Is the Christian Right to Blame for the Coronavirus?

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As some of you know, earlier this week I participated in a conversation with Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationism.  I think you can still watch the conversation here.

Today at The New York Times, Stewart has a piece titled “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals.”

Here is a taste:

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an “apostle” and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” he said.

Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies” and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church “when the rapture is taking place.” In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”

By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.

A couple of quick thoughts:

First, most op-ed writers do not write their own titles. The title of this piece is misleading. As Stewart noted in our conversation this week, and repeats in the Times piece, she is writing about a particular kind of evangelical, not all evangelicals.  Her focus is on the anti-science, Trump-loving parts of the Christian Right.

Second, those who are upset by Stewart’s piece should get a copy of Mark Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Stewart is essentially making the same argument about evangelical anti-intellectualism.

Here is conservative writer Rod Dreher:

 

I don’t think Stewart is scapegoating anyone. If one reads the piece carefully, it is hard to argue with the fact that people like Guillermo Maldonado, Rodney Howard Browne, Tony Spell, Jerry Falwell Jr., and others have been reckless. I think it is also fair to say that the white evangelicals who empower Donald Trump bear some of the indirect blame for his bungling of this crisis. Dreher obviously has a beef with The New York Times, but Stewart’s piece, and much of her book Power Worshippers, is pretty accurate.

Robert Jeffress suggests that Tim Keller is a “wimpy Christian” who has “cloaked” his “cowardice in theology”

Jeffress SWBTS

Listen to this recent conversation with Eric Metaxas and Robert Jeffress, two leading court evangelicals.

Jeffress is pushing his new book Courageous: 10 Strategies for Thriving in a Hostile World.  After listening to this interview, it is unclear whether Jeffress’s book is about showing courage in the midst of warfare against sin and evil or showing courage in the culture war against the Democratic Party and the opponents of Donald Trump. I have not read the book, but I don’t think Jeffress sees any difference between these two kinds of “courageous” spiritual warfare. Metaxas, however, uses the interview to push Jeffress in a culture war direction. The host chastises evangelical Christians who are “not bold in encounters with other people.” Metaxas wants a fight. Jeffress quickly enlists on his side.

It is in this spirit that Metaxas brings up Timothy Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and a leading evangelical thinker. (Keller has co-authored a forthcoming book with Washington University law professor John Inazu titled Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference. The book focuses on showing respect to those with whom we differ and cultivating a robust pluralism in our nation). Metaxas says, “I was sorry to read that my friend Tim Keller talked about how Christians shouldn’t get in bed with any political party as though the two political parties were equal.” I am assuming Metaxas is referring to this New York Times opinion piece.

Jeffress then offers his take on Keller and others (he does not mention Keller by name) who are not willing to engage in “courageous” culture war politics:

What [people like Keller] have done  is they have cloaked their cowardice in theology.  They have found a theology that will excuse their unwillingness to take a stand. They don’t want to take unpopular stands in their church. They can’t stand any kind of criticism. They are wimpy Christians. And I think it’s increasingly hard to be a wimpy Christian in this culture.  There’s no mushy middle. You’re either on the side of righteousness or unrighteousness.

Metaxas then asks Jeffress about his role as a surrogate for Donald Trump in the upcoming election. Jeffress responds:

I am a well-known supporter of president Trump…Because of my role as a Fox News contributor there are limits to what I am able to do in organized ways but I don’t intend to back off at all in my vocal support for the president.

This is not surprising.  But notice what Jeffress said.  The reason he doesn’t organize for Trump is because he is a Fox News contributor, not because he is a minister of the Gospel.

Jeffress then talks about his evangelical critics:

I think there is an attempt to shame evangelicals like you and me for our support of president Trump and they think if they can try to tie us to everything he’s ever said or done in his life maybe we will disassociate ourselves from the president and not support him any longer.

On one hand, Jeffress says that the church should be involved in politics. But he only wants the church involved in matters related to his political views, which he believes are the only political views based on the Bible.

But a truly engaged church should call out corruption and immorality in our leaders with the same kind of zeal that it praises particular politicians. When Trump acts in ways that are blatantly immoral, people like Jeffress and Metaxas say nothing. The silence is deafening.

On this point, Metaxas says that he doesn’t like everything Trump does, but he won’t say anything about it publicly because he does not want to join the “drumbeat” of criticism. Silence in the face of evil is not a Christian response. It is people like Jeffress and Metaxas who lack courage. They seem to be the evangelicals who have cloaked their “cowardice” in theology. The call of the church, to quote theologian N.T. Wright, is to “denounce what needs denouncing.”

A Great Night “At” the Midtown Scholar Bookstore

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Here is a taste of Yaasmeen Piper’s piece at The Burg:

However, that didn’t stop Midtown Scholar Bookstore from bringing its famous book talks to the community. They just had to get a bit more creative.

On Wednesday evening, Midtown Scholar hosted its very first virtual book talk. The new series kicked off with New York Times bestselling author Katherine Stewart and fellow author and American history professor at Messiah College, John Fea.

Our event series is such a foundational piece of what we do here at the Scholar,” said Alex Brubaker, bookstore manager. “We couldn’t let it die simply because we couldn’t meet in person. If we can contribute some semblance of normalcy to our lives at this moment, it’s worth it.”

Almost 200 people tuned into the bookstore’s Crowdcast, a live video platform used for webinars, Q&As and more. Some audience members were streaming the book talk from places outside Harrisburg, as far away as Chicago and even Canada.

Stewart discussed her latest book, “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.” Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” led the discussion surrounding religion, politics and their intersection with religious nationalism.

“It’s not just about evangelicals,” Stewart said. “[The religious nationalism movement] includes many evangelicals, but also excludes evangelicals and includes a variety of both Protestant and non-Protestant forms of religion.”

Stewart’s book dives into how America’s religious conservatives evolved into the Christian nationalist movement, which, she said, is better funded and more organized than many people realize. She reveals how the movement relies on think tanks, advocacy groups, pastoral organizations and even other religious nationalists around the world.

Both authors and Brubaker sat in their own rooms, with books lining the walls and dim lighting, almost giving the feeling of being back in the bookstore. Aside from very few technical hiccups, the conversation flowed smoothly. Audience members were able to chat amongst themselves using the live chat on the right-hand side of their screens.

Read the rest here.

Trump to Faith Leaders: “It’s a big day, Nov. 3; that’s going to be one of the biggest dates in the history of religion…”

Trump and Bible

I hope church and religious historians are taking note. 🙂

Great reporting here from Adelle Banks at Religion News Service:

(RNS) — The White House held calls with religious leaders last week to encourage their support of its guidelines for addressing the coronavirus, gathering more than a thousand people on three phone calls.

President Donald Trump took part in at least one of the calls.

“On Friday, President Trump joined Vice President (Mike) Pence for a call with hundreds of faith leaders to discuss the latest health guidelines to help slow the spread of the virus,” a White House official told Religion News Service. “Last week, the White House hosted three phone calls with more than 1,200 inter-faith leaders from across the country. President Trump encourages Americans of all religious backgrounds to do their part to stay healthy and stop the spread.”

When Trump briefly took part in the Friday call, he addressed the pending election as well as the pandemic.

“We have a pretty wild world out there, both in terms of people that are opposed to what we believe and what we think and also with respect to this whole new virus that came upon us so suddenly,” Trump said during the few minutes he was on the call.

The Centers for Disease Control guidelines related to faith-based groups have shifted over time. They now include advice to “Cancel or postpone in-person gatherings or move to smaller groupings” and “Cancel or modify smaller gatherings (e.g., religious education classes), where persons are likely to be in close contact.”

But Trump also told a Fox News town hall Tuesday (March 24): “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, which organized the Friday call, wrote about it on the conservative Christian group’s website and included a link to the hourlong discussion that featured Pence and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson along with, Perkins said, 700 pastors.

Trump thanked the leaders for their prayers for the country. But when asked by Perkins, who hosted the call, what he most wanted pastors to pray for, the president sought petitions for the country’s health and strength and “that we make the right choice on Nov. 3.”

“It’s a big day, Nov. 3; that’s going to be one of the biggest dates in the history of religion, as far as I’m concerned,” the president said before Perkins asked for Trump’s prayer requests. “We have to keep aware of that ’cause as we fight this (virus), people are forgetting about anything else.”

Among others on the Friday call were Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, said Jon Wilke, spokesman for the committee.

“The president did speak and encourage pastors to continue ministering,” Wilke said.

According to Steven Martin, communications director for the National Council of Churches, a council staffer who was also on the Friday call gave a different account.

“He indicated that the call was not about sharing information or engaging faith groups, but more about praising Trump and trying to change the narrative that Trump had dropped the ball and not taken this pandemic seriously early enough,” Martin said of his colleague. “In his words, the call ‘seemed to be more like a time for Trump’s faith surrogates to praise Trump rather than to truly reach out to faith communities.’”

Read the rest here.  The quote from Steven Martin of the National Council of Churches is revealing.

I’ll Be Live With Katherine Stewart on Wednesday Night “at” the Midtown Scholar

Stewart FeaOur face-to-face book event got canceled, but the Midtown Scholar Bookstore has moved us online!  Here is the announcement:

We’re thrilled to announce our very first virtual event! Join authors Katherine Stewart and John Fea via Crowdcast as they discuss The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. In the book, Stewart pulls back the curtain on the inner workings and leading personalities of a movement that has turned religion into a tool for domination, exposesing a dense network of think tanks, advocacy groups, and pastoral organizations. The Power Worshippers is a brilliantly reported book of warning and a wake-up call. Stewart’s probing examination demands that Christian nationalism be taken seriously as a significant threat to the American republic and our democratic freedoms.

Register here!

Religion and American Political Life: An Overview

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This is a nice overview from of the Université Paris Nanterre – Université Paris Lumières. (And thanks for giving a shout-out to Believe Me).  Here is a taste of his piece at The Conversation:

Younger generations are increasingly unaffiliated with a religion or a church, but they are also the generations least likely to vote which reduces their impact on the elections. Even if they voted more, as they did in 2018, America’s institutional political structure amplifies the power of whiter, more rural, more Christian voters.

Religion is thus likely to continue to play a major role in US elections for years to come. And with the help of what Katherine Stewart calls the “Christian nationalist machine,” Donald Trump will certainly make religious identity a central element of his campaign.

Read the entire piece here.

Scapegoating Mitt Romney

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Thanks to Sightings (University of Chicago Divinity School) and editor Joel Brown for picking up this piece.  A taste:

But whatever support Romney had among these evangelicals quickly faded after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump understood evangelical voters better than Romney. He learned rather quickly that he needed their support in large numbers to defeat Hillary Clinton. Someone handed him the Christian Right political playbook—an approach to politics focused on abortion, religious liberty (as evangelicals define it), and Israel—and he executed it to perfection. Romney did everything he could to stop the reality television star from becoming president, including the delivery of a speech at the University of Utah in March 2016 in which he called Trump a “fraud” and said he was “playing the American public for suckers.” When white evangelicals helped carry Trump to an electoral college victory, the name “Mitt Romney” was already anathema to these voters. Romney’s vote to remove Trump from office during the 2020 impeachment trial was the icing on the cake.

The case of Romney’s relationship with American evangelicals speaks volumes about the current state of Christian Right politics. The leaders of this movement are quick to tweet Bible verses for their followers and teasers about their relationship with Jesus or their latest sermon series, but when it comes to politics, they are ruthless and cutthroat. They claim to pray for their enemies on Sunday, but they prey on their enemies the rest of the week (and often on Sunday morning as well). The Christian Right is no longer a religious movement, it is a political one. The only thing different about Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Tony Perkins, and the rest of the Christian Right leaders is the content of their political message. Their ruthless, dog-eat-dog tactics are the same as their conservative political counterparts—yet another evangelical accommodation to the larger culture. Like most political movements, the Christian Right sees the world in black and white. It demands absolute loyalty. It understands independent thinking as a kind of betrayal. And as Mitt Romney now knows, it punishes traitors.  

Evangelicals, This is How Republics Fail

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My latest piece at Sojourners. (Readers of this blog will note that it is adapted from a few posts that originally appeared here).

A taste:

The United States is not a Christian nation. Nor was it founded as such. The Founding Fathers argued over politics and policy just like we do, but they were united in the belief that republics fail without virtue. They believed people must always exercise what they called “political jealousy.” A jealous citizen kept a principled watch on government leaders to guard against vice and corruption. Political jealousy served as a unifying force, a common ideology of resistance to tyranny grounded in a shared morality. By keeping our heads in the sand as Trump proves he is incapable of living according to the most basic standards of decency, evangelicals neglect to do their part in sustaining our republic.

We have failed to be good citizens. We have become complicit in the president’s nativism, racism, xenophobia, narcissism, and fearmongering. Sadly, Trump-supporting evangelicals have now lost much of their moral authority to speak out on matters related to government corruption, pornography, sex and violence in movies and television shows, racial reconciliation, school bullying, and the decline in civil discourse.

I left this discussion with my friend wondering: Am I being too hard on evangelicals? Perhaps. But this is my tribe. I have chosen, for better or for worse, to save my strongest criticism for my own people.

The political problems in our community run deeper than just our failure to speak with a prophetic voice. Donald Trump will be gone one day. But the political playbook that evangelicals follow will not go away unless we decide to burn it and start over. There is a very good chance that this playbook will lead evangelicals into the arms of another immoral tyrant who promises conservative Supreme Court justices and offers platitudes about religious liberty.

We need a new political playbook. We need to replace our lust for political power with heavy doses of humility. We must forge a new kind of politics defined, at its very core, by human dignity. It is imperative that we teach our children and grandchildren a way of engaging the world that offers it a glimpse of a coming kingdom defined by love, justice, mercy, and compassion. We need to offer hope, not fear.

Read the entire piece here.

“It is part of the inalienable task of God’s people…to speak the truth to power.”

Wright God in PublicI have been reading a lot of N.T. Wright lately.   The Anglican New Testament scholar and theologian has been helpful as I try to think about how to speak faithfully in our current political moment in the United States.  In his book God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power TodayWright offers what he calls a “rough sketch of a Christian political theology.”  His sketch includes four points:

First:

…the creator God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic. The order in question is to be a human order: that is to say, God intends that there should be human structures of government.  God does not want anarchy.  Just as God intends the world of plants and crops to work under human management, so God intends that human societies should be wisely ordered under human stewardship.  This pattern, of delegated authority if you like, goes all the way back to the human vocation to be God’s “image bearers.” It corresponds to the pattern of God’s actions in and through Jesus Christ.  That is what Paul says in Colossians 1:15-17.

Colossians 1:15-17: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Second:

…if God intends that there should be power structures; if he wills that humans should find ways of running the world and bringing it to wise order–then, within a world in rebellion, this call to power translates all too easily into a temptation to the abuse of power.  As soon as you make someone a steward of creation…you challenge them to navigate past the temptation to use that power for their own advantage, to become, in other words, part of the problem to which they are supposed to be part of the solution….

Third:

…it is part of the inalienable task of God’s people, of those who worship the creator God, whom we see in Jesus and know through the Spirit, to speak the truth to power.  This calling will mean reminding governments, local councillors, authorities in every sphere, including church leaders, of their calling to selfless stewardship. It will mean pointing our fearlessly (but also humbly: arrogance will spoil the whole thing) where this trust is being abused, in whatever way. Once more, God is not nearly so interested in how rulers get to be rulers as he is in how they behave as rulers. That is why the church has the vital task of reminding them of their proper vocation and of calling them to account.

Fourth:

…it is the task of the followers of Jesus to remind those called to authority, in whatever sphere, that the God who made the world intends to put the world rights at the last. It isn’t simply a matter of reminding the authorities of duties they have always had.  It is a matter of calling them to acts of justice and mercy which will anticipate, in the present time, God’s final setting of all things to rights, God’s wiping away of every tear from every eye. This calling–which many authorities and rulers dimly recognize, though many alas glimpse it and turn away to more seductive options–is, whether people recognize it or not, the call to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Wright summarizes:

The doing of justice and mercy in the present time by those called to power locally, nationally and globally is thus to be seen within the framework of the historical victory of Jesus in his death and resurrection and of the future, coming, final victory of God over all evil, all violence, all arrogant abuse of power.

And this:

It’s no good saying “Jesus is telling you to do this” to someone who has no time for Jesus. But if the church can translate what we believe Jesus would say into the language, and the coherent argument, of the wider world then such obedience can become a possibility.

The Court Evangelical Twitter Follies

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The court evangelicals have been dropping some real doozies of late:

Jack Graham recently retweeted this:

No, Jack, the “difference” is back in the day Christians used to call the president our for lying.

Here is a tweet from Ralph Reed‘s pro-Trump operation:

I don’t know about you, but whenever I see Christian leaders talking about “majorities” I am reminded of Jesus’s words: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction,and many enter through it.” Mt. 7:13

Here is Reed again. This time he is responding to a tweet from Roland Martin:

Actually, Ralph, I am not sure history bears this out. As I argued in Believe Me and here, the Christian Right has been afraid for a long, long time.

And here is a tweet proving my point that this picture was taken for political purposes in the hopes that court evangelicals would share it with their constituencies.

 

Evangelicals Need a New Political Playbook

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Thanks to everyone who offered words of encouragement and support in the wake of yesterday’s post on my refusal to become numb to the daily immorality emanating from the White House. This was the closest thing we get at The Way of Improvement Leads Home to a viral post.

A lot of people hated the post.  I mean REALLY hated it. Facebook friends that I didn’t know I had came out of the woodwork to condemn the post. I had to unfriend about five people who decided to make personal attacks on my character.  But overall the feedback has been positive.

But let me respond briefly to some of the criticism.

First, some conservative evangelicals have accused me of self-promotion. When people write publicly and their work gets attention there is always the temptation of pride, the unhealthy practice of thinking too highly of oneself.  In the Christian tradition, pride is the opposite of the virtue of humility.  It is a sin. I am tempted by pride every day and I regularly give into it.  I imagine that any Christian who writes for the public deals with this temptation.

I don’t like the word self-promotion, but if this is the word we use to promote our ideas then I will accept the criticism. For the last two weeks I have been talking with my students about the Christian’s call to create.  Because we are created in God’s image, we are co-creators with God, advancing his creation through our creative work.  The Christian tradition teaches that all of us have gifts that we are required to use to advance God’s purposes in the world.  I hope as a Christian who writes and thinks about politics, culture, and history I am using my gifts in this way.  So yes, I want my ideas to enter the marketplace. I want to make them public.  I see this as a calling confirmed by wise mentors and friends who have encouraged and supported me over the years.  I hope my writing is less about promoting myself and more about promoting my ideas in a way that helps people to think more deeply about the world.

Second, several folks have criticized me for writing and speaking in “liberal,” “left-wing,” or “progressive” outlets.  (Of course some of these critics see anything but Fox News as a liberal, left-wing, and progressive outlet). When I move beyond this blog and write for newspapers, magazines, and websites I send pitches to outlets across the ideological spectrum.  Most of my views, which I hope are informed by my Christian faith, do not fall comfortably in the traditional “Left”/”Right” or “conservative”/”liberal” camps.  Sometimes I think an outlet might be a perfect fit for a particular piece of writing only to find out that an editor does not share my enthusiasm.  I want to write more for editors at Christian publications, but most of them either keep me at arms length because they think my views are too divisive or do not publish the kinds historically-informed criticism that I write. I also pitch pieces to politically conservative outlets all the time.  So far none of them have taken my work.

Third, people say that I do not understand Trump voters.  They believe that if I only understood them I would not be so harsh.  They tell me that there are many evangelicals who are “reluctant” or “dismayed” Trump voters and I am not being fair to them.  This criticism of my work seems to confuse understanding with agreement.  Let me say this again: I do understand why evangelicals voted for Trump. Much of my understanding has been shaped by friends, family members, and neighbors with whom I have conversations.  But as I listen to Trump voters, I still hear fear, nostalgia, and a commitment to a political playbook defined by the pursuit of political power. (More on this below).  All of these things, in my opinion, are not healthy Christian approaches to politics or public life.  The fact that so many evangelicals disagree with me has nothing to do with it.  When I hear Christians equate majority opinion with moral certainty I remember what Jesus said about the narrow gate.  I hope and pray I am focusing my attention on the correct gate, but I also realize I could be wrong. We see through a glass darkly.

Fourth, people criticize me for painting Trump evangelicals with too broad of a brush.  This is a fair critique. It was a problem with the first edition of Believe Me.  I have fixed that error in the new postscript to the paperback edition and I have written about this change and talk about it whenever I have the opportunity.  But as I have said multiple times now, if someone voted for Donald Trump, whether they did so enthusiastically or reluctantly, they are partially responsible for the moral damage this president is doing to the United States with his behavior and policies. I understand that some believe that evangelicals must tolerate the immoral egomaniac in the White House and the damage he is doing to the republic because he is delivering on the Supreme Court and the economy, but I disagree with them and think that their choice to support this man–even if its just a vote– is harmful to the church and the country. Again, I have written extensively about this.

Finally, though some might find it hard to believe, I think this whole conversation transcends Donald Trump and his presidency.  Trump will be gone one day.  But the political playbook that evangelicals follow will not go away unless we decide to burn it and start over. There is a very good chance that this playbook will lead evangelicals into the arms of another immoral tyrant who promises conservative Supreme Court justices and offers platitudes about religious liberty.  I have no doubt that such a person is waiting in the wings.  He or she is watching Trump manipulate American evangelicals and is taking good notes.

This is why it is time for a new playbook. My prayer is that evangelicals will no longer be held captive by the political power plays of the Christian Right. I want my fellow evangelicals to embrace a politics of life. I want my fellow evangelicals to develop an approach to public life defined by human dignity. I want my fellow evangelicals to embrace a politics that offers us glimpses of a coming kingdom defined by love, justice, grace, mercy, and compassion.

For example, who said that the best way to reduce abortion is through the pursuit of political power and the appointment of federal justices?  Since Roe v. Wade evangelicals have tried to deal with the problem of abortion in only one way.  Unless evangelicals develop new thinking on this front they will end up in the hands of the next tyrant who is willing to use abortion to advance his or her political fortunes.

And what about religious liberty?  Yes, there are some legitimate threats to religious liberty, especially for Christian colleges and other institutions who uphold traditional views of sexual ethics.  But we need to develop new thinking about religious liberty that does not lead us into the hands of people like Trump.  We need a robust conversation about the relationship between religious liberty and the kind of persecution for the sake of righteousness that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5.  We need creative solutions that offer civil liberties to all people, including members of the LGBTQ community.  (I like this approach).  We need to have more face-to-face conversations, conducted in civility and love, with those who disagree with us on the issues driving the religious liberty debates in our country.  We need to stop going on social media and demonizing our enemies with Fox News talking points.

Am I being too hard on evangelicals?  Perhaps. But this is my tribe. I have chosen, for better or for worse, to save my strongest criticism for my own people.

Evangelicals need to rid themselves of the powerful hold that the Christian Right has over our politics.  Even those who do not consider themselves adherents of the Christian Right still seem to engage politically using this forty-year-old playbook.  Many evangelicals have thought long and hard about alternative Christian approaches to politics, but their views have received little traction.  We need to take these approaches seriously.  Read Michael Gerson, Jamie Smith (and his Kuyperian friends), John Inazu, Tim Keller, James Davison Hunter, Glenn Tinder, Ronald Sider, Peter Wehner, and others who know far more about political philosophy than I do.  What might the Civil Rights Movement teach white evangelicals about politics?

It is time for evangelicals to develop a different approach to politics. But first this president needs to go.  Only then, it seems, can we begin the serious work of reconstruction, education, healing, and the binding of the church’s wounds.

A Day at Messiah College With Students from Georgetown Day School

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The Georgetown Day School students get a lesson on the history and identity of Messiah College in Hostetter Chapel (photo by Susan Ikenberry)

Last year some faculty and administrators at Georgetown Day School (GDS) in Washington D.C. contacted me about the possibility of bringing some high school juniors and seniors to Messiah College as part of the school’s “minimester.” What is a minimester? Here is a description from the GDS website:

Georgetown Day School’s mission calls us to challenge the intellectual, creative and physical abilities of our students, and to encourage inquiry and self-reliance in those students as they grow into “lifelong learners.” In February of 2020, GDS students and faculty will participate in a three-day program designed to bring that mission to life through an immersive and experiential learning experience wholly separate from the normal day-to-day academic program of the school.

We’re calling this experience Minimester.

On February 26th – 28th, GDS teachers will lead dozens of deep, creative experiences with themes sprouted from the passions and interests of faculty and staff — passions that may or may not fall within the purview of their academic disciplines. Students will select the Minimester course in which they’d like to participate, and will spend the allotted three days immersing themselves in their chosen topic.

The students who came to Messiah College on February 27, 2020 were enrolled in a minimester course titled “A View from the Other Side: Partisan Politics in Trump’s America.” Here is a description of the course:

Over the course of our minimester, we will explore the other side — meaning the political, social, economic world beyond the typical GDS view of things. A variety of speakers, from “explainer” journalists and commentators to those who inhabit the conservative spectrum, will engage with us as we dive deeply into the current political landscape and the operative theme of, “how did we get here?” We’ll also journey outward, exploring the world beyond the Beltway and the GDS bubble focusing on candidates’ platforms and what it is that people have not been hearing for years from either Democrat or Republican candidates. We will consider what the world looks like to Americans living in Appalachia, the Rust Belt, and other parts of the country, and why they might take a chance on a non-politician who says, “No one cares about you, but I do.” One hoped-for outcome might be a service trip to Appalachia in the Spring. As Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “You have to go there to know there.”

This course included conversations at GDS with Juan Williams of Fox News, Kate Bennett of CNN (and author of the book Free Melania), and conservative Republican Washington Post writer Gary Abernathy, among others.

GDS teachers Lisa Rauschart (History), Sue Ikenberry (Politics), and Michael Manson (English) were familiar with my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and asked me if the could bring students up to Mechanicsburg to talk about why evangelicals support Donald Trump. They also wanted to learn more about a region that went heavily for Trump in 2016.  Throughout the course of the day, students and their teachers talked about getting out of the “GDS Bubble” and having an experience in a place that was unfamiliar to them. Most of these kids grew up in liberal and progressive Washington D.C.-area homes.

Fifteen students, the aforementioned teachers, and Gary Abernathy arrived at Messiah College by bus around mid-morning.  I took them on a very short tour of campus.  We stopped in the chapel to talk about Messiah College’s history and its connection to the Anabaptism, Wesleyan, and Pietist streams of Christianity.  The students seemed particularly interested in Messiah’s commitment to pacifism.  They were also surprised when I told them that the school, in accordance with its Anabaptist heritage, does not fly an American flag on campus.  These were bright kids destined for Ivy League and other elite colleges and they displayed a deep curiosity about Messiah’s roots and our unique approach to Christian education.  (I told them that if they liked what they saw and heard they should apply! 🙂 )

We treated the group to lunch at the dining hall (thanks Pete Powers and the School of Humanities) where they were joined by three Messiah students (including our own Annie Thorn) who were gracious enough to take time out of their day to visit with these high school students.

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L to R: Katy, Annie, and Chloe were great hosts! (photo by Susan Ikenberry)

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With GDS teacher Michael Manson and Washington Post writer Gary Abernathy solving the world’s problems in Martin Commons on the campus of Messiah College (photo by Susan Ikenberry)

After lunch we headed to downtown Mechanicsburg where we met local historian John Klinger at the Mechanicsburg Museum Association.  Klinger gave a short lecture on the history of Mechanicsburg and then took us on a walking tour of the town, ending at the historic Frankenberger Tavern on Main Street. The students got a full taste of the town, including one house that had a huge Confederate flag flying on its front porch. While I am no fan of this flag, it provided a wonderful educational moment.  I reminded the kids that they were no longer in Georgetown.

The day ended back at Messiah College with a conversation about evangelicals Trump.  I used the time to define evangelicalism using Bebbington’s Quadrilateral and tried to explain Messiah College’s relationship to the larger evangelical world.  I distinguished Messiah from Liberty University, a Christian school of which most of the students were familiar.  Some of the students had no idea that Christian colleges were not all alike.

I explained why I wrote Believe Me, said a few things about the central argument of the book, and then let the students ask questions. (Students received a copy of Believe Me as part of the minimester course).  This was the highlight of the day for me.  These kids wanted to talk about everything–abortion, gay marriage, religious liberty, immigration, and the way Trump was using evangelicals in the 2020 election.  I am guessing that many of them agreed with my conclusions about Trump, but disagreed with my reasons for opposing him. They were respectful and intellectually curious. A scheduled 45-minute session lasted close to 90-minutes and we continued talking as we left Boyer Hall.

Fea in Boyer with GDS

Why do so many evangelicals support Donald Trump? (photo by Susan Ikenberry)

Fea with GDS students

The conversation continued well after the former session was over (photo by Lisa Rauschart)

When we got on the bus, Abernathy thanked me for hosting the group and then told me, with a smile that could only come from spending a long today together, that he disagreed with just about everything I said.  I laughed and told him that he would get the last word with the students as they drove back to D.C. 🙂

At the end of the day one of the students asked me for some tips about how to overcome the divisiveness and partisanship in American culture today.  I suggested that we need more days like this one!  She agreed.  As these kids head off to college and find themselves in positions where they will be able to change the world, I hope they will remember their visit to Messiah College and their experience in central Pennsylvania.  Thanks for coming and letting us see ourselves through your eyes.  I learned a lot from the visit!

I Refuse to Become Numb to the Daily Immorality Emanating from the White House

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I had a long conversation this weekend with an evangelical Trump supporter.  We had a lot of disagreements, but we also found some common ground.

We both agreed that evangelical leaders who support Trump have failed to rebuke the president’s immorality.  And the list of his immoral behavior is long:

  • He separated children from their parents at the Mexican border.
  • He claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides” after white supremacists invaded Charlottesville, VA.
  • He made derogatory comments about the appearance of multiple women.
  • He said the people of Haiti, El Salvador and Africa come from “shithole countries.”
  • He lies regularly to the American people.
  • He not only demonizes the free press, but he attacked the dignity of individual reporters.
  • He attempted to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election.
  • He is teaching kids to bully other kids.

When Trump has engages in these activities, many of his followers, including Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Paula White, Eric Metaxas, Jerry Falwell Jr., James Dobson, Jack Graham, and Ralph Reed, look the other way.  Because Trump holds them captive, they are unable to speak truth to power. I challenge my readers to find five examples of pro-Trump Christian Right leaders making a strong condemnation of the president’s tweets, speeches, or actions.  These men and women have placed political power and expediency over their call to be effective witnesses for biblical truth in the world. They have millions of followers who hang on their every word.

It was at this point in the conversation that my pro-Trump friend pushed back.  Yes, he said, Trump did all these things and the court evangelicals have indeed failed to respond with moral clarity. But then he added: “What about the Democrats? Haven’t they also lied, demonized their enemies, and acted in a hypocritical manner?” Of course they have.  But that’s not the point.  I do not have any illusions about the world of politics.  It is a corrupt sphere. The political world contains more darkness than light. The last two Democratic debates (Nevada and South Carolina) reminded me that I never want to pursue a career in politics.

But I do have high standards for Christians–men and women who, while sinners, should strive to rise above this broken world through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians don’t justify immorality by pointing out the sins and flaws of other people and say “what about them?” Since when is the moral behavior of Christians in public dependent upon the behavior of others? Christians are called to live faithful lives according to the standards God has given them through the sacred scriptures. When they see sin at the highest level of government they don’t ignore it, they call it out.

Many evangelicals will vote for Trump again in November because they believe he will continue to appoint conservative federal justices, oppose abortion, defend religious liberty (as evangelicals understand the term), and support Israel.  Other evangelicals will vote for him because the economy is doing well. As an evangelical who is pro-life, a defender of religious liberty, and a believer in a strong economy, I strongly disagree with the choices these voters will make. Read my book Believe Me to understand why.  But please don’t stand by and let this president’s words, tweets, and actions degrade the character of this country and the witness of the evangelical message–the “Good News”–with his nativism, racism, xenophobia, narcissism, fear-mongering, and disrespect for American institutions.

I don’t think America is or should be a Christian nation, but I do believe, with the founding fathers, that republics only survive when they have some kind of moral compass. By sitting silently and watching Trump run roughshod over this country, evangelicals fail to do their part in contributing to the moral fabric of this republic.  Trump-supporting evangelicals no longer have the moral authority to speak out on matters related to government corruption, pornography, sex and violence in movies and television shows, racial reconciliation, school bullying, and the decline in civil discourse.

My views on evangelicals and Donald Trump have caused many of my fellow evangelicals to hold me at arms length. I have lost friends.  Some tell me directly–through snail mail, e-mail, and social media–that I am mistaken in my views.  Others, I sense, are quietly and subtly keeping me at a distance. Still others have told me that I have Trump derangement syndrome or, as someone recently wrote to me, I am only “singing one note these days.” But I continue to believe that Trump is bad for America and bad for the Church.  I have a small platform to say something about this, so I simply refuse to become numb to the daily immorality emanating from the White House. If that means I am a broken record, then so be it. Believe it or not, being a broken record on this issue helps me sleep better at night. 🙂

Is the Old Frank(y) Schaeffer Back?

17ca2-frank_schaefferFrank Schaeffer, the son of mid-century evangelical public theologian Francis Schaeffer, worked very closely with his father, Jerry Falwell Sr, Pat Robertson, and others in the creation of the Christian Right. About thirty years ago, he turned his back on his father’s legacy and became a prominent voice on the religious left. Back in 2007, before I started The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I reviewed his memoir Crazy for God at the now dormant Religion in American History blog.

In Micah Danney‘s recent Newsweek profile, Schaeffer talks about abortion in a more nuanced way than he did in the 1970s and 1980s. But I still hear some echoes from the old days when he was producing films based on his father’s book Whatever Happened to the Human Race.

Here is a taste:

Sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Boston in November, Schaeffer skewered the religious conservative movement he once served. His politics are much more progressive across the board, he said. Yet on abortion, the issue so central to his father’s legacy and his own path through fame, fortune and influence, he is critical of the left.

His fellow progressives are overly simplistic about it, he said, and dangerously so. They underestimate the impact that Roe v. Wade had on those who disagree with it. That miscalculation has turned the impact into a shock wave that continues to drive seismic shifts in American politics, powering Republican politicians into positions they then use to legislate against just about every other cause important to Democrats.

“Essentially, [liberals] have not honestly dealt with the fact that they had upset an apple cart that has changed American history. They just want it to all go away,” Schaeffer said. “‘We’re not talking about it because it’s settled.’ Well, it was never settled, and the poll numbers show that it is still not settled because it’s not just a bunch of old farts who are on the pro-life side. You have a whole younger generation of people coming up who aren’t even supporters of the Republicans.”

Twenty-five years ago, 56 percent of Americans identified as pro-choice and 33 percent as pro-life, according to Gallup. As of May 2019, pro-choicers have declined to 46 percent and the pro-life movement claims 49 percent of the population.

Schaeffer calls himself pro-choice but anti-Roe v. Wade. Life does begin at conception, he said, at least biologically. He sees the Democratic Party’s stance as “slavish and dogmatic,” and painfully neglectful of sincere moral outrage that smolders unabated on the other side of the issue. He pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 followed the legalization of abortion in a number of European countries, but argues it went further than all of them. That amounted to an “in your face” insult, he said, and added to a deep moral injury felt by a huge number of Americans whose religious convictions are central to their lives.

“We’re going up to 23 weeks. We’re going to divide it into trimesters and say it’s all fine and this is just a blob of tissue,” Schaeffer said. Extending that logic so close to the moment of birth and putting it all under a mantra of choice was an invitation to righteous backlash, Schaeffer argued.

By discounting such a large segment of the population’s concerns about the morality of the act, liberal dogma around abortion violates the central Christian principle of integration, Schaeffer said.

“We pretend that half our population doesn’t exist, and we tell them to just deal with it,” he said.

Pro-choicers will never get pro-lifers to cross the bridge to their side, Schaeffer said. A healthier relationship overall could start with a more honest national conversation about abortion procedures, according to Schaeffer, as well as issues like the future of genomics. All of it, he said, has implications for how we regard life and how lives will be affected.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Robert Jeffress Needs Socialism

This Fox News segment got some traction yesterday:

Comments:

1. Robert Jeffress claims that Democrats are on the wrong side of every major faith issue, especially abortion.  He always pivots to abortion because he believes it is the most important faith issue on the table.  Fair enough. But he also pivots to abortion because he wants to rally his Christian Right base to vote for Donald Trump. Jeffress is a surrogate for Trump and a spokesperson for the American political movement known as the Christian Right. He has credentials for serving in these roles because he is a minister of a Dallas megachurch.  Jeffress’s constant call to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” is disingenuous. He pulls out this verse whenever he wants to dismiss an approach to Christian politics that does not fit comfortably within his Christian Right playbook. Jeffress can say that the Democrats are on the “wrong side” of “every major faith issue” in America because he believes that there are only three such issues: abortion, religious liberty, and support for Israel.

2. Jonathan Morris is correct. The Democratic Party is not going to attract evangelicals until it moderates some of its positions on social and moral issues. I made roughly the same case here.

3. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, a black pastor and politician, says that the black church is committed to acts of mercy and justice that today we might call “socialism.” While I appreciate Dawkins-Haigler’s counter to Jeffress, we need to be careful about pinning a modern political ideology on Jesus.  Jesus was not a socialist.  There was no such thing as socialism at the time Jesus lived.

4. Jeffress, of course, is not going let Dawkins Haigler’s reference to socialism slide.  The very utterance of the word raises the hair on the back of his neck. Culture warriors and fundamentalists like Jeffress are incapable of taking nuanced approaches to these kind of issues. Instead of suggesting that socialist concerns about the plight of workers might have some overlap with Christian views of social justice, Jeffress claims that socialism is “absolutely antithetical to Christianity.” (Of course there are millions of Christians around the world and many in the United States who disagree with him here.  I guess they’re not real Christians).  Jeffress needs socialism.  It is vital to the survival of his fear-based approach to Christian politics.  Without the constant “threat” of socialism he loses his political brand. His statement equating socialism to “communism lite” reminds me of historian Richard Hofstadter‘s words about McCarthyism in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:

The [McCarthyite] inquisitors were trying to give satisfaction against liberals, New Dealers, reformers, internationalists, intellectuals, and finally even against a Republican [Eisenhower] administration that failed to reverse liberal policies.  What was involved, above all, was a set of political hostilities in which the New Deal was linked to the welfare state, the welfare state to socialism, and socialism to Communism. 

For Hofstadter, McCarthy’s attack on communism was part of a deeper fear-based politics, something he would later call the “paranoid style“:

The deeper historical sources of the Great Inquisition are best revealed by the other enthusiasms of its devotees: hatred of Franklin D. Roosevelt, implacable opposition to New Deal reforms, desire to banish or destroy the United Nations, anti-Semitism, Negrophobia, isolationism, a passion for the repeal of the income tax, fear of poisoning by fluoridation of the water system, opposition to modernism in the churches.

Positive Words from the #ExEvangelical Crowd

Believe Me 3dI am not sure if this is good or bad, but it appears that there are some people in the ex-evangelical crowd who like my analysis of American evangelicalism. After my interview at Salon with Chauncey DeVega, I got a message from Chrissy Stroop, a leader of the #exevangelical movement. She read the DeVega interview and wanted to feature my work in a piece on anti-Trump evangelicals.

Here is a taste of Stroop’s piece as it appeared at Raw Story (Evan Derkacz, the editor of Religion Dispatches, is listed as the author, but I am certain that Stroop wrote the piece.  Whatever the case, the quotes in the piece come from an exchange of messages with Stroop, not Derkacz):

In light of this situation, I’m singularly unimpressed with most critical commentary directed by anti-Trump evangelicals at their coreligionists; Trump is, after all, a symptom of a much broader malady, one in which these commentators are to varying degrees complicit. Where, for example, is Gerson’s accountability for his role in the George W. Bush administration’s lurch into “truthiness”? Here we are, 17 years after the devastating and destabilizing Iraq War was launched on false pretenses, in a U.S. whose Right wing is broken and has largely, including most white evangelicals, embraced the post-truth politics that are a hallmark of authoritarianism. Yet people want to celebrate Gerson for merely being anti-Trump? Sorry, not sorry, but it’s too little, too late.

Commentary that attempts to downplay, obscure, or to some degree excuse white evangelicals’ large-scale embrace of authoritarianism—even outgoing Christianity Today editor-in-chief Mark Galli’s much vaunted editorial calling for Trump to be removed from office—elicits in me, if I’m being quite honest, more contempt than respect. Yes, I know what it’s like to be inside evangelical subculture, how terrifying (and sometimes risky) it is to publicly break with the community’s widely held views in even the slightest way. But when wealthy white men, who will be in no actual economic peril if they take a stronger stance, fail to muster more than the tepid criticisms of the Gallis and Gersons of America, I find it beyond underwhelming.

On the most charitable reading, men like Gerson and Galli may be hoping to change evangelicalism from the inside in a way that I have long since been convinced is impossible. It’s noteworthy that in the midst of these anemic criticisms, anti-Trump evangelicals typically bend over backwards to assure fellow evangelicals that their community’s paranoid fears of “attacks” on their religious freedom are justified, and that their anti-choice dogmatism is a respectable position, and not the proxy for often unacknowledged racism that it systemically functions as. And yet the fact that there are still many evangelicals and fundamentalists who will castigate them for being “too liberal” speaks to what we might call evangelicalism’s pluralism problem.

While I would apply a portion of the criticisms laid out above to some of evangelical historian John Fea’s public comments, I was pleasantly surprised by remarks he made in a recent Salon interview with Chauncey DeVega that’s well worth the read. To give credit where credit is due, Fea, the author, most recently, of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, has been more forthright and steadfast than most evangelical critics of white evangelical support for Trump, and he’s also dug deeper into the problem. In his interview with DeVega, Fea starkly observed that evangelicals “have no model for pluralism. They cannot grasp any idea of a pluralistic society in which there are people who differ from them and question what American evangelicals believe.”

Read the entire piece here.

Stroop holds me at arms length, but I appreciate that she takes my views seriously.

Most conservative evangelicals and many moderate evangelicals hold me at arms left for the same reasons  Stroop liked the piece.

And don’t worry Mom and Dad, I am not becoming an “ex-evangelical” anytime soon. 🙂

Addendum (February 24, 2020 at 11:14am):  Stroop’s piece is now up at Religion Dispatches.

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is Investigating Russell Moore

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There are a lot of Southern Baptists who do not like Russell Moore‘s leadership of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  It looks like court evangelical and Texas pastor Jack Graham is part of the resistance.  Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s piece at Religion News Service:

Jack Graham believes in the Southern Baptist Convention.

He’s a former president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and once traveled the country drumming up support for the Cooperative Program, the church giving program that funds much of the convention’s missions.

Yet, after three years, Graham’s congregation, Prestonwood Baptist Church, which claims 45,000 members, started to withhold money from the SBC. At issue: Graham’s disagreement with Russell Moore, Southern Baptist ethicist and Never Trumper, who once referred to Donald Trump as “an arrogant huckster.”

Graham, one of the president’s evangelical advisers, felt that Moore’s criticisms of Trump and his evangelical supporters was out of bounds. He didn’t want his church’s dollars to support Moore’s work at the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Prestonwood eventually starting sending money to the SBC again. But it has opted out of funding the ERLC, which Graham thinks has outlived its usefulness.

“The focus of the ERLC is not the focus of the mainstream of the SBC in terms of its approach to politics, to conservative thought and theology,” Graham told RNS in a phone interview this week.

Graham is not alone. About 100 of the denomination’s 46,000 churches said they would withhold funds from the Cooperative Program because of the ERLC back in 2017, according to published reports. Since that time, more churches have threatened to do the same, according to leaders of the SBC’s Executive Committee.

Mike Stone, chair of the Executive Committee, said this week that committee members have heard anecdotal evidence that churches are displeased with the ERLC and withholding money. So the committee voted to launch a new task force to review the ERLC to see if it is fulfilling its “ministry assignment” or if its actions have threatened donations to the cooperative program.

Graham said that the Executive Committee made the right move. He has long believed that Southern Baptists should “address the direction of the ERLC and the disposition of its leader, Russell Moore.”

Read the rest here.

Graham says that Moore is outside the “mainstream of the SBC in terms of its approach to politics, to conservative thought and theology.”  Last time I checked, Moore believes in the Baptist Faith and Message, a 2000 doctrinal statement adopted by the SBC in the wake of the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination in the 1980s and 1990s.  The Baptist Faith and Message requires Southern Baptist leaders to believe, among other things, in the inerrancy of the Bible and a complementary view of gender roles.

But this is apparently not enough for some Southern Baptists.  What does Graham mean when he says that Moore’s politics are outside the mainstream?  Is this a reference to the fact that Moore is a vocal critic of Donald Trump?  This is significant in the sense that politics is now dividing the largest Protestant denomination in North America, a denomination that has historically championed the separation of church and state.

And what about Graham’s reference to “conservative thought?”  Does one have to believe that the Bible and conservative political ideology are compatible in order to hold a leadership position in the Southern Baptist Convention? If Graham represents the mainstream of the Southern Baptist Convention, then I think it is fair to say that the thoughts of Southern Baptists are is no longer captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), but captive to a Trumpian brand of conservative GOP politics.  It looks like the SBC is ready for another rupture.

ADDENDUM: February 21, 2020 at 11:23:

A helpful correction from a Twitter follower.  I changed the title of this post:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

My Interview With Chauncey DeVega at *Salon*

Believe Me 3dLast month I had a long phone conversation about Trump and evangelicals with Chauncey DeVega, politics staff writer for Salon.  I appreciate Chauncey’s work in editing and clarifying my scattered and somewhat random thoughts into a coherent interview which Salon published today.  Here is his introduction to the interview:

To quote the bumper sticker: “What would Jesus do?”

Assuming that he existed and held the views imputed to him, Jesus Christ would not support Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s behavior, values, policies and their consequences are the opposite of what Jesus Christ represented. Trump has put migrants and refugees in cages and delighted in their suffering. He feels contempt for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable and the needy. He has lied at least 16,000 times. He is corrupt and wildly greedy.

Donald Trump is violent, a militarist, a nativist and a white supremacist. He has given aid and comfort to anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and other hate-mongers.

We are told that Jesus Christ lived a life of love, humility and sacrifice. Donald Trump has lived a life of selfishness, greed and wanton cruelty.

Why are white evangelical Christians so overwhelmingly supportive of Donald Trump? While some have tried to present it as a riddle with no evident solution, the answer is quite simple: Donald Trump does the bidding of the Christian right. He has advanced its policies in a war against secular society, women’s freedom, LGBTQ rights, multiracial democracy and the U.S. Constitution.

But it’s important to note that the Christian evangelical community is not a monolith. There are many people within it who oppose Donald Trump and his movement, because they see it as antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

One such voice is historian John Fea, a professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. His new book is “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” Fea recently published an op-ed in USA Today entitled “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God,” in which he explained that he had spent his “entire adult life in the evangelical community” following a “born-again experience” at age 16:

Read the entire introduction and the entire interview here.

Religion News Service: “The Problem With the ‘Reluctant Trump’ Vote”

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Regular readers of the blog will remember this piece from last week.  Religion News Service picked-up a slightly revised version.  Here is a taste:

(RNS) — In a much-discussed piece published last week (Feb. 10) by the National Review, Andrew Walker, an ethicist at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, challenges anti-Trump evangelicals to work harder at understanding why so many of their fellow believers voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and will vote for him again in 2020.

If anti-Trumpers would empathize more deeply with the motivations of evangelical Trump voters, Walker suggests, they would be less critical of the conservative Protestants who voted for this corrupt president.

I have spent a lot of time over the last three years thinking about the evangelical embrace of Trump. One of the regrets I had about the first edition of my 2018 book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” was my failure to capture the diversity that exists among the 81% of white evangelicals who pulled a lever for the president in 2016.

In the postscript for the recently released paperback edition, I sought to correct this lack of nuance. As Walker reminds us, not all evangelical Trump voters attend the president’s rallies or wear “Make America Great Again” caps. The narrative of evangelicals’ support for the president is more complicated than the one peddled by journalists and pundits, who, as Walker pointed out, have little understanding of evangelical political culture.

Walker calls our attention to the “reluctant Trump voter” — the conservative evangelical who is appalled by Trump’s immorality, yet would rather vote for a pro-life candidate and defender of religious liberty over a pro-choice Democrat who is not sensitive to the religious freedom issues that concern evangelicals most. “Even the most convinced progressive,” Walker wrote, “should sympathize with religious conservatives who are concerned about federal law possibly turning against them.”

Read the rest here.