A Distinguished Taylor University Alumnus Speaks Out on the Pence Invitation

Taylor

Mike Pence will be the 2019 commencement speaker at Taylor University.  We wrote about this yesterday.

This morning Steve Long, the Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University and a Taylor alumnus, sent us these thoughts and gave us permission to publish them.  -JF

I went to Taylor University from 1978-1982. I grew up thirty miles from it. As an Indiana kid, I went to its basketball camp. My church went on spring break trips led by Taylor students. I’ve had doctoral students who were TU grads. I have been back only a few times since graduating, but I was invited by some faculty to be part of a symposium for the inauguration of TU’s new president. Little did I know that his vision for TU was to make it look like Liberty University. I am ashamed.

I’m saddened and disappointed by this commencement invitation, but not surprised. I was surprised in 2016 when midwest evangelicals enabled the Trump presidency. I thought I knew them. I was wrong. I remember a different Taylor University and a different kind of evangelicalism. 

Here is what I remember: When I was at TU, we were less interested in state power and more interested in mission. Many were reading Ronald Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.” I spent my last semester at TU working in a medical clinic in Haiti and was encouraged to do so by faculty and fellow students. Most of us wanted to do something about poverty and global inequality. I was first confronted with nonviolence at TU when we read Mark Hatfield’s “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” in a Chemistry class. He was a Republican who because of his faith came out against the Vietnam War. It was that book that prepared me well to hear Stanley Hauerwas when I went to Duke. I remember a TU and an evangelicalism that was vibrant, concerned with issues of poverty and violence. I was also there during the transition from the Carter to Reagan presidency and I think that Reagan’s cooptation of evangelicals, like Trump’s, set the rot in the evangelical movement. Reagan and Trump said to evangelicals, “Come let us build a (Trump) tower to the heavens and make a name for ourselves.” Evangelicals said, and are still saying, “Yes.” 

Of course, my memory is kind. Some of the rot was already there and I was not paying attention. I double dated with an interracial couple during my time at Taylor. I think they were the only one on campus. I recall how devastated he was when he received an anonymous letter telling him that interracial dating was against God’s law. I thought it was a fluke and did not take it seriously. I was not paying attention. I did not know that the origins of the Religious Right that has now taken over the administration of TU and most of evangelicalism was its opposition to the Civil Rights legislation that required Bob Jones to permit interracial dating. The Reagan administration sided with Bob Jones. Cal Thomas, who was an early leader in the Religious Right and close associate of Jerry Falwell Sr., later left the movement convinced that the seduction of power had led it to abandon truth. He wrote, “Christian faith is about truth, [and] whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Pence has proven himself immoral in so many ways since joining the Trump administration, but the one thing that stands out most prominently for me is his willingness to be complicit in the bold deceits emanating daily from the White House. Who is the “father of lies?” Have evangelicals forgotten?

I had a friend who came out as gay. We dared not tell anyone. There was a cruelty to gays back then that is slowly receding. (I am grateful to see that some TU alum will hold an alternative “Gay Bash” during the commencement). Has TU and evangelicalism drastically changed in the 37 years since I graduated? I don’t know. Maybe my memory is too kind. I’m encouraged that so many students, faculty, and alums have spoken out against president Haines’ invitation that makes TU complicit in the racist, homophobic, xenophobic and cruel Trump administration. But in the end, we know, donor wealth and political power will trump mercy and kindness.

Taylor University and Mike Pence

taylor4

As some of you have heard, Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Upland, Indiana, has invited Mike Pence to be its 2019 commencement speaker.

Not everyone is happy about Taylor’s decision. Taylor alumni have started a Change.org petition claiming that the Pence invitation makes “our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear.”

Chris Smith, a Taylor graduate and founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books (which is based in nearby Indianapolis), wrote a piece at the Sojourners website condemning the Pence invitation.

Amy Peterson, an author, evangelical missionary, and adjunct professor at Taylor, also condemned the decision.  Her piece at The Washington Post provides some context and quotes students and alums who are unhappy about Pence’s upcoming address.

Back in March 2018, several disgruntled Taylor employees, including a philosophy professor, a biblical studies professor, the men’s soccer coach, and the university marketing director started an underground newspaper with a mission to expose what they believed to be Taylor’s move in a “liberal direction.”  At the time, Taylor president Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust” and “hurting members of our community.”  We wrote about this incident here.

Peterson’s Post article notes that the Taylor faculty voted 61-49 on a motion to dissent at Pence being invited.  (At least two Taylor sources I have consulted confirmed this vote).

Progressives are going to condemn Taylor for inviting Pence because, among other things, the Vice-President holds a conservative position on marriage, condemns homosexuality and has recently mixed-it-up with gay presidential candidate and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.  But this kind of criticism lacks nuance. Most evangelical schools have traditional positions on marriage and believe that homosexual practice is unbiblical. Progressives are going to need to deal with the fact that a significant portion of the United States population share Pence’s views in the area of sexual ethics.  I hope they will see the need to work with evangelicals to cultivate a more inclusive and pluralistic society in which deeply held religious beliefs are respected.  Both Pence and many progressives seem unwilling to take on this project, preferring instead to dig in their heels and continue to lob grenades in the culture war.

The real issue is Pence’s willingness to carry water for Donald Trump.  He has stood behind a president who is a liar, has paid hush money to an adult film star, has faced dozens of charges of sexual harassment, has separated children from families at the Mexican border, disrespects American institutions, boasts of his materialism, understands religious liberty as something that only pertains to his evangelical base, seems incapable of seeing anything beyond himself, inspires white supremacists, and has generally governed our country with no moral core.  Pence has defended or remained silent about nearly everything Trump has done.  Trump has used him as a pawn to win white evangelicals and keep them in the fold.

Gabby Carlson’s piece at the Taylor University student newspaper, The Echo, quotes both Taylor Provost Michael Hammond (a historian who studies evangelicalism and the Civil Rights movement) and Alan Blanchard, associate professor of journalism.  Hammond said:

Commencement is a special day for Taylor University…Above all else, we want to honor our graduates with their diploma and towel. There is always something to be gained from listening, even when we do not expect to find agreement with the speaker. This is an opportunity for our community to hear one another, working through our opinions and differences together.

And here is Blanchard, referencing what he said at the faculty meeting in support of the Pence invitation:

I suggested a benefit exists from listening to people speak on our campus with diverse views. Even if we do not see eye to eye, and even if the person speaking is the vice president of the United States…It’s a hallmark of our country to foster the idea and the ideal of free speech. I think our faculty meetings generally are a testimony to our ability to speak freely, agree or disagree on issues, but at the end of day show respect and love for one another.

I am fully on board with campuses inviting all kinds of people, of all kinds of political persuasions, to speak.  (I visited Taylor University on the Believe Me book tour last Fall and the students and faculty welcomed me and gave me and my message a warm reception).  But there does seem to be something different about a commencement address, especially at a Christian college.  The choice of a commencement speaker at a small Christian college like Taylor University reflects the beliefs and ideals that animate life at such a college.  Commencement speakers send a message–to graduating seniors, to alumni, to parents, to donors, and to the larger community–about what a school values.  A commencement address should not be a venue for displaying a school’s commitment to a “free marketplace of ideas,” nor is it a place where a school shows its commitment to ideological diversity by hosting speakers with controversial political and social views.  Taylor University had the entire 2018-2019 academic year to show its commitment to diverse viewpoints on campus.  Commencement is a time to celebrate a Christian college’s Christian mission.  Does Mike Pence, the chief water-carrier for Donald Trump, represent Taylor University’s mission?

I find it ironic that president Lowell Haines, who decried “discord” back in March 2018, has decided to invite Pence.  Haines is fully aware that many in the evangelical community, most of his own faculty, and many of his students, see Pence as a morally problematic figure.  He had to know that the invitation would provoke a firestorm on campus.  Yet he invited him anyway.  Indeed, as Provost Michael Hammond noted above, “commencement is a special day” for Taylor graduates and the larger community.  Then why invite Pence?  If Pence does end up speaking, Haines and his staff, who I assume care about the campus climate, will be forced to spend the next several years trying to heal a self-inflicted wound.

Or here is another way we might look at this. Perhaps Lowell Haines and his staff are fully aware of the fact that the choice of commencement speakers always sends a message about the things that a Christian college values and cherishes. And perhaps this is exactly why he invited Pence.

Several of my sources at Taylor University view the Haines presidency, and the invitation of Pence, as an attempt to solve some of Taylor’s financial woes by taking a more pronounced turn to the Right.  One alumnus, writing on a private Facebook page, described a phone conversation he had with one of Haines’s right hand men, Vice President for University Advancement Rex Bennett:

For some reason, Rex Bennett (VP for University Advancement) actually took my call, and we talked for nearly 30 minutes.  We actually could have talked longer, but I needed to get off the phone and help my with some things.  During this phone call, Mr. Bennett was respectful to me and did listen to my concerns, but he also, sadly, confirmed that Taylor wishes to actively exclude and marginalize the LGBTW and immigrant/refugee communities.  He also stated that he does not expect a situation in which Taylor will reconsider the Pence decision.  After this conversation, I learned that Mr. Bennett is actually a very close friend of Pence.

Christian colleges are faced with difficult choices in these days of divisiveness and fear.  One type of Christian college will defend Christian orthodoxy (yes, even in the area of marriage), respect the civil rights of all Americans (including those in the LGBTQ community), support creative solutions to defend religious liberty in a pluralistic society, welcome the stranger, respond to the culture with a posture of hope, and pursue the common good.  These schools will provide a prophetic voice against the kind of America that Donald Trump and his court evangelicals (including Mike Pence) want to create.

Another type of Christian college, which seems exemplified best by court evangelical Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (Pence will also speak at its commencement this Spring), is to defend orthodoxy, reject creative attempts to defend religious liberty in a pluralist society, and support (at least at the level of the administration) what I believe to be the anti-Christian policies of Donald Trump.  After the Pence invitation, I will now need to be convinced that Taylor University is not following this path.

As I once wrote in The Washington Post, we are starting to see new alignments in American Christianity.

Thanks to Elizabeth Bruening for Reminding Buttigieg Fans that the Religious Left is Not New

Buttigeig

Some of you may recall my recent post, “Pete Buttieig: What is All the Fuss About?” Here is a taste:

[Buttigieg] seems to be following some pretty well-established progressive/liberal/Democratic Christian political candidates, including George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Joe Lieberman (if you move beyond Christianity), Hillary Clinton and, of course, Barack Obama. I might even put my former Senator Bill Bradley in this group.

Perhaps it is time that we stop getting so excited about Democratic candidates who can talk about religion. They have been around for a long time.

I am glad to see Elizabeth Bruenig make a similar point yesterday at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste of her piece, “Talk of a rising religious left is unfounded. It already exists“:

Right-wing pundits were apoplectic — Fox News host Laura Ingraham called him “sanctimonious and self-righteous” — but the effect was even greater on the center-left. “Buttigieg is a symbol for a rising Christian left,” one CNN op-ed enthused. “Buttigieg is telling Democrats that they should concede nothing to Republicans on the topics of faith and values . . . because Democrats advance policies that happen to be consistent with our deepest faith traditions,” The Post’s Jennifer Rubin declared. Even Mayor Pete himself seemed to embrace the talk of a revitalized religious left with real electoral power. He told The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “I think there’s an opportunity hopefully for religion to be not so much used as a cudgel but invoked as a way of calling us to higher values.”

The religious left — perhaps a bloc of Democratic voters waiting to be mobilized, perhaps a segment of faithful people waiting for a leftward awakening — is always just about to happen. It lingers, always, on the horizon, a shadow cast by the electoral power and political clout of the religious right. Will it ever arrive? And what would it look like if it did?

Talk of a rising religious left is puzzling in part because there is an already existing religious left — it just lacks the money, numbers and partisan leverage of the religious right. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that roughly 59 percent of registered Democratic voters described themselves as Christian, with the single largest bloc inside the Christian set being black Protestants. The presence of these religious voters in the Democratic coalition is probably why so many presidential candidates do engage in faith-talk: Setting Buttigieg aside, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have also been vocal about their Christian faith on the stump this season. (Indeed, Booker, too, was once hailed as an emblem of the rising religious left.)

Read the entire piece here.  (Thanks to John Haas for bringing it to my attention)

A Visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Gordon Conwell

I spent Monday night at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts (Boston-area).  Thanks to Gordon-Conwell president Dennis Hollinger for the invitation and Mary Ann Hollinger for her hospitality.

The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life sponsored conversation on evangelicals and politics that included Boisi director (and Jesuit theologian) Mark Massa, Dartmouth historian of American evangelicalism Randall Balmer, and yours truly.

A few takeaways:

  1. Gordon-Conwell is a seminary founded by mid-century evangelical stalwarts Billy Graham, J. Howard Pew and J. Harold Ockenga.  Over the last fifty years it has been an institutional fixture on the evangelical landscape.  During the course of the evening I did not meet a single Trump supporter.  This is the first time that I have been at a self-identified evangelical institution where I did not meet someone who wanted to make the case for Trump.
  2. I talked with several pastors-in-training (MDiv students) who wanted advice about how to deal with Trump supporters in their future congregations.  My advice:  preach the Gospel in season and out of season.   I hope they will avoid bringing politics into the pulpit, but rather preach in a positive way about what the Bible teaches regarding truth and lying, welcoming the stranger, caring for the “least of these,” loving neighbors,” the dignity of human life, and the pursuit of holiness.  I encouraged them, to borrow a term from Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter, to be “faithfully present” in the congregations and communities where God calls them to serve.
  3.  All of the evangelical millennials I chatted with were fed-up with Trump and the Christian Right.  It seems like a sea-change is coming.
  4.  During the formal conversation, Gordon-Conwell theology and missions professor Peter Kuzmic talked about how his fellow evangelicals in Eastern Europe were appalled that American evangelicals supported Trump.  I asked him publicly if the evangelical support of Donald Trump was hindering the work of the Gospel in Eastern Europe.  He did not miss a beat in saying “yes.”  This is tragic.  It is the case I have been making during the Believe Me book tour.  I told Kuzmic that I would like to take him with me on the road.  His testimony was a powerful one.  While court evangelicals continue to take victory laps over securing an originalist judiciary that might overturn Roe v. Wade, the witness of the Gospel is becoming more difficult, especially for missionaries.
  5. We talked a lot of about “fracture” within the evangelical community.  The days of a unified neo-evangelicalism (if there ever was such a thing) are over.  George Marsden once said that an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.  Well, Billy Graham is now dead and there will be no one to replace him.  This is not a statement about whether or not there are any potential heirs to Graham.  It is rather a statement about the current state of American culture, a state that Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers has called the “Age of Fracture.” I want to write more about this.
  6. It was an honor to share the stage and the evening with Randall Balmer, a scholar who has taught me so much about evangelicalism.

Trump Tells Border Agents to Break the Law. Court Evangelicals Remain Silent

families

Jake Tapper of CNN is reporting that Donald Trump told immigration officials on the Mexican border to essentially ignore court orders allowing Central American migrants seeking asylum into the country.  Here is a taste of Tapper’s piece:

Three Thursdays ago, in a meeting at the Oval Office with top officials — including Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top aides Jared Kushner, Mercedes Schlapp and Dan Scavino, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and more — the President, according to one attendee, was “ranting and raving, saying border security was his issue.”

Senior administration officials say that Trump then ordered Nielsen and Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso the next day, Friday, March 22, at noon. The plan was that in subsequent days the Trump administration would shut down other ports.

Nielsen told Trump that would be a bad and even dangerous idea, and that the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has been very supportive of the President.

She proposed an alternative plan that would slow down entries at legal ports. She argued that if you close all the ports of entry all you would be doing is ending legal trade and travel, but migrants will just go between ports.

According to two people in the room, the President said: “I don’t care.”

Ultimately, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney seemed to have been able to talk the President out of closing the port of El Paso. Trump, however, was insistent that his administration begin taking another action — denying asylum seekers entry. Nielsen tried to explain to the President that the asylum laws allow migrants from Central America to come to the US and gain entry. She talked to the White House counsel to see if there were any exceptions, but he told her that her reading of the law was correct.

Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to official requests for comment.

Last Friday, the President visited Calexico, California, where he said, “We’re full, our system’s full, our country’s full — can’t come in! Our country is full, what can you do? We can’t handle any more, our country is full. Can’t come in, I’m sorry. It’s very simple.”

Behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”

After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.

Read the entire piece here.

Some will say that Tapper represents the “left-wing media” who is out to get Trump.  I have a few thoughts on this:

  1.  Tapper is an excellent reporter who is one of the most fair-minded interviewers on CNN.
  2.  What Tapper is reporting here fits very well with everything we know about Donald Trump.
  3.  A question for Trump supporters (or “left-wing media” haters):  Is there anything  that the CNN or New York Times could uncover about Trump that might actually be true?

Tapper’s piece is just further proof that Trump is a populist tyrant.  He won in 2016 by promising to build a wall.  His immigration policy thus far has been draconian.  Some of the children he separated from their parents are lost and it will take up to two years to find them.  Today he falsely claimed that Obama is to blame for the separation of these children. He believes that he has a mandate from the people (or at least the ones who elected him) to do these things and, as a result, he does not pay much attention to the rule of law, checks and balances, or time-honored American institutions.

Trump’s populism reminds me of Andrew Jackson’s rationale for removing the Cherokees from their homeland and sending them on the so-called “Trail of Tears.”  The white men who voted for Jackson wanted the Cherokee gone.  Jackson listened and responded.  This is what democracy meant in the early 19th century.  Maybe this is why Michigan conservatives do not want students to study “democracy” in their history classes.

And where are the Trump court evangelicals today?  What do they have to say about his disregard for the law, his separation of children, and his constant lies?  Here is what they are up to today:

Bob Jeffress, with his snarky laugh and Trump name-dropping, is still obsessed with the fact that Pete Buttigieg is gay, progressive and pro-choice.  (By the way, Jeffress’s defense of Mike Pence here does not seem to hold-up when compared to past Pence statements on the subject).

Jack Graham is hanging out with the “My Pillow” guy:

I am not sure if Paula White has any followers among the separated families on the border, but if she does, they are going to have a hard time taking her advice here:

 

Pete Buttigieg Slams Evangelicals for Supporting Trump

His remarks start at the 11:35 mark:

Sadly, everything he says here about Trump and evangelicals is correct.

The evangelicals who support Trump should take Buttigieg’s remarks seriously.  He is the latest commentator to expose the dark side of evangelical politics.

Expect Trump’s court evangelicals to double down today.  Perhaps some stuff similar to this:

 

Today’s *Washington Post* Piece on Trump and Evangelicals

Trump court evangelicals

If Pew Research is correct, Donald Trump is more popular among white evangelicals who regularly attend church and less popular among those who do not.  I tried to explain this in a piece at today’s Washington Post “Made by History” column.  Here is a taste:

Many white evangelical churchgoers now see the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade as equivalent to their call to share the Gospel with unbelievers. They subscribe to the message that the only way to live out evangelical faith in public is to vote for the candidates who will most effectively execute the 40-year-old Christian right playbook.

The movement’s message is so strong that even when pastors oppose the politicization of their religion, the message is not likely to persuade congregants. Indeed, many white evangelical pastors do not preach politics from their pulpit. Some speak boldly against the idolatrous propensity of their congregations to seek political saviors.

But these pastors cannot control the messaging their flocks imbibe after they leave church on Sunday. And a massive Christian right messaging machine targets these Americans with precision. Ministries and nonprofit organizations, driven by conservative political agendas, bombard the mailboxes, inboxes and social media feeds of ordinary evangelicals. Many of these organizations appeal to long-standing evangelical fears about cultural decline or provide selective historical evidence that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a “Christian nation,” even though this never was true.

Evangelicals filter what they hear during weekly sermons through Fox News and conservative talk radio, producing an approach to political engagement that looks more like the Republican Party than the Kingdom of God.

None of this is new. People in the pews (or in the case of evangelical megachurches, the chairs), have always been selective in how they apply their pastor’s sermons in everyday life. Evangelical Christians, from the Puritans to the present, have always mixed traditional Christian teachings with more non-Christian sources as they cultivate their religious lives. Today, however, cable television and social media expose white evangelicals to ideas that come from outside the church but that claim to be driven by Christianity at an unprecedented rate.

Read the entire piece here.

Thoughts on Mike Pompeo and Queen Esther

Here is Mike Pompeo talking with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN):

Sarah Pulliam Bailey gets us up to speed at The Washington Post.  Read here piece here.

Here are some really random thoughts about Pompeo’s remarks:

The fact that CBN asked Pompeo to compare Trump to Queen Esther in interesting in and of itself.  Let’s be clear:  Pompeo was responding to a question, not offering-up his religious views on Middle East foreign policy in an unsolicited fashion.

CBN has a long history of trying to connect biblical prophecy to developments in the Middle East.  The people at CBN believe, along with millions of other evangelicals, that God still has a special place in His plan for the nation of Israel.  The establishment of the state of Israel will be a sign that Jesus Christ’s return is coming.  This theology is often described as dispensationalism.  Those at CBN understand their mission in terms of 1 Chronicles 12:32.  In this Old Testament passage, David builds an army at Hebron to overthrow King Saul.  It says that “the men from Issachar” were men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do….”  Today CBN wants to “understand the times” so that it can help evangelicals win the culture war and shape foreign policy.

Pompeo’s answer reveals that he also believes God still has a plan for Israel.  His answer makes it clear that he favors a pro-Israel foreign policy partially for dispensational or “end times” reasons.  It does not surprise me that he would see Iran as Haman and Esther as Trump.  What is most telling is that Pompeo is not running for office (like Trump) and thus does not have to appeal to evangelicals to shore-up an electoral base for 2020.   Unlike Trump, he seems to really believe this stuff.

One illustration of the evangelical love of Israel comes from Peter Lillback, the President of Westminster Theological Seminary, an evangelical Reformed seminary in the Philadelphia area. In 2011, Lillback wrote an entire book arguing that George Washington was a supporter of Israel.  Here is one of his arguments: “If there had been no George Washington, there would have been no American Independence.  If there had been no American Independence there would have been no United States.  If there had been no United States, there would have no super-power to support the existence of Israel.  If there has been no super-power to support Israel, there would be no Israel.”  He then concludes that George Washington was part of God’s plan for “the destiny of Israel.”

Trump has also been compared to King Cyrus. Some evangelicals make this comparison metaphorically—Trump is a pagan ruler who set the evangelical church free from the captivity of the Obama administration much in the same way that Cyrus, a pagan ruler, set the Israelites free from Babylonian bondage.  Others apply the Cyrus example to Israel.  Mike Evans, a Christian Zionist, has said that God used Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem much in the same way God used Cyrus to advance biblical prophecy as related to a future for Israel.  I wrote extensively about this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

It is worth noting that Harry Truman was also hailed as a King Cyrus after the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Back in 2012, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu gave Barack Obama a copy of the Book of Esther.  It was a clear message that Obama, according to Netanyahu, was NOT acting as an Esther in his support of Iran over Israel.

Many evangelicals compared Sarah Palin to Queen Esther when she was John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate in 2008.  (She would save Christian America from the threat of an Obama administration and secularism.

Abraham Lincoln was compared to Queen Esther for freeing the slaves.  (He was also compared to Moses).

And that brings my random thought to an end.  🙂

Pew Research: White Evangelical Churchgoers Continue to Support Trump

Trump Beleive me

Over at The Huffington Post, religion writer Carol Kuruvilla has a piece on the recent Pew Research report on white evangelicals and Donald Trump.  The piece includes analysis from Daniel K. Williams, Janelle Wong, and yours truly.

Here is a taste:

John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College and the author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, told HuffPost he’s not surprised that white evangelicals’ support has remained firm more than two years into Trump’s presidency. As long as Trump continues to deliver on issues important to white evangelicals ― appointing conservative federal judges, defending religious liberty, and keeping the economy strong ― Fea believes this support will continue.

“While I am sure some white evangelicals have turned away in light of his constant lies, divisive tweets, race-baiting, and national emergency declaration, most white evangelicals are indistinguishable from the Republican Party, which continues to support Trump heavily,” Fea wrote in an email. 

“As an evangelical myself, the difference between 78% and 69% is generally meaningless. The number is still too large,” Fea added.

Pew’s recent analysis also suggested that white evangelicals who regularly attend church tend to be more supportive of Trump than less frequent attendees. This was also true of white Catholics. On the other hand, white mainline Protestants tended to have more mixed views about the president.

Read the entire piece here.

Even White Evangelicals Oppose Trump’s Bible-Signing

Trump BIbles

Check out journalist Joanna Piacenza piece at Morning Consult.  According to a Morning Consult poll, most white evangelicals think that Trump’s signing of Bibles at an Alabama Baptist church earlier this month was “inappropriate.”  U.S. adults, Republicans, Christians, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants also think Trump’s signing of Bibles was “inappropriate.” The only identity group that thinks the president’s signing of Bible is appropriate are Trump voters, but only by a 43% to 42% margin.

Read the piece here.  I was happy to help Piacenza with her story.

If Only Adam and Eve Had Guns…

adam-and-eve

The Onion tackles this question.  A taste:

HOUSTON—In what they described as scriptural evidence of the right to bear arms, leading figures among the religious right gathered Wednesday to issue a statement arguing that Adam and Eve would never have been banished from the Garden of Eden if they had owned guns.

Read the entire piece here.

How Do We “Render Unto Caesar” in a Democracy?

CaesarThe following exchange takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22: 16-22.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[b] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Several Trump evangelicals are using this verse to justify their support for the POTUS.

Over at the Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz asks a question about coins:

So how might we hear Matthew 22:21 differently if we’re looking at the metallic relief of a long-dead president who held limited power for a relatively short period of time, rather than that of a living emperor with the hubris to believe himself a figure of unimpeachable power?

Great question.

Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University, adds:

Perhaps we’d then hear “render unto Caesar” as a reminder that, if American Christians owe limited allegiance to any secular authority, they owe it to no one person, but to the American people, who govern themselves through elected representatives sworn to protect the Constitution. The same Constitution that keeps even presidents from benefiting financially from their position, from obstructing the work of those who investigate lawbreaking, or from inventing fake national emergencies in order to subvert the work of those who make laws.

So render to God what is God’s: your image-bearing self commanded to love other image-bearers. And render to Trump what is Trump’s: your responsibilities as an American citizen to dissent from unwise and unjust uses of American power and to hold American demagogues accountable for their attempts to play Caesar.

Read Gehrz’s entire piece here.  It deserves a wide readership, especially for his thoughts on court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s use of this verse.

Meacham: At least Trump didn’t sign the Bibles in red ink

Watch presidential historian Jon Meacham talking to Joe Scarborough about Trump signing Bibles and evangelical supporters of Trump.  Here.

I agree with Meacham, but I am disappointed in him.  Last year I sat next to him at dinner before his speaking engagement at Messiah College and told him all about my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I am OUTRAGED by the fact that he does not cite the book here!    🙂  (I will give Joe a break here since I have never talked to him face-to-face about Believe Me!).

People Who are Afraid Often Need a Strongman to Protect Them

Believe Me 3dIn Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpI argue that in supporting Donald Trump in 2016 white evangelicals privileged a politics of fear over a politics of hope.  People who are afraid turn to political strongmen for protection.

Over at The Atlantic, Ron Brownstein notes that “I’ll protect you” will be Trump’s 2020 reelection message.  Here is a taste:

In his marathon speech to a gathering of conservative activists last weekend, Donald Trump unloaded more than 16,000 words, according to the official White House transcript.

But amid all the meandering and asides, the belittling taunts (“Little Shifty Schiff” for Democratic Representative Adam Schiff) and geysers of grievance, Trump may have synthesized the essence of his reelection strategy in just three words toward the back end of his two-hour harangue: “I’ll protect you.”

With that concise phrase, Trump revealed volumes about his view of the electorate and the coalition that he hopes will carry him to a second term. The comment underscored his determination to convince his followers of a two-stage proposition: First, that they are “under siege,” as he put it, by an array of forces that he presented as either hostile to their interests or contemptuous of their values, and second, that only he can shield them from those threats.

That dark and martial message shows that Trump continues to prioritize energizing his core supporters—blue-collar, older, and nonurban whites uneasy about demographic, cultural, and economic change—even at the price of further alienating voters dismayed or disgusted by his behavior as president. It also shows that, even as an incumbent, Trump is drawn far more toward running on fear than on hope. 

Sounds familiar.

Read the entire piece here.

What Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress Said Tonight on Fox Business News

It’s been a “great” week for the President of the United States.  Think about it:

  1.  Trump’s former lawyer testified before Congress and called president a liar, a racist, an adulterer, a con man, and a cheat.  And then he produced evidence which seems to implicate Trump in federal crimes.
  2. Trump went to Vietnam to meet with the North Korean dictator.  While he was there, the North Korean dictator told Trump that he was unaware that an American college student was imprisoned and tortured in his country.  Trump believed what the dictator told him, stating “I will take him at his word.”  The parents of the now-dead college student are outraged at this act of insensitivity.
  3. New York Times story uncovered that Donald Trump insisted that his son-in-law be given a top-secret security clearance despite the fact that intelligence officials and the White House top lawyer said this what a bad idea.  This is blatant nepotism.  The story also proves that Trump has lied about this on multiple occasions.

You would think the court evangelicals might lay low on a week like this.  Nope.  Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church at Dallas, went on Fox Business News tonight and praised Trump:

There are so, so many problems with this video:

  1. Jeffress takes a victory lap because 80% of Americans claim to believe in God.  He says anyone who does not believe in God is a moron.  As long as Rev. Jeffress is throwing around Bible verses, perhaps he should consider Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. ”  How does he reconcile this verse with his triumphant running-of-the mouth about a Pew poll that says 80% of Americans believe in God?
  2. If Robert Jeffress is a minister of the Gospel, why does he condemn Democrats and others on the “Left” who do not believe in God by attacking them with such provocative and angry rhetoric?  Is this helping him reach the lost souls he claims to care so much about?  His choice to take a pay check from Fox News and serve as the conservative network’s evangelical culture warrior seems counterproductive to his calling a soul-winner.
  3.  Jeffress continues to make the claim that the United States was founded and continues to be a Christian nation.  He is wrong.  I address these claims in both Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In Believe Me, I engage Jeffress directly.  Much of his understanding of American history comes from political activist David Barton.
  4. Lou Dobbs’s decision to talk to Jeffress about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church is thick with irony.  Dobbs is talking to the pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the United States.  He does not seem to realize that the Southern Baptist Convention is plagued with sexual abuse scandals right now.  Jeffress has said nothing to condemn the sexual abuse scandals in his denomination and he says nothing about them in this interview.  Shame on him!
  5. Finally, for a a nuanced view on late-term abortions, see Michael Wear‘s recent piece in The Atlantic.

Evangelicals Love Trump’s “National Emergency” Declaration

Border WallPerhaps you have seen the new NPR/PBS/Marist Poll on Americans reaction to Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” on the Mexican border. I used this poll to begin my lecture yesterday at the University of Southern California.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here are a few things worth noting:

  • 61% of all Americans disapprove of Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency.  36% approve.
  • But only 26% of white evangelicals disapprove of Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency.   67% approve

 

  • 39% of Americans believe that there is a national emergency at the Mexican border.  58% of Americans do not believe this.
  • But 70% of white evangelicals believe that there is a national emergency at the Mexican border.  22% of white evangelicals do not believe this.

 

  • 36% of Americans believe that Trump is “properly using” his presidential powers by declaring a national emergency on the border.  57% do not.
  • But 69% of white evangelicals believe that Trump is “properly using” his presidential powers by declaring a national emergency on the border.  23% do not.

 

  • 54% of Americans said that they are “less likely” to vote for Trump in 2020 because he has declared a national emergency to build a border wall.  33% of Americans said they were more “likely” to vote for Trump because of the national emergency and the wall.  12% of Americans said the wall will not make any difference in how they vote in 2020.
  • Only 22% of white evangelicals said that they are “less likely” to vote for Trump in 2020 because he has declared a national emergency to build a border wall.  60% said they are more likely to vote for Trump in 2020 because he wants to build a border wall.  15% of white evangelicals said the wall will not make any difference in how they vote in 2020.

These are very revealing statistics.  They tell us a lot about white evangelicals today.  Why are they so supportive of Trump’s national emergency and his border wall and why are they so out of step with the rest of the American population?  Read the report here and draw your own conclusions.

As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, white evangelicals are fearful that their white Christian nation is eroding and they believe Trump’s immigration policies are the best way to save it.

Thanks to John Haas for calling this poll to my attention.

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A Morning with Christian College Provosts and Student Life Leaders

Giboney

Justin Giboney of the AND Campaign.

I was in St. Petersburg, Florida yesterday with the provosts and student development administrators from schools affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  I spoke at a session titled “Christian Colleges in the Age of Trump: Challenges and Opportunities.”  Thanks to CCCU Vice President Rick Ostrander for the invitation.

At some point I might post or publish my lecture, but here is a taste:

As Rick mentioned, in June 2018 I published Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In that book I tried to explain why white evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Trump in 2016.  I argue that they preferred Trump for three reasons.  First, they privileged an approach to public life defined by fear over an approach to public life defined by hope.  Second, and somewhat related, they privileged the pursuit of political power as a means of bringing change to American society over an approach to civic engagement characterized by humility.  And third, white evangelicals privileged an unhealthy nostalgia for a Christian golden age that is never coming back, or may have never existed in the first place, over a hard, honest, and difficult look into the past.

I have been spending a lot of time on the road with Believe Me, mostly at independent bookstores and college and university campuses.  When I visit these places, I usually make my case for a few minutes and then sit down to listen to people’s stories. Folks tell me why they think Trump is good for America.  Others talk about the spiritual and emotional wounds they have suffered from Trump-supporters in their churches.  My wife tells me that listening is not one of my strong suits, but as I tried my best to overcome this social deficiency in places like Lynchburg, Virginia, Charleston, West Virginia, Louisville, Kentucky, and Columbus, Ohio, it brought more nuance to some of the arguments I made in the book.  At the same time, my experience with readers in these places and others like them also convinced me that the book’s central message is right.  (Not all reviewers agreed!)

We are now two years into the Trump presidency.  My task this morning is not to revisit my arguments in Believe Me.  Donald Trump is now the President of the United States.  I will focus instead on what Trump’s administration has wrought–and how Christian colleges might respond in the next two years and beyond.

Like any good evangelical jeremiad—I have three points.

First, Donald Trump has exacerbated a longstanding American propensity for conflict and incivility. And Christian colleges are ideally suited to enter the breach.

Second, in the Trump administration truth, evidence, and critical thinking are under attack.  But Christian colleges must be places where these things are central to our missions.

Third, Christian colleges must not neglect the church.

I shared this session with Justin Giboney, a co-founder of the AND Campaign, an organization committed to educating and organizing Christians for civic and cultural engagement that “results in better representation, more just and compassionate policies and a healthier political culture.

Giboney unleashed a jeremiad of his own.  One observer said that he had never seen a standing ovation before at a morning session of chief academic officers! As Thomas Jefferson said about his debate with Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton: The Musical, Giboney “brought the thunder.”

GIboney slammed those evangelicals who claim that the Bible does not teach social justice.  He pointed out that we all believe in social justice, especially when it affects us and our loved ones.  In other words, the problem is not a belief in social justice, but the failure to apply social justice equally.

He challenged Christians to engage public and political life, but to resist making politics “an ultimate thing.” The political Right claims to be about truth.  The political Left claims to be about love.  But the choice between truth and love is never a choice that a Christian should be forced to make.  It is time to “disrupt” the political arena for the sake of a better Gospel witness in the public square.

Giboney added that attempts to be always conservative or always liberal on all issues is “intellectual lazy.”  We cannot be “ideological zombies.”  For Christians, “partisan loyalty” is not “Gospel loyalty.” Christians must always be on the right side of history–“redemptive history.”

Finally, Giboney criticized the “mob mentality” that he sees in American politics today.  Mobs, he argued, always judge people on group identity.  They are successful when they demonize the enemy.  Mobs do not want to reconcile with the other side because they believe the other side will never change.   Mobs must always be judged by clear thinking and reason.

Check out more of Giboney’s work at the AND Campaign.  I would encourage you to invite him to speak on your campus.

As for me, I am back home for a couple days. Then it is a quick visit to Southern California for a lecture at USC before coming back to Messiah College to enjoy our annual Humanities Symposium!

What Happens When Evangelical Leaders Get Too Close to Power?

Team of VipersLast week we introduced you to Team of Vipers, White House staffer Cliff Sims‘s book about life in the Trump administration.  Sims, a conservative evangelical and a pastor’s son, confirms just about everything I wrote about and warned-against in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Now Sims is talking to Christianity Today writer Ed Stetzer about the evangelical leaders who have gravitated to the Trump’s court.   (I have called them the court evangelicals).  It is very revealing.

Here is a taste of Stetzer’s interview with Sims:

Ed: In the Atlantic article, you were critical of the President’s faith advisors. (Full disclosure, I was asked to be on that faith advisory council and declined.) From the outside, it’s hard to gauge their impact, though I have several friends in that group and they tell me they are being heard. What would you say?

Cliff: Well, first of all I think it’s important to understand how these people came into Trump’s orbit.

For Trump, TV is the be all and end all. So, if you’re on TV, you’re at the top of your field. Whether it’s in business and entertainment. That’s why he had The Apprentice. Or in politics, if you were the best and the brightest reporter, you’d be on TV every day. For him, that same principle, I think, applied to the faith space.

When he sees someone like Paula White on TV, he says to himself, “These speakers must be the best. These must be the people that are at the top of their field.” That’s kind of how he appointed people to these positions. It wasn’t like he agreed with a pastor’s doctrine or anything like that—I don’t think there was much more to the decision than him seeing the individuals on TV.

There’s a story that I tell in the book that really stuck out to me very early on in the White House and made me realize that proximity to power does strange things even to pastors and ministers. When we were trying to plan the first prayer breakfast, Sarah Sanders and I were working together to organize speakers, and I wanted David Platt to come and speak at it.

I talked to David about it, and I don’t think he would mind me saying that he was conflicted about that decision. I think one of the reasons for this hesitation was because when pastors get involved in the political space in a public way, there are drawbacks and it can put pastors in a position where people suddenly view them through a political lens. There’s just a lot of baggage that comes along with such a decision.

But, I was talking to people inside the White House about him coming to speak and someone who interfaces with the faith advisory council inside the White House happened to mention this to Paula White. Paula came to the White House and had a meeting with them and basically trashed David and said something to the effect of, “He believes that the American dream is evil. The President’s going to be really mad when he finds out that you’re bringing in someone to speak at the prayer breakfast who believes that the American dream is evil.”

She was basically just undermining him and trying to stop him from being the one who was chosen to speak.

I think that was the most obvious example that I saw of the back biting that I experienced in the White House between staffers. It was really no different on the faith advisory council. Some of the individuals on the council really wanted to make sure that they were the only ones who got close to the President. They wanted to ensure that no one else came in and stole their access or spotlight away. This happened to the point that a pastor was willing to trash another pastor to keep them from having an opportunity, presumably, to preach the gospel in front of the President of the United States, his senior staff, and, frankly, the whole country. I was just really taken aback by that.

Unfortunately, I think these dynamics were a kind of social rule among the group. I don’t want to paint them all with a broad brush—I think there are people with good hearts and with good intentions who are trying to be a picture of the gospel in a place that can be totally devoid of it. They deserve credit and don’t deserve to be smeared. But, I did see a lot of things that made me very uncomfortable.

It’s sad to me that faith leaders were not immune to the side effects that proximity to power had on me and other people in the White House.

Read the entire interview here.  Another segment of this interview will be published soon.   (Thanks to Ed Stetzer for calling this interview to my attention).

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