My Review of the Netflix Documentary “The Family”

The FamilyMy review is online today at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

Historians of American Christianity were hard at work trying to convince academics and the general public that evangelicalism was a religious movement, not a cover for a nefarious attempt to create a 17th century Puritan theocracy. The efforts of these historians, of course, did not come easy during the Age of Reagan, the Moral Majority and the so-called culture wars. Sharlet’s book didn’t help the cause.

But much has changed in the past decade. In fact, Moss and Sharlet’s documentary, which devotes the bulk of its coverage to developments in “The Family” after 2010, is quite timely. The Christian Right has found renewed energy since President Trump’s election. Christian nationalism, the idea that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation and needs to return to its religious roots, is on the rise. Many pundits and scholars wonder if the evangelical movement can be separated from the agenda of the Republican Party.

It’s time to examine Sharlet’s work (and now Moss’ work) with fresh eyes and for this reason alone, “The Family” is must viewing.

Read the entire review here.

Will Evangelicals Rally Around Trump in 2020?

trump-evangelicals

The Washington Post has published a long-form piece by writer Elizabeth Bruenig on Trump and evangelicals. Her work is based on some shoe-leather reporting in Texas during Easter weekend, 2019.  Bruenig talked to court evangelical Robert Jeffress, evangelicals at a small Baptist church, progressive Christians, and members of her own family.

Here is a taste:

However he reached them, Trump has undoubtedly made greater inroads with his evangelical adherents. Jeffress predicted an even bigger win for Trump among evangelicals this time around, surpassing his record-setting success last time; all of the Farmersville Christians were prepared to vote for him in 2020, as was Joe Aguilar. Much depends on the many months between now and the general election, but I would no longer underestimate the possibility that evangelicals will turn out in stronger numbers for a second Trump term than they did in 2016, partly to ensure another Supreme Court pick and partly because the backlash against them has cemented so much of what they already suspected about liberals’ attitudes.

Which raises a series of imponderables: Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.

Or was a truly evangelicalpolitics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?

Read the entire piece here.

The Church as the “GOP Farm Team”

Liberty U

Over at The Week, Bonnie Kristian has a brief piece chronicling the role that evangelicals are playing in propping-up the Republican Party.  She writes in the wake of this event at Liberty University.  Here is a taste:

That such an event would exist, and that it would be hosted at Liberty, is hardly surprising. But, as I feel I am constantly saying about the intersection of religion and politics in America these days, what does not surprise still should shock. Pastors and Pews may be the natural evolution of the religious right, the logical next step in Republican politicians’ use of church infrastructure for political ends, but that makes it no less worthy of protest.

This is not the point of church.

This is not why we gather together. This is not how we grow the kingdom of heaven. This is not how we incarnate the new reality started at the cross. This is not a way to spread the hope of Christ.

The Republican Party platform is not the Gospel. No politician of any party can, in that sense, offer good news. Seeking political power is not a pastor’s job. And to thus subvert church into a partisan political resource is to make it cease to be the church, to take that third temptation — “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” — where Jesus turned it down. It makes Christianity a means to a far lower end.

Read the entire piece here.

*Salon* Covers “Christians Against Christian Nationalism”

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Check out journalist Paul Rosenberg’s piece at Salon on this statement.  Here is a taste:

The statement was released along with brief additional statements from 19 prominent endorsers, six of them Baptists, but—true to its Baptist origins—it’s not conceived as a top-down organization. “This is a grassroots movement, spreading through word of mouth and social media,” Tyler told Salon. “We had signers from all 50 states and more than three dozen denominations in the first eight hours of the campaign,” she said, with a total of more than 10,000 additional signatories in just over a week. “Anyone who self-identifies as Christian is invited and welcome to join us,” she said. “Our goal is not just to gather signatures, but to start conversations about what Christian nationalism is and how it shows up in our society today.”

To help further that conversation, BJC launched the above-mentioned podcast series, and EthicsDaily.com, a partner in the project, has published a series of opinion pieces from signatories.

Rosenberg also drew on some of my own writing on this subject:

On his blog, evangelical historian John Fea, who signed the statement, pushed back against critics who claimed there was no such thing as Christian nationalism, a subject he’s written a whole book on. “Christian nationalism not only exists, but it is a view of church and state that drives a significant part of the Donald Trump presidency,” Fea wrote. “As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, some of the fastest-growing evangelical groups in the United States embrace Christian nationalism.”

Read the entire piece here.

Pastors Preaching Politics: It was Bad in 1776, it is Bad Today

Black Robe

400 evangelical pastors are heading to Liberty University this week to participate in an event sponsored by the American Renewal Project.  The goal of the closed meeting is to mobilize pastors for the 2020 election.  Speakers at the event include former Virginia congressman (now Liberty professor) David Brat, Christian nationalist David Barton, and Christian Broadcasting Network political analyst David Brody.  (I am guessing that they are not mobilizing pastors to vote for a Democrat :-))

The American Renewal Project is run by David Lane, a Christian Right politico who wants pastors to preach political sermons, run for political office, and use their ecclesiastical authority to convince parishioners to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. We wrote about him here and here.

Here is a taste of Brody’s article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website:

“The Pastor and Pews events have been extremely valuable in mobilizing church-going voters and illuminating critical issues for elections,” said former presidential candidate and Fox News Contributor Mike Huckabee. 

Huckabee, a former pastor himself, has spoken at these events many times before and understands their value. 

“I am convinced that the pastor and pews model was instrumental in the 2016 election of President Trump and has been instrumental in numerous statewide elections for congressional, US Senate and gubernatorial races.”

President Trump won 81 percent of the white conservative evangelical vote in 2016 and during it all, the American Renewal Project was on the ground and extremely active. In the 60 days before the General Election, ARP spent $9 million in six battleground states, including some big prizes like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.  Now they’re back at it looking for a repeat. 

“It is the single, largest, most cohesive voter bloc in the last election,” said Doug Wead, a noted historian, and best-selling author and advisor to two U.S. Presidents. “Now its all about voter ID and turnout.”

With all the extra vitriol, animosity and energy aimed at Trump this time around, the president will need a similar showing or even better to win in 2020.  

Read the rest here.

Lane and other Christian nationalists and court evangelicals believe that they are a modern-day “Black Robe Brigade,” a name given to revolutionary-era pastors who supported American independence in 1776.

The appeal to the Black Robe Brigade reveals a fundamental problem with these kind of history-based Christian Right arguments.  Lane, David Barton, and others give a moral authority to the past that is almost idolatrous.  In other words, if pastors used their pulpits to promote a political agenda in 1776, then they must have been right.  If it happened in the eighteenth-century it is somehow immune from any moral or theological reflection today.  Thomas Jefferson said that our rights come from God, so Christian nationalists conclude, with little theological reflection on whether or not Jefferson was correct, that our rights indeed come from God.  This leads them to make all kinds of wackadoodle arguments that the amendments related to quartering soldiers, trial by jury,  excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment are somehow rooted in biblical teaching.

At the heart of all this is the belief that the American Revolution was ordained by God.  If this is true, then any attempt at promoting this significant moment in providential history–whether it be carried out by preachers or patriots–must be good. The Black Robe Brigade mixed religion and politics and so should we.  There is very little deep thinking about how the mixing of religion and nationalism in the church–whether it happened in 1776 or 2019–harms the witness of the Gospel.  Perhaps this explains why church attendance was at an all-time low during the American Revolution.

Why Did Christians in the “Red States” Vote for Trump?

Red StateA new book by Lutheran minister Angela Denker seeks to answer this question in her new book Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of her recent interview with Joseph Preville at World Religion News:

JRP: How diverse are Red-State Christians in their religious beliefs and political values?

AD: Quite diverse, though I will say that they were unified by a distinct dislike of Hillary Clinton that often surpassed their admiration for Trump. They were also diverse in the extent to which their Christianity influenced their vote. Many voters, especially in the rural Midwest and Appalachia – still theoretically sought to keep what they heard and believed and church separate from their decisions in the voting booth and what they heard on the news.  However, I distinctly found in Southern Baptist congregations, especially across the South, an unqualified embrace of Christian nationalism that led to a unique embrace of Trump and the Republican Party.

JRP: What is the “shared language” between Donald Trump and Red-State Christians?

AD: A man who worked in a steel mill in Appalachia told me how frustrating his career was because the company had been outsourced. Instead of a local family running things, the owner’s son had moved operations. Now they got their checks from New Jersey instead of the local bank. It was clear that he preferred the local owner to the distant one. I compare that to many Red-State Christians’ embrace of Trump. Yes, he is often wealthier than them – but he’s “their rich guy.” He eats Taco Bell on Cinco de Mayo, he’s slightly overweight and his suits don’t fit right, he spells words wrong, he curses, he’s “politically incorrect.” Trump has an instinctual knack for speaking in ways that make people who are very different than him feel as if they’re close to him, such as the times he served fast food to championship athletes: food many Red-State Christians would connect with their day-to-day lives as well.

Read the entire interview here.

When Does a Life Issue Demand Political Action and When are Just “Thoughts and Prayers” Enough?

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In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, conservative evangelicals are offering lots of thoughts and prayers.  Many of them are saying that we need to solve the problem of mass shootings through a spiritual reformation.  The real problem, they preach, is the moral degradation of our culture.  Guns don’t kill people, mentally disturbed and sinful people kill people.

Here are a few recent tweets:

R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, says that the problem is not guns, but marijuana, out-of-wedlock births, relativism, multiculturalism, progressivism, and a general “cultural collapse.”  In a strange turn in his piece, he randomly defends the late Southern Baptist segregationalist W.A. Criswell.

In some ways, these conservative pundits are correct.  We do live in a coarse culture.  I imagine future historians, if they are good, will see the rise of violent video-games, toxic social media, unprecedented access to unhealthy material online, intense political partisanship, and the presidency of Donald Trump as contributing to a culture that might lead to mass shootings. David Brooks is correct when he says that we have a culture problem.  And let’s not forget that the renewal of white supremacy and racism is also part of this cultural decline, something that Reno and most court evangelicals do not mention.

I agree that prayers are important.  We Christians have a spiritual responsibility to pray for those suffering in the wake of these horrendous shootings in El Paso and Dayton.  I am not entirely sure that calls for prayer and spiritual renewal will bring deep change in the culture (I am with James Davison Hunter on this point), but I do think that these things are important and our churches and pastors should be encouraging them.  I am enough of an evangelical to believe that anything is possible with God.

But I also worry that appeals to thoughts, prayers, and spiritual revival are often an excuse for not doing anything real and practical about guns in America.

Many Christian nationalists like to claim that our rights come from God.  They jump from Thomas Jefferson’s line in the Declaration of Independence about our rights coming from our “Creator” (1776) straight to the Bill of Rights (1791).  They assume that because Jefferson said it, it must be true for both founding documents.  But does the Bible really affirm a “right” to bear assault style rifles?  Did James Madison write the Second Amendment to reflect some kind of biblical mandate about self-defense, or was it written in the context of the colonial militia system practiced in eighteenth-century America, as historian Saul Cornell has argued?  (For the record, it is the latter).

The idea that the Constitution is a sacred document, ordained by God and informed by biblical principles, is popular among many American evangelicals.  As a result, sensible reforms in the area of gun control pose a threat to what is affirmed in a document that, for many God and country patriots, carries a level of cultural authority that is barely one notch below the Bible.  We can’t let those liberals take our guns!  Our right to bear arms comes from God and we must defend the document that makes us a Christian nation!  (See Carol Kuruvilla’s recent piece at HuffPost.  I was happy to contribute to it).

So we offer thoughts and prayers and calls for spiritual awakenings.  The problem is not guns, it is the people who use them.  Legislation will not solve the problem, so why bother with it?  Let a thousand assault rifles bloom.  It is our right to have them.  What did Charlton Heston say about his “cold, dead hands?”

I think most Christian nationalists would say that human life is valuable.  If this is true, then mass shootings are a “life issue.” Christians of all stripes believe that life is precious because God created us in His image.  This idea is at the heart of the anti-abortion crusade in America, but it has not gained any traction in the area of gun control.  When babies are aborted the Christian Right rarely talks about praying for the mothers who have the abortion or the families who have suffered through the decision.  Instead, they seek to solve the problem of abortion by trying to legislate morality through political organization, proposing bills, and voting for the right political candidates who will appoint the right justices who share their sacred (and borderline idolatrous) view of the Constitution.  (I have critiqued some of this approach in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

In other words, when it comes to abortion, conservative evangelicals act.  But when it comes to gun control, we just get thoughts, prayers, and calls for revival.

Over 600,000 babies were aborted in 2015.  What if evangelicals took the same approach to this large number of abortions that they do with mass shootings? If they took this route they would cease thinking creatively (and perhaps even legislatively) about this moral problem and retire to their prayer closets.  Why take the fight for the dignity of human life to the public square when you can just ask God to send another Great Awakening?

As Christians we must pray for God’s presence in our lives and culture.  May He heal our land and give us a glimpse of a coming Kingdom defined by love, peace, and justice.  But American history teaches us that reform usually happens when Christians act.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  Let’s pass sensible gun laws.

ADDENDUM:  A shorter version of this post appeared, with a different title, on August  7, 2019 at The Washington Post.

Pete Buttigieg and Proverbs 14:31

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Some of you may recall that Pete Buttigieg quoted scripture on Monday night during the Democratic debate.  He said: “So-called conservative senators right now in the Senate are blocking a bill to raise the minimum wage when Scripture says that whoever oppresses the poor taunts their maker.” Buttigieg was quoting from Proverbs 14:31, which says “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt asked some evangelical leaders about whether or not Buttigieg used this verse correctly.  Most believed that he did use it correctly, but also could not resist mentioning (or implying) that he is pro-choice and gay.

Here, for example, is Shellnutt on Andrew T. Walker‘s response to Buttigieg:

Andrew T. Walker, senior fellow in Christian ethics at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), tweeted his opposition to Buttigieg’s line: “It never fails to baffle how progressives can appeal to the Bible to arrive at an exact minimum wage ($15, according to Buttigieg), yet ignore, reject, or plead ambiguity on the Bible’s teaching on marriage and abortion.”

This is a strange response.  I don’t think Buttigieg was using the Bible to “arrive at an exact minimum wage” of $15.  He was simply articulating a biblical principle.

Read Shellnutt’s piece here.

The Trump Apostle

jeffress

Check out Michael J. Mooney‘s longform piece in Texas Monthly on court evangelical Robert Jeffress.  (Teaser: Believe Me gets a shoutout!)

Here is a taste:

Here’s Robert Jeffress in January 2016, sitting on Trump’s plane between campaign stops in Iowa, and the pastor and the presidential candidate are finishing their lunch of Wendy’s cheeseburgers when Jeffress says, “Mr. Trump, I believe you’re going to be the next president of the United States. And if that happens, it’s because God has a great purpose for you and for our nation.” Jeffress quotes from the book of Daniel, chapter two, and explains, “God is the one who establishes kings and removes kings.”

Trump looks at the pastor and says, “Do you really believe that?”

“Yes, sir, I do,” Jeffress says.

Trump asks, “Do you believe God ordained Obama to be president?”

“I do,” Jeffress tells Trump. “God has a purpose for every leader.”

This is certainly not the way Jeffress talked about Barack Obama when he was president. Jeffress wasn’t a fan. Shortly before Mitt Romney secured the Republican nomination in 2012, Jeffress said he’d “hold [his] nose” and vote for him instead of Obama, despite believing that Mormonism is a cult and Romney is going to hell. (He’s also said that Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and nonbelievers are destined for hell.) He criticized both Obamacare and National Security Agency surveillance as violations of Americans’ freedom. In 2014, citing Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, Jeffress declared that the president was “paving the way for the Antichrist.”

Jeffress very much believes that an Antichrist will rise to power one day—possibly soon—before Jesus returns to earth. This isn’t entirely surprising. After graduating from Baylor, he attended Dallas Theological Seminary, a hub of twentieth-century dispensational theology, where he was taught, and embraced, the idea that God reveals himself progressively through different dispensations, or ages, and that these would culminate in an epic showdown between Christ and a fearsome enemy. Key events of this apocalypse would occur in Israel, went the thinking, and it was common for dispensationalists to publicly identify people they thought might be the Antichrist. Henry Kissinger was a popular pick; so was Mikhail Gorbachev, whose prominent birthmark looked suspiciously, to some, like the mark of the beast. Eventually most religious figures stopped trying to identify the Antichrist and the exact date of Christ’s return, but they didn’t stop believing that the supernatural confrontation was imminent.

Read the entire piece here.

*Christianity Today* Has Been Weak in It’s Criticism of Trump, but Perhaps There is Hope for the Future

Tim D

Tim Dalrymple, the President and CEO of Christianity Today Inc.

Though I haven’t written about it here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home until now, I have been disappointed with how Christianity Today has handled the evangelical embrace of Donald Trump.  I know that some of the leadership of the magazine did not agree with everything I wrote in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (while they reviewed the book online, they did not run the review in the print edition).  In fact, a lot of smart evangelicals have questioned my argument.

But over the last year Christianity Today has failed to make a strong prophetic stand against the president.  I understand why the magazine takes such a milquetoast approach to the Trump.  Many of its readers voted for him.  There are constituencies and subscribers to consider.

I still read Christianity Today, I still respond when its reporters call me for context and historical perspective, and I still believe the magazine reflects much of my evangelical faith.  But I have lost some respect for this flagship evangelical publication.

So I was encouraged to read a recent piece by Timothy Dalrymple, the new President and CEO of Christianity Today Inc., titled “On Court Prophets and Wilderness Prophets.” He published it in the immediate wake of Trump’s racist Tweets urging four members of Congress to “go back to your own country.”

Here is a taste:

As for me, I wonder if we have too many court prophets in an era when wilderness prophets are needed. I also wonder if our court prophets are willing to call out sin when they see it. Whether you view Trump as a David or an Antipas, whether you serve at the court of the resplendent king or stand over against the court from the wilderness, one thing Nathan and John the Baptist held in common was that both were willing to condemn unrighteousness in their rulers—even if it cost them everything.

The racial inflection of our political drama adds deeper significance to the moment. White Christians have a long and lamentable history of silence (or worse) when people of color are under attack. On the one hand, I sense today an authentic desire among white Christians to build bridges of relationship and reconciliation with their friends and neighbors of other ethnicities.

Read the entire piece here.  Dalrymple is off to a good start at Christianity Today.  Let’s hope that he proves to be more of a wilderness prophet than a court evangelical.

Franklin Graham Responds to Trump’s Racist Tweet

At least not directly:

At least Graham gets credit for staying on message. As long as Trump keeps delivering on this front, the court evangelicals will look the other way on just about everything else.

Former GOP Chairman: “These are the people who spent the last forty years telling everyone how to live, who to love, what to think about morality…”

Steele

Michael Steele, the chairperson of the Republican National Committee from 2009-2011, slammed the court evangelicals and other evangelicals in an interview with journalist Tim Alberta, author of the soon-to-be-released American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the American Civil War and the Rise of President Trump.

Here is a taste of a piece at Business Insider:

Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, called evangelical Christians who support President Donald Trump “the biggest phonies of all” in a new book by the journalist Tim Alberta.

“These evangelical [leaders] are the biggest phonies of all,” Alberta quoted Steele as saying in his newly published book, “American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump.”

Steele went on, “These are the people who spent the last forty years telling everyone how to live, who to love, what to think about morality. And then this motherf—er comes along defiling the White House and disrespecting God’s children at every turn, but it’s cool, because he gave them two Supreme Court justices. They got their thirty pieces of silver.”

Read the entire piece here.

Jim Bakker and David Barton Get Together

David Barton recently visited The Jim Bakker Show to talk about his new book The Founders Bible.  I’ve been watching Barton for a long time, and I sense several new points of emphasis during his visit.

After his publisher Brad Cummings speaks, Barton comes in around the 2:00 minute mark and starts talking about the relationship between sin and history.  He stresses how Paul, David, and Sampson were all used by God despite their sin. Interesting.  Then he starts talking about the flaws of  founding fathers and how God used them to build America.  Let’s consider the immediate context in which Barton makes these statements–the age of Trump.  God uses flawed men to build America.  This is Court Evangelicalism 101.

The old David Barton comes back around the 4:00 mark when as he claims that 27 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence held seminary or Bible school degrees.

Watch:

By the way, Barton’s view that the founders used biblical principles in their writings without citing chapter and verse may contain a kernel of truth.  Check out Daniel Dreisbach’s Reading the Bible With the Founding Fathers.  Barton, of course, takes this view to an extreme. Remember, his goal is to use the past to win the culture war rather than providing his followers with a nuanced view of how the founders engaged the Bible.

Here is another short video from David Barton’s appearance on the Jim Bakker show:

Here Barton is talking about a meeting with Glenn Beck and televangelist Rick Joyner. In this clip Joyner claims that Independent Network Charismatic leader (and King Cyrus coin guy) Lance Wallnau was also present.

I have written a lot about Beck and Wallnau, but some of you may not be familiar with Joyner.  He runs an organization called Morning Star Ministries.  Back in 1998 he tried to get a religious property tax exemption for his private jet, several tracts of land, and his vacation home.  He was also a business partner of Jim Bakker back in the PTL days and, in 2004, bought Bakker’s Heritage USA.  He is part of the Independent Network Charismatic movement, a believer in Seven Mountain Dominionism, and a climate change-denier.  Click here to learn more about him, compliments of Right Wing Watch;

Barton mentions that the meeting with Beck, Joyner, and Wallnau focused on “where the nation is going spiritually.”  I think it fair to read this as a culture-war strategy session.  Barton’s co-author Cummings was also at the meeting and he describes a vision Joyner had about the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. God told Joyner that these events did not accomplish what they should have accomplished, especially as it relates to race relations.  That sounds about right.  But as Joyner’s dream came to end, he got a vision of a “Second American Revolution and Civil War” that will be “inevitable, just, and successful.”

Barton then affirms Joyner’s vision, and in doing so he says some accurate things about the failure of the founders to deliver on matters of racial equality.  This is a huge step for Barton. It led me to wonder where he was going this.  Where was the culture-war hook?

And then it happened.  At about the 4:50 mark Barton adds an additional layer to his interpretation of Joyner’s dream.  Rather than continuing with his mini-lecture on America’s failure in matters of race, he suggests that Joyner’s vision about a “Second American Revolution and Civil War” was actually about Roe v. Wade.  Barton says that we should expect a Civil War “over the abortion issue.”  If Roe v. Wade is overturned, California and other pro-choice states will secede from the Union and it will end in violence.

Watch the entire Bakker-Barton conversation here and here.

And if you really watch carefully, you will “learn” that:

  • Jim Bakker just opened a “Prayer Mountain” in the Ozarks.
  • David Barton is “honored all over the world” and is “brilliant.”
  • Barton’s new book, The Founders Bible, is very heavy.
  • Barton claims that The Founders Bible is his “greatest book,” a “transformational book that will last generations.”
  • The Founders Bible is a “modern day version of the Geneva Bible.”
  • The Founders Bible takes the “wisdom” of the founders and “mixes it with biblical perspectives” and applies to the “issues we face today.” God and Country! There really is little daylight between the teachings of the founders and God.
  • Cummings took 16-hours of “masters-level church history” and never heard some of the stories Barton writes about in the The Founders Bible.  (Cummings attended seminary at Fuller Theological Seminary.  Fuller is a great evangelical seminary.  I thus think there is a reason he never heard Barton’s stories at Fuller).
  • Barton serves as a consultant for state social standards.
  • If young people just read primary documents they would come around to Barton’s views and come to believe that America is a Christian nation.  For Barton, these documents are frozen in time.  He is opposed to the kind of historical thinking that takes change over time, context, complexity, contingency, and causation seriously.
  • America is a “Christian nation,” which Barton defines as a nation in which the Bible shapes the culture.  His example is the free-market system.
  • Free market capitalism came from five Bible verses:  1 Timothy 5:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Matthew 25, Luke 19, and Matthew 20.
  • The stock market is doing well because we are using “biblical economics.”
  • David Barton is humble and not a self-promoter.  (Unless you challenge him on his “earned doctorate“)
  • Colin Kaepernick does not know that “Black Americans” during the Civil War tried to save the American flag and received honors for it.
  • All the athletes today who refuse to honor the flag are products of “recent education.”
  • If you live in poverty in America today, you live better than the middle class in Europe.
  • Our schools focus too much on pre-Civil War chattel slavery and not enough on present-day slavery.
  • Slavery is not an issue of racism, it is a matter of economics.
  • The colonies really separated from England because we wanted to end slavery.  It wasn’t because of “no taxation without representation.”
  • At the time of the Civil War, the majority of the American population was “not racist.”
  • History is being rewritten to make the United States look bad.  “They” have made us a global bad guy.
  • David Barton helped Ukraine create a constitution.
  • 2 Timothy 2:15, which says “Study to shew yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” applies to both the Bible and the history of the American founding.
  • The reason college students like socialism so much is because of Internet memes.
  • The American Revolution was a success because the patriots were thinking more biblical than the supporters of the crown.
  • David Barton can predict a person’s view on the capital gains tax and climate change based on what they believe about abortion.
  • Trump has done “more things for righteousness” than all the presidents of David Barton’s lifetime combined.
  • It is “pathetic” that only half of evangelical pastors support Donald Trump.
  • The Founders Bible is the “greatest research tool of all time.”
  • Liberals hate the Bible.
  • People should go to church armed with guns because Christianity is under threat in America.  It is the only way to establish “order” in the country.

Court Evangelicals Tony Perkins and Eric Metaxas Talk About Their Court Evangelicalism

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4 Court Evangelicals:  Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, and Eric Metaxas

On July 5, 2019, court evangelical Tony “Mulligan” Perkins of the Family Research Council  hosted court evangelical and author Eric Metaxas on his “Washington Watch” radio program.  The conversation was devoted to Metaxas’s 2016 book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty,  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog are aware that this book is riddled with historical problems, many of which I wrote about in a series of posts when the book was published.

Listen to the Perkins-Metaxas conversation here.

Here are some comments:

2:00ff:  Metaxas, citing Christian author Os Guinness, suggests that the founders believed that virtue was essential to a republic and that people could not be virtuous without “faith.”  There are some problems with this formulation.  The founders did believe that virtue was essential to a healthy republic.  Virtue was a political term.  The virtuous person–usually a man–was someone who sacrificed his own interests for the greater good of the republic.  With this definition, it seems as if there would be a lot of present-day Americans–including socialists–who might have a claim on this kind of eighteenth-century political virtue.  In fact, one of our best historians of American socialism, Nick Salvatore, has argued that socialists like Eugene Debs drew heavily upon this tradition of republic virtue.

Moreover, as I argued in my book The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, many founding fathers, including Ben Franklin (who uttered the saying in the title of Metaxas’s book), believed that Christianity or religion was not the only source of this kind of virtue.

2:45ff:  I don’t know of any “progressive” or person of “the Left” who is invoking the French Revolution these days.  (I am willing to be proven wrong on this).  Metaxas describes the French Revolution in terms of bloodbaths, anarchy, madness, egalitarianism, socialism, and the general lack of freedom.  Later in the interview Metaxas says that fear was not a factor in the evangelical turn toward Donald Trump.  As I argued in Believe Me, fear-mongers often build on false or exaggerated claims.  Isn’t this what Metaxas is doing here?  Perkins and Metaxas want to keep everyone scared so they pull the lever for Trump in 2020 and continue to man the ramparts of the culture wars.

4:50ff:  Metaxas says that we have been given a “sacred charge, a holy charge by God” to preserve the United States of America.  Here Metaxas equates the fate of America with the will of God as if the United States is some kind of new Israel.  He also says that if the Christian church does its job in the United States, “freedom will flourish.”

Is this true?  Is the role of the church to promote political freedom?

Metaxas confuses the mission of the Christian church with American freedom.  He fails to recognize that if the church does its work in the world, Christians will realize that their American freedoms are limited by a higher calling.  For example, if the church is doing its work fewer Christians will “pursue happiness” in terms of materialistic consumption. Fewer Christians will commit adultery or file for divorce.  The number of abortions will be reduced.  Hate speech will decline.  The number of people viewing pornography will be reduced.  The right to be gluttonous, greedy, slothful, and envious will decline. The right to own vehicles that destroy the environment will be curbed.  Of course all of these things–materialism, consumerism, adultery, divorce, hate speech, pornography, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, the ownership of a big SUV– are legal and protected under our freedoms as Americans. They are also contrary to Christian teaching. Americans are “free” to hate their neighbor and their enemies.  But if you claim to be a follower of Jesus you are not free to do these things.  So if the church is doing its work in world, Christians should become less, not more, “free” in the American sense of the word.

9:40ff:  Perkins implies that those evangelicals  who do not support Donald Trump do not “think,” “pray,” or “act.” (For the record this anti-Trump evangelical does try to think, pray, and act).  Metaxas says that those who oppose the POTUS are “prideful” and “myopic.”

I’ve noticed that when Metaxas is talking with critics such as Kristin Powers and Jonathan Merritt he backpedals and issues calls for civility.  But when he is on the air with a fellow court evangelicals like Perkins, he returns to his 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed mode of calling out the judgement of God on anti-Trumpers.

10:35ff:  Metaxas says: “we are at a tipping point in America…we could go back to the 1750s where we no longer have American style freedom.”  This is more fear-mongering.  It reminds me of when Ted Cruz said that if Clinton won in 2016 the government would start erasing crosses and stars of David from tombstones.  Metaxas also fails to realize that his conservative approach to the world looks very much like the British freedoms all the American colonists enjoyed in 1750.

11:30ff:  Metaxas brings up David French’s article on fear and notes that the piece attacks him by name.  Read this and this.

11:50ff: Metaxas defends Richard Nixon. He claims that George McGovern wanted to “take us down a socialist road.”  The last time I checked, McGovern was not a socialist. Here Metaxas implies that Nixon may have indeed committed a crime in office, but at least he wasn’t a big-government liberal.

12:00ff:  Metaxas compares those evangelicals who do not “get their hands dirty” voting for Trump to those who did not stand up to Hitler.  (Of course Hillary Clinton is the “Hitler” figure here–a comparison Metaxas has made before).

12:30ff:  Throughout this interview, Metaxas sloppily (although I don’t think he believes it is sloppy) mixes Christian faith and American ideals.  He talks about the blood of Jesus dying for sinners and in the very same sentence references the “minute men” in the American Revolution dying for “freedom” and the un-“biblical” Loyalists.  This is not unlike the way in which many 18th-century patriotic ministers interpreted Galatians 5:1 to mean freedom from British tyranny instead of freedom “in Christ.”  (I discuss this old American evangelical bad habit in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction).

If we want a quick introduction to Metaxas and his thinking, listen to this interview.

*The Guardian* and *Salon* Cover *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dHere is Tom McCarthy at The Guardian:

Meanwhile, Trump has addressed a central concern for white evangelicals that they are losing influence as a group and that the sun is setting on the United States they dream of – a nation that is white and Christian in its majority and in its essence.

“They’ll look away from the moral indiscretion in order to get their political agenda in place… they want to reclaim, renew, restore what they believe was a Christian culture, a Christian America that has been lost,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and the author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Trump’s perceived delivery on that dream overwhelms qualms that many religious voters might have about sexual assault allegations against Trump, or about his multiple marriages or worship of mammon, Fea said.

“They don’t see this at all as hypocrisy,” Fea said. “They believe that Trump is appointed by God for a moment such as this. They believe that God uses corrupt people – there are examples in the Bible of this, so they’ll call upon these verses.

“They truly believe that ‘God works in mysterious ways. He uses even someone like Donald Trump to accomplish His will.’”

Read the entire piece here.

And here is Paul Rosenberg at Salon:

Clarkson’s reporting was his latest on Project Blitz — a Christian right stealth state legislative campaign first exposed by him early last year, and reported here at Salon. As I wrote then, its guiding vision is heavily influenced by pseudo-historian David Barton, who “has been discredited by every American historian I know,” according to evangelical historian John Fea. (See Fea’s latest on Barton here.) The myth of America’s founding as a Christian nation, and our supposed need to restore what’s been lost, are its guiding lights, with three proposed tiers of legislation.

Also this:

There are different schools of dominionism, and as Julie Ingersoll explained in “Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction” (Salon interview here), their ideas have had enormous influence on the religious right, even among many Christians who overtly disavow them. Barton and many others involved with Project Blitz subscribe to what is called “Seven Mountains” dominionism, devoted to infiltrating and taking over the “seven mountains of culture”: government, education, media, arts and entertainment, religion, family and business. Coming out of the “New Apostolic Reformation,” styling themselves as “apostles” and “prophets,” those folks have an exalted opinion of themselves. Secretive, extremist means to a “holy” end often find favor with them. 

Clarkson points to the case of state legislation in Minnesota, which he sees as “a harbinger of a more profoundly theocratic politics on the horizon.” Project Blitz works through a network of state-level legislative prayer caucuses, and in Minnesota, the state director, Rev. Dale Witherington, also runs an explicit Seven Mountains organization, RestoreMN, devoted to the “restoration of Biblical values in our nation” and “Biblical citizenship.” 

This year provided a taste of what he has in mind. The story begins with an attempt to slash the budget of the Minnesota Historical Society by $4 million (possibly resulting in a 25% staff cuts) for failing to conform to Christian nationalist ideology. 

When the cuts were first proposed by State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, she refused to explain why, beyond saying it was because of an unspecified “controversy.” State Sen. John Marty, a Twin Cities Democrat, eventually got the scoop from another Republican member, who explained that it had to do with “what he called ‘revisionist history’ at the 200-year-old Historic Fort Snelling.

This “revisionist history” involved the fort expanding its educational mission to include the Dakota name for the area, Bdote, and a 10,000-year history that included “Native peoples, trade, soldiers and veterans, enslaved people, immigrants, and the changing landscape.” That history happens to be true. But as Marty told me, religious conservatives “wanted the history that they were taught 4th grade, and think that that’s all there is to it. Anything else is ‘revisionist history.’” 

Those proposed cuts restored by Democrats, who control the state House and the governor’s office. But the story doesn’t end there. In the May issue of Americans United’s Church and State magazine, historian Steven Greene blew the whistle on what’s probably the real story — a behind-the-scenes threat from the Minnesota Prayer Caucus, to slash the Historical Society funding in retaliation for scheduling two lectures based on his 2015 book, “Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding.

Greene’s book was published by Oxford University Press, arguably the world’s leading academic publisher, and was praised by evangelical historian John Fea, himself the author of “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.” Fea called it “the most thorough critique of Christian nationalism available today,” and said, “Anyone interested in this subject must read this book.” (Fea and Greene both took part in a 2015 CNN forum on the subject here.) 

But the Minnesota Prayer Caucus was not impressed, and accused the Historical Society of “promoting a narrative about our nation’s history and founding that is patently false.” (Mind you, its members had not seen the book, let alone read it.) After an exchange of letters, the caucus eventually made a veiled threat, requesting “that our side of the story be presented with your support and promotion through the Minnesota Historical Society,” and saying that it should be scheduled and promoted by May 1 of this year, “when committees begin to meet to review appropriations to various organizations and groups.”

Read the entire piece here.

*The Economist* Covers the Growing Rift in the Evangelical Camp

Believe Me 3dEarlier this week I had a great phone conversation with The Economist writer Bruce Clark about my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of how how Clark wrote it up:

…Admittedly, evangelicals have never been a monolith. As behoves people who take their spiritual destiny seriously, they argue perpetually about many things: for example over whether the fate of a human soul is predetermined, or how exactly a believer can be redeemed from the “total depravity” which is, in the view of John Calvin (1509-1564), the natural state of humanity. Debates which raged between Europe’s 16th-century reformers are rumbling on in America’s influential seminaries.

But according to a new book, “Believe Me”, by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, all these theological disagreements are being transcended by a more salient issue: whether or not to support Mr Trump wholeheartedly and therefore overlook his character flaws. These days, by far the most important distinction is between what Mr Fea calls “court evangelicals”, who stridently support the president and are rewarded with access to him, and every other kind of evangelical. As a new coalition lines up to fight next year’s election, some of the battle formations which formed in the 2016 contest are coming back into view, with even sharper spears.

Among those who inhabit the court, Mr Fea discerns three main groups: first, a section of the mainstream religious right whose origins go back to the 1980s; second, a cohort of independent “charismatics” who claim the gifts of the Pentecostal tradition (visions, miracles and direct revelations from God) but do not belong to any established Pentecostal group; and third, advocates of the “prosperity gospel” who resemble the second category but put emphasis on the material rewards which following their particular version of Christianity will bring. What defines all these “courtiers” is an insistence that loyalty to Mr Trump must be unconditional. In their world, the president is presented not just as the least-worst political option whose merits outweigh his flaws, but as a man assigned by God to restore America to its divinely set course, and therefore almost above human criticism.

To get round the problems posed by Mr Trump’s ruthless business career, messy personal life and scatological language, they use several arguments, of which one is a comparison with Persia’s King Cyrus, who liberated the Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to return to Israel. From the Jewish or Christian point of view, Cyrus was a pagan, not a worshipper of the one God, but he was still an instrument of God’s purpose. Likewise Mr Trump can be regarded as a divinely ordained ruler, regardless of any personal flaws. Indeed, as Mr Fea notes, the more strongly people believe in a divine hand in history, the more open they are to the idea that God can choose anybody at all to serve his inscrutable purpose.

Read the rest here.

David French Elaborates on Evangelical Fear

 

Believe Me 3dWe covered this last week after several folks e-mailed me to ask if I sent David French a copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Read that post here.

David French and Jon Meacham were on “Morning Joe” this morning:

In this interview, French does say that this fear has been present before 2016.  (I challenged him to think historically in the post to which I linked above).

Both evangelical “fear” and the evangelical pursuit of “power” are mentioned in this interview.  Of course these are the main themes of Believe Me.

James Dobson Visits the Border and Shows His Nativism

Detention

Court evangelical James Dobson, the evangelical who is most associated with the idea of “family values,” visited the Mexican border and wrote a letter to his supporters.  I have published it here:

Dear Friends,

Several weeks ago, I was invited by White House staff to visit our southern border at McAllen, Texas, where federal agents are struggling to deal with a massive influx of poor and destitute human beings. They come in never-ending waves. Please believe me when I tell you that the media and leftist politicians have not been truthful about what is going on there. It is a human tragedy. 

I promised the exhausted U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agents that I would go home and tell as many people as possible what I had seen “up close and personal.” Today, I am attempting to fulfill that commitment.

Approximately 5,500 people show up every day in districts organized along our southern U.S. border. McAllen is the site of only one of them, but it is the busiest and most besieged. The “refugees” arrive exhausted and ragged from walking hundreds of miles. Among them are large numbers of children, many of whom are unaccompanied by a caring adult. Last year, 382,000 aliens were apprehended for illegally crossing into this country and almost 100,000 of them were minors. Some of the kids have been abused along the way. Many of them carry lice, scabies or other diseases. Currently, the facility I visited is experiencing a flu epidemic, and there are no additional beds on which to lie. Some of the women have been raped. More than 70 people of all ages are sent to local hospitals daily along the southern border. Doctors and medical staff are overwhelmed by their patient load. Remember that word, “overwhelmed.” It describes every aspect of the effort to deal with the situation there.

The most heart-wrenching experience occurred during our tour of the holding area. It is a huge gym-like building consisting of dozens of fenced-in areas. Each one is crowded with detainees standing or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on benches. They stared out at us with plaintive eyes.

I noticed that almost none of them were talking to each other. The children looked traumatized and frightened. Tears flooded my eyes as I stood before them. They had no toys or dolls, except for a few items bought by compassionate border patrol agents. One tiny little girl clutched something that resembled a doll bought for her by an agent. There are few provisions made to accommodate the children. The week before we were there, a delegation of agents went to meet with members of Congress, and begged them for additional money to buy Pampers, toothbrushes, and other necessities. They were turned down flat. These meager supplies have to be purchased with the border patrol budget, which is stretched to the limit. 

I then walked up to a fenced area holding many skinny young men. An agent standing beside me asked if I would like to speak to them. He offered to translate for me, to which I replied, “Please tell them that God loves them.” Then I said, “Now tell them that I love them, too.” They smiled and waved timidly. 

My heart aches for these poor people. Lest I be misunderstood, let me make clear that I am among the majority of Americans who want the border to be closed to those who attempt to enter illegally. There has to be a better solution than this. I have wondered, with you, why the authorities don’t just deny these refugees access to this nation. Can’t we just send them back to their places of origin? The answer I received was “No,” for reasons I will explain.

Only 10 percent of the detainees are Mexicans. This year alone, people have come to our southern border from 127 countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, India, China, Palestine, Albania, San Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other nations around the world. They speak their native tongues, which means they can’t be understood by each other or the staff. What are we to do with them? The Mexican government will not take them back, and there is no place to send them. Our current laws do not permit us to repatriate them to their country of origin. This is a disaster with no solution or projected conclusion. 

Let me tell you how these desperate people come to be our responsibility. They are the lowest rung of many societies. They sell their shanties and any other possessions to scrape together $3,500 to $10,000 to pay “coyotes” to guide them. I don’t know what happens to those who can’t meet this demand. Apparently, most manage to pay the fee, and arrive penniless and profoundly needy. I was told that some of the vulnerable children are “recycled” repeatedly to help men gain entry to this country. An unknown number of these men are hardened criminals and drug runners, and they are difficult to identify. Most make their way across the border.

Here’s something else you should know. I have been under the impression that these would-be immigrants try to cross the Rio Grande River and outrun or evade the agents. That is not true of most. They come in large groups, from 100 to 400 people at a time. As I write this letter, a record 1,200 people arrived together at El Paso. The refugees quickly give themselves up to agents. That is why they have made this journey. They know they will be fed, medicated, and treated humanely, even if they are in holding areas while they are in our custody. Then they will be released on American soil. This is the system set up by a liberal Congress and judges. It is a well-known fact that President Obama’s administration established many of these unworkable policies, and Congress is steadfastly unwilling to change them. Every effort at reform has been overridden or ignored. It is set in stone. Democrats want massive numbers of immigrants who will someday become voters. Some Republicans support the policies because they want cheap labor for agricultural purposes. The border could be fixed, but there are very few in authority who seem to care. 

Getting back to my story, our group of national faith leaders and humanitarian organizations was taken to a grassy park underneath the international bridges where the “coyotes” bring the refugees. We stood 50 feet away from them and watched as about 200 people sat on the ground. Then buses arrived to transport them to Border Control. Agents have to work fast because another group will be showing up soon, and then another and another. The would-be immigrants are taken to the center and given cursory medical exams. Then they are segregated by sex and age and placed in the fenced-in areas to be held for the next 20 days until they are processed and given a Notice to Appear. If that sounds inhumane, what would you or I do? There is simply no other place to “house” them. 

Mismanagement of the border has a long history. A federal judge years ago issued a ruling called the Flores Settlement Agreement. It is still the source of many problems. It requires that any unaccompanied alien child must be released within 72 hours. This is now the law of the land, and poor people around the world know it. A single male typically seeks to find a child and a woman to help him “game the system.” Clearly, many of these are “fake families,” but there is no documentation in Pakistani or Bangladesh to challenge their claims. Lawyers at home have told them to claim that they are fleeing from oppression or seeking asylum. They are allowed to plead their cases to judges, but there are too few of them to keep up with the volume. These people are given a court case and released. The vast majority are never seen again. Most then become “anchor babies” who are citizens with rights to bring members of their families. Others are given transportation to an American city where they disappear into the culture. 

In addition to this influx of people from places around the world steeped in poverty and despair, Senator Chuck Schumer authored and helped pass a “lottery” system, whereby winners are brought to the United States. They become permanent residents, who then begin bringing their families to our shores. Thank you, Senator.

Ten years ago, 90 percent of illegals apprehended at the border were single males, mainly from Mexico. Now, more than 50 percent show up with babies and children, and 90 percent of them are from countries other than Mexico with 64 percent being family units or unaccompanied alien children. Together, they claim to be “families” and within three weeks, they will be home free in America. Is there any doubt why there have been more than half a million illegal immigrants this year alone?

Before I conclude, I must tell you about the agents who have to deal with this chaos. They are compassionate men and women, sworn to uphold federal law and protect our borders.

They obviously care about the detainees, and I respect them highly. They work tirelessly feeding people three times a day and providing clean clothing. They must also maintain the portable toilets in the cells. It is a never-ending task. There are only two large showers in the facility, one for males, the other for females. Their capacity is for only 20 people at a time, which is insufficient.

The border patrol agents administer this program, but most of them didn’t sign up to be caregivers. Agents were trained to patrol the border and apprehend drug runners, traffickers, smugglers, murderers, and every kind of lawbreaker. This is very dangerous work. But, please understand this: the border patrol agents are so busy caring for refugees seeking entry to the United States that they have very little time to police the borders. It is so porous that huge quantities of contraband, including all kinds of narcotics, flow into this country every day. Then it is transported northward to America’s cities to be consumed by adolescents and millennials. Lawless gangs, such as MS-13, are also pouring into the culture, making violence for inner cities a way of life. 

There is one more aspect to the work of the agents that you should know. They are openly hated by citizens who resent the work they do. They are routinely vilified and mocked and demonized. Their families are also subjected to ridicule. These agents need our appreciation and prayers. They have one of the most thankless jobs in America. 

The situation I have described is the reason President Donald Trump’s border wall is so urgently needed. He seems to be the only leader in America who comprehends this tragedy and is willing to address it. Those who oppose him do everything they can to impede his effort. That is why I went to the border to see the situation for myself. I came away with an array of intense emotions. First, I was profoundly grieved over the misery of thousands of people. Second, I felt a deep appreciation for those who are doing their best to help in an impossible circumstance. Third, and frankly, I was angry at the political fat cats who have deliberately allowed this chaos to occur for political or financial gain. They, and their friends in the fake media, have told the American people that there is no crisis at the border! Shame on them all.

What I’ve told you is only a glimpse of what is occurring on the nation’s border. I don’t know what it will take to change the circumstances. I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature. But in this instance, we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.

Thanks for letting me set the record straight.

Here are some thoughts:

1. James Dobson saw what is happening at the border and he believes that what he saw was immoral.  This separates Dobson from some other court evangelicals and “family values” advocates who think that there is no crisis of human dignity at the border.

2. When Dobson says “thank you” to Chuck Schumer for his lottery system I can’t tell if he is being serious or sarcastic.

3. Essentially, Dobson says that we must treat these refugees with Christian love.  He even told a group of detained men that Jesus loves them.  Then, several paragraphs later, he concludes that the building of Trump’s wall is the only way to solve this crisis.  I must admit, the early paragraphs of Dobson’s letter surprised me.  He seems to show real Christian compassion.  But then I got to the end of the letter only to find that his Christian compassion got hijacked by his nationalism.  We love you.  God loves you.  But you can’t come into our country.  Sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a humanitarian crisis at the border. But Trump and the politicians have failed to offer creative solutions for how to fix it.  Instead, they just blame their political opponents.  I am no expert, but there must be a way to balance compassion and security.

4. At the end of the letter, Dobson takes a really ugly turns toward nativism.  He says that these refugees and immigrants are unskilled, illiterate, unhealthy, and violent.  He adds that they will soon “overwhelm the culture  as we have known it.”  He makes an appeal to history: the United States has always been a generous, caring, and Christian country, but in this instance (italics mine) we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down….”

I italicized the words “in this instance” because Dobson makes it sounds as if Americans have been warm and fuzzy toward newcomers in the past, but this instance is different.  These immigrants, he suggests, are a serious threat to American culture.  Dobson shows his ignorance of American history here. Historically, this kind of nativism arises whenever people fear immigrants and they demographic change they bring to the country.  I have offered a few examples of this below.  Read these quotes carefully and notice how the rhetoric is nearly identical to the language Dobson uses in his letter.

In a May 9, 1753 letter to Peter Collinson, Benjamin Franklin described German immigrants as “the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation.”  He did not believe that they could assimilate to our political culture, saying that since they are “not…used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it.”  He worried that these Germans were coming to America “in droves.” (Notice Dobson’s use of the word “flooding” to describe refugees).  Franklin concludes: “in short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies…they will soon so out number us , that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our [English] language, and even our Government will become precarious.”

In Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751) he writes: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”‘

In his 1835 speech, “A Plea for the West,” evangelical preacher and reformer Lyman Beecher warned against the “danger from the uneducated mind [that] is augmenting daily by the rapid influx of foreign emigrants, unacquainted with our institutions, unaccustomed to self-government, inaccessible to education, and easily accessible to prepossession, and inveterate credulity, and intrigue, and easily embodied and wielded by sinister design.” He added, “In the beginning this eruption of revolutionary Europe was not anticipated, and we opened our doors wide to the influx and naturalization of foreigners.  But it is become a terrific inundation; it has increased upon our native population from five to thirty-seven percent, and is every year advancing….”  Notice Beecher’s argument here.  We have always welcomed immigrants, but this instance (the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants) is different.

Here is nativist Frederick Saunders in 1856:  “The foreign voters, who are proved to be ignorant and in every incompetent, are admitted to the enjoyment of the electoral franchise.  We, who never knew what a blind and passive obedience to law is, can form no adequate idea of the recklessness and delirium which seize hold of so many foreign immigrants the moment they put foot upon our shores.  We admit that some of them are men of intellectual culture, while it will not be denied that too many are persons of the most degraded character, and destitute even of the most meager attainments….”  When I read this quote about Irish immigrants I thought about Dobson’s remarks about these immigrants voting for Democrats and their lack of education.

Here is Texas congressman John Box in 1928: “The admission of large and increasing number of Mexican peons to engage in all kinds of work is at variance with the American purpose to protect the wages of its working people and maintain their standard of living.  Mexican labor is not free; it is not well paid; its standard of living is low….To keep out the illiterate and the diseased is another essential part of the Nation’s immigration policy.  The Mexican peons are illiterate and ignorant.  Because of their unsanitary habits and living conditions and their vices they are especially subject to smallpox, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, and other dangerous contagions.”

Of course my own people (on my father’s side), the Italian immigrants who arrived to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, were also considered unclean, smelly, illiterate, unskilled, and violent.

There is nothing new about Dobson’s words here.  He is not only echoing his president, but he is also echoing some of the darker moments of American history.