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

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

Here are three pieces of anecdotal evidence:

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts?

Jerry Falwell Jr.: Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, and Christopher Wray Should “Rot” in “Jail”

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

At least he didn’t say that they should rot in hell.

Court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. blocked me from his Twitter feed a long time ago.  But others can still read his tweets and embed them.

Falwell Jr. said recently that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray “deceived Donald Trump into appointing them” and should “rot” in “jail.”

Read his exchange with Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Dallastown, Pennsylvania

Fea at Hearts and Minds

And what a night it was!

I walked into Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown around 6:50pm last night and there were already nearly 100 people milling around the store awaiting the book talk and signing.  The place was packed!  Folks were shopping for books, drinking red and blue-colored punch, and angling for seats on chairs set up in every corner of the store.  Byron and Beth Borger, the owners of Hearts & Minds, certainly know how to throw a party!  Even this guy was there!

I spoke for about 30 minutes or so, answered questions for another 30-45 minutes, and then signed some books.  Following the signing, about thirty folks stayed for more conversation about evangelicals, politics, and Donald Trump.  We had Trump supporters, Trump voters, anti-Trumpers, Hillary voters, and everyone in between.  The conversation continued to about 11:00pm and I left energized (which is rare for an introvert like me) and encouraged by the civil nature of the dialogue.  American democracy and the Christian church need more conversations like the one that took place last night.  I did a lot of talking, but I also did a lot of listening.

Thanks so much to Byron and Beth and the staff of Hearts & Minds for hosting me and publicizing the event.  And thanks to everyone who came out.

The Believe Me book tour will be on break until the end of September.  We will enter the next leg of the tour on September 24, 2018 at the University of Chicago Seminary Co-Op Bookstore.  I hope to see you there!

“Mark Burns, can we USE him anymore?”

Burns MarkTonight CNN released an audio file of the 2016 Donald Trump-Michael Cohen conversation (recorded by Cohen) in which the candidate and his lawyer discuss making a payment to cover-up an alleged Trump affair with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

In addition to the discussion of the McDougal payment, Trump and Cohen talk about two evangelical supporters of the presidential candidate: South Carolina pastor Mark Burns and Ohio pastor Darrell Scott.

Here is what I heard on the recording:

Trump:  Pastor Scott, what’s happening?  Can we use him any more?

Cohen: “Oh yeah…100 [percent?].  No, your friend Mark Burns.  We told him to stop.

Trump:  I don’t mean [him]. Mark Burns, can we use him any more?

Cohen: No.

First, it seems that Trump confuses Scott and Burns, the two most prominent African-American pro-Trump pastors.

Second, Cohen says that they can still “use” Scott, but not Burns.  This is quite telling. In fact, clergy allowing themselves to be used for political gain is exactly what I had in mind when I coined the term “court evangelical.”  There is a long history of evangelicals getting “used” by presidents and presidential candidates.  I write about them in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Third, we now know Michael Cohen was involved in managing Trump’s relationship with these evangelical advisers.

Fourth, Burns, a Trump surrogate who prayed at the Republican National Convention, was probably deemed no longer “useful” because he created a minor scandal by posting a picture of Hillary Clinton in blackface.  Then CNN learned that he lied about his resume.  Both of these stories broke in September 2016, the same month that Cohen recorded his conversation with Trump.

Fifth, as these posts indicate, Burns continued to be an informal Trump surrogate well after the election.  I guess the ban on Burns only lasted for a short time.  At some point Trump must have thought he could start “using” him again.

More on Robert Jeffress’s Trump-Reagan Comparison

Reagan and Trump

As I wrote about last week, Rev. Robert Jeffress, a leading court evangelical, recently said that Donald Trump’s moral indiscretions and character problems are not unlike the moral indiscretions and character problems of Ronald Reagan.  Conservative evangelicals supported both presidents.

Tara Isabella Burton adds more to the conversation at Vox.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Days after the news broke that President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen had audio of Trump discussing a payoff to a woman with whom he’d allegedly had an affair, one of Trump’s top evangelical allies came to the president’s defense — with an insult to former President Ronald Reagan. Robert Jeffress, the pastor at the megachurch First Baptist Dallas, told Fox News’s Ed Henry that Trump’s adultery made him no worse than Reagan.

“The reason we supported President Reagan was not because we were supporting womanizing or divorce,” Jeffress told Henry. ”We supported his policies. … We’re not under any illusion that we were voting for an altar boy when we voted for President Trump. We knew about his past. And by the way, none of us has a perfect past. We voted for him because of his policies.” (Reagan has never been publicly accused of being unfaithful to his second wife Nancy Reagan, but some biographers have said that he was something of a lothario in Hollywood during his years an actor and that he cheated on his first wife, Jane Wyman. In 1991, he was also accused of sexual assault by actress Selene Walters four decades prior.)

Read the rest here.

I am eager to hear from Christian Right folks.  Do Trump and Reagan belong in the same category when it comes to morality and character (or lack thereof)?

Evangelical Fear in Alabama

Luverne

Check out Stephanie McCrummen‘s Washington Post excellent piece on a Southern Baptist, Trump-loving church in Luverne, Alabama. Many of the members of this church fear immigrants, think Obama is a Muslim, and hate Hillary Clinton because they claim that she hated them.  It is also worth noting that most of the pro-Trumpers in this church appear to be over the age of 60.

 

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress Stays the Course

As I said this morning on CNN (no video available yet), it doesn’t matter what Trump did with Karen McDougal or whether or not he is lying about it. As long as Trump keeps appointing Supreme Court justices like Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch and continues to give lip service to religious liberty (as understood by conservative evangelicals) he will have the support of evangelicals.

This kind of thing should thus no longer surprise us:

I have not yet heard Jeffress compare Trump’s lack of morality to Ronald Reagan’s indiscretions.  Interesting.  Actually, I think there are comparisons we can make between Reagan and Trump.  For example, evangelicals in pursuit of political power got into bed with both of them.  It wasn’t a good idea then (just ask Cal Thomas) and it isn’t a good idea now.

 

Evangelicals and Trump: The Latest Poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Believe Me* in the *Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle*

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Last week I had a great phone conversation with Toby Tabachnik of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle for her story on evangelicals and Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of her piece: “They love Israel and Trump–the complex world of evangelicals“:

More than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for President Donald Trump, a candidate whose personal behavior arguably conflicts with the family values of traditional Christianity.

His purported marital infidelities, the vulgar way in which he spoke of women in the now infamous “Access Hollywood” interview and now, his alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels all seem pretty contrary to the ways of the church.

But in “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” a new book by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., the politicization of evangelicals and their overwhelming support of Trump can be explained as a natural corollary of their “culture war” begun in the 1970s — which includes a resolute stance against abortion and the defense of “religious liberty,” as they define it.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Radio

Metaxas

This is my new name for the Eric Metaxas Radio Show.

Today I listened to Metaxas defend Donald Trump’s remarks in Helsinki with three guests: comedian Joe Piscopo, Newt Gingrich, and Fox News commentator Judge Jeanine Pirro.  Even when Gingrich wanted to criticize Trump’s remarks in Helsinki, Metaxas kept steering the conversation toward Trump’s “accomplishments” and “reforms.”

Click here for previous posts on Metaxas and his court evangelicalism.

More Court Evangelicals Defend Trump’s Helsinki Remarks

Here is court evangelical Franklin Graham:

Here is Southern Baptist minister Jack Graham:

Why are these evangelicals so supportive of Donald Trump?  I try to answer that question in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

Male Authoritarianism and the Southern Baptists

0ed47-southern-baptist-convention

R. Marie Griffith directs the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  Some of you may remember our interview with her in Episode 32 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. During that interview we talked with Griffith about her recent book Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics.

Over at Religion & Politics, Griffith makes some important links between Southern Baptists, religious authoritarianism, and evangelical support for Donald Trump.  She draws upon her own Southern Baptist upbringing in Chattanooga.

Here is a taste:

Ironically or fittingly enough, Pressler and Patterson, the takeover titans, were themselves taken down by sex scandals of various types. Earlier this year, Pressler’s name hit the national news for disturbing accusations of same-sex sexual misconduct and assault leveled against him; shortly thereafter, Patterson was ousted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary over substantiated charges of damaging sexist behavior against women (from counseling an abused woman to stay with her husband and commenting on the body parts of young women to mishandling rape reports). That the architects of the “wives submit graciously” addition to the edifice of Baptist theology turned out to be men tainted by sexual misbehavior and chauvinism shocked many but could hardly surprise. As more sexual abuse scandals come to light, we’re getting a sad lesson in the ways that some respected leaders have ignored, neglected, and covered up injurious and even criminal behavior against vulnerable church members.

If that sounds like a plot from a movie, this is unfortunately not fiction, and the calculated strategy for retaining power regardless of fairness or due process has persisted in the denomination to this day. That the leaders of a tradition long known for touting its tolerance of independent thought within the wide bounds of the Bible became so thoroughly intolerant, not only of difference of opinion but of mere questioning and debate, has been a painful pill for many cradle Baptists to swallow. Untold numbers of people in the pews who have been perturbed by the machinations of denominational leaders and dismayed by the church’s patriarchal entrenchment have left the church for more democratic, egalitarian climes, even as many of those remaining have apparently grown comfortable with its top-down dogmatism. As one Baptist, removed as a trustee from the International Mission Board in 2006 for trying to prevent other trustees from removing some women from leadership there, put it recently: “Southern Baptist pastors are infatuated with and captivated by authoritarianism.”

No wonder so many white evangelicals are infatuated with and captivated by the authoritarian occupying the White House. It’s been a long time coming.

Read the entire piece here.

Is the Brett Kavanaugh Nomination Uniting Evangelicals?

Kavanaugh

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

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

What is Catholic Social Teaching?

West and George

Robert George and Cornel West

As the Believe Me book tour marches on, I have been talking a lot about the way white conservative evangelicals have adopted a playbook that teaches them to engage the world through the acquisition of political power.  This partly explains why 81% of American evangelical voters pulled a lever for Donald Trump in 2016.  I have suggested that thoughtful evangelicals have offered alternative playbooks, but the Christian Right has largely ignored them.  I wrote about some of those alternative playbooks here.

Over at First ThingsPrinceton’s Robert George explains one of these alternative playbooks:  Catholic social teaching.  The Catholic approach to social, political, and moral life has been getting a lot of traction among some evangelical thinkers and, as I see it, informs much of the National Association of Evangelical’s current thinking on these issues.

Here is a taste of George’s piece:

So we need to get at the truth, and here we’re blessed to know that the Church is a teacher of truth. There are truths to which we reliably repair because they are taught definitively by the Church. That doesn’t mean that there is no room within the Church for conversation and debate—but there are some important things that are settled. And let me begin with what I believe is the most important, most foundational principle of Catholic teaching about how we should conduct our lives and order our lives together: the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family. That is the “anchoring truth” (to borrow a phrase from my friend Hadley Arkes). All Catholic social teaching, all Catholic teaching about how we should conduct our lives, is founded on it.

Now there are debatable questions about how this principle should be applied, but there are some questions that are scarcely debatable for those who truly affirm the principle, who understand what each of these words means: “profound,” “inherent,” and “equal.” The principle means, for example, that we must respect and protect the life of every human being, from the tiniest embryo all the way to the frail, elderly person who is at the point of death. It means that we must respect and protect the life of the physically disabled or cognitively impaired person, and treat that person’s life as equal in value and dignity to the life of the greatest athlete, the most brilliant scientist, the most successful investment manager, the most gifted musician, the most beautiful fashion model or actress. It is hard for us to do this, and follow through on it consistently, because we naturally rank people, and for some purposes that’s a perfectly legitimate thing to do. It’s not wrong to choose the best basketball player for the team. It’s not wrong to feature the prettiest fashion model on the magazine cover. It’s not wrong to award tenure based on the quality of a scholar’s research and teaching. But when it comes to fundamental questions of human dignity and the protection of the laws, there can be no legitimate ranking, no distinctions, no discrimination. All are “created equal.” 

That means that we as Catholics must be fervent pro-lifers—tireless defenders of life, beginning with the precious life of the vulnerable child in the womb. This is non-negotiable. It also means that we must be fervent anti-racists, because to distinguish invidiously among people, to discriminate on the basis of some irrelevant feature like race, is to violate the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family. As Catholics we must understand that all of us are brothers and sisters. Nothing can change that. 

Read the entire piece here.

The *Believe Me* Tour Comes to Louisville

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

Louisville 2

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

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

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

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

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

An Evangelical Changes His Mind on Abortion

Schenk

Check out Terry Gross’s NPR interview with evangelical minister Rob Schenck.  I first learned about Schenck through the documentary “Armor of Light.”  The film featured his attempts to convince his fellow evangelicals that being “pro-life” and “pro-gun” were morally incompatible positions.

Schenck has also changed his views on abortion.  Once an ardent anti-abortion activist, Schenk has now softened his position.  Here is a taste of the summary of his interview with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air”:

On becoming an anti-abortion activist in 1988

There was a very close identification with the civil rights struggle, and I came to see this as a kind of civil rights struggle for the most vulnerable of human beings, those in the womb. And so as time went on, I embraced that. It took me a little while to become totally convinced of the rightness of that cause and I would take that into more than 20 years, actually 25 years, of activism.

On ways he and his fellow anti-abortion activists made it difficult for women seeking abortion

We engaged in mass blockades. Sometimes, we would have a dozen people in front of the doorways to a clinic. Other times, it would be hundreds. On occasion, we actually had thousands. And so we created human obstacles for those coming and going, whether they were the abortion providers themselves, their staff members, of course, women and sometimes men accompanying them that would come to the clinics. And it created a very intimidating encounter.

There were, of course, exceptions. There were women who would later thank us for being there. There were adoptions arranged where women would go through with their pregnancy, deliver their child, the child would be adopted through the pro-life network, but that was a relatively rare exception to the rule.

On reflecting on how his rhetoric while protesting abortion clinics and doctors may have contributed to the violence toward abortion providers, such as Dr. David Gunn, who was murdered in 1993; Dr. George Tillerwho was was wounded in 1993 and murdered in 2009; and Dr. Barnett Slepianwho was murdered in 1998

This became more about us, about me, about our need to win, to win the argument, to win on legislation, to win in the courts. I will tell you that my acceptance of that responsibility had to come only after a long period of reflective prayer, of listening deeply to those who were gravely affected by those murders, in therapy with my own — I will be careful to say — Christian therapist, who helped me come to terms with what really happened and how I may have contributed to those acts of violence through my rhetoric, and eventually in a confrontation, a very loving one but nonetheless an encounter, a very strong, very powerful encounter, with the relative of one of the doctors shot and stabbed. … And it was … actually at a Passover Seder table when I was confronted very gently and very lovingly by a relative who happened to be a rabbi of that one abortion provider. In that moment, I realized my own culpability in those in those terrible, terrible events.

Read or listen to the entire interview here.  He also discusses evangelicals and support for Donald Trump.

Yesterday’s Piece in *USA Today*

Trump court evangelicals

Yesterday USA Today published a piece I wrote about Trump and evangelicals.  The editors chose the following title: “White evangelicals fear the future and yearn for the past.  Of course Trump is their hero.”  The article draws heavily from the introduction to Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is a taste:

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

Believe Me 3d

Are Trump Evangelicals Dancing with the Devil?

trump-with-evangelical-leaders

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

 

Scott Pruitt on “Providence” and “Blessings”

Pruitt

Scott Pruitt has resigned as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Trump announced the resignation via Twitter.

Here is his letter of resignation:

Mr. President, it has been an honor to serve you in the Cabinet as Administrator of the EPA. Truly, your confidence in me has blessed me personally and enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated at the beginning of your Administration. Your courage, steadfastness and resolute commitment to get results for the American people, both with regard to improved environmental outcomes as well as historical regulatory reform, is in fact occurring at an unprecedented pace and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you and the American people in helping achieve those ends.

That is why is hard for me to advise you I am stepping down as Administrator of the EPA effective as of July 6. It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring. However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.

My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.

                          Your Faithful Friend,

                           Scott Pruitt

As this letter makes clear, Pruitt is an evangelical Christian.  He is a former deacon of First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and served on the Board of Trustees of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  If you just change a few words in this letter it could pass for his resignation letter as a church deacon.

His appeal to God’s providence should not surprise us.  This is pretty common evangelical language and Pruitt sees little difference between the church and the government.  I am assuming that Pruitt means that God specifically chose Donald Trump to deliver His “chosen nation” from the hands of the Obama-Clinton threat.  I assume he means that God brought him to the EPA to prevent climate-change advocates from actually doing something about climate change.  He is sincere about all of this.  This is what he believes.  I have no doubt that he thinks that he was doing God’s will for a divinely-appointed POTUS.  These appeals to providence, coupled with regular Bible studies that no doubt use the Bible to endorse GOP politics, is what passes for evangelical political engagement today among Christian Right politicians.

The satirist Ambrose Bierce described “providence” as an idea that is “unexpectedly and consciously beneficial to the person so describing it.”

The use of the phrase “bless” or “blessing” (used four times in the short letter) is also pretty common in evangelical circles.  When evangelicals do something to encourage another Christian they are “being a blessing” to that person.  It is a pretty common way of talking about showing Christian love to a neighbor or friend.   When I was a teenager, I often listened to “Walk with the King,” the radio of show of The Kings College president and National Association of Evangelical president Robert A. Cook.  He used to end every broadcast by saying “Until I meet you once again by way of radio, walk with the King today, and be a blessing.”

Pruitt no doubt believes that he was a “blessing” to Donald Trump.  He was serving God’s anointed.

He also apparently  received his own “blessings” by working for the EPA.  I don’t think the prosperity gospel is popular in Southern Baptist circles, but in the context of this resignation letter it sure seems like Pruitt believed God was blessing him when he

  • rented a bedroom near Capitol Hill from a lobbyist for $50.00 a night.
  • tried to use his role at the EPA to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise.
  • spent over $3.5 million on his security detail.
  • asked an aide to get him a used mattress from a Trump hotel.
  • paid $1560 for 12 fountain pens.
  • lied about asking for a 24/7 security detail
  • flew first class to avoid “lashing out from passengers.”
  • spent $5700 for biometric locks.
  • installed a $43,000 phone booth in his office.
  • told his motorcade to use flashing lights and sirens in order to get to brunch on time.
  • went $60,000 over budget on an EPA trip to Morocco.
  • sent his security detail to buy him lotions and pick-up his dry cleaning.
  • takes a personal security detail on family trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.
  • spent $120,000 for opposition research on the media.
  • hired a coal lobbyist to be his deputy EPA administrator.

I am glad Pruitt is gone for two reasons:

  1. The GOP will spin Pruitt’s resignation by saying that they agreed with his policies as EPA director, but disagreed with the ethics violations.  This position fails to take seriously the Christian responsibility to care for the creation.  Government must play a role in this work.  Having said that, I am guessing Trump will replace him with someone else who believes that climate change is a hoax.
  2. Pruitt’s ethical violations reveal that he is unfit for this cabinet position or any cabinet position.  The fact that he would make appeals to evangelical words like “providence” and “blessing” in his resignation letter is appalling.

And let’s not forget that many evangelicals have defended this guy.

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

Jeffress 2

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

A preview:

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

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

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