicals took the same approach to this large number of abortions that they do with mass shootings? If they took this route they would cease thinking creatively (and perhaps even legislatively) about this moral problem and retire to their prayer closets. Why take the fight for the dignity of human life to the public square when you can just ask God to send another Great Awakening?
As Christians we must pray for God’s presence in our lives and culture. May He heal our land and give us a glimpse of a coming Kingdom defined by love, peace, and justice. But American history teaches us that reform usually happens when Christians act. The two are not mutually exclusive. Let’s pass sensible gun laws.
ADDENDUM: A shorter version of this post appeared, with a different title, on August 7, 2019 at The Washington Post.
Feel free to write a response in the comment sections below or hit me up on Twitter.
Meanwhile, here is a taste of Emma Green’s piece on the evangelical response to the shooting:
But other pastors, including several influential mega-church leaders who have been strong supporters of the president, have pushed back on what they call the politicization of this and other shootings. “I think it is wrong to assign blame to any party or any candidate for this problem,” Robert Jeffress, the head pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory council, told me. “This is the problem of evil.”
Repeatedly throughout his candidacy and presidency, Trump has spoken about immigrants and asylum seekers, especially from Latin America, as “invaders.” He has also derided Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals.” But Jeffress does not believe that the president is at all responsible for creating an atmosphere of violence. “If you listen to what the president is saying—contrary to some in the mainstream media—he is not anti-immigrant. He is anti–illegal immigrant. And there is a big difference between the two,” Jeffress told me. “I’ve known the president for four years. He’s a friend of mine. I’ve seen him in a number of different situations. And I’ve never seen one scintilla of evidence of racism in him.” In an address to the nation today, Trump did take a unifying tone: “The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate,” the president said. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”
Democrats are not impressed. Over the weekend, Democratic presidential candidates repeatedly blamed Trump for “savagely fraying the bonds of our nation by speaking consistently words of hatred,” as Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey put it on CNN. This kind of behavior is “shameful,” Jeffress said. “By politicizing this tragedy, some Democrats are trivializing this tragedy.”
Another Dallas-area pastor and Trump adviser, Jack Graham, agreed. “I’m not going to blame rhetoric on the evil heart of some terrorist. Who knows what was going on in the mind of this shooter,” he told me. “To me, this is not the time … to go running out there and condemning political leaders, whether it’s the president or anyone else, or blaming rhetoric, or blaming guns.”
Samuel Rodriguez, an evangelical pastor who serves as the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has also been one of Trump’s evangelical advisers. But he told me that it is impossible to deny that anti-immigrant rhetoric stokes bigotry. “I do believe words matter,” he said. “When we paint the immigrant community with one broad stroke, we are, in essence, feeding the poisonous venom already injected in the hearts and minds of individuals who truly do believe there is a Hispanic invasion.” He called on all elected officials to disavow this kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric. But he also said he hopes his white, Christian brothers and sisters will explicitly defend immigrants in this moment. “I would like to see every white evangelical pastor in America stand up on their pulpit and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, immigrants are not a burden. Immigrants are a blessing,’” he said.
Read the entire piece here.
Evangelicals will gather in Atlanta this weekend to commemorate 400 years since “20 And odd Negroes” landed on Virginia shores and introduced African slavery to British North-America. The event is sponsored by One Race, an organization that “exists to displace the spirit of racism and release a movement of racial reconciliation across Atlanta, the Southeast, and the nation.”
I am struck by the diverse list of speakers in terms of race (obviously), gender, and evangelical backgrounds. They include:
Tim Dalyrmple: The new CEO of Christianity Today.
John Hambrick: An evangelical pastor in Atlanta who has also served with Young Life and as a chaplain at King’s College, University of London.
Kendra Momon: Professor of Politics at Oglethorpe University
Teesha Hadra: Pastor of Los Angeles evangelical church and a former lawyer.
Lisa Fields: Leader of an apologeticd ministry in the Black Christian community who has an M.Div from Liberty University.
Justin Giboney: A lawyer and founder of the AND Campaign. I shared a stage with him earlier this year.
John Perkins: Evangelical civil rights activist and a living legend.
Louis Giglio: Evangelical megachurch pastor with a national following.
Learn more here.
The Washington Post is running a really interesting piece on Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical Christian. (Her spouse is a Christian author, pastor, and radio host). Those evangelicals who want to reach public audiences in their religious tribe can learn a lot of Hayhoe’s approach. Here is a taste of Dan Zak’s post:
Her skills of communication do seem miraculous by the standards of modern climate politics: She can convert nonbelievers. She knows how to speak to oil men, to Christians, to farmers and ranchers, having lived for years in Lubbock, Texas, with her pastor husband. She is a scientist who thinks that we’ve talked enough about science, that we need to talk more about matters of the heart.
For her, that means talking about faith.
“We humans have been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet, which includes each other,” Hayhoe said at the conference. “We are called to tend the garden and be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us.”
You might say that the climate problem, while understood through science, can be solved only through faith.
Faith in each other.
Faith in our ability to do something bold, together.
Faith that the pain of change, that the sacrifices required, will lead to a promised land.
Does this sound believable? Maybe in some places, to certain people. In Washington, at the climate conference, Hayhoe was preaching to the choir. But the prophet wasn’t just in town to talk to believers. She was here to talk to Congress.
Getting activists to clap for fossil fuels was the easy part.
Read the entire piece here.
Over at Slate, Ruth Graham writes about the decline of the Christian bookstore. Here is a taste of her piece:
The Christian publishing industry, and its distribution arm in Christian bookstores, plays a central role within evangelical culture, even for those who don’t read “Christian books.” Since evangelicalism has no central authority, the publishing industry’s self-defined borders have a huge impact on the people, ideas, and practices that get publicly promoted—and eventually accepted—as “true” Christianity. “Publishers have been really central to granting authority within evangelical culture … and for evangelical celebrities to be created,” said Daniel Vaca, a historian at Brown University whose book Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America will be published later this year. “Publishers have provided a cultural center for evangelicalism.”
Read the entire piece here.
This is so true. As I read Graham’s piece, I was reminded of how little evangelical churches do to help their congregations navigate the evangelical culture–books, videos, television shows, movies, “Jesus junk,” and music–that they encounter online and in Christian stores. A lot of evangelical churches have libraries, but they are usually not curated very well and have limited access to funds. (There are exceptions to this rule!).
These Christian bookstores served as evangelicalism’s “cultural center” in the sense that they connected local believers to a broader evangelical world shaped by booksellers and other market-oriented forces. The curators of this world brought us Joel Osteen, Paula White, Beth Moore, Rick Warren, Hal Lindsey, Josh McDowell, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, Frank Peretti, Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado, Dave Ramsey, Lee Strobel, Eric Metaxas, Ben Carson, T.D. Jakes, David Jeremiah, Sarah Young, John Eldridge, Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Kay Arthur, Anne Graham Lotz, Andy Stanley, and Joni Eareckson Tada, to name a few.
The evangelical world created by Christian publishing and bookstores largely centered on personal piety, Bibles and bible studies, self-help, and products that fused evangelical Christianity with the American dream. (I have actually read and benefited from a few authors on the list in the previous paragraph, but I find that most of this stuff does not feed my soul or help me navigate my world in a thoughtful way). In other words, these Christian bookstores rarely had large sections devoted to serious theology, biblical scholarship or books on how to bring serious Christian thinking–the kind produced at Christian colleges and seminaries–to social issues. (This is why places like Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania or Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan are so important).
Now that the Christian bookstores are going away, and since it is unlikely that the church will replace the publishing industry’s curating function, the Internet and social media will become the cultural center of evangelicalism. (One could probably argue that this has already happened). In some ways, this is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Individual websites, tweeters, and “influencers” will now serve as curators, resulting in the increasing fragmentation of American evangelicalism.
I don’t know the answer to this question. But it is an interesting one.
Megan Rapinoe is getting a lot of attention today, as she should. I don’t know if she is a religious person, but if she is a person of deep religious faith she is not alone on the women’s national team that just won the World Cup.
Religious belief has been an under-explored dimension of this team’s incredible run on the World Cup pitch. I also wonder if it has anything to do with their activism off the pitch.
Several members of the team appear to be very serious Christians.
Alyssa Naeher, the goalie who made the game-winning save in the semifinals against England, attended Christian Heritage School in Trumbull, Connecticut. Her twin sister, Amanda, is a pretty good soccer player in her own right. During her stellar career at Messiah College, Amanda was a two-time NCAA Division III National Player of the Year. She was part of two NCAA national championship teams. I not only looked this up, but I also spent many hours with my young daughters watching her play. Amanda is currently the head soccer coach at Charlotte Christian, the school that has brought us NBA stars Stephen and Seth Curry.
From what I have been able to gather through interviews and social media, Alyssa does not seem to flaunt her Christianity. But every now and then she posts a tweet like this:
“Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast, of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring, the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again” #HappyEaster #HeIsRisen
— Alyssa Naeher (@AlyssaNaeher) April 1, 2018
Over at Faithwire, Lindsay Elizabeth writes about the Christian faith of Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz.
At Catholic Vote, Katie Yoder covers the Christian commitments of Heath, Ertz, (and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles player Zach Ertz), Crystal Dunn, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Jessica McDonald, Emily Sonnett, and Morgan Brian.
I think we need to get Baylor University sports historian Paul Putz to break this all down for us.
…Admittedly, evangelicals have never been a monolith. As behoves people who take their spiritual destiny seriously, they argue perpetually about many things: for example over whether the fate of a human soul is predetermined, or how exactly a believer can be redeemed from the “total depravity” which is, in the view of John Calvin (1509-1564), the natural state of humanity. Debates which raged between Europe’s 16th-century reformers are rumbling on in America’s influential seminaries.
But according to a new book, “Believe Me”, by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, all these theological disagreements are being transcended by a more salient issue: whether or not to support Mr Trump wholeheartedly and therefore overlook his character flaws. These days, by far the most important distinction is between what Mr Fea calls “court evangelicals”, who stridently support the president and are rewarded with access to him, and every other kind of evangelical. As a new coalition lines up to fight next year’s election, some of the battle formations which formed in the 2016 contest are coming back into view, with even sharper spears.
Among those who inhabit the court, Mr Fea discerns three main groups: first, a section of the mainstream religious right whose origins go back to the 1980s; second, a cohort of independent “charismatics” who claim the gifts of the Pentecostal tradition (visions, miracles and direct revelations from God) but do not belong to any established Pentecostal group; and third, advocates of the “prosperity gospel” who resemble the second category but put emphasis on the material rewards which following their particular version of Christianity will bring. What defines all these “courtiers” is an insistence that loyalty to Mr Trump must be unconditional. In their world, the president is presented not just as the least-worst political option whose merits outweigh his flaws, but as a man assigned by God to restore America to its divinely set course, and therefore almost above human criticism.
To get round the problems posed by Mr Trump’s ruthless business career, messy personal life and scatological language, they use several arguments, of which one is a comparison with Persia’s King Cyrus, who liberated the Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to return to Israel. From the Jewish or Christian point of view, Cyrus was a pagan, not a worshipper of the one God, but he was still an instrument of God’s purpose. Likewise Mr Trump can be regarded as a divinely ordained ruler, regardless of any personal flaws. Indeed, as Mr Fea notes, the more strongly people believe in a divine hand in history, the more open they are to the idea that God can choose anybody at all to serve his inscrutable purpose.
Over the past year or so I have been calling attention to the ways the Trump administration has exposed a deepening divide in white American evangelicalism.
Back in July 17, 2017, in the Washington Post piece that introduced the phrase “court evangelicals” to a national audience, I wrote:
The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.
Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.
The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.
Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.
This division in white evangelicalism was on display again during Franklin Graham’s June 2 call to prayer for Donald Trump. I wrote about that here.
Today we see yet another illustration of how nasty things are getting within white evangelicalism. Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a staunch anti-Trumper, tweeted a response to an Associated Press story about the horrendous treatment of children on the Mexican-Texas border:
The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this. https://t.co/Cv3AmJgypn
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) June 25, 2019
By all reports, the Associated Press, and by extension Moore, are correct about the moral problems on the border and the failure of the Trump administration to do anything about it. As I posted yesterday, a Trump administration lawyer even tried to make a case that these children did not need soap, toothbrushes, or blankets.
But this did not stop the court evangelicals from pouncing. Here is Jack Graham, pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church:
This is a very inaccurate report! I’ve been to the border and seen the great work our Border Agents are doing along with churches like ours which are ministering in Jesus Name. Extremely disappointing @dmoore https://t.co/LZ6WQnQP3F
— Jack Graham (@jackngraham) June 25, 2019
He followed-up with this:
.@drrmoore …. why don’t you go with me to the border and we can show you what is actually happening rather than your simply quoting CNN. I’m ready when you are.
— Jack Graham (@jackngraham) June 25, 2019
Just for the record, Moore retweeted a report from the Associated Press, not CNN.
Another court evangelical who got into the mix was Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian school that claims it is the largest Christian university in the world. (Actually, it is not, but we won’t go down that road right now). I cannot embed Falwell Jr.’s tweet because he blocked me a long time ago, but I can quote it:
Who are you @drmoore? Have you ever made a payroll? Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch? What give you authority to speak on any issue? I’m being serious. You’re nothing but an employee–a bureaucrat.
Wow! There are so many things we could say about this single tweet. It not only captures the divide within white evangelicalism, but it also speaks volumes about Jerry Falwell Jr. as a Christian leader and educator. Here are few comments:
And here is writer Jeet Heer:
Did Jesus ever meet a payroll? https://t.co/z3Bz0OOo4j
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) June 25, 2019
I chat with Skye Jethani about the evangelical persecution complex. Here is a summary of the episode:
In a number of recent commencement speeches at Christian colleges, Vice President Mike Pence has been warning graduates about the hostility of our culture toward Christians. Historian John Fea is back to talk about what Pence gets right, and what he gets wrong, about the persecution of evangelicals in the U.S. Plus, Fea shares his theory about why regular church attendees are the most likely to still support Trump. Also this week, an evangelical activist is guilty of “astroturfing” Muslims. Airports try to ban Chick-Fil-A and Hollywood studios boycott states passing abortion restrictions. And is conservative politics killing white churches?
They are packing-up the documents in Wheaton and getting ready to send them to Charlotte. A sad day for American religious history. Get some context here.
Photos credit: Billy Graham Archives at Wheaton College via Larry Eskridge.
Back in March, I weighed-in as part of another RNS piece on this topic. At that time I said this: “By taking the papers away from Wheaton, where access is open, Franklin Graham and the BGEA can now control access and can thus control the narrative of his father’s life in terms of who gets to read them….Evangelicals must come face to face with both the good side and bad side of their history by taking an honest look at people like Billy Graham. I am not sure this will happen in Charlotte. The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte is not a library.”
I also wrote a post here.
Here is a taste of Tim Funk’s recent RNS piece:
This week, at Wheaton College in Illinois, specially trained movers will begin organizing, preparing and packing 3,235 boxes of paper items, 1,000 scrapbooks of news clippings dating back to the 1940s and more than 1,000 linear feet of videos, cassettes, reels, films and audio.
All of it documents the life and ministry of evangelist Billy Graham, the Christian college’s most famous alumnus. And soon, all of it will be headed to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte, N.C., Graham’s hometown.
The big transport trucks that will haul the valuable cargo won’t make the nearly 800-mile trip until mid to late June. But the controversy over moving the Graham materials all began more than two months ago. That’s when it was announced that, after June 1, the materials would no longer be housed at Wheaton’s highly regarded Billy Graham Center Archives.
Since it opened with Billy Graham’s blessing in 1980, more than 19,000 scholars, journalists and other researchers from around the world have spent 67,000 hours doing work there.
The BGEA’s Charlotte site does include the 12-year-old Billy Graham Library, but it was not designed as a research facility. Instead, it is a presidential-like museum celebrating the life of Graham, who died last year at age 99, and is a brick-and-mortar continuation of his worldwide evangelism efforts.
“The so-called (Billy Graham) Library is not a library,” said Edith Blumhofer, a longtime history professor at Wheaton who is now completing a study of the music of the Billy Graham Crusades. “It has no archives. It has no archivist.”
Read the entire piece here.