The “Trump of Pahrump”

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This is what you get in an age of Donald Trump.  Some evangelical Christians are supporting Dennis Hof’s candidacy for state assembly in Nevada.

Here is a taste of Tim Reid’s piece at Reuters:

PAHRUMP, Nev. (Reuters) – He styles himself as America’s best-known pimp, a strip-club owner who runs multiple brothels and looks set to win a seat as a Republican in the Nevada legislature with the blessing of many conservative Christian voters.

Meet Dennis Hof, whose political rise reflects fundamental changes in electoral norms that have roiled the Republican Party and upended American politics during the era of President Donald Trump.

“This really is the Trump movement,” Hof, 71, told Reuters in an interview at Moonlite BunnyRanch, his brothel near Carson City in northern Nevada that was featured on the HBO reality television series “Cathouse.”

“People will set aside for a moment their moral beliefs, their religious beliefs, to get somebody that is honest in office,” he said. “Trump is the trailblazer, he is the Christopher Columbus of honest politics.”

When news broke that Hof had won the nominating contest for a state Assembly seat on June 12, evangelical pastor Victor Fuentes said he closed his eyes and prayed.

He did not ask God to deliver Nevada and the Republican Party from Hof, the thrice-divorced author of “The Art of the Pimp” who campaigned as the “Trump of Pahrump.” Although Christian groups have long rallied against the state’s legal brothel industry, Fuentes was willing to overlook Hof’s history as a champion of the flesh trade and gave thanks for his victory.

“People want to know how an evangelical can support a self-proclaimed pimp,” Fuentes said in an interview at his home in Pahrump, an unincorporated town of 36,000 people that is the largest community in the sprawling, rural district where Hof is favored to win in November’s general election.

He said the reason was simple. “We have politicians, they might speak good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that.”

The pastor said he felt Hof would protect religious rights, among other things.

Read the rest here.

My Latest Piece at Religion News Service: “Why aren’t most of Trump’s ‘court evangelicals’ publicly condemning his border policy?”

immigrants

Here is a taste:

(RNS) — The United States is facing a crisis in “family values.” This, however, is not the kind of crisis we often hear talked about by the evangelical wing of the Republican Party. Rather, it stems from the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policy that separates families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A few of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who visit the White House and discuss policy matters with him — I describe them as the “court evangelicals” — have condemned the policy that separates children from their parents. But most others have failed to criticize it publicly. Their general silence sheds light on how conservative evangelical leaders have come to define and limit “family values” in the past 40 years.

Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse and prominent Trump supporter, called the policy of separating families “disgraceful.” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who has expressed his disagreement with Trump on immigration in the past, signed a letter of evangelical leaders criticizing the policy. And Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, this week called the policy “heartbreaking and tragic.” Even still, most court evangelicals have not publicly addressed the crisis. If the separation of children from their families is not a family values issue, then what is?

We don’t know if these leaders are counseling Trump behind the scenes, but as the national outcry has risen against the policy, some of the prominent court evangelicals seem to be fixated on other topics.

James Dobson, the leader most responsible for the Christian right’s “family values” agenda, tweeted last week: “Dear God, no matter what our family circumstances, let us never waver from our charge as parents. Help us to be worthy of Your trust in us to lead and love our kids.” Fair enough, but how do you fulfill your parental responsibilities when the federal government is taking your kids away from you?

Read the rest here.

“The Fear Sweepstakes”

Christian CenturyThe Christian Century is running an excerpt from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump titled “How Trump Won the 2016 Fear Sweepstakes.”  It is also the cover story for the July 4, 2016 issue!

Here is a taste:

When the 2016 presidential race began, the evangelical candidates with the best chance to win the GOP nomination were Florida senator Marco Rubio, a Catholic who attended a large Southern Baptist church, and Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban-born preacher, who rode evangelical support to a Senate seat from Texas. And the evangelical parade of presidential candidates did not stop there. Baptist minster and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Ohio governor John Kasich, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina all had positions on social issues that made them appealing to evangelical voters.

These candidates understood the political commitments of conservative evangelicals. Some of them would even feel comfortable preaching a sermon in an evangelical church or comforting people using the words of scripture. But what gave them a legitimate shot at the GOP nomination was their ability to engage in the politics of fear. To win the evangelical vote, these political candidates knew that they would have to convince the faithful that the Christian fabric of the country was unraveling, the nation’s evangelical moorings were loosening, and the barbarians were amassing at the borders, ready for a violent takeover.

Read the rest here.

Tony Perkins Praises Pence Speech at the Southern Baptist Convention and Confuses God and Country…Again

Perkins

We have already weighed-in on Wednesday’s Pence speech.

Here is court evangelical Tony Perkins on the speech:

As [Pence] touched on the country’s divided times, several in the room probably thought about the division right there in that room. Just yesterday, one SBC messenger made a motion to disinvite the vice president, insisting that, “By associating publicly with any administration, we send a mixed message to our members, suggesting that to be faithful to the gospel, we ought to align with a particular administration.”

Fortunately, wisdom prevailed, soundly defeating the ill-conceived resolution. But it is a clear indication that there are some within the church that are either too ill-informed or too focused on the headlines to understand the difference between influencing and being influenced, or – as Jesus described in John 17 – being in the world but not of it. We can’t influence if we retreat. We don’t have to agree with everything this president has said or done, and we don’t, but it is foolish and even detrimental to persecuted believers around the world to fail to acknowledge that this administration is being used to set the table for the church to do its work unhindered. The vice president, Mike Pence, is an unabashed believer who’s championing their cause in the White House. Look at the doors this administration is opening for religious liberty and free speech. Now is not the time for shutting doors – now’s the time to rush through and seize this moment of opportunity.

Read the entire piece here.

Wow! There is a lot to unpack in Perkins’s post.

  1. Perkins criticizes pastor Garrett Kell’s resolution to replace Pence’s speech with a time of prayer.  But notice how he does it.  He blames Kell (“one SBC messenger”) for promoting disunity.  Actually, if you read Kell’s resolution, it was steeped in unity–not for the nation, but for the Southern Baptist Convention.  Perkins seems confused.  The SBC meeting in Dallas was not a political event or a God and country rally.  It was a religious event.  It seems to me that “unity” at a religious event should revolve around spiritual things, not politics or nationalism.
  2. Perkins suggests that anyone who opposed Pence’s speech is “too ill-informed or too focused on the headlines to understand the difference between influencing and being influenced.”  In other words, those who opposed Pence’s speech are not smart enough to realize that they are being played by the Left, the media, or (add your favorite bogeyman here).  But let’s remember that the Trump White House asked the SBC if Pence could come and speak.  Is it possible to view this as anything but an attempt to shore-up votes among the evangelical base?  Who got played here?
  3. Perkins has the audacity to quote John 17, a passage in which Jesus prays for unity in his church.  Again, he confuses Jesus’s prayer for unity among fellow Christians with national unity.  Jesus was not praying for national unity.  He was not praying for unity in the United States.
  4. Perkins’s piece would make a great primary source for students to read in an American religious history course.  It provides an amazing example of the way that the Christian Right conflates the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of America.  Politics don’t “set the table” for the church.  God sets the table.  Perkins sees everything in political terms.  He also talks about “seizing opportunities,” a clear reference to the 2018 election.

Some Court Evangelicals Break Ranks on Trump’s Immigration Policy

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The Trump administration is separating children from parents at the Mexican border.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that Romans 13 justifies the policy, but court evangelical Franklin Graham calls the policy “disgraceful.”  Another court evangelical, Samuel Rodriguez, also opposes the policy.  Learn more from this piece at CBN news.

I am now waiting for the following evangelical leaders to stand-up to Donald Trump’s immigration policy:

Robert Jeffress has said nothing.  Yet he has wished Trump a Happy Birthday and thanked him for being such a great POTUS:

Jerry Falwell Jr. has said nothing.  If he tweeted something today I can’t see it.  He blocked me a long time ago.

Paula White has said nothing.  But she is tweeting:

Eric Metaxas:  I don’t know what he is saying on this issue.  I am blocked.

Johnnie Moore:  He seems more focused on Trump’s meeting with North Korea”

Mark Burns is being a good court evangelical:

James Dobson, the champion of “family values” has an interesting tweet today:

Ronnie Floyd seems to be running a prayer sweepstakes:

Richard Land: Silent

Greg Laurie is focused on a big rally in Dallas and Trump’s meeting with the North Koreans:

Tony Perkins, another champion of family values, has said nothing about the fact that Trump is ripping families apart at the border. Do “family values” only apply to white families? Middle-class families?

But he does love Trump:

 

Mike Pence Delivers a Trump Stump Speech at the Southern Baptist Convention

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This, of course, is why Donald Trump picked him in the first place–to shore-up the evangelical base.

I think it is safe to say that the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, might agree with the title of this post:

I wonder if Greear will elaborate on this tweet at some point.

Here are some more tweets from the Pence speech:

Politicians at the Southern Baptist Convention

Carter at SBC

Mike Pence is not the first politician to speak at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  Historian Thomas Kidd offers some historical context in a piece at The Gospel Coalition.  Here is a taste:

It was not unheard of for politicians to address the SBC annual meeting. In 1967, U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, a liberal Republican and devout Conservative Baptist, addressed the annual meeting on the topic of poverty and the need for effective welfare policy.

The SBC made a significant turn in 1972 when it invited Nixon to address the annual meeting. With Graham’s assistance, Nixon had continued to cultivate support from the SBC, especially as Americans became disenchanted with the war in Vietnam. SBC officials extended a formal invitation to Nixon, who assured them that he would come if his schedule allowed. Some SBC leaders were outraged at the prospect of Nixon’s appearance, and Nixon thought better of it and decided to withdraw, citing scheduling problems. But a key precedent had been set: the SBC became a destination for major politicians in election years.

In 1976 Gerald Ford became the first sitting president to address the annual meeting. Jimmy Carter did likewise in 1978—in a sense, his was the most expected appearance since Carter was, at the time, still a Southern Baptist. But after his appearance, Democrats at the SBC annual meeting would become an endangered species.

Read the entire piece here.

Can the Southern Baptist Convention Think of Any More Ways to Shoot Itself in the Foot?

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has announced that Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking tomorrow at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas as part of the denomination’s annual meeting.

At a time when the SBC needs to get its house in order, heal wounds, and discuss how it can move forward together, convention leadership has decided to welcome the chief surrogate of one of the most divisive presidential administrations in recent memory.  What are they thinking?

Anyone following religious news in the last several months knows that the #metoo movement has found its way to the largest Protestant denomination in America.  In May, over 3000 SBC women sent an open letter to the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary demanding the firing of Paige Patterson, the seminary president.

As one of the primary architects of the denomination’s “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s, Patterson is a living legend in the SBC. He and his supporters managed to purge the SBC of those who did not believe in biblical inerrancy, a view of the Bible that teaches that the Old and New Testaments, as they were originally written, contain no errors in matters of faith and science.  The conservative resurgence also championed “complementarianism,” a reading of the Bible that teaches male “headship” in marriage, the family, business, and the church.

Patterson was a master political operator.  Along with Paul Pressler, a Houston judge who shared Patterson’s views, inerrancy and complementarianism became official SBC doctrines.

Once the conservatives gained power, Patterson ruled with an iron hand.  Those who disagreed with his views lost leadership positions in churches and seminaries.

But over the course of the last few months, the world that Paige Patterson created has collapsed around him.

Earlier this year, a recording surfaced of Patterson saying that he advised female victims of domestic abuse to stay with their husbands.  Then a video emerged showing Patterson, while preaching a sermon, describing the physical appearance of a teenage girl in an inappropriate manner.

These accounts led other Southern Baptist women to come forward with their own their stories.  When Megan Lively, a former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary during the Patterson’s time as president, was sexually assaulted on campus, Patterson told her not to report the incident to the police.  In describing her meeting with Patterson and his self-proclaimed “proteges,” Lively said the men “shamed the crap out of me.”

In 2015, when a Southwestern student told Patterson that she had been raped, he said he would meet with the student alone, so he could “break her down.”

The Board of Trustees at Southwestern eventually removed Patterson from his post and stripped him of his retirement fringe benefits, including a large home on the Fort Worth campus

Patterson is now gone, but the problem of authoritarian and misogynistic Southern Baptist leaders remains.  The Patterson case exposed the dark side of the SBC and its conservative resurgence.  Albert Mohler, the authoritarian president of Southern Seminary in Louisville and another architect of the conservative resurgence, declared that the “wrath of God” is now being poured out on the convention.

On June 6, Former SBC president Ronnie Floyd, fearful that his beloved denomination was falling apart over the Patterson affair, pleaded with his people via Twitter: “Southern Baptists: Refuse disunity within our ranks!  There is nothing biblical or godly relating to creating disunity.”

Apparently, few are listening to Floyd, one of Donald Trump’s court evangelicals.  If they were listening, they would not have invited Mike Pence to their convention this week.

By welcoming Mike Pence to Dallas, the convention is sending a message to its members and the rest of the world that it does not really care about healing its wounds.  The opportunity to entertain the Vice President of the United States was obviously just too good for the SBC to pass up.  Healing and repentance will need to wait for another time.

Politics divides Christians.  It always has.  Southern Baptists should know this better than most. The convention was founded in 1845 when Baptists in the South split with Northern Baptists over the most contentious political issue of the age:  slavery.

Anyone who watched SBC leaders bickering and fighting in 2016 over whether to support Donald Trump can testify to the divisive power of politics.  Just ask Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.  He almost lost his job for opposing Donald Trump.

Rather than directly confronting the way it has treated women in the past, the SBC has chosen to welcome the chief surrogate of a presidential administration with a long track record of degrading women in public.

Instead of Pence, the SBC should have invited Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly or Heidi Cruz—all victims of Donald Trump’s misogyny.  But that would never happen.   If they were given a major platform at the SBC meeting it would undermine the doctrine of complementarianism.

In a statement on Monday, outgoing SBC president Steve Gaines said that Pence’s speech on Wednesday will “express appreciation to Southern Baptists for the contributions we make to the moral fabric of our nation.”

Oh the irony!

Weighing-In on the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention

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Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

This morning VOX ran two pieces by Tara Isabella Burton on the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I was happy provide some commentary for both pieces:

The post-#MeToo reckoning at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting

Mike Pence will address Southern Baptists–just as they’re reckoning with race and sexual misconduct

Rob Schenck Tells His Story

SchenkReverend Rob Schenck was a Christian Right leader who parted ways with his fellow cultural warriors after studying the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He tells his story in a new memoir: Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love.  

Here is a taste of his interview with Mother Jones magazine:

MJ: So, when you look at the future, what do you think the result of the evangelical embrace of Trump will be?

RS: I say in the book that the Trump phenomenon may portend the total collapse of American evangelicalism, which for me would be sad, but not the saddest thing. We have an old phrase in evangelical parlance built on some biblical texts: “What the devil means for destruction, God means for good.” So, could God use this terrible thing in the end to bring about a better form of evangelicalism in America? We may reach a toxicity level where the patient must succumb, but we believe in resurrection, so out of death can come life…So, maybe this is the demise of what we now know as American evangelicalism, and largely, the Trump phenomenon is a symptom, rather than a cause. We made this terrible deal with Donald Trump because we were already demoralized. He didn’t demoralize us—he is the evidence of our demoralization.

Read the entire interview here.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress’s “Freedom Sunday” is Coming

It’s that time of year again.  Time for Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and a prominent court evangelical, to hold his annual “Freedom Sunday.”  This year’s celebration of God and country will take place on June 24.  Last year’s celebration got a lot of attention.

Robert Wilonsky writes about the city of Dallas for the Dallas Morning News.  He took the above picture while sitting in traffic.  And then he wrote an article about Jeffress at the Morning News.  Here is a taste:

The newly planted billboard touts a “Freedom Sunday” worship service June 24 at the downtown church and hosted by the man who serves as one of President Donald Trump’s main spiritual advisers — a job that appears to be part propagandistpart contortionist. According to a video Jeffress prepared for Freedom Sunday, there will be “inspiring patriotic worship” and “a salute to our armed forces,” followed by the Fox News’ commentator’s “special message” advertised on that billboard. 

There will be indoor fireworks, too, which is not how they concluded the Last Supper. And first-time visitors to First Baptist will receive a copy of Jeffress’ book Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Days Can Be Your Best Days, a grim piece of work about “the coming collapse of our nation,” according to Mike Huckabee’s foreword.

Consider this your semi-regular reminder that Jeffress, Fox News’ go-to religious authority, is among this city’s most divisive voices. Nothing he says shocks me anymore. I mean, this is a preacher — a follower of Christ — who actually said, “America is not a church where everyone should be welcomed regardless of race and background.” 

Which is the opposite of Hebrews 13:1. And, I think, the rest of the Bible. 

Read the rest here.

The “evangelical movement is not monolithic”

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Sarah Jones, a graduate of conservative evangelical Cedarville University, has been doing a nice job covering evangelicalism at The New Republic.  Here is a taste of her latest piece: “What’s Next for Evangelicalism?“:

Evangelicals love President Donald Trump, as we all know. And every time a new poll shows evangelical support for Trump at a steady high, the commentariat wrings its hands. These Christians have fallen for a cut-rate King David, a charlatan Solomon, a false prophet. But the evangelical movement is not monolithic. America’s megachurches aren’t lined up neatly in a row, all marching to a Republican cadence. Evangelical support for Trump maps onto racial lines: He belongs to white evangelicals, who put their might behind his presidency.

However, white evangelical Protestants declined from 23 percent of the population in 2006 to 17 percent of the population in 2016. In 2017, they declined to 15 percent of the population, the Public Religion Research Institute has found. The decline can be partly attributed to the millennial generation’s relative non-religiosity, but there are other factors at work. Immigrants are changing American politics, and they’re changing American churches, too.

Janelle Wong, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of the new book Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, tells me that Latinos and Asian-Americans are key sources of growth for evangelical churches. And they differ from white evangelicals in certain key areas. “I think what’s surprising is that non-white evangelicals, especially Asians and Latinos, sometimes show higher rates of religiosity, like they go to church more. Or they exhibit a more fundamentalist kind of orientation,” she explained. “And even though they show higher levels of religiosity, they are much less conservative on almost every issue, except for abortion.”

On climate change, Black Lives Matter, and immigration, non-white evangelicals have little in common with their white brothers and sisters in Christ. Trump didn’t just accelerate an identity crisis in his party, which faces its own future demographic challenges—he also created the same problem for one of the party’s most loyal factions. White evangelicals are ascendent now, but is the Trump era their last hurrah?

Read the rest here.

While the Court Evangelicals Meet With Trump on June 19, Other Evangelicals Will Meet to Discuss “The Moral Collapse of Evangelicalism”

National Press

I don’t know much about this meeting, but we need to get those in attendance a copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Here is the press release from the National Press Club:

Location: 4th Estate Room

Evangelical Leader, Rev. Rob Schenck, Joined by Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, and House Chaplain Patrick Conroy :

Donald Trump and the Moral Collapse of American Evangelicalism

Washington, D.C. (June 4, 2018) – Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck, President of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute and author of Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love, will be joined by Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook (International Religious Freedom appointee of President Barak Obama) and Chaplain Patrick Conroy (House of Representatives Chaplain since 2011 who was asked by Speaker Ryan to resign) for a special luncheon open to all members of the news media and writers onTuesday, June 19 at the National Press Club from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the 4th Estate Restaurant (Limited Seating – RSVP required).

As some 1000 evangelical leaders meet with President Donald Trump at the Trump Hotel in Washington on June 19, Schenck, a dissenting evangelical, will lead a discussion, moderated by Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, regarding Donald Trump and the moral collapse of American evangelicalism and why this branch of Christianity needs reformation.

The Reverend Dr. Rob Schenck is the past chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, America’s oldest association of evangelical ministers, missionaries, and military chaplains, as well as a current executive advisor to the World Evangelical Alliance. He is the President of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, the subject of the emmy-award winning documentary, The Armor of Light, and author of the newly released HarperCollins book, Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love.

When: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 12:30 p.m.

Where: National Press Club, 4th Estate Restaurant, 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, Washington, D.C.

RSVP: To RSVP email Melinda Ronn at melinda.tdbi@gmail.com or call 917-743-7836

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS EVENT, CONTACT:

Melinda Ronn

917-743-7836 

Franklin Graham Calls Sanctuary Cities “just a little picture of hell”

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From Relevant magazine:

Evangelist Franklin Graham has made some incendiary comments about cities in California. Graham was speaking on a radio show when he was asked about the evangelical “fight to win back California,” as The New York Times called it.

Though Graham told host Todd Starnes that he isn’t working with a political party, he said, “We are staying out of the politics part of it but I do want Christians to vote and I want them to ask God before they vote, who they should vote. But, I don’t think the Christians should be silent. The Christian voice needs to be heard,” referencing his 10-city tour through California to encourage Christians to run for office, because he said “California is sinking.”

He then said this about “sanctuary cities” (cities that don’t enforce some immigration laws): “People are leaving the state. The tax base is eroding. They are turning their once beautiful cities into sanctuary cities, which are just a little picture of Hell. Just go to San Francisco and go to this once-beautiful city and see what has happened to it.”

Read the entire piece here.  Can Graham’s statement here be read in a way that is not racist or discriminatory?

As I wrote last week in the context of Graham’s tour of California:

Billy Graham believed the church needed to be “wakened” to the good news of the Gospel and the re-dedication of individual lives to that Gospel.  Franklin Graham wants the church to be “wakened” to vote.  The political captivity of evangelicalism doesn’t get any clearer than this.

Perhaps Graham’s “little picture of Hell” is better represented by his own politically-captive evangelicalism.  But don’t take my word for it.  Here is what the demon Screwtape said to his nephew Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism…as part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important.  Then quietly and gradually nurse him to the state at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…Once [he’s] made the world and end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.”

Let’s remember that Wormwood seeks his uncle’s advice for the purpose of leading a British man (“The Patient”) to hell.

Christian Political Engagement in the Age of Trump

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University of Regina

As some of you know, I spent the last couple of days in Regina, Saskatchewan.  The Canadian Society of Church History (CSCH)  invited me to deliver the keynote address at its annual conference.  (Thanks for everything Stuart Barnard!).  The collegial historians associated with the CSCH made me feel very welcome and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some of them on Wednesday night at dinner.  (Thanks again for the ride to the hotel Robyn Rogers Healey!) If you get chance to join this organization or attend its annual conference, I highly recommend that you do it!  Next year’s meeting is in Vancouver.

The lecture drew a good turnout of CSCH members and other scholars who were in town for the 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  It was titled “Fear, Hope, and Nostalgia: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”  I even got to  talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump on CBC radio show in Saskatchewan!

Here is a small taste of my lecture:

In the late 1970s, after a period of relative quietism in the middle of the 20th century, conservative evangelicals composed a political playbook to win back the culture from the forces of secularization.  Most of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 understand the relationship between their faith and their politics through this playbook.  The playbook, which was tweaked occasionally over the years to address whatever moral issues seemed most important at the time, never lost its focus on restoring, renewing, and reclaiming America for Christ through the pursuit of political power.  When executed properly, the playbook teaches evangelicals to elect the right President and members of Congress who will pass laws privileging evangelical Christian views of the world.  These elected officials will then appoint and confirm conservative Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, defend life in the womb, and uphold religious liberty for those who believe in traditional views of marriage. 

The power that this playbook holds among American evangelicals cannot be underestimated.  Frankly, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the rest of the leaders of the Christian Right deserve a lot more credit than they currently receive in general treatments of modern American political history.  Falwell, for example, may be the most important figure in American politics in the post-World War II era.  His playbook has been so successful that most ordinary evangelicals cannot imagine an alternative way of thinking about Christian political witness, even when other evangelicals have proposed alternative options for engagement with public life.

For example, University of Virginia sociologist and cultural critic James Davison Hunter’s has suggested that rather than trying to “change the world” through power politics, Christians might consider thinking about their cultural witness through what he calls faithful presence.  Hunter writes

I would suggest that a theology of faithful presence first calls Christians to attend to the people and places that they experience directly. It is not that believers should be disconnected from, or avoid responsibility for, people and places across the globe. Far from it…. But with that said, the call of faithful presence gives priority to what is right in front of us—the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people in which these are constituted. For most, this will mean a preference for stability, locality, and particularity of place and its needs. It is here, through the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, ­concerns, desires, and worries of the people with whom we are in long-term and close relation—family, neighbors, coworkers, and community—where we find our authenticity as a body and as believers. It is here 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 within which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context within which shalom is enacted…. Faithful presence… would encourage ambition, but the instrumentalities of ambition are always subservient to the requirements of humility and charity.”

Or consider Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas and Baylor University’s Jonathan Tran on abortion:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political. How much money and time spent on electing the right candidates might have been used for this kind of political witness?”

Washington Post columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has called for evangelicals to draw from Catholic social teaching as a means of thinking about how the Christian understanding of human dignity might influence public policy.  The National Association of Evangelicals’s recent statement on political engagement, titled  “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” is deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching.

Evangelicals from the Dutch Reformed tradition, guided by the 19th-century Dutch politician Abraham Kuyper, have long advocated for a “principled or confessional pluralism” in which the various “spheres” of society—churches, families, schools, business, agencies of the arts and humanities—are free to exercise authority over their particular spheres.  As historian George Marsden writes, “The primary function of government is to promote justice and to act as a sort of referee, patrolling the boundaries among the spheres of society, protecting the sovereignty within each sphere, adjudicating conflicts, and assuring equal rights and equal protections so far as that is possible.” Marsden adds, “In this richly pluralistic view, society thrives when it promotes the health and integrity of what more recently have often been called ‘mediating institutions.’ Such institutions, likewise, should stay within their spheres of sovereignty.

John Inazu, an evangelical and Washington University-St. Louis law professor has suggested for something similar—he calls it “confident pluralism.”  Inazu writes: Confident Pluralism argues that we can and must live together peaceably in spite of deep and sometimes irresolvable differences over politics, religion, sexuality, and other important matters.  We can do so in two important ways—by insisting on constitutional commitments that honor and protect difference and by embodying tolerance, humility, and patience in our speech, our collective action (protests, strikes, and boycotts), and our relationship across difference.”  New York City megachurch pastor and evangelical author Timothy Keller has championed Inazu’s view.

It is not my intention here to advocate for any of these evangelical approaches to political engagement.  My purpose here today is to note that the Christian Right has rejected all of them, preferring instead to advance their moral, political, and cultural agenda by gaining control of the levers of power.   What is particular telling is that few of these cultural warriors seem to have thought very deeply about what they will do if they ever do gain power.  What happens when the dog catches the bus?  Will the Christian Right try to create a theocracy?  Will they imprison doctors who perform abortions?  Will they ban gay marriage?  Will they require every county seat to display a cross and a copy of the Ten Commandments?   What is their plan once America is restored, renewed, and reclaimed?

Liberty University Cinema Department is Producing a Feature Film on a Fireman Who Prophesied the Election of Donald Trump

Firefighter

Read all about it in Sam Smith’s article at The Christian Post.  Smith interviewed me for the piece:

John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, who has been critical of prophetic claims pertaining to Trump, told CP that Taylor is just one of several Pentecostal “prophets” who claim to have predicted a Trump presidency.

“These so-called prophets — Mike Bickle, Lance Wallnau, Frank Amedia and the late Kim Clement come to mind — represent an ever-growing wing of American evangelicalism,” Fea wrote in an email. “Journalist Steve Strang has provided an outlet for their prophecies through his popular Christian magazine Charisma.

Fea claims that the “prophets,” have “built an entire approach to political engagement around their prophecies.”

“Not all evangelicals believe in prophecy, but even if you do believe that God speaks to individual people about politics, it is very dangerous to design public policy and choose political candidates based on such prophecies,” Fea argued. “These so-called prophets have no real religious or spiritual authority beyond themselves and the megachurch empires that they have created and over which they preside.”

“Perhaps tonight I will have a dream or a vision that Donald Trump is really the Antichrist,” Fea continued. “It seems to me that my dream has just as much prophetic validity as fireman Taylor.”

Read the entire story here.