What White Evangelicals Can Learn About Politics From the Civil Rights Movement

 

MLK GRave

In June 2017, I spent ten days with my family and several colleagues from Messiah College traveling through the American South on a civil rights movement bus tour. Our trip took us to some of the most important sites and cities of the movement. We made stops in Greensboro, Atlanta, Albany, Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, and Nashville

Along the way we spent time with some of the veterans of the movement. In Atlanta we heard from Juanita Jones Abernathy, the wife and co-laborer of Ralph Abernathy, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest associates. In Albany we sang civil rights songs with Rutha Mae Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers.

In Selma we met Joanne Bland, a local activist who, at the age of eleven, participated in all three Edmund Pettus Bridge marches. In Birmingham we talked with Carolyn Maul McKinstry and Denise McNair. McKinstry was fifteen years old when she survived the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. That explosion took the life of McNair’s sister, whom she never had a chance to meet.

In Nashville, we listened to the inspirational stories of Ernest “Rip” Patton, one of the early freedom riders, and Kwame Leonard, one of the movement’s behind-the-scenes organizers.

As I processed everything that I learned on my colleague Todd Allen’s “Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights” bus tour, I kept returning to thoughts about the relationship between religion and politics. Donald Trump had been in office for under five months, but my anger and frustration upon learning that 81 percent of my fellow evangelicals had voted for him were still fresh.

As I listened to the voices of the movement veterans, walked the ground that they had walked, and saw the photographs, studied the exhibits, and watched the footage, it was clear that I was witnessing a Christian approach to politics that was very different from the one that catapulted Trump into the White House and continues to garner white evangelical support for his presidency. Hope and humility defined the political engagement and social activism of the civil rights movement. The movement served, and continues to serve, as an antidote to a politics of fear and power.

****

Those who participated in the civil rights movement has much to fear: bombs, burning crosses, billy clubs, death threats, water hoses, police dogs, and lynch mobs—to name a few. They feared for the lives of their families and spent every day wondering whether they would still be around to continue the fight the next day. For these reasons, many African Americans, understandably, did not participate in the movement and prevented their children from getting involved. The danger was very real.

Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. When we visited the old Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church where King was baptized and where he (and his father) served as pastor, his final sermon, the one he delivered in Memphis on April 3, 1968, was playing over the speakers.

King was in Memphis to encourage sanitation workers fighting for better pay and improved working conditions. I sat in the back pew and listened:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m no concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing anything. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

It was a message of hope. Because of his faith, God had given him—and the women and men of the movement he led—all the strength they would need to continue the struggle. King made himself available to do the Lord’s will. Now he was looking forward. Was he talking about his eternal life in what now seems like prophetic fashion, or was he talking about God working out his purposes on earth?

No matter: King was confident in God’s power to work out his will: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” An assassin’s bullet took King’s life the next day, April 4, 1968, but the movement went on.

Can evangelicals recover this confidence in God’s power—not just in his wrath against their enemies but in his ability to work out his purposes for good? Can they recover hope? The historian Christopher Lasch once wrote this: “Hope does not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity. Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to most who lack it.”

I saw this kind of hope in every place we visited on our trip. It was not mere optimism that things would get better if only we could elect the right candidates. Rather, it was a view of this world, together with an understanding of the world to come, forged amid suffering and pain.

Not everyone would make it to the mountaintop on this side of eternity, but God’s purposes would be worked out, and eventually they would be able to understand those purposes—if not in this life, surely in the world to come. The people in the movement understood that laws, social programs, even local and voluntary action, would only get them so far. Something deeper was needed.

There was something kingdom-oriented going on in these Southern cities. I thought of the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I saw this kind of hope in the eyes of Rip Patton as he sat with us in the Nashville Public Library and explained why (and how) he had such a “good time” singing while incarcerated with other freedom riders in Parchman Prison in Jackson, Mississippi.

I heard this kind of hope in the voice of Rutha Mae Harris as she led us in “This Little Light of Mine” and “Ain’t Gonna Turn Me ‘Round” from the front of the sanctuary of the Old Mount Zion Baptist Church in Albany.

As I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, I wondered if I could ever muster the courage of John Lewis and Joanne Bland as they marched into the face of terror on Bloody Sunday. Such audacity requires hope.

But too often fear leads to hopelessness, a state of mind that political scientist Glenn Tinder had described as a “kind of death.” Hopelessness causes us to direct our gaze backward toward worlds we can never recover. It causes us to imagine a future filled with horror. Tyrants focus our attention on the desperate nature of our circumstances and the carnage of the social and cultural landscape that they claim to have the power to heal.

A kernel of truth, however, always informs such a dark view of life. Poverty is a problem. Rusted-out factories often do appear, as Trump once described them, like “tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” Crime is real

But demagogues want us to dwell on the carnage and, to quote Bruce Springsteen, “waste our summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.” Hope, on the other hand, draws us into the future, and in this way it engages us in life.

*****

It is nonsensical to talk about the civil rights movement in terms of political power, because even at the height of the movement’s influence, African Americans did not possess much political power. Yes, the movement had its leaders, and they did have time in the national spotlight. But when the movement leaders entered the halls of power, they were usually there to speak truth with a prophetic voice. King, for example, was willing to break with Lyndon Johnson when he disagreed with him on the Vietnam War, even if it meant losing access to the most powerful man on earth.

Most of all, though, the civil rights movement was shaped by people of humble of means who lived ordinary lives in ordinary neighborhoods. Many of them never expected to step onto a national stage or receive credit for leading the great social movement in American history. These ordinary men and women fought injustice wherever God had placed them. They offer us a beautiful illustration of what scholar James Davison Hunter has called “faithful presence.”

For Hunter, a theology of faithful presence calls Christians to serve the people and places where they live. The call of faithful presence, Hunter writes in his book To Change the World, “gives priority to what is right in front of us—community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people in which these are constituted. It is in these places, through “the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, concerns, desires, and worries of people with whom we are in long-term and close relation—family, neighbors, co-workers, and community—where we find authenticity as a body of believers. It is here, Hunter adds, “where we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality, and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness, and joy. This is the crucible with which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context in which shalom is enacted.”

I thought about Hunter’s words as I stood in the hot Selma sun and listened to Joanne Bland explain to us the significance of a small and crumbling patch of pavement in a playground behind Brown Chapel AME church. This was the exact spot, she told us, where the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches began. For Bland, who was raised in a housing complex across the street from the church, this was a sacred space.

The humility on display during the civil rights movement was just as countercultural then as it is now. This is usually the case with nonviolent protests. Those who participated thought of themselves not as individuals but as part of a movement larger than themselves.

Rip Patton was a twenty-one-year old music major at Tennessee State University when he met Jim Lawson in 1959. Lawson trained Patton (and others) in nonviolent protest. Soon Patton found himself seated at a lunch counter in downtown Nashville, where he would be spit on, punched, covered with ketchup, mustard, salt, and water.

Patton did not retaliate because he had been educated in the spiritual discipline necessary for a situation like this. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a political and social movement, but he was also the high priest of a spiritual movement, something akin to a religious revival.

The civil rights movement never spoke the language of hate or resentment. In fact, its Christian leaders saw that all human beings were made in the image of God and sinners in need of God’s redemptive love. Many in the movement practiced what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr described as “the spiritual discipline against resentment.” They saw that those who retaliated violently or with anger against injustice were only propagating injustices of their own.

Instead, the spiritual discipline against resentment unleashed a different kind of power—the power of the cross and the resurrection. This kind of power could provide comfort amid suffering and a faithful gospel witness to the world.

The Mississippi voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer said it best: “The white man’s afraid he’ll be treated like he’s been treating the Negroes, but I couldn’t carry that much hate. It wouldn’t have solved any problems for me to hate whites because they hate me. Oh, there’s so much hate! Only God has kept the Negro sane.”

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Where does all this reflection leave us? Where did it leave me as I got off the bus and headed back to my working-class, central Pennsylvania neighborhood. How might hope and humility inform the way we white American evangelicals think about politics and other forms of public engagement?

It is time to take a long hard look at what we have become. We have a lot of work to do.

This essay draws heavily from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, which was recently released in paperback by Eerdmans Publishing

Trump’s Guidance on Prayer in Schools Was “hardly worth the excitement”

See you at the pole

“See You at the Pole”: Perfectly legal

Here is Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty:

(RNS) — When President Donald Trump leaked, at a rally for evangelical supporters in Florida on Jan. 3, that his administration would issue guidance about prayer in public schools, he started a mini-firestorm, and not just among the fired-up crowd.

When the guidance was released on Thursday (Jan. 16), however, it turned out to be hardly worth the excitement. According to long-settled legal and constitutional protections for religious expression in the public schools, public school students are free to pray, wear religious clothing and accessories and talk about their beliefs. Religious groups can meet on school grounds, and teachers can teach about religion as an academic subject. Religious liberty, in short, is already a treasured value in our nation’s public schools.

So why are the president and White House staffers making inflammatory and misleading statements, claiming our constitutional rights are under attack?

It could be that the administration simply wanted to remind public schools of their constitutional duties.

Tyler is being polite.  She knows why Trump felt the need to affirm an already existing Supreme Court decision that allows students to pray in school. He wanted to use the spiritual discipline of prayer to score political points with his conservative evangelical base.  Trump is not savvy enough to think of this on his own.  One of his so-called evangelical advisers probably told him to do this.

So let’s get the facts on the proverbial table:

  1. The Supreme Court made mandatory prayer in schools unconstitutional in the 1962 Engle v. Vitale case.  Mandatory prayer is still unconstitutional.  Nothing Trump did on Thursday changed this.  I have now heard from several Trump voters who think that Trump somehow overturned Engle v. Vitale with his remarks.  He did not.  Not even the Trump Administration is saying this.  But I am sure that Trump wouldn’t mind it if some uneducated evangelicals believed that he restored mandatory school prayer.
  2. In 2000, the Supreme Court affirmed in Sante Fe ISD v. Doe that “The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment prevent the government from making any law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  By no means do these commands impose a prohibition of all religious activity in our public schools.  See, e. g., Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., 508 U. S. 384, 395 (1993); Board of Ed. of Westside Community Schools (Dist. 66) v. Mergens, 496 U. S. 226 (1990); Wallace, 472 U. S., at 59. Indeed, the common purpose of the Religion Clauses “is to secure religious liberty.” Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 430 (1962). Thus, nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday.”
  3. In other words, Trump’s so-called “guidance” merely affirmed what was already in place.
  4. Have there been cases when school districts, acting in bad faith, have failed to uphold this constitutional right to pray in schools?  Of course.  But as Binghamton University historian Adam Laats pointed out yesterday, these cases are the exception rather than the rule.
  5. In my chapter on evangelical fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I wrote, “Donald Trump himself, during his 2016 campaign, [claimed] that crime was rising when it was actually falling.  He attempted to portray refugees and undocumented immigrants as threats to the American public even though the chances that an American will die at the hands of a refugee terrorist is about one in 3.6. million; the chance of being murdered by an undocumented immigrant is one in 10.9 million per year.  One is more likely to die from walking across a railroad track or having one’s clothes spontaneously catch on fire.  Yet Trump managed to convince Americans that immigrants are “imminent threats” to their safety.”  I would love to get an idea of how many violations of Sante Fe ISD v. Doe occur each year and compare that number to the number of voluntary public school prayer groups that function everyday in full accordance with Sante Fe ISD v. Doe.

Here is Tyler again:

…some comments officials made before and in their announcement of the guidance vastly overstated the supposed problem and echoed the claims of Christian nationalism, a dangerous movement that harms both Christianity and the United States by implying that to be a good American, one must be Christian.

Christian nationalists often point to two Supreme Court cases from the 1960s, Engel v. Vitale and School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, to claim that the government “banned school prayer” or “took God out of the schools.” These are harmful misrepresentations. These cases didn’t ban the free exercise of Christian worship. They banned mandatory Bible readings and prayers written by the government. It should not be controversial to oppose government-dictated religious practice.

Instead of enforcing government-mandated religion, these Supreme Court cases ensured that public school students are free to exercise their constitutionally protected religious beliefs and affirmed the proper way to handle religion in public schools.

And it’s worked: For decades, public schools across the nation have modeled how religiously diverse populations can build relationships of trust and care, respecting the unique role that religion plays in people’s lives. Like our neighbors of all faiths, we are empowered by the First Amendment to live our beliefs in the public square, which includes the public school.

Read the rest here.

A Southern Evangelical Businessman Breaks With Trump

 

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

Fred Rand is an evangelical Christian and Memphis business man.  He described his background in a recent piece at the Jackson (MS) Free Press:

I cut my teeth as a College Republican working for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I have never in my life cast a ballot for a Democrat candidate in almost 40 years as a registered Republican.

I am also a committed Evangelical Christian who grew up in Mississippi as a devoted follower of the Rev. Billy Graham and am now a follower of Andy Stanley. I joined my wife at North Point Church in Atlanta when we first married and briefly attended his Buckhead Church before moving to Charlotte, N.C., when our first grandson was born. We joined Andy’s wonderful startup church called Ridge, where our daughter was on full-time staff and her husband a volunteer youth counselor. Our daughter has recently completed (another) degree in Christian counseling at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary here and is currently in private practice, but still very active in our church….

I first heard Rev. Graham speak at an unofficial Reagan event in 1980. I was honored to be among a number of young people he spoke to briefly afterward. Rev. Graham warned us not to be seduced by the lights and excitement of politics. All fame is fleeing. And all men are human and will disappoint you, as Richard Nixon disappointed him. He urged us to put our trust first in God. He will never disappoint you. He will never turn His back on you. He will always love you. And we must honor that love by choosing Him, putting Him first and not turning our backs on Him.

I was a huge fan of the inspirational movie “Brian’s Song” in junior high. But it was my hero Gayle Sayer’s book “I am Third” that changed my life. I adopted his beliefs outlined in the book and have tried to live a life based on this guiding principle. God is first. My friends and family are second. And I am third. Rev. Graham’s off-the-cuff remarks that night echoed that same philosophy, and I saw the truth in his words to us.

That night had a profound effect on my life. I read an article about Rev. Graham in Parade Magazine less than a year later that I kept framed on my wall for 30 years that was 100% consistent with his testimony to us Young Republicans that night.

“I told (Jerry Falwell) to preach the Gospel,” Rev. Graham said in the Parade article. “That’s our calling. I want to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. Liberals organized in the ’60s, and conservatives certainly have a right to organize in the ’80s, but it would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

That has been my political lodestone ever since.

In his Jackson Free Press piece, Rand defends Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today and says that “Donald Trump fits the scriptural definition of a fool.”

Read it all here.

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center Says “Turning the Other Cheek” is No Longer Sufficient

Liberty U

We have blogged about Liberty University’s Falkirk Center before.  The more I learn about this center the more I am convinced that it does not represent the teachings of Christianity.   Recently someone on Twitter pointed out this paragraph in the Falkirk Center mission statement:

Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough, and turning the other cheek in our personal relationships with our neighbors as Jesus taught while abdicating our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield is no longer sufficient. There is too much at stake in the battle for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic action and initiative is needed, which is why we just launched the Falkirk Center, a think tank dedicated to restoring and defending American ideals and Judeo-Christian values in all aspects of life.

You read that correctly.  Jerry Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk, the leaders of the Falkirk Center, are suggesting that we should ignore Jesus’s teaching to “turn the other cheek.”  Just for the sake of clarification, Jesus said, “You  have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (Mt. 5:38-40).

Any why are the words of Jesus “no longer sufficient?” Because the “soul of the nation”–the United States of America– is more important.  Later in the mission statement, Falwell and Kirk say that the Falkirk Center was created to defend “Judeo-Christian” principles.  What is more Judeo-Christian than the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me”? (Exodus 20:1-3).

ADDENDUM (8:50 pm, January 16, 2020):

Several smart people have suggested that I may have misread Liberty University’s statement.  They have said that the Falkirk Center was not denying that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for individuals.  Instead, the Falkirk Center is saying that we should not “abdicate” (the key word here) our responsibilities to engage on the “culture battlefield.”

I think this is a fair criticism, and I indeed may have misread the statement.  For that I am sorry.  But I don’t think I want to back away too strongly from what I wrote above.  While several have correctly pointed out that Liberty University is not saying Jesus’s command to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for individual Christians, the Falkirk Center does seem to be suggesting that it is “insufficient” for culture engagement.

A few thoughts:

First, it appears that Jerry Falwell and Charlie Kirk believe that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for engaging the larger culture.  If I read them correctly, they are saying that we should “turn the other cheek” in “our personal relationships with our neighbors,” but we should “not turn the other cheek” on the “cultural battlefield.” This assumes that our interaction with “neighbors” does not count as cultural engagement, as if the people we encounter everyday at our workplaces and in our communities are not part of culture.

Second, some have suggested that Falwell and Kirk are promoting a “2 Kingdoms” view of the relationship between the church and government.  Those who espouse this view might say that we cannot expect the government to act in accordance with the Sermon in the Mount.  In other words, according to this view, the idea of “turning the other cheek” is something individual Christians should do, but certainly not governments.

But even if we allow for such a 2 Kingdoms view, we must remember that such a view, which is often associated with Martin Luther, is about the relationship between Christians and GOVERNMENT.  Liberty University’s Falkirk Center IS NOT the government.  It is the product of a private Christian school–Liberty University.

Third, and finally, is it possible to engage public life in such a way that upholds the spirit of “turning the other cheek?” The statement’s use of the term “cultural battlefield” seems to champion an approach to public life–for an individual Christian or a group of Christians such as the Falkirk Center–that is antithetical to Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

Don’t get me wrong–I am not making an argument here against public engagement. Instead, I am making an argument here for a kind of public engagement that might take seriously the idea of “turning the other cheek.”  (I will let the Christian political and moral philosophers wrestle with what this might look like).  I am not sure if I am willing to “abdicate” the idea of “turning the other cheek” as a useful idea for Christians engaging in public life.

Evangelical Support for Trump in Rural Wisconsin

Forest County\

Wisconsin is a big swing state.  Trump needs to win it in 2020.

Today I was chatting about Trump with fifteen Dutch college students visiting Messiah College during their January term.  One of them asked me if I thought Trump might win again in 2020.  I told him that anything is possible because the country is so evenly divided right now.  In this day and age, American elections revolve around small slices of voters living in swing states.  This means that places like rural Forest County, Wisconsin are important.

Chris McGreal, a reporter at The Guardian, spent some time with evangelicals in this Wisconsin county–a county that went for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Pastor Franz Gerber is worried that so many members of his congregation appear to idolise Donald Trump more than they worship Jesus.

The preacher at the Praise Chapel Community church was among those who voted for Trump in rural Forest county, Wisconsin, which swung heavily from Barack Obama to the Republican in 2016 and so helped deliver a state that put the president in the White House.

Gerber now has some regrets about his vote but what really disturbs him is an unquestioning and even aggressive adulation for Trump within his flock.

“It seems like there are many evangelical Christians that are willing to die on the hill of supporting the Republican president, supporting Donald J Trump. And to me, that hill is not worth dying on. No matter who the candidate is, no matter who the individual is,” he said. “To put all your hope into that individual is a dangerous road. Scripture would warn us against that.”

Gerber’s concern reflects a deepening political polarisation within sprawling Forest county, home to about 9,000 people and two Native American reservations across about 1,000 square miles, where friendships are strained over Trump and more than a few people shy from talking politics.

Read the rest here.

Sadly, pastor Gerber may not have a chance.  His influence over his congregation pales in comparison to the influence that Fox News and other conservative media have over his congregation.

My Piece Today at *USA TODAY* on the Evangelicals for Trump Rally

Miami Trump

Here is a taste of “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God“:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson), and the hosts of Fox and Friends.

Read the entire piece at *USA TODAY*.

Deconstructing the MAGA Church Video

Watch (again):

The Lincoln Project, a GOP anti-Trump group headed up by George Conway (Kellyanne’s husband) and Rick Wilson, produced the video.

0:00 to 0: 16: This is from the recent “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami.  We discussed this event here.

0:17 to 0:22:  This is court evangelical Robert Jeffress praying for Donald Trump at a 2017 day of prayer in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Paula White also prayed.

0:23 to 0:25: Candidate Trump telling pollster Frank Luntz that he has never asked for forgiveness.  This is also the event where Trump said, “When I drink my little wine–which is the only wine I drink–and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness….”

0:26 to 0:29: Trump says “why do I need to repent, why do I need to ask for forgiveness.”  This is from a Trump interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN during the early days of the campaign in 2015.

0:30 to 0:33: This is court evangelical Paula White praying at a June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.

0:34 to 0:35: This is Trump telling CNN’s Abby Phillip that she “asks a lot of stupid questions.”

0:36 to 0:40: This is former GOP congresswoman Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota claiming in the Spring of 2019 that “I have never seen a more biblical president than I have seen in Donald Trump.”

0:41 to 0:42: This is Paula White praying at a June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.  She is asking God to “remove every demonic network” from the anointed one.

0:43 to 0:44: This is Trump telling CNN reporter Jim Acosta in November 2018 that he is an “enemy of the people.”  He also called him a “rude, terrible person.”  Earlier in the year, court evangelical Lance Wallnau said Acosta was a “demon.”

0:44 to 0:47: Paula White again in  the June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.  This is the second half of the “every demonic network” line above.  White prays that if there is a demonic network working against Trump,  “let it be broken, let it be torn down, in the name of Jesus.” Spiritual warfare language was pretty common  the during the impeachment inquiry.

0:48 to 0:49: This is a clip from prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland‘s show “Believers Voice of Victory.” Copeland’s son-in-law, George Pearsons, says “here is the Republican platform.” Paula White is also a guest on the show.

0:50 to 0:52: Trump engaging in blasphemy at a September 2019 rally in Baltimore.

0:53 to 0:54: Robert Jeffress on the Lou Dobbs show saying “if Trump is not re-elected.”

0:55 to 0:57:  George Pearsons of Kenneth Copeland ministries (see my comments at the 0:48 mark above) saying “the Word of God.”

0:58 to 1:01: Back to Jeffress on Lou Dobbs.  He finished the line he started at the 0:53 mark: “If Trump is not re-elected… there will be a backlash against people of faith like we cannot imagine.”  In this interview Jeffress says that Pete Buttigieg “doesn’t have a clue” about what the Bible says and defends Trump’s border wall.

1:02 to 1:07: George Pearsons from the 0:48 and 0:55 mark asks “where do you stand.”  This is followed-up by Trump’s claim that he “could stand on the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

1:08 to 1:12: Paula White says, “I want a man who stands for righteousness.”  This line is juxtaposed with Trump saying he’d like to punch a protester in the face at a February 2016 rally.

1:13 to 1:16: This comes from Trump’s arguments with the Pope in the first half of 2017.  In February the Pope said “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.”  Trump responded on Facebook: “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS…I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would never have happened.”  This picks up again at the 1:20-1:21 mark.  Needless to say, it is pretty clear that Pope Francis is no fan of Donald Trump or his administration.

1:17 to 1:19:  Back in the Oval Office for the day of prayer following Hurricane Harvey.

1:22 to 1:25:  Robert Jeffress saying that the Pope needs to “seek Donald Trump’s forgiveness.”  This happened in February 2018 on the Sean Hannity Show.  Here is the quote:

Sean, I think the Pope needs to ask Donald Trump’s forgiveness for making such an outlandish statement. I want to remind our listeners that it was exactly one year ago this week that 21 Coptic Christians’ had their heads chopped off by ISIS on a Libyan beach and then ISIS said, “we are coming to Rome next.” The Pope ought to think through that very seriously. And the fact that we have a candidate like Donald Trump who wants to protect America, that’s not unbiblical. The Pope is confused between the role of the Church, which is to show compassion, and the role of government, which is to uphold order and to protect its citizens. And I want to make a prediction. I think the Pope has succeeded in doing what no other man on Earth could do, and that is creating a martyr in Donald Trump.

1:26:  Donald Trump calling Ted Cruz “a pussy” in February 2016.

1:27: Franklin Graham in January 2018 telling CNN’s Don Lemon that God put Trump in the office of the presidency.  Franklin Graham comes across looking very foolish in this interview.

1:28 to 1:29: This is Trump speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama in September 2017.  He is talking about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.  He said: “wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.’”

1:30 to 1:32: More Paula White in Orlando.  Here she is praying that for the “angel of the Lord” to “encamp around and about” Trump.

1:33 to 1:34:  Back to Michelle Bachmann.  This is the former Minnesota congreesswoman and former GOP presidential candidate in an August 2016 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.  The full quote: “But I also see that at the end of the day God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump who was going to be the nominee in this election.”

1:36 to 1:39: Paula White: “to say no to Donald Trump would be saying no to God.”  Watch the entire video here. Pick it up around the 34:00 minute mark (White also says that Trump “is a huge history buff.”  Wow, that’s new).

1:40 to 1:41:  This is another cut from Trump’s interview with Frank Luntz at the Iowa Family Leadership Conference in the summer of 2015.  Luntz asked Trump if he had ever asked God for forgiveness.  Trump responded: “I don’t think so.  I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right.  I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t”

1:41 to 1:48 and 1:53: Robert Jeffress on Fox News citing Romans 13 as a biblical mandate for Trump to bomb North Korea. The full quote: ” And I wanted to clarify that I believe the Bible, especially Romans 13, does give President Trump moral authority to use whatever force necessary, including assassination or even war to topple an evil dictator like Kim Jong Un.”  Romans 13 has been used a lot by pro-Trump evangelicals to justify many of his policies.

1:49 to 1:50: Trump at a 2015 campaign rally saying he  is going to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS.

1:51 to 1:52: Paula White hawking her book Something Greater. Here is the full quote: “There is a department of treasury in Heaven, which says God is watching over everything you do and you are storing up eternal treasure that will go so far beyond what we can even imagine…you need to send in $3,500; you need to send in $35,000; you need to send in that 100,000 check.”

1:54 to 1:55: This is Buddy Pilgrim on Kenneth Copeland’s show “Believers Voice for Victory.” He points to the Bible and says, “this book right here will tell you how to vote.”  Prior to getting aboard the Trump train he was the National Director for Faith & Religious Liberty for the Ted Cruz presidential campaign.

1:56 to 1:57:  This is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network.  In this interview he said he believes that Trump is a new Queen Esther. We wrote about this interview here.

1:58 to 1:59:  A clip from the Access Hollywood tape.

2:00: Jerry Falwell on CNN in March 2018 telling Erin Burnett that Trump “has had a change of heart.”  Falwell is defending Trump in the wake of the Stormy Daniels affair.  Here is the entire interview.  Falwell was also on Burnett’s show in January 2018.

2:00-2:01: Trump at a 2019 rally in Michigan. Here is the full quote: “The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit.” He is referencing the Mueller Report.  Trump use of vulgarity in January 2018 prompted me to write a post titled “Are Court Evangelicals More Concerned With Trump’s Vulgar Language or the Racism Behind It?

2:03 to 2:11: More clips from prosperity preacher Paula White asking for money.  She tells her audience that if they don’t send her money they will never see “sustainment” in their lives and their dreams will die.

2:12 to 2:16:  Televangelist Jim Bakker says that support for Trump is a mark of one’s eternal salvation.  This is from January 7, 2020.

2:25 to 2:26:  Trump claiming that he is “the chosen one.” This was Trump in August 2019.  The context is a little more complicated.  Trump said he was “chosen” to “take on China” in trade.  Others have called Trump “The Chosen One,” including former Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump”

 

 

Eric-Metaxas-Graphic-TBN

Stephen Haynes is the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  He is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholar and author of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship  in the Age of Trump (Eeerdmans, 2018). In this book, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Today Eerdmans has published the postscript to The Battle for Bonhoeffer.  It is titled “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support TrumpSome of you may recall that Eric Metaxas recently published an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal under the title “The Christian Case for Trump.”

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Your embrace of Trump is eerily reminiscent of German Christians’ attachment to Hitler in the early 1930s. I make this point not to convince you that Trump is Hitler but to remind you of the troubling ways Christians have compromised themselves in endorsing political movements in which they perceived the hand of God. I developed a scholarly interest in the churches’ role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist the wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants.

Being familiar with this history, I have been struck by how reminiscent many of your responses to Trump are of the way Christians in Germany embraced a strong leader they were convinced would restore the country’s moral order. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Christians in Germany let themselves be persuaded that Hitler was a deeply pious man, placed in power by God through a graceful act of intervention in German history. Hitler encouraged these ideas not by claiming any allegiance to Christ but by employing vague religious language, promising a return to the “good old days,” and posing for photographs as he left church, prayed, and entertained ecclesiastical leaders.

Here are a few examples of how Protestant Christian leaders in Germany spoke about God’s role in Hitler’s accession to power:

• “With National Socialism an epoch in German history has begun that is at least as decisive for the German people, as for example the epoch of Martin Luther.”
• “No one could welcome January 30, 1933 more profoundly or more joyfully than the German Christian leadership.”
• “Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God became the framer of German destiny and the liberator of our people from their spiritual misery and division.”
• “[Hitler is] the best man imaginable, a man shaped in a mold made of unity, piety, energy and strength of character.”
• “[Hitler], the most German man, is also the most faithful, a believing Christian. We know that he begins and ends the course of his day with prayer, that he has found in the Gospel the deepest source of his strength.”
• “If the German who truly believed in Jesus could find the Spirit of the kingdom of God anywhere, he could find it in Adolf Hitler’s movement.”
• “In the pitch-black night of Christian church history, Hitler became like a wonderful transparency for our time, a window through which light fell upon the history of Christianity.”
• “[God has granted us an] hour of grace . . . through Adolf Hitler.”
• “God has once again raised his voice in a singular individual.”13 Compare these statements with those made in recent months by American charismatic and evangelical leaders:
• “God raised up . . . Donald Trump” (Michelle Bachman).
• “God has righteously chosen [Trump] to affect the way that this nation goes forward” (Chuck Pierce).
• “Donald Trump represents a supernatural answer to prayer” (James Robison).
• “God had raised up [Trump] for such a time as this” (Stephen Strang).
• “Donald Trump actively seeks God’s guidance in his life” (James Dobson).
• Trump’s victory “showed clear evidence of ‘the hand of God’ on the election” (Franklin Graham).
• “[Trump is] a bold man, a strong man, and an obedient man” (Kenneth Copeland).
• “I see this as a last-minute reprieve for America, and the Church” (Rodney Howard-Browne).
• “[Trump] does look like he’s the last hope” (Phyllis Schlafly).
• “God was raising up Donald Trump as He did the Persian king Cyrus the Great” (Lance Wallnau).
• “[Trump is] a man of faith . . . truly committed to making America great again through principles that honor God rather than defy Him” (Stephen Strang).
• “In the midst of . . . despair, came November the 8th, 2016. It was on that day . . . that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were gonna choose the next president of the United States. And they chose Donald Trump” (Robert Jeffress).
• “We thank God every day that He gave us a leader like President Trump” (Robert Jeffress).14

How is Trump able to convince these Christian leaders that he is worthy of their support? Mostly by paying attention to them, inviting them to Trump Tower, and indulging their need to be listened to in an increasingly post-Christian culture. It is truly remarkable that they have been taken in by Trump’s vague and barely comprehensible statements about his “faith,” such as “I’ve always been spiritual,” “belief is very important,” and “I’m going to do a great job for religion.” Honestly, Hitler was better at pretending to be a Christian.

Read the entire letter here.

Thoughts on GOP Congressman Doug Collins’s Recent Comments About the Democrats and Terrorism

Watch Georgia GOP representative Doug Collins tell Lou Dobbs on Fox Business that Democratic congressmen love terrorists and mourn the death of Iranian military commander Qased Soleimani:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, pick-it-up at the four minute mark.

Collins says: “I did not think she [Nancy Pelosi] could become more hypocritical than she was during impeachment, but guess what, surprise, surprise, Nancy Pelosi does it again and her Democrats fall right in line. One, they’re in love with terrorists.  We see that.  They mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who were the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

Thoughts:

  1. The main points of Collins’s statement are not true.  The Democrats are not “in love with terrorists” and they are not mourning Soleimani.  (Although perhaps all Christians might mourn the taking of a human life that is created in the image of God and has dignity and worth).
  2. Collins is an evangelical Christian.  He has a Masters of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He served as the senior pastor of Chicopee Baptist Church.  He currently attends Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Georgia.
  3. Do you see what Collins is doing here?  He is misrepresenting the truth to score political points.  He is trying to scare ordinary Americans into believing that the Democrats love terrorists.  This is a pretty standard Christian Right strategy.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not Collins is telling the truth about his Democratic colleagues. He just needs to convince ordinary evangelicals and everyday Americans that what he says is true.  He is betting that most ordinary evangelicals will not fact-check him. It’s a good bet.
  4. Another example of this strategy is Eric Metaxas’s recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.  In that piece the Christian author suggests that a vote for anyone other than Donald Trump will lead to the murder of babies, the influx of socialism, the prevalence of cultural Marxism, and an immigrant invasion through open borders.  I addressed all these issues yesterday in this post.  Metaxas’s piece, which is filled with bad theology and unproven statements, is written to Trump’s base, so it doesn’t matter whether or not his theology is bad or his facts are misleading.  Trump’s base will believe him.  Metaxas is doing his part for the pro-Trump cause in the wake of Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.  By the way, has anyone noticed that the court evangelicals have been writing a lot since the “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami last week.  Tony Perkins wrote that Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”  Charlie Kirk, the new colleague of Jerry Falwell Jr.,  wrote that Trump is our last best hope against socialism.  Ralph Reed praised Trump for “reviving America’s Christian heritage.”  And Metaxas suggests that Trump will protect Christians from “woke mobs.”

Something is happening to American evangelicalism.  Former Ohio governor John Kasich has been noticing:

 

The Dangers of the Court

COurt Evangelicals

Here is a taste of my recent piece at Religion News Service: “Courtiers and kings, evangelicals, prophets, and Trump“:

(RNS) — Last Friday (Jan. 3), nearly every major conservative evangelical supporter of President Donald Trump gathered at the El Rey Jesus Church in Miami for the kickoff to the “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign.

If Mark Galli’s recent editorial in Christianity Today taught us anything, it is that American evangelicalism is a diverse group. Evangelicals find unity in their commitment to the redemptive work and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the divine inspiration of the Bible and the necessity of sharing their faith with others. They do not always share the same political convictions.

When Galli criticized Trump for his “grossly immoral character” and urged his fellow evangelicals to consider how their blind support of Trump is hurting the witness of the church, pro-Trump evangelical leaders pushed back. In an open letter to Christianity Today, they said that, despite his many flaws, the president has delivered for evangelicals on matters related to abortion, religious liberty and supporting Israel. Last weekend’s rally in Miami was a continuation of this pushback.

As has been noted elsewhere, these evangelical flatterers of Trump are not unlike the court clergy of late medieval and Renaissance-era Europe. In his book “The Origins of Courtliness,” historian C. Stephen Jaeger retells a story once told by the 11th-century church reformer Petrus Damiani about St. Severin, once archbishop of Cologne, whose sole offense — punished by leaving him to wander the Earth  — was that as a cleric at the king’s court, he took so keen an interest in the affairs of the state that he neglected chanting the liturgy at the prescribed hours. 

The tale sheds light on a common problem for clergymen with access to political power: The king’s court can be a dangerous place, even for the most devout. Courtiers have one goal: to gain access to and win the favor of the monarch. Such access brings privilege and power and an opportunity to influence the king on important matters — if, of course, the king is willing to listen. 

In his well-known guide to court life, 16th-century Italian courtier Baldesar Castiglione described the court as an “inherently immoral” place, a worldly venue “awash with dishonest, greedy, and highly competitive men.” One historian has described courtiers of the time as “opportunistic social ornaments”; another described them as “chameleons.”

The skills needed to thrive in the court, in short, are different from the virtues needed to lead a healthy Christian life or exercise spiritual leadership in the church. Most medieval courts had their share of clergy, bishops and other spiritual counselors, and historians agree that their behavior was indistinguishable from that of secular courtiers, whom Damiani described elsewhere as “ruthless, fawning flatterers” in a “theater of intrigue and villainy.”

Sylvius Piccolomini, the 15th-century Renaissance humanist who would eventually become Pope Pius II, was a strong opponent of court clergy. It was very difficult, he said, for the Christian courtier to “rein in ambition, suppress avarice, tame envy, strife, wrath, and cut off vice, while standing in the midst of these (very) things.”

In the United States we don’t have kings, princes or courts, but we do have our own version of religious courtiers, who boast of, in Southern Baptist theologian Richard Land’s gleeful description, “unprecedented access” to the Oval Office.

Read the rest here.

The Many Problems With Eric Metaxas’s “Christian Case for Trump”

Metaxas

Eric Metaxas has once again turned to the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal in defense of Donald Trump.  (Some of you may recall his October 12, 2016 op-ed in which he said “God will not hold us guiltless” if we vote for anyone but Trump).

Metaxas writes:

The [Christianity Today] article cleared its throat—and conscience—by declaring “unambiguous” the “facts” of the president’s guilt. Having thus defenestrated objectivity, the editorial cited his behavior in general as “profoundly immoral,” his character as “grossly” so.

But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but faith in what Jesus has done.

Defenestrated?  Only elites use this word. 🙂

Let’s remember that Mark Galli’s piece in Christianity Today is an editorial.  Of course he “defenstrated objectivity.” That is the point.  Editorials are supposed to offer an informed opinion.

A couple of more thoughts here:

  1. How is the practice of calling out Trump’s immorality a “perversion of Christian doctrine?” The Bible is filled with prophets calling out sin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas’s favorite historical character, called out sin. So did William Wilberforce, the subject of another Metaxas book.  What about John the Baptist? Or Jesus?  Metaxas’s remarks that the church is not responsible for calling out the sins of a leader is absolutely absurd.  I am surprised Metaxas did not cite Romans 13 like Jeff Sessions did in the summer of 2018 or the American loyalists did in 1776 or the Southern slaveowners did in the 1850s.  But I now understand that this is what court evangelicals do.  They claim that their political opposition has somehow perverted true Christian doctrine.  This is part of their strategy for defending God’s chosen one–Donald Trump.
  2. Metaxas believes that Christianity Today, in speaking prophetically against the corruption of the Trump presidency, is failing to acknowledge that Donald Trump is “depraved” and in need of “grace.” This, Metaxas argues, is a perversion of Christian doctrine.  But doesn’t “Christian doctrine” also require a person to repent of his sins as a prerequisite of receiving God’s grace?  Isn’t repentance an essential part of the Christian morphology of conversion?  I don’t know Trump’s heart, but I have yet to hear him ask for forgiveness for any of his sins.  In the end, I agree with Metaxas on this point: Trump is “depraved” and “in need of God’s grace.” So was almost every tyrant in world history.  What if Metaxas applied the same logic to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He would have to argue that the great German theologian was wrong to criticize Hitler for his immorality because Hitler was “depraved” and in “need of God’s grace.” Was Bonhoeffer and his confessing church perverting Christian doctrine?

Metaxas continues:

The reason for the editorial is that evangelicals pronounced Bill Clinton unfit for office because of his moral failings. Thus, claim Mr. Trump’s detractors, evangelicals are hypocrites who’ve sold their souls for political power unless they issue a withering philippic against Mr. Trump. Christianity Today’s long-faced essay is meant to be that dressing-down, triggered by the “facts” of the impeachment.

But does the Clinton “character” comparison make sense? Aren’t the political realities different two decades later? The triangulating practicality and moderation of the Democrats under Mr. Clinton have been trampled beyond recognition by something untethered and wild, like horses racing to Venezuela.

In the 1990s some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Despite ultrasounds and 4-D imaging, Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity, often beyond viability and until birth.  If slavery was rightly considered wicked—and both a moral and political issue—how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time, as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the president’s moral failings might be?

Thoughts:

  1. I want to make a historical point here. Indeed, Clinton wanted to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare” and pro-life Democrats were indeed easier to find in the 1990s.  But Clinton also refused to allow pro-life Democrats to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. Most Pennsylvanians know that Governor Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, was denied a speaking slot. Again, times have changed on this front.  There are fewer people like Bill Clinton and Bob Casey today.  But let’s not pretend that “neither party could exclusively claim the high ground” on abortion in the 1990s. Democrats were largely pro-choice. Republicans were largely pro-life.  This distinction was not lost on any of the members of the Christian Right alive at the time.  If Metaxas were writing in 1992 he would have been screaming bloody murder upon learning that Casey was denied a speaking slot.  Now, in 2020, it is convenient for Metaxas to make the historical claim that there were no significant divisions over abortion in the 1990s.
  2. Another historical point. Metaxas says that we cannot compare the Trump and Clinton impeachments because “the political realities” are “different two decades later.” But if we buy Metaxas historical claim that “political realities” change over time, then what should we make of his comparison between abortion and slavery?  Aren’t “the political realities different” sixteen decades years later? Slavery was indeed a moral problem in the 19th century.  Abortion is indeed a moral problem today.  But the comparison also has its limits.
  3. Metaxas will be happy to hear that I believe abortion is a principal moral issue of our time. We must continue to find ways of reducing this practice.  But Donald Trump is not the answer.

More Metaxas:

The pejorative du jour is to call evangelicals “transactional,” as though buying a loaf of bread and not simply praying for one were somehow faithless. But what is sneeringly called “transactional” is representational government, in which patriotic citizens vote, deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country. Isn’t it conceivable that faithful Christians think Mr. Trump is the best choice?

Two thoughts:

  1. Let’s again remember that “patriotic citizens” also voted in the 2018 election. They elected Democrats to the House of Representatives.  When the people voted in 2018 they were, to use Metaxas’s words, “deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country.”  Isn’t it “conceivable” that the American people’s vote in 2018 suggested that they were not happy with Trump?
  2. Metaxas concludes that “faithful Christians” made the correct moral choice when they chose Trump.  But it is also possible that they did not. “Faithful” evangelical Christians in the past have supported all kinds of things, including slavery, nativism, and Jim Crow segregation.  I chronicled this history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Were the majority of Christians in the South morally correct when they preserve slavery morally correct?  Were the “faithful Christians” who supported slavery or Jim Crow laws making “the best choice?”  My intention here is not to compare evangelical Trump voters to slaveholders, but to show that just because most Christians vote a certain way does not necessarily mean that their collective voice represents the highest ethical norms.  For example, if I said that the “majority of faithful Democrats in the House want Trump impeached,” I would imagine Metaxas would claim that just because the majority of the House wants Trump impeached does not necessarily mean that the majority of the House is correct in such a decision.

Metaxas continues:

Can those troubled by Mr. Trump not at least imagine that removing him could lead to something even worse? Can the Democratic metamorphosis into an openly antiborder, socialist movement responsibly be ignored?

Here Metaxas assumes that all Democrats support socialism and open borders.  This is not true.  Metaxas is engaged here in Fearmongering 101.  He implies that if you do not vote for Donald Trump the country is going to be overrun by socialists and immigrants. Metaxas knows that most white evangelicals do not make a distinction between democratic socialism and Soviet-style communism.  He also knows that many white evangelicals worry that immigrants represent a continued threat to a white Christian America that is already in rapid decline.

Metaxas goes on:

Christians especially blanch to see religious liberty—once thought settled under Mr. Clinton with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—suddenly under serious attack. Christians are staggered to see good souls who stand by millennia-old religious convictions portrayed as deplorable bigots. Democrats—and many Republicans, too—simply look away, seemingly resigned to a culturally Marxist future in which they too may at any minute be rent asunder by woke mobs.

Thoughts:

  1. I partially agree with Metaxas. There are a lot of serious concerns about religious liberty for Christian institutions. This is why I support Fairness for All and find myself in agreement with Washington University law professor John Inazu’s (and Tim Keller‘s) idea of “confident pluralism.” But let’s not pretend that Donald Trump has a perfect record on religious liberty.  See, for example, Steven Waldman’s recent piece at the conservative website The Bulwark or Melissa Rogers’s piece at Religion News Service.
  2. This paragraph is filled with dog-whistles and more fear-mongering.  Metaxas’s use of words like “bigots,” “Marxist,” and “woke mobs” are meant to scare evangelicals.  Metaxas, like many evangelicals, see Trump as a strongman. The Donald will protect him and all evangelicals from the Marxists and the woke mobs who will soon be arriving at their doorsteps.

Metaxas continues:

Given this new reality, is it any wonder Mr. Trump’s bellicosity often draws cheers?  Or that the appointment of originalist judges has become so urgent that some people are willing to countenance a chief executive who tweets like a WWE figure?

The cheers that Trump received last Friday during the recent Evangelicals for Trump rally (Metaxas was present) at an evangelical megachurch in Miami were deeply troubling. Here is my take on it.  As for the Christian Right’s false belief that the appointment of federal justices will end, or even reduce, abortions in America, see my argument in Believe Me.

Finally, the bio attached to the op-ed says, “Mr. Metaxas is the author of “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.” I wrote a series of posts on this historically problematic book here and another review here.

You can read the entire Metaxas Wall Street Journal op-ed here, but you will need a subscription in order to do it.

The New King Cyrus Wants to Bomb the Old King Cyrus’s Tomb

Cyrus tomb

The tomb of Cyrus the Great is located in Iran

Back in March 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared Donald Trump to Queen Esther, the Queen who persuaded the king of Persia not to destroy the Jews.  Watch this:

It now looks like the new Queen Esther may want to obliterate the tomb of the original Queen Esther.

Some of you may remember that Donald Trump recently threatened to destroy Iranian cultural sites.  Here is his tweet:

Today at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron reports on the cultural sites in Iran that may some interest to American evangelicals.  One of those sites just happens to be the tomb of Esther.  Here is Shimron:

Located in Hamadan, the tomb is believed by some to house the remains of the biblical Queen Esther and her cousin (or by some accounts, uncle) Mordechai. It is the most important pilgrimage site for Jews in the country.

Esther, as described in the Bible, was the Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus. In the Book of Esther, Mordechai informs her of a plot to kill the Jews, and together they work to save Jews throughout the Persian Empire from annihilation.

The exact date of the 50-foot-tall brick dome’s origin is disputed. An outer chamber holds tombs of famous rabbis. The interior chamber features Hebrew writing along the walls and holds two carved sarcophagi, with the two burial plots for Esther and Mordechai.

Back in November, a court evangelical by the name of Jim Garlow, seemed to claim that Trump was another Daniel, the prophet who refused to compromise his Jewish faith during the Babylonian captivity.

Well, it looks the new Daniel wants to bomb the tomb of the old Daniel.  Here is Shimron:

There are many places that claim to be the traditional burial place of the biblical prophet Daniel, but this one, in Susa, Iran, is the most widely accepted. According to the biblical book by the same name, Daniel was taken to Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem. There, he was rescued from lions with the aid of the prophet Jeremiah. The apocalyptic genre of the Book of Daniel is important to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Above the mausoleum of Daniel is a conical-shaped building.

But wait!  This gets better.  Many evangelicals believe that Donald Trump is the new King Cyrus.  Some of them even sell Cyrus prayer coins.

Well, it looks like Trump wants to bomb the tomb of the old King Cyrus.  Here, again, is Shimron:

Many evangelicals have compared Trump to King Cyrus, who became the first emperor of Persia. Cyrus is celebrated multiple times in the Bible for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon — an act some consider to have made him anointed by God. Cyrus died in 530 B.C. and is buried in Pasargadae, an archaeological site about 56 miles from the modern city of Shiraz. According to literary sources, more than two centuries later, Alexander the Great ordered his tomb to be restored.

 

White Evangelicals Fear the Future and Yearn for the Past

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at USA TODAY on July 8, 2018:

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.

Like most Americans on Nov. 8, 2016, I sat in front of my television to watch election returns, fully expecting that Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president. When this did not happen, I was saddened and angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the way my fellow evangelicals were using their social media feeds to praise God for Donald Trump’s victory.

I sent off a quick tweet: “If this is evangelicalism — I am out.”

Five days later, I could barely muster the will to attend services at my central Pennsylvania evangelical megachurch. As I stood singing Christian worship songs, I looked around the room and realized that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every 10 people in that sanctuary — my brothers and sisters in my community of faith — had voted for Trump.

I eventually calmed down and decided that, at least for now, I would still use the word “evangelical” to describe my religious faith. The word best captures my belief in the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have experienced the life-transforming message of this Gospel and I have seen its power in the lives of others.

My raw emotions gave way to my training as a historian and my study of American religion. My distress about Trump’s election did not wane, but I should have seen this coming. Trump’s win was just the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to politics.

Read the rest here.

A Short History of Evangelical Fear

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at The Atlantic on June 24, 2018:

White conservative evangelicals in America are anxious people. I know because I am one.

Our sense of fear, perhaps more than any other factor, explains why evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Donald Trump in 2016 and continue to support his presidency.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” The great poet of the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen, sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing, it can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Robinson and Springsteen echo verses in nearly every book of the Bible, the sacred text that serves as the source of spiritual authority in evangelical life. Moses told the Israelites to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” The Hebrew God told Job: “At the destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth.” The Psalmist wrote: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

The Gospel of John teaches Christians that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” St. Luke writes: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Despite all these scriptural passages, it is still possible to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of a people failing miserably at overcoming fear with hope, trust, and faith in their God. But it is also possible to find evangelicals, drawing deeply from Christian theological resources, who sought to forge an alternative history.

A history of evangelical fear might begin with the 17th-century Puritans in Salem, Massachusetts, who feared that there were witches in their midst threatening their “city upon a hill” and their status as God’s new Israel. They responded to this fear by hanging 19 people.

But other evangelical options were available. As Puritans began to lose control over Massachusetts Bay, they might have turned to their sovereign God for guidance and trusted in his protection to lead them through a new phase in the history of the colony. Or they could have heeded the warnings put forth by those—such as Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, or the growing number of Baptists in the colony—who saw potential problems with such a close relationship between church and state.

Our history of evangelical fear might also include a chapter on the early 19th-century Protestants who feared the arrival of massive numbers of Catholic immigrants to American shores. They translated their panic into political organizations such as the nativist Know-Nothing Party and religious tracts cautioning fellow believers of the threat that such “popery” posed to their Christian nation.

Read the rest here.

Richard Mouw Defends the *Christianity Today* Editorial

Mouw 1

Richard Mouw is the former president of evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary.  Here is a taste of his piece at Religion & Politics: “The Prophetic Witness of the Christianity Today Editorial“:

At the risk of losing subscribers and harming their publication—which was attacked by the president himself on Twitter—Christianity Today delivered an important message. The prophetic editorial has been the occasion for renewed charges that Trump’s evangelical supporters have allowed political concerns to override concerns about presidential character. The president’s supporters do not dispute claims that he has said and done some highly offensive things. Instead, they tell us that we are obliged as citizens to support leaders who promote what we consider to be crucial political goals. And in this, they tell us, President Trump—whatever else we might say about him—has shown himself to be on our side. Christianity Today had a response to this as well: “To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this … Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.”

Read the entire piece here.

I also appreciate Mouw’s blurb for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Mouw

 

Jim Bakker Connects Eternal Salvation With the Support of Donald Trump

Some of you have seen this:

If you can’t see the video embedded in the tweet, click here.

I watched most of this episode of The Jim Bakker Show.  This short clip is not taken out of context.  It comes in the middle of a segment in which Bakker says that those trying to impeach Trump are doing the work of Satan and his guest delivers a prophetic word claiming that Trump’s is God’s anointed one.

How does one know if she or he is truly saved?  The Bible says that Christians walk in the light (1 John 1:5-7), practice the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24), visit the orphans and widows (James 1:26-27), keep the commandments (John 14:15), love their brothers and sisters (1 John 2:9-11), care for the least of these (Mt. 25), and support Donald Trump.

 

Steve Waldman on the Four Lies Trump Tells Evangelical Christians

Miami Trump

I have long been a fan of Steve Waldman‘s work.  Check out his Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom and Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty.

In a recent piece at The Bulwark, Waldman discusses the four lies Trump tells evangelicals.  They are:

  1. Trump repealed the Johnson Amendment.
  2. Trump has fought hard for religious freedom across the globe.
  3. Everyone hates you.
  4. Trump is personally a devout Christian.

Read the entire piece here.