Episode 73: Cowboy Evangelicalism

Podcast

What does it mean to be a man in white evangelical Christianity? In this episode we talk with historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. We discuss definitions of masculinity, the Gospel Coalition, Beth Moore, Donald Trump, the 2016 election, the differences between White and Black views of Christian manhood, and how the thesis of her book might be applied to American evangelical culture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

https://playlist.megaphone.fm?p=ADL7692401175
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Why did the Liberty University Board of Trustees put Jerry Falwell Jr. on indefinite leave?

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Hint: Answer is in the last paragraph.

Was it because he created a Blackface face-mask and tweeted about it?

Was it because the aforementioned tweet hurt Liberty’s athletic program?

Was it because Black students and employees were leaving Liberty?

Was it because African-American alums could no longer endorse the school?

Was it because he supported Donald Trump’s idea about delaying the 2020 presidential election?

Was it because he told a wild tale about how his father did not like the word “lynch” in Lynchburg?

Was it because one of his Vice Presidents started writing for the alt-Right Breitbart news?

Was it because he “doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do?

Was it because he called a Liberty University parent a “dummy?

Was it because he founded a “think tank” with a mission statement that said the biblical command to “turn the other cheek” was “no longer sufficient” when engaging on the “cultural battlefield?”

Was it because one of his best faculty members left because she couldn’t take the culture of the school any longer?

Was it because he thought there was a “criminal conspiracy” to oust him from power at Liberty University?

Was it because he admitted that he is not involved in the spiritual or Christian dimensions of Liberty University?

Was it because he told an evangelical megachurch pastor to “grow a pair?”

Was it because he got rid of the Liberty University philosophy department?

Was it because he left a late-night voicemail with a New York Times reporter telling her that she is “in some serious trouble?

Was it because he went on Fox News and blamed the coronavirus on Trump’s political opponents and a secret collaboration between Kim Jong Un and China?

Was it because he wants Liberty University to secede from the state of Virginia and join West Virginia?

Was it because he said that the editor of Christianity Today ignored “the teaching of Jesus?

Was it because he said that his religious faith does not inform his politics?

Was it because he likes to hang out in a Miami nightclub?

Was it because he called Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore “nothing but an employee–a bureaucrat“?

Was it because Michael Cohen had “racy photos” of him and his wife?

Was it because he employed a man who was rigging online political polls in favor of Trump?

Was it because he was sending alumni e-mail addresses to Republican candidates?

Was it because he advised Donald Trump to fire Jeff Sessions as Attorney General?

Was it because he censored the Liberty University student newspaper?

Was it because he refused to let progressive evangelicals hold a religious revival on Liberty’s campus?

Was it because he said that Christ “did not forgive the establishment elites?

Was it because he said that Donald Trump “has single-handedly changed the definition of what is ‘presidential’ from phony, failed & rehearsed to authentic, successful & down to earth”?

Was it because he defended Roy Moore when he was accused of molesting teenage girls?

Was it because he said he would join alt-Right Trump adviser Steve Bannon in driving “fake Republicans” from office?

Was it because he called Donald Trump a “dream president?

Was it because he praised Trump’s Charlottesville comments?

Was it because he defended Trump’s comments on the Access Hollywood tape?

Was it because he told Liberty University students who were protesting Trump’s visit to campus that they “are going to be making fools of themselves?”

While I am sure some people at Liberty University were troubled by all these things, it was a photo with a glass of wine, unzipped pants, and his hand around a woman’s waist that FINALLY got the Liberty Board of Trustees to act. This is classic evangelicalism. It’s OK for the president of the largest Christian university in the world to do all the things I listed above, but in the end it all comes down to sex and alcohol.

A president linked to sex and alcohol, not all these other things, is what is most likely to hurt enrollment numbers at Liberty University.

Some historical context for Jerry Falwell Jr.’s “crotch shot”

 

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American historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez will be our guest on Episode 73 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  We discuss her new book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

While you eagerly await our conversation, check out Kristin’s recent piece at The Anxious Bench: You Want Context: Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Crotch Shot and Family-Values Evangelicalism.”

Here is a taste:

Given this history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that white evangelicals had little difficulty dismissing allegations of sexual misconduct against Donald Trump in 2016. Nor should Falwell Jr.’s ardent support for the president be in any way puzzling. Already in 2012, Falwell had invited Trump to Liberty University. When the visit stirred some controversy after Trump told students they should “get even” with those who wronged them in business, Falwell jumped to Trump’s defense. This posture was fully compatible with Christian teaching in that it was representative “of the ‘tough’ side” of Christianity.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Evangelical pastor John MacArthur suggests churches that remain closed during COVID-19 are not “true” churches

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Who is John MacArthur and what is this all about? Get up to speed here.

Kate Shellnut and Nicole Sparks report on MacArthur’s sermon Sunday at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.

Here is a taste of their piece at Christianity Today:

During Sunday’s sermon, MacArthur suggested that churches that close are not true churches. “There has never been a time when the world didn’t need the message of the true church,” he said. “I have to say, ‘true church.’ I hate to think of that, but there’s so many false forms of the church. Let them shut down.”

The congregation laughed then cheered.

Some critics have questioned why Grace Church didn’t meet outside or adjust its indoor gatherings to meet health department guidelines rather than resort to a form of civil disobedience. Others brought up the risk of infection, since experts suggest church contexts, particularly with large crowds not practicing social distancing, are particularly susceptible to and responsible for several recent outbreaks.

Read the entire piece here.

Another evangelical pastor, Gavin Ortlund, has a different take.

“Jerry Falwell’s dream of athletic domination is in peril” as Black athletes leave Liberty University

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I was happy to help Joel Anderson with this piece at Slate.

Here is a taste:

Liberty’s football team has indeed come a long way since its inaugural season in 1973, when the Flames lost their first game to Massanutten Military Academy by 10 points. Liberty now plays in the top division of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A, and earned its first bowl victory in December. But to get to where Falwell Jr. wants to be, the university needs the caliber of athletes—many of them Black, like Land and Clark—that he has increasingly alienated with his far-right activism. (Nearly half of Division I football players are Black, according to the NCAA’s demographics database.)

“In order for them to attract the kind of players they need to become a top Division I school, they need to go recruiting people, Black and white, who aren’t necessarily perfect fits for a place like Liberty,” said John Fea, a historian of American religion at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “They’ve gotta go beyond the megachurch youth group.”

In our conversation just before his announcement, Land made it clear that football was never a problem for him at Liberty. The training facilities at the school were top notch. He’d acquitted himself well as a freshman defensive back, playing in 11 of 13 games, including five starts, and finishing with 23 tackles. He was projected to start as a sophomore. It was everything he dealt with off the field, Land said, that made it hard for him to recommend the experience to anyone else.

Read the rest entire piece here.

ADDENDUM (August 2, 2020). After rereading this piece, I also realize Anderson quoted me on race:

This school was borne out of a culture that was systemically racist,” said Fea, the Messiah University professor who has written extensively about Liberty on his website. “And they won’t address that because they don’t even believe in it.

The Author’s Corner with Wendy Raphael Roberts

awakening verseWendy Roberts is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Albany, SUNY. This interview is based on her new book, Awakening Verse: The Poetics of Early American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Awakening Verse?

WR: When I began to study American poetry seriously in graduate school, I simply could not believe that early evangelicalism would have had no impact on verse in early America; yet, it seemed absent from most of the conversation. When it was there, it was a discussion primarily about hymns. I wondered if people involved in the early revivals wrote non-hymnal poetry and what function it served. It turns out they did—a lot of it—and that it was central to their experience and to the development of both American history and literature.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Awakening Verse?

WR: Awakening Verse, which is the first history of non-hymnal poetry in British North America, argues that early evangelicalism must be understood as a central aesthetic movement of the eighteenth century; and that to understand early evangelicalism as it first took shape requires sustained attention to its prolific poetry. I show that verse was foundational to evangelical belief and culture because it infused believers with the emotions and feelings necessary for a close relationship with Christ, for living out tensions in theology and society, and for performing lay ministries.

JF: Why do we need to read Awakening Verse?

WR: I think most people will be surprised at the extensive role of poetry in early America. Trying to understand early American culture, and especially evangelicalism, without attention to poetry is akin to trying to understand the last decade without acknowledging the influence of social media. Because the book helps break down a split between “secular” literature and religion, and between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” literatures, it reveals that literature and religious experience are deeply entwined, and that entanglement is important to American history. Even further, this book is important to read now because it shows how revival verse produced evangelical feelings that reinforced certain classed, raced, and gendered structures. Evangelicals have prided themselves on creating a less hierarchal and a more accessible version of Christianity. Yet, the actual history is much more complicated. Right now white evangelicals are reckoning with their complicity with white supremacy; this book can help with that endeavor.

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

WR: I have always loved poetry and analyzing words and rhetoric. But I think that my own experience at an evangelical university and then a secular university made me hyper-aware that textual analysis is crucially tied up in history. At the same time, you cannot get to those meanings outside of the words. To me this pointed toward a beautiful messiness that I thought could produce respectful dialogue between Christian and non-Christian perspectives. This motivated me to study literary history.

JF: What is your next project?

WR: I have two projects: one seeks to answer the question of what the evangelical long poem, which became popular in the eighteenth century, tells us about the relationship of settler colonialism and evangelicalism. The other is a history of the poetic coteries with which Phillis Wheatley, the first Black American woman to publish a book of poetry, interacted.

JF: Thanks, Wendy!

Bruce Hindmarsh on J.I. Packer’s legacy

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Bruce Hindmarsh of Regent College in Vancouver was a student and colleague of the recently deceased evangelical theologian J.I. Packer. Over at Christianity Today, Hindmarsh eulogizes this giant of late 20th-century evangelicalism.

First, Hindmarsh offers some thoughts on the meaning of the word “evangelical”:

In light of his recent passing, I have been thinking more about his wider legacy and especially his significant contribution to evangelicalism as a whole. In the present political culture, however, the word “evangelical” or “evangelicalism” is freighted with a good deal of baggage that’s worth shedding immediately.

We can do so by going back in time. The Old English word “gospel” never got a proper Old English adjective and had to steal a Greek one: “evangelical.” But the noun and the adjective belong together. And as the great Bible translator William Tyndale put it, “evangelical” is a word that “signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy.”

Amen.

In the rest of the piece, Hindmarsh offers six ways Packer shaped the modern evangelical movement:

  1. He stole from church history and historical theology and brought it to the lives of Christians in the present.
  2. He was a “theological traffic cop.”
  3. He worked to combine theology and spirituality.
  4. He was a catechist who brought his academic theological training to the church.
  5. He built bridges from evangelicals to charismatic, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christian
  6. He brought a spirit of evangelical joy to everything he did.

See how Hindmarch unpacks these points here.

J.I. Packer: 1926-2020

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Evangelical theologian J.I. Packer has died. He was 93.

Here is a taste of Leland Ryken’s obituary at Christianity Today:

When Christianity Today conducted a survey to determine the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals, Packer’s book Knowing God came in fifth. His fame and influence were not something that he set out to accomplish. He steadfastly refused to cultivate a following. Instead, he made his mark with his typewriter (which he used to compose his articles and books throughout his life).

J. I. Packer filled so many roles that we can accurately think of him as having had multiple careers. He earned his livelihood by teaching and was known to those who were his students as a professor. But the world at large knows Packer as an author and speaker.

Packer’s fame as a speaker rivaled his stature as an author. In both spheres, his generosity was unsurpassed. No audience or venue was too small to elicit Packer’s best effort. His publishing career was a case study in accepting virtually every request that was made of him. His signature book, Knowing God, (which has sold a million and a half copies) began as a series of bimonthly articles requested by the editor of a small evangelical magazine. His first book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, began as a talk to a group of students (the publisher requested a pamphlet but Packer wrote a book). Perhaps no one in history has written more endorsements and prefaces to the books of others than Packer did.

In both his publishing and speaking, Packer was famous as a Puritan scholar, but he was also a dedicated churchman who said that his teaching was primarily aimed at the education of future ministers, and he spent countless hours serving on church committees. For a quarter of a century, Packer’s involvement with Christianity Today gave him a platform as an essayist who frequently turned to topics of cultural critique. Packer had a career as a controversialist (by necessity rather than choice, he confided to me). Despite this range, Packer consistently self-identified as a theologian, which we can therefore regard as his primary vocation.

When we speak of the legacy left by a deceased person, we think misleadingly in terms of a speculative posthumous legacy that is impossible to predict. J. I. Packer’s primary legacy is the influence he held over events in Christendom and over people’s lives during his lifetime. That is his indisputable legacy, and I will highlight what I believe to be the most important ways in which Packer affected the direction of Christianity during his life.

Read the entire piece here.

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism, is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

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There are many white evangelicals who believe that a spiritual revival will solve the problem of racism in the United States. When God transforms a human heart, the argument goes, the inclination to perform racist acts will subside. So we should pray for revival to “heal our land.”

As an evangelical Christian, I believe that God moves in the lives of his human creation and can change their hearts. But racism runs deep in American culture. It is systemic and structural.

The failure of white Americans to consistently and immediately apply Western ideals of liberty and freedom to African Americans is why we have systemic racism in this country. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments came around it was too late. White supremacy was baked in the American cake. (It was actually baked in the cake of Western Civilization well before 1776 because westerners failed to apply the universal values of the Enlightenment to the cause of racial difference). Neither did the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s end racism in America.

These reform efforts were important steps toward a new birth of freedom, but none of them were able to pull racism out by the roots. The roots were too deep.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this about court evangelical Robert Jeffress:

Jeffress thinks that racism will “evaporate overnight” if people just turned to God. Again, he fails to see that the sin of racism is structural–it is deeply embedded in our all of our institutions.  I recall the argument of  James Davison’s Hunter‘s book To Change the World”: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In that book, Hunter argues that individual transformation is not the best way to change the world. True change does not happen through some kind of Protestant populism, but rather by the “work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life.” Such change takes generations and it can only “be described in retrospect.” Individual spiritual transformation can bring about good ends, but it does not change the “moral fabric” or “DNA of a civilization.” I think Hunter’s words are an important reminder that the eradication of systemic racism is going to take a long time and a lot of work.

Other evangelicals are also calling for religious revival as a means of healing the nation of its racial divisions (and other divisions).

Here, for example, are court evangelicals Greg Laurie and Jack Graham:

If there is a spiritual revival, and it actually does do something to curb systemic racism in America, this would be a relatively new development in our history. I was reminded of this as I read David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was a slave at a time when a great religious revival moved through America. Some historians call this revival the “Second Great Awakening.” This spiritual awakening made considerable headway among the Methodists of the Delmarva peninsula. (See William Williams’s The Garden of American Methodism and John Wigger’s Taking Heaven by Storm).

Here is Blight on Douglass’s view of his owner Thomas Auld:

In August 1833, Frederick attained a special insight into Auld’s character when his master Blightallowed him to attend a religious revival at Bay Side, some eight miles from St. Michaels. This classic country Methodist camp meeting left indelible images in Douglass’s fertile memory. People came from all over Talbot County; two steamboat loads of pilgrims also arrived from Baltimore. The gathering lasted a week, and slaves relieved of work for a few days could hardly resist the excitement of hundreds of campfires roasting meat, a veritable tent city with a preacher’s stand in the middle and a “pen” marked off for “mourners” to enter and make their confessions, embrace the Lord, and be saved. A recent convert himself to Christian faith, although now struggling to understand whether God intended any justice on earth, Frederick witnessed the spectacle of master Thomas’s wrenching emotional breakdown and confession in that pen. Blacks were not allowed in the pen, nor in front of the preacher’s performances, but Douglass tells us that he imposed his way close enough to hear Auld “groan,” and to see his reddened face, his disheveled hair, and a “stray tear halting on his cheek.” Here festered the dark heart of the moral bankruptcy of slaveholders that the future abolitionist would make his central subject.

Douglass converted this memory into angry condemnations of the religious hypocrisy of the entire Christian slaveholding universe, especially the little microcosm of Auld’s household, where the young slave now had to listen daily to loud praying and testifying by the white family, and to participate in hospitality extended to local preachers who were sometimes housed at Auld’s home, all the while enduring the good Methodist’s verbal and physical cruelty. For Douglass, the proof of any sincerity in Auld’s “tear-drop” manifested in his actions. In his deeds and his glances, wrote Douglass, it was as if the pathetic master had concluded, “I will teach you, young man, that, though I have parted with my sins  , I have not parted with my sense. I shall hold slaves, and go to heaven too.” Such a vow, imagined by Douglass from the memory of his owner’s cowardly eyes, might serve as an unspoken motto of the Christian capitalists who ruled the antebellum South.

In his 1855 memoir, My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass says this about Thomas Auld:

It was not merely the agency of Master Thomas, in breaking up and destroying my Sabbath school, that shook my confidence in the power of southern religion to make men wiser or better; but I saw him all the cruelty and meanness, after his conversion, which he had exhibited before he made a profession or religion. His cruelty and meanness were especially displayed in his treatment of my unfortunate cousin, Henny, whose lameness made her a burden to him. I have no extraordinary person hard usage toward myself to complain of, against him, but I have seen him tie up the lame and maimed woman, and whip her in a manner most brutal, and shocking; and then, with blood-chilling blasphemy, he would quote the passage of scripture, “That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

Douglass thought the Methodist revival taking place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore during the 1830s was morally bankrupt because it gave white people a spiritual justification to continue their cruelty.

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

Are white evangelicals equipped for a conversation on race?

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Robert Vischer is dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis. His piece at Religion News Service is titled “Will the death of George Floyd sway white evangelicals on race?” I like this piece because Vischer points to the intellectual deficiencies within white evangelicalism that lead many evangelicals to reject systemic racism.

Here is a taste:

In his 1994 book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” evangelical historian Mark Noll explained that evangelical culture encourages “intense, detailed, and precise efforts … to understand the Bible.” White evangelicals have not made a parallel effort “to understand the world or, even more important, the processes by which wisdom from Scripture should be brought into relation with knowledge about the world.”

When the Gulf War broke out in 1991, Noll recounted, evangelical publishers quickly produced, and evangelicals bought in bestselling numbers, books reading the crisis as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy signaling the end of the world.

These books, said Noll, “shared the disconcerting conviction that the best way of providing moral judgment about what was happening in the Middle East was not to study carefully what was going on in the Middle East,” but instead to draw “attention away from careful analysis of the complexities of Middle Eastern culture or the tangled 20th-century history of the region toward speculation about some of the most esoteric and widely debated passages of the Bible.”

Has white evangelical culture changed enough since Noll wrote these words to encourage a meaningful exploration of how American laws and policies have shaped the lives of our Black brothers and sisters since our nation’s founding? Will evangelical churches have the courage to host uncomfortable conversations that don’t pretend our nation’s history of racism stopped with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954?

If they look to their Bibles, they might. Recognizing the reality of structural racism is squarely in line with evangelical theology, which recognizes that human beings often sin corporately; the nation of Israel does so repeatedly in the Old Testament. “Sin corrupts every institution and every system because, one way or another, sinful human beings are involved,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. has said. This means that “laws, policies, habits, and customs are also corrupted by sin.”

Evangelicals have recognized legalized abortion as a structural injustice afflicting American society since Roe v. Wade was issued in 1973. Are they ready to recognize the extent to which the structural injustice of racism continues to afflict our country?

Read the entire piece here.

Why an evangelical college president quit after Trump got elected

This is an amazing Warren Throckmorton interview with Greg Thornbury, former president of The Kings College. He talks about his nervous breakdown, why he quit, and when he realized he would never be an “evangelical leader.”

The stuff on Eric Metaxas, who was one of Thornbury’s best friends, is priceless: “Eric actually passed away in 2012 and was re-inhabited by tiny micro-robots which are now controlling his body like a ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ situation.”

Thornbury spent a good part of his early career in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) where he was mentored by Al Mohler. He thus has a lot to say about the SBC.

He also has a lot to say about fear.

This is worth your time:

Friday night court evangelical roundup

Court Evangelicals at Table

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Jentezen is worried about the radical left controlling churches:

Jack Graham is asking people to wear their military uniforms to church on Sunday. Why do white evangelicals always appeal to the Armed Forces, and only the Armed Forces, on July 4th?

I am really confused by both Paula White’s retweet and Samuel Rodriguez’s original tweet:

I am also confused by this tweet. What has history told us, Paula?

James Robison makes it sound like “profanity, pornography, and exploitation” are new things in America:

Robert Jeffress tweets the Great Commission:

I’ve always wondered why so many Christian Right preachers stop after Matthew 28:19. Don’t they realize that the Great Commission continues into verse 20: “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

If the Great Commission means we should be observing all Jesus commanded us, Christians should rejoice when persecuted (Mt.5:11-12), be agents of reconciliation (Mt. 5:23-25), tell the truth (Mt. 5:37), turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:38-42), love their enemies (Mt. 5:44-46), stop practicing their righteousness before men (Mt. 6:1), judge not (Mt. 7:1-3), not cast their pearls before pigs (Mt. 7:6), practice the Golden Rule (Mt. 7:12), follow the 81% narrow way (Mt. 7:13-14), beware of false prophets (Mt. 7:15-16), pray for laborers (Mt. 9:37-38), fear not (Mt. 10:28), defend their rights deny themselves (Lk 9:23-25), celebrate the poor (Luke 14:12-14), and welcome strangers (Mt. 25:35).

Jeffress is also mad about the California prohibition against singing in church. It looks like he got the news from the alt-Right, white nationalist website Breitbart:

Eric Metaxas is devoting his entire show today to re-running this.

Richard Land explains why we should still celebrate July 4th “amid this mayhem.” He uses his Christian Post editorial to attack critical race theory. Not a good look coming from the guy who said this.

Pastor Mark Burns thanks Trump for protecting Confederate monuments:

The Falkirk Center at Liberty University is using Edmund Burke to defend Confederate monuments and the white supremacy they represent.

I have many questions about this tweet, but here are two:

  1. Would the Falkirk Center feel the same way about George III, Parliament and British tyranny? Would they tear down monuments?
  2. Would the Falkirk Center like this “good, bad, and ugly” approach to American history to be applied to public school American history textbooks?

It looks like Trump will be “telling the truth” tonight in South Dakota. Here is what Falkirk Center spokesperson Jenna Ellis retweeted earlier today:

I am watching the crowd assembling at this event right now. No social distancing. No masks. The president’s job is to protect the people. This rally is immoral.

Until next time.

On Joe Biden’s Evangelical Outreach

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There are many white evangelicals out there who do not want to vote for Donald Trump, but they also refuse to vote for Joe Biden because they are worried about Supreme Court justices, abortion, and religious liberty. I know these people exist because they e-mail and message me regularly–almost every day.

At some point between now and Labor Day, I will try to write a post or publish something on whether or not an evangelical case can be made for Joe Biden. Stay tuned. But in this post I am writing more as a political observer.

David Brody’s reporting on the Biden outreach to evangelical Christians recently caught my eye. You can read it here.

I am not really sure what this outreach will look like. John McCarthy, the deputy national political director for he Biden Campaign, says that white evangelicals should be “open to Joe Biden’s message.” Why? Because Biden wants to build a “more fair and just society” that includes addressing climate change, racial injustice, and immigration reform. The Biden campaign is also conducting “listening sessions” with evangelical pastors and women. So far that’s it.

As Michael Wear points out in the Brody’s piece, the Hillary Clinton campaign did very little to attract white evangelical votes in 2016. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Though Clinton would never have come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign. In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.” Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions. During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions. There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Clinton was also quiet on matters pertaining to religious liberty. While she paid lip service to the idea whenever Trump made comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, she never addressed the religious liberty issues facing many evangelicals. This was especially the case with marriage. Granted, evangelicals should not have expected Clinton to defend traditional marriage or promise to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, but she did not seem willing to support something akin to what law professor and author John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.” The question of how to make room for people with religiously motivated beliefs that run contrary to the ruling in Obergefell is still being worked out, and the question is not an easy one to parse. But when Hillary claimed that her candidacy was a candidacy for “all Americans,” it seemed like an attempt to reach her base, not to reach across the aisle. Conservative evangelicals were not buying it.

Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton. In other words, white evangelicals do not hate Biden. (Christians are not supposed to hate, but it really seems like they hate Hillary. I’ve heard this over and over again from those I met on the Believe Me book tour). Biden is now doing just as well, if not better, than Obama with white evangelicals. One could make a case that the Biden campaign does not need to have a white evangelical outreach plan. As long as he doesn’t do anything stupid (which is definitely possible for Joe) that might rile up white evangelicals, he will get more white evangelical votes in 2020 than Hillary in 2016.

But if Joe Biden’s team is interested in making serious inroads among white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016, he will need to do several things:

On abortion: Biden lost his chance to win over most white evangelicals on this issue when he reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment. But he can still win some white evangelicals, or at least make them more comfortable with a Biden presidency, if he talked openly about abortion and how his policies on poverty and racial injustice might contribute to the continued lowering of the abortion rate in America. (The high abortion rate among African Americans, for example, is directly related to systemic racism and poverty).

Right now, when Biden talks about abortion, he does so in order to convince his Democratic base that he is pro-choice. This was his strategy during the Democratic primary season. But what if he talks about abortion from the perspective of his Catholic faith and his personal opposition to the practice? This would require him to say that the number of abortion needs to be reduced in America. He could easily make such a case and still defend Roe v. Wade. Senator Bob Casey Jr. made a similar case against Rick Santorum in the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate election. Such an approach would also give Biden a chance to contrast his views on race and poverty with those of Trump. Biden should not only address abortion when people ask him about it, but he should make it a campaign issue. And yes, I know this is wishful thinking.

Biden also needs to articulate a more nuanced view of religious liberty, especially as it relates to institutions who uphold traditional views on sexuality. Most of the debate on religious liberty today lacks complexity. I would encourage Biden to read Inazu’s Confident Pluralism. He may also want to think about the Fairness for All legislation. Again I know this is a long shot. There will be too much pressure for Biden to follow party orthodoxy on this issue.

An appeal to racial justice, climate change, and immigration will attract some white evangelicals in 2020. But most of these will be the white evangelicals (16%) who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. If the Biden campaign wants to ignore my suggestions (above) on abortion and religious liberty, and focus its evangelical outreach solely on race, climate, and immigration, they will need to do a much better job connecting these issues to biblical faith. I am not confident that Biden can deliver on this front in the way that Obama and Hillary Clinton did in 2008 when they visited Messiah College and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.

Mike Pence visits First Baptist-Dallas for “Freedom Sunday.” He and Robert Jeffress show us what idolatry looks like.

We have written about this annual service before. Check out posts here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

In case you don’t have time to watch, allow me to give you a rundown:

9:44: Robert Jeffress and Mike Pence enter the room wearing masks. He stops at the entry to the sanctuary and accepts a standing ovation from the audience.

10:20: The band and orchestra play a patriotic medley of songs, including “This Land is Your Land” (no reference is made to the radicalism of the song :-)) and “It’s a Grand Old Flag.”

13:00: The choir plays “America the Beautiful.” A voice comes across the speakers saying “Let the words of patriots remind us of our blessings. They warn us of the consequences of taking liberty for granted.”

17:00: The congregation and choir sings the Star-Spangled Banner. Future historians who study this service will not miss the fact that today’s singing of the national anthem has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with our current debates over whether athletes and others should “take a knee” during  its playing.

19:00: The master of ceremonies says, “This morning we come to celebrate the freedom that we have in America through Christ Jesus.” Think about that statement for a moment. Is he saying that Jesus died so Americans could be free? Perhaps it was just a mistake.

19:15: The orchestra plays the theme songs of all four major branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Veterans in the audience are invited to stand and wave their American flags when the anthem of the branch in which they served is played. This is one of the most revealing parts of the service. Even if such patriotic celebrations were appropriate during a Sunday morning service, Independence Day is not a military holiday–we have Memorial Day and Veterans Day for that. Independence Day is a time to remember our shared values and the times we have fallen short of those values. It is a time to remember the story of America–the triumphs and the failures. Yes, we can honor soldiers, but we must also remember reformers–Garrison, Anthony, Stanton, Stowe, Dix, Addams, Debs, Du Bois, Day, Fuller, King, Mott, Nation, Parks, Tubman, Steffens, Sinclair, Gilman, Lewis, Robeson, Guthrie, Baker, Robinson, Ali, the Grimke sisters, Weld, Mann, and many, many others. I wonder what Frederick Douglass, the author of “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?,” would have thought of this service.

24:50: All new attendees get a copy of Jeffress’s book Praying for America.

25:30: Jeffress takes the platform. He informs us that Ben Carson, Greg Abbott and John Cornyn are in attendance. They get a standing ovation.

28:00: Ben Carson gets up to speak. He thanks Jeffress for his work as a court evangelical and the “wonderful commentaries that make sense that you give on the news.” Carson then starts talking about Alexis De Tocqueville’s early 19th-century visit to America and the role the churches played in carrying forth  the ideals of the American Revolution. Carson does not mention that he is standing in a pulpit where ministers like W.A. Criswell preached that racial segregation is biblical.

After he references Tocqeuville, Carson moves easily into a bunch of Christian nationalist lingo.  Following this, he starts making indirect references to monuments: “Do we want to bury our history, do we want to bury our heritage, or do we want to learn from it?” Again, the crowd applauds. Carson adds, “we cannot succumb to the purveyors of division and hatred.” Yes, this is an African-American member of Donald Trump’s cabinet talking about how we shouldn’t fall prey to disunity. Carson works for a president who two hours earlier retweeted a video of a guy yelling “white power.”

35:00: The scripture for this day of patriotism is Psalm 33:6-12: It concludes: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.” This is a perfect verse for what Jeffress wants to accomplish in this service. A promise to Israel is used as a promise to the United States. America is God’s new chosen people.

35:30ff: Praise songs. Jeffress wants everyone to know that this isn’t just a patriotic service. That would be too secular. No, this is a service that brings spiritual faith and patriotism into a syncretic mix of Christian nationalism.

44:40: The choir sings a rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

50:00: Jeffress gives a shout-out to Donald Trump. He calls him “the most resilient, the most courageous, the most faith-friendly president in the history of America.” Trump gets a standing ovation. This idolatry is not unlike what happened in January at the Evangelicals for Trump rally in Miami, an event that prompted this piece. (Compare Jeffress’s service with this morning’s message from Dru Dodson, an evangelical pastor in Arkansas  and a former classmate of mine at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).

Jeffress introduces Pence. He then claims that by choosing Pence as his vice-president, Trump followed the example of Abraham Lincoln. No, I’m sorry Bob, Trump has not assembled a “team of rivals.” More like a team of flatterers.

He then moves into a Trump campaign speech. Finally, he encourages Pence to run for president in 2024. Everyone stands-up and gives Pence another standing ovation. Then they start chanting USA! USA! USA!” This is idolatry. It is not Christianity.

57:50: Pence wastes no time mixing the Bible and American ideals. He starts with Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ set us free….” This was a very popular verse among revolutionary-era patriotic clergy–men who also used their pulpits to twist scripture to make it fit their political agenda. Galatians 5:1 is not about political freedom. Read it.

58:45: Pence says that Trump “has been a great champion of everything we are celebrating here this morning.”

59:54: Pence says that since the “cornerstone was laid” at the founding of First Baptist Church in Dallas, the people have understood “that the foundation of America is freedom. And the foundation of freedom, is faith.” See my remarks above about the real history of this church. Pence may want to be careful using the word “freedom” in conjunction with First Baptist–Dallas.

1:00:00:  Pence’s speech is full of applause lines, especially when he mentions Trump’s name. This is a political rally on the Lord’s Day. It is actually worse, much worse, than the Miami event. Here is what I wrote about that day:

I am used to this kind of thing from Trump, but I was stunned when I witnessed evangelical Christians — those who identify with the “good news” of Jesus Christ —raising their hands in a posture of worship as Trump talked about socialism and gun rights.

I watched my fellow evangelicals rising to their feet and pumping their fists when Trump said he would win reelection in 2020.

Trump spent the evening mocking his enemies, trafficking in half-truths in order to instill fear in people whom God commands to “fear not,” and proving that he is incapable of expressing anything close to Christian humility.

His evangelical supporters loved every minute of it. That night, Christians who claim to be citizens of the Kingdom of God went to church, cheered the depraved words of a president and warmly embraced his offer of political power. Such a display by evangelicals is unprecedented in American history.

I usually get angry when members of my tribe worship at the feet of Trump. This time, I just felt sad.

Read the entire piece at USA TODAY.

1:12:00ff: Pence offers a David Barton-inspired history lesson. This is the stuff I tried to correct in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

1:19:31: Like he is prone to do, Pence ends by mixing 2 Chronicles 7:14 with American history. “If his people are called by his name will humble themselves and pray, he will do what he has always done through the long and storied history of this nation. He’ll here from heaven and he’ll heal this land.” Another huge ovation.

1:23:00 Pence ends by telling the story of his conversion at a music festival at Asbury Theological Seminary. It is moving. I have no doubt that Pence is describing a very real spiritual experience. But in this speech he is taking what seems like a work of God in his life and using it in the context of a political rally. Most evangelicals would say a hearty “amen” to most of Pence’s personal testimony, but his words are not spoken in a vacuum. They are uttered in the context of his previous remarks in this service. They are spoken in the context of the Donald Trump administration, a corrupt presidency that he has helped to enable.

1:27:00: Jeffress comes back to invite people to accept Jesus as Savior. Viewers online can click on a button that says, “I prayed the prayer with Dr. Jeffress.” Later in the day, Jeffress tweeted:

Did these men and women commit to Christ or Christian nationalism? If my mail is any indication, some of my readers will be upset that I just asked this question. But it needs to be asked.

1:36:00: The service ends with the waving of American flags and the singing of “God Bless America.”

1:38:00: As the people exit, the orchestra plays more patriotic music and the audience is encourage to keep waving flags.

The fusion of God and country has been around since the birth of the republic, but it is hard to find a more blatant manifestation of this convergence than what we saw this morning in Dallas.

Trump cheered. Jesus wept.

ADDENDUM (Sunday, June 28, 2020, 11:15pm):

The White House is calling Pence’s visit a “rally.” That says it all. First Baptist Church–Dallas let the Trump administration use the church to hold a campaign rally on the Lord’s Day. In case it gets changed, the title of this post at Whitehouse.gov is “Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Celebrate Freedom Rally–Dallas, Texas.”

Pence Rally at First Baptist

 

The Christian Right faith of Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

Kayleigh

Here is a taste of Emma Green’s piece at The Atlantic: “The Temptation of Kayleigh McEnany“:

McEnany’s role in the Trump administration played differently on the Facebook page of her alma mater, the Academy of the Holy Names. When the school announced her promotion to press secretary, a debate broke out in the comments over whether the academy should be congratulating her at all. Some classmates expressed confusion about how their Christian education aligns with the vision of politics she promotes. While several of her peers defended her achievement in becoming press secretary, even one of McEnany’s former teachers conveyed disappointment in how she has done so: “We taught that truth was not expediency but was the touchstone of relationships,” the teacher wrote. “Much of the rhetoric I have read and interviews I have seen when she was a commentator on television show how far from [the academy’s] values she now espouses. This saddens me.”

Of all the criticism McEnany has received, accusations that she has betrayed Christian teachings seem to be the only ones that bother her, perhaps because her faith is so personal. She and her husband, the Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Sean Gilmartin, had a baby girl, Blake, just a few months before McEnany took the press-secretary job. Between bringing Blake to visit the White House and posing her in a bright-red “KEEP NH GREAT” Trump cap, McEnany is intent on raising her daughter as a Christian: “If I give Blake the same faith upbringing and relationship with Jesus Christ that my parents gave me, she will be an unstoppable woman of faith in whatever she decides to do,” she recently told CBN. McEnany wrote in her book that she was upset when a CNN viewer suggested she should tuck in her cross necklace “when showing support for someone who goes against so many things that the Bible teaches.” She knows that no one is perfect, including politicians, she wrote. She bears her cross because she believes that it represents how “humanity might have a chance at a salvation that we do not deserve.”

Read the entire piece here.

As I read Green’s piece, I am struck at just how much McEnany’s understanding of Christian faith is shaped by a Christian Right confluence of GOP politics, Fox News conservatism, and a collection of cherry-picked Bible verses. There are millions of Americans like her and nearly all of them voted for Trump in 2016.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

Court evangelical dinner

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Although somehow I don’t think I am reading this tweet in the way White intended it.

I found this today. Here is James Robison in April. He says Donald Trump is the most “teachable man I’ve ever met.” He adds that Trump loves his neighbor more than himself.

Ralph Reed is retweeting retired NFL and USFL running-back Herschel Walker:

Reed is also sticking with the playbook. We shouldn’t expect anything more from the guy who helped write it. What is the Christian Right playbook? Read about it here. Hint: The Supreme Court will save us.

Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition tweeted this today. They can’t be serious about moral character:

A spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is going after the Dixie Chicks:

And she is claiming that Biden is mentally incompetent:

Meanwhile, the organization Jenna Ellis works for, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, shared this article about civility and civil discourse:

Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonder-boy, is writing about “shaky science,” among other things:

Again, Charlie seems incapable of empathy. Has he ever wondered why Bubba Wallace’s team got scared when they saw that rope hanging in the garage at Talladega? That might require him to pick-up a good history book or learn something about the African-American experience:

Glad to see court evangelical journalist David Brody has a problem with this:

Until next time.

Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Andy Rowell (a never-Trump evangelical) has a useful Twitter thread on Donald Trump’s visit yesterday to the “Students for Trump” rally at an Arizona megachurch.

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network says “God works in mysterious ways”:

Al Mohler admits systemic racism is real. Maybe this group forced his hand. The attacks from the right wing of the Southern Baptist convention should be arriving very soon.

Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk is not interested in why Bubba Wallace’s team was worried about nooses in the first place:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is tweeting about using Bible verses out of context and endorsing movements that support evil. Yes, you read that correctly:

Did John Hagee read Believe Me?

During an event in Colorado Springs called the “Truth & Liberty Coalition, “James Robison calls the last three-and-half years a “miracle of Almighty God.” He says a bunch of other court evangelical stuff, including that the media is working for the devil. If you want to get a good sense of the court evangelical way of thinking, watch this video.

Tony Perkins and Franklin Graham execute the Christian Right playbook to perfection. If you want to reclaim America as a Christian nation, you’ve got to get the judges. “Our hope is built on nothing less, than judges who pass the abortion test. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Kavanaugh’s name. On the Trump the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand”:

Eric Metaxas shows why I continue to support the so-called “fear thesis.” Fear-mongerers take the most radical and extreme manifestation of a movement and try to convince people that it is mainstream. All undocumented immigrants are murderers and rapists. All Democrats are extreme Leftists who don’t care about America. The goal is to scare people. Very few people concerned about systemic racism want to defund the police, tear down monuments of George Washington, or engage in violence. Yet Metaxas has devoted most of his shows in the last week to talking about these extremists. Trump and the Christian Right do this all the time.

One of Metaxas’s guests today, a writer for the aforementioned James Robison’s website, denies the existence of systemic racism. He describes “anti-racism” as “communism in blackface” and a “new fanatical religion.” The Hitler comparisons abound. Yes, Metaxas and his guest think that the protesters and the Democrats are behaving like the Nazis. The Eric Metaxas Show may have replaced the Glenn Beck Show as the new face of Godwin’s Law.

Until next time.

How the history of white evangelical racism has led to Donald Trump’s election and continues to shape support for his presidency

Believe Me 3dI begin with a caveat. This post is not implying that all white evangelicals are or have been racist. Many white evangelicals have been anti-racist and have fought hard to curb systemic racism in American life. But, as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, these are not historical forces that led many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. They are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to continue to support Donald Trump. They are not the historical forces that will lead many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  And they are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to reject systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

But here is some history:

1 .After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, which resulted in sixty white deaths in Southampton County, Virginia, fearful white evangelical Christians in the South began to fight harder for the expansion of slavery to the west in the belief that its spread to more open country might reduce the proximity of slaves to one another and thus make insurrections more difficult. White churches responded to Turner’s rebellion with missionary efforts in the hope that the chances of passion-filled revolts might be reduced if slaves could be monitored more closely by white clergy and lay church leaders. Yes, the idea of African Americans rebelling and causing disorder has been around for a long time.

2. The anxieties stemming from slave insurrections led Southern ministers to develop a biblical and theological defense of slavery. These ministers argued that anyone who read the Bible in a literal, word-for-word fashion (as God intended it to be read) would conclude that God had ordained this system of labor. Commonsense interpretations of Bible passages that referred to slavery were often difficult to refute. Old Testament patriarchs such as Abraham owned slaves. Slavery was a legal institution in the New Testament world, and the apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to obey government laws. In the book of Philemon, Paul required the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his owner. Writing in the immediate wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, Thomas Dew, a professor of political science at the College of William and Mary, used the Bible to defend the view that all societies had a fixed and natural social structure. Citing 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, Dew reasoned that Africans should remain slaves because God had created them to fulfill such a role in society. Slaves had been given a divine “calling” and, in Paul’s words, “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” One South Carolina Presbyterians went so far as to say, “If the Scriptures do not justify slavery…I know not what they do justify.” I am reminded here of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler’s remarks about slavery.

3. Evangelicals thought that the South’s social order, and its identity as a Christian culture worthy of God’s blessing, was grounded in a proper reading of the Bible. In other words, the people of the South–and eventually the Confederate States of America–believed that they were living in a Christian society precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.  The abolitionist argument against slavery was not only heretical because it violated the explicit teaching of Scripture; it also threatened the Christian character of the United States. Robert L. Dabney, a Virginia Presbyterian clergyman and one of the strongest defenders of slavery and white supremacy in the South, contended that the notion that slaves–or any Africans for that matter–had “rights” and thus deserved freedom was a modern idea introduced in the eighteenth-century by the progressive thinkers of the Enlightenment, not by the expositors of God-inspired Scripture.  James Henley Thornwell, another powerful theological voice in support of slavery, understood the Civil War as a clash between atheist abolitionists and virtuous slaveholders: “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders–they are atheists, socialists, communist, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. Sound familiar? Watch this or most other episodes of the Eric Metaxas Show. One of Thornwell’s students, New Orleans Presbyterian minister Benjamin Palmer, said that the South had been called “to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as not existing.” It was a duty to “ourselves, to our slaves, to the world, and to almighty God.”

4. Southern evangelicals also feared the mixing of races (even though the races were mixed mainly because of the long history of master raping slaves). Slaveholders believed that their defense of a Christian civilization was directly connected to the purity of the white race. One Presbyterian minister in Kentucky claimed that “no Christian American” would allow the “God-defying depravity of intermarriage between the white and negro races.”  South Carolina governor George McDuffie, who  said that “no human institution…is more manifestly consistent with the will of God, then domestic slavery,” also claimed abolitionists were on a “fiend-like errand of mingling the blood of master and slave.” In the process, McDuffie argued, they were contributing to the “end of the white republic established in 1776.”

5. Longstanding racial fears did not fade away with the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction amendments that ended slavery (Thirteenth) and provided freedmen with citizenship rights (Fourteenth) and voting rights (Fifteenth) only reinforced Southern evangelical racism. A classic example of this was Dabney’s opposition to the ordination of freedmen in the Southern Presbyterian Church. During an 1867 debate over this issue, Dabney said that the ordination of African American minister in the white Presbyterian church would “threaten the very existence of civil society.” It was God, Dabney argued, who created racial difference and, as a result, “it was plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification.” He predicted a theological version of “white flight” by suggesting that black ordination would “bring a mischievous element in our church, at the expense of driving a multitude of valuable members and ministers out.” Dabney would not sit by and watch his denomination permit “amalgamation” to “mix the race of Washington and Lee, and Jackson, with this base herd which they brought from the pens of Africa.”

6. Northern Protestant fundamentalists at the turn of the 20th century were aware of the moral problem of racism, but they did very little to bring it to an end. While they did occasionally speak out against lynching and other acts of racial violence, they failed to see how their literal views of the Bible contributed to systemic racism in American life. White terror groups seemed to understand this better than the fundamentalists did. As historian Matt Sutton has shown, the Ku Klux Klan regularly sought partnerships with fundamentalists. The Klan’s leaders believed Protestant fundamentalist crusades to save Christian America made them a natural ally in the war against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. Some fundamentalist commentaries on race could have been lifted from the collected works of 19th-century pro-slavery theologians such as Lewis Dabney or James Henry Thornwell. A.C. Dixon, the fundamentalist pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, called the Fifteenth Amendment (the amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote) “the blunder of the age” because African Americans were “ignorant” and thus ill-equipped to cast a ballot. Other fundamentalists upheld typical racial stereotypes that portrayed African Americans as rapists, murderers, and threats to white women. In 1923, Moody Monthly, the flagship publication of fundamentalism, published articles defending Klan activity. Fundamentalist fears about the decline of Christian America regularly manifested themselves in racism.

7. In the wake of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event which historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” several evangelical and fundamentalist clergymen were quick to put their white supremacy on display. Edwin D. Mouzon, the bishop of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, said he did not know who was to blame for the massacre. But if you read the front page of the June 6, 1921 edition of the Morning Tulsa Daily World, “black agitators,” including black activist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, were to blame.
Mon, Jun 6, 1921 – Page 1 · The Morning Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com

Mouzon said, “there is one thing…upon which I should like to make myself perfectly clear. That is racial equality. There never has been and there never will be such a thing. It is divine ordained. This is something that negroes should be told very plainly…At the same time, we must have a Christian attitude toward the black man; he is made by the same creator; he is subject to the same Christian laws, he is our brother in Christ.” On the same day, Reverend J.W. Abel of Tulsa’s First Methodist Church said, “What other nation in all human history has done as much [for] a people as the white race has done for the race which but a brief century ago emerged from slavery? A race which even in slavery was a thousand times better off than the black princes who ruled their race in Africa.” Abel continued, “But the sin of this [black] race is that they are all too ready to protect a member of the race in crime, for no other reason that he is a negro…some day the negro will come to know that the white race is his best friend.” Dr. Howard G. Cooke, pastor of Tulsa’s Centennial Methodist Church, noted that “there has been a great deal of loose-mouthed and loose-minded talking about the white people of Tulsa being equally to blame with the blacks. This is not true.” He added, “[The massacre] should be the beginning of a new regime of law and order in this city.” This is is an interesting observation in light of the fact that a self-proclaimed “law and order” president will be holding a rally in Tulsa tomorrow night, only a few weeks after the 99th anniversary of the massacre.  (Thanks to historian Kenny Brown for bringing this material to my attention)

8. In the mid-20th century,  white evangelicals had a mixed track record regarding racial issues facing the country during the civil rights movement. Billy Graham was famous for desegregating his evangelistic crusades, and many evangelical leaders and publications supported the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in public schools, just as they supported the Civil Rights Acts (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). But very few Northern evangelicals actually participated in the movement, and strong pockets of segregationist thought and practice continued to exist in the evangelical South. Most white evangelicals were not particularly interested in the civil rights movement; they were far more concerned about–and opposed to–the way the federal government used its power to enforce desegregation and oppose Jim Crow laws in their local communities. Historian Mark Noll has argued that race and civil rights served as an entry point for the white conservative evangelicals critique of active government.

9. This relationship between race and evangelical opposition to “big government” intervention into state and local affairs is best illustrated in the evangelical response to two Supreme Court cases. Green v. Connally (1972) removed tax-exempt status from private schools and colleges that discriminated against students based on race. At the center of the controversy was Bob Jones University, a school that banned interracial dating and denied admission to unmarried African Americans. In 1975, the IRS moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the university, a case that was eventually decided in favor of the IRS in Bob Jones v. United States.  Green v. Connolly and Bob Jones v. United States also had implications for the hundreds of private Christian academies cropping up (at the rate of two per day) all over the United States. Many of these schools were in the South and had discriminatory admissions policies, which is not surprising given that many such schools were founded in the immediate aftermath of public-school integration. When President Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian,” supported the Green v. Connally decision, he alienated many conservative evangelicals who ran these academies. To be fair, many segregationist academies were already beginning to admit African American students in the early 1970s, but the leaders of these schools, true to their Southern heritage, wanted to deal with the issues of segregation, race, and civil rights on their own terms. They certainly did not want the federal government forcing them to desegregate.

10. Thus, when Jerry Falwell and like minded conservative evangelicals created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, they already had experienced the power of the central government when the Supreme Court intruded on the affairs of their segregated academies. In fact, historian Randall Balmer contends that it was this fear of big-government interference as it related to desegregation of institutions like Bob Jones University and Falwell’s own Liberty Academy that prompted the formation of the Christian Right. Paul Weyrich, one of Falwell’s closest associates and one of the leading organizers of the movement, told Balmer in a 1990 interchange that the Christian Right was originally founded, not on evangelicals’ opposition to abortion, but rather on opposition to the attempts by the IRS to desegregate Christian academies.

11. Many of Trump’s evangelical supports came to Trump’s rescue when, in August 2017, he drew a moral equivalency between white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia and those who came to the city to try to oppose them. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church–Dallas, went on Fox Business Network and said that Trump “did just fine” in his statement(s) about the event. He performed a rhetorical move that court evangelicals and other Trump supporters have perfected: he changed the subject and went from defense to offense. Jeffress warned Fox viewers that an “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, and the “GOP establishment) were plotting to take Trump down. He then reaffirmed America’s Judeo-Christian roots without any sense that many of the Judeo-Christian influences that have shaped United States history were intricately bound up with the kind of racism that the nation had witnessed in Charlottesville. Watch:

It is time that white evangelicals take a hard look at its past and stop trying to “Make America Great Again.” It is time, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.” The operate word is reconciliation, not “renew,” “restore” or “reclaim.”

Wednesday Night Court Evangelical Roundup

Court Evangelicals at Table

Since my last update, a few things have changed in court evangelical land. Neil Gorsuch, one of two Donald Trump Supreme Court nominees, has defended LGBTQ rights and has proven he may not be the best court evangelical ally when it comes to questions of religious liberty. I imagine some evangelicals who are looking for a reason to reject Trump at the ballot box in November may have just found one.

Police reform and debates over systemic racism continue to dominate the headlines. On the COVID-19 front, more and more churches are opening this weekend and Donald Trump is preparing for a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What do the court evangelicals have to say?

In an interview with Charisma magazine, James Dobson writes:

In an outrageous ruling that should shake America’s collective conscience to its core, the U.S. Supreme Court has redefined the meaning of “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Not only was this decision an affront against God, but it was also a historical attack against the founding framework that governs our nation.

Dobson says nothing about Trump or how Gorsuch burned white evangelicals on this decision.

I don’t know if Louie Giglio supports Trump, but he is now apologizing for his use of the phrase “White Blessing”:

The apology seems honest and sincere.

Jenetzen Franklin praises Trump as a great listener and defender of law and order.  But Trump’s police reform speech failed to address the systemic problem of racism in America. It attacked Obama and Biden and it defended Confederate monuments. Is this big action?

Johnnie Moore, the guy who describes himself as a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” is doing the same thing as Jenetzen:

Greg Laurie interviewed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on police reform. Scott talks about the “character” of police officers and shows a solid understanding of the Bible, but the issues of racism in America go much deeper than this. I encourage you to listen to Gettysburg College professor’s Scott Hancock upcoming interview at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

The Laurie-Scott conversation is a step in the right direction, but it focuses on striking a balance between law and order (Scott quotes Romans 13) and individual acts of racism.  The real conversation should be over to have an ordered society and address systemic racism. Today, for example, Scott said that the United States is not a racist country.

Robert Jeffress is “thrilled” to have Mike Pence speak at his church for “Freedom Sunday.” Expect fireworks. Literal fireworks! Once again, it will be God and country on display.

Here is another view of Pence.

Last Sunday, Jeffress addressed the Floyd murder and its aftermath with his congregation at First Baptist-Dallas. He summarized his response to our current moment in three statements:

1. God hates racism. Jeffress FINALLY admits that First Baptist Church was on “the wrong side of history” on matters relating to race. This is a huge step! It would have been nice to have this history included in the church’s 150th anniversary celebration, but I don’t think I have ever heard Jeffress say this publicly.  Let’s see where this goes. First Baptist-Dallas has some reckoning with the past to do.

2. God hates lawlessness. Jeffress says that there is “nothing wrong” with peaceful protests, but he condemns the looting and riots. He does not say anything about the root cause of the riots. One more question: Does God hate Christians who disobey unjust laws? I think Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about that. So did most of the patriotic pastors during the Revolution. You know, the guys who created America as a “Christian nation.”

3. Racism and lawlessness is not the problem, the problem is sin. Agreed. The sin of racism pervades every institution in America. In order to address the problem of racism we need to go beyond mere calls for personal salvation. American history teaches us that some of the great evangelical revivals led to abolitionism and other forms of social justice. At the same time, some of the great evangelical revivals led to a deeper entrenchment of racism in society. Jeffress’s church, which celebrates its history of soul-winning, is one example. Also, let’s remember that when Frederick Douglass’s master got saved during an evangelical revival, he became more, not less, ruthless in his treatment of his slaves. We will see what happens this time around, but individual spiritual regeneration does not always solve the deeply embedded problems of race in America.

Now I want to hear how this generally good, but also insufficient, message applies to Jeffress’s support of Donald Trump.

James Robison is right. But so is Jurgen Moltmann when he said that Christians must “awaken the dead and piece together what has been broken“:

Tony Perkins is talking with David Brat, the dean of the Liberty University School of Business, about law and order and the breakdown of K-12 and higher education. Perkins thinks the real problem in America is a “lack of courage.” I did a post about courage a few weeks ago.

Brat wants Christians to be “prophets, priests, and kings.” Yes. Here is something I wrote last month about such royal language:

What does it mean, as Scot McKnightN.T. Wright, and Matthew Bates, among others, have argued, that Jesus is King? What role do Christians play as a royal priesthood, proclaiming the truth of God to the darkness and, as Wright puts it, “reflecting God’s wisdom and justice into the world.”And there’s the rub. Reed’s Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God as understood by many conservative evangelicals, looks the other way when a ruler from another kingdom (so to speak) practices immorality. They do not seem to take their citizenship in this Kingdom as seriously as they take their American citizenship or, at the very least, they seem unwilling to say more about the tensions between the two. (There is, of course, a deep history behind the conflation of these two kingdoms).

Gary Bauer just retweeted this:

Perhaps he should have made a caveat for Christians in prayer. But let’s face it, the court evangelicals don’t do nuance very well.

Ralph Reed is fully aware of the fact that Gorsuch and Roberts have betrayed him and his followers. Yet don’t expect him to throw out the Christian Right playbook anytime soon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is ready to retire and Reed will no doubt try to make the 2020 election about the Supreme Court:

Rob McCoy, the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Thousands Oaks in Newbury Park, California, invited Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonderboy, to preach at his church last Sunday. McCoy introduced him by quoting Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever it admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Kirk then got up and gave a fear-mongering political speech that ripped evangelical pastors who have participated in anti-racist protests. At one point, Kirk told the Christians gathered on this Sunday morning that if the Left “takes him down” he “will be on his feet” not “on his knees.” This was an applause line. If you want to see hate preached from an evangelical pulpit, watch this:

And let’s not forget Charles Marsh’s twitter thread exposing Eric Metaxas’s use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to attack Black Lives Matter.

Until next time.