Please, Let’s Stop the “Trump’s Evangelical Base is Fracturing” Articles. It’s Not Going to Happen

Trump Beleive me

A few evangelical leaders were not happy when Trump pulled out of Syria.  Most of them, however, have made peace with the decision.  Court evangelical Franklin Graham, who originally opposed the move, now says that he respects Trump’s decision and won’t “second-guess” him on Syria. Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Jr. have been silent.  Tony “Mulligan” Perkins spoke out against the remove of American troops from Syria, but he has been pretty quiet since Trump went to the Values Voter Summit and promised $50 million in aid to Syrian Christians.

Would Trump evangelicals like to see the president to do more for the Kurds? Of course.  But Trump’s policy in Syria will have very little bearing on white evangelical support for the president.  Why?

  1. Most evangelicals do not see foreign policy as a primary issue informing how they will vote.  Many rank and file evangelicals are not closely following developments in Syria.
  2. Most evangelicals will stick with Trump as long as he remains strong on conservative Supreme Court nominations, opposition to abortion, and religious liberty for American evangelicals.  As I told NPR’s The Takeaway last week, religious liberty for Christians in the Middle East is a tertiary issue at best.
  3. There is no Democratic candidate right now who will attract 2016 Trump voters in large numbers.

Yesterday, I told all of this to Politico reporter Gabby Orr.  Here is her piece.  None of what I said made the cut.  I am guessing that my thoughts did not fit well with her focus on the potential break-up of Trump’s evangelical base.

The issue here is not whether the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals will vote for Trump in 2020.  They will.  (Assuming, of course,  that he survives impeachment in the Senate). The issue is whether impeachment, Trump’s behavior over the last four years, and, to a much lesser extent, Syria will prompt just enough (maybe 5-10%?) white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 to vote for a Democrat, a third candidate, or not vote at all in 2020.  Orr’s reporting seems to suggest that the Trump campaign is aware of this.  She writes:

“If he’s going to win in 2020,” said the longtime Trump friend, “he has to be north of the 81 percent [of white evangelicals] he won in 2016. I’m not suggesting that the polling is all of a sudden going to show that his support is plummeting because of Syria. But if it stays stagnant, he’s a one-term president.”

Just like in 2016, Trump’s opponent will make all the difference.  If it is Joe Biden, evangelicals may feel more comfortable voting third party or not voting at all.  Perhaps some will even vote for Biden.  But if it is Warren or Sanders, expect most white evangelical 2016 Trump voters to reject the progressivism of these New England candidates and vote for Trump.

“Welcoming the Stranger”

border-control-crisis

Back in July, I spoke with journalist Menachem Wecker about evangelicals and immigration.  I completely forgot about this conversation until I saw Wecker’s recent piece at Religion & Politics: “For Many Immigration Activits, Welcoming ‘Strangers’ Is an Act of Faith.’  Here is a taste:

Among American evangelical Christians, there are longstanding and deep divisions on immigration and refugees, John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, says. Fea is the author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. The spectrum of evangelical views on immigration range from Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and author of the 2013 op-ed “The Bible’s case for immigration reform,” and the National Association of Evangelicals on the left, to groups on the right like Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, Fea says.

Those in the same camp as Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration largely oppose granting citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants affected by the DACA program, and would like to see borders either closely defended or severely restricted, Fea says. “[They] claim that these verses are manipulated by the evangelical opponents to serve their political interests,” he says. “Most claim that these verses about welcoming the stranger do not apply to illegal immigrants, because these immigrants are breaking the law.”

The essential evangelical division here, which divides along political lines, pits Christian compassion against rule of law. “The evangelical differences on immigration have been around for several decades, but right now politics seems to be shaping everything,” Fea says. “Almost all of the evangelicals, who support Trump’s Supreme Court nominations, [and] move of the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem … also oppose all forms of illegal immigration and are fearful about the arrival of these refugees. If they do have any moral qualms or pricks of conscience about the separation of families at the border or the treatment of refugees in detention centers, they do not speak up about it.”

Many white evangelicals, he says, believe that a wall is the only solution to the problem on the southern border. “They do not want to jeopardize their access to political power, because Trump is delivering on abortion and Supreme Court justices, and other issues that are more important to them than immigration reform,” Fea says. “Evangelical Christianity in America has been divided for a long time, but the immigration debate, and Trump’s handling of it, reveals this division perhaps more than anything else.”

Read the entire piece here.

David French: “These Evangelicals are just Trumpists now”

I agree with David French here:

I think French is referring to this recent PRRI survey.

Emma Green provides some context at The Atlantic.

Episode 56: Evangelicals and Oil

PodcastWho knew that evangelical Christianity and the emergence of the American oil industry were so intimately linked? In this episode, host John Fea explores what it means to be an evangelical and whether scholarly debates over the term help us to better understand the role played by evangelicals throughout American history. He is joined by Notre Dame historian Darren Dochuk, who discusses his new book, Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America.

Christian Right Leader Urges Trump to Clean-Up His Act

Wallace Henley is the Associate Pastor at Houston Baptist Church, a 69,000 member megachurch.  He worked as a White House aide in the Nixon administration, served as president of the Alabama Baptist Convention, and was an award-winning journalist for The Birmingham News.  He writes Christian books and seems to have a following on the Christian Right.   Henley is a columnist at the Christian Post website. His forthcoming book The Trump Enigma (Thomas Nelson, 2020) appears to be a defense of Trump.

In his 2005 book, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie, historian Wayne Flynt writes about Henley:

President Richard Nixon had portrayed himself as a deeply religious man by bringing ministers to the White House to preach . The impressive surroundings and aura of power overwhelmed visiting Baptist ministers as normally cautious as Billy Graham.  One young Alabama Baptist flew particularly close to the alluring flame of presidential power.  Wallace Henley was a Samford University graduate, minister, and religion reporter for the Birmingham News when he became active in the 1968 campaign.  Three years later the White House invited Henley to become assistant director of the cabinet committee on education.  Later he became director of public and congressional affairs in the Justice Department.  Although Henley could not have known it at the time, he was also a pawn in a political strategy.  Nixon believed that Alabama governor George Wallace was the chief barrier to his reelection in 1972.  By splitting the antiliberal vote between himself and Wallace, Nixon feared a Democratic victory.  The appointment of southerners like Henley was designed to appeal to Southern Baptists and neutralize Wallace’s popularity in the South.  Like John Buchanan, Henley initially defended the president during the Watergate scandals but quickly realized the ethical quagmire in which he found himself.  He resigned in 1973 and wrote a book (Enter at Your Own Risk, 1974) to explain how he had allowed his support of Nixon’s political ideology and the trappings of presidential power sucked him into a cynical world where politicians used religion to manipulate a gullible public.  The autobiography was the first step on a path that led Henley back into the pulpit, to the presidency of the state convention, and ultimately into the charismatic Baptist ministry.

Henley does not seem to have any real beef with Donald Trump’s policies, but he is upset about his language.  He recently wrote an “Open Letter” to Trump at the Christian Post.  Here is a taste:

Along with millions of people of many faiths I thank you for the bold stand you have taken for religious freedom. The eloquent speech you gave at the United Nations was one of your finest moments—in fact, one of the finest of any president.

I have worked in the White House, and I have written about the presidency since the 1970s, but have never seen nor heard a president of the United States so powerfully defend the right of people to choose what they believe about God and to worship freely.

I also join my voice to the millions so grateful to you for your unrelenting defense of the fundamental right to life of the unborn. Your firm stance against the abortion movement that has escalated to shocking levels is crucial. It is unconscionable that there are those in the industry who are willing to take human life almost at the point of birth.

Christians of many denominations and movements, along with many in other religions are thankful for your leadership in these areas.

Nevertheless, many Christians remain troubled by your careless speech….

You are in the Oval Office largely on the strength of the conservative Christian vote, and I appeal to you not to continue to insult and embarrass us through your speeches and actions. Rather than contributing to the coarseness of contemporary culture, set a presidential example that elevates discourse.

In short, sir, you need to clean up your act.

Last summer, at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, you invoked the darkest of imprecations when you twice used the G-damn word in your speech. The evangelical Christians who support you have as their greatest passion that of helping people escape eternal damnation through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Many, when they heard or read that horrible curse coming from your mouth felt literal pain. Democrat Paul Hardesty, a state senator from a coal-mining district, who, though a Democrat, supports you, spoke for many of us when he wrote you that there is “no place in society… where that type of speech should be used or handled. Your comments were not presidential.”

Nor were they Christian.

Mr. President, you said once that you had never felt a need to ask forgiveness. You have one now. And maybe more as you allow the Spirit of God to search your soul. (Psalm 139:23)

Many evangelicals and other Christians take seriously Daniel 2:21 that says that it is God who “removes kings and establishes kings.” If that verse is true and conveys a principle applied across history, then bring yourself completely under His rulership, and you will be a blessing to the nation and world.

Read the rest here.

Henley talks about the letter in the video above.  I am not sure if this interview is noteworthy, but it is interesting to see pro-Trump Christian Righters speaking-out against Trump’s discourse.  Henley’s line about the Old Testament prophet Amos is worth considering.  He seems to have learned something from his days in the Nixon White House.

Thoughts on a Discouraging Weekend

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I was on Fall Break this weekend and probably spent way too much time reading and watching the news, following the Values Voter Summit, and tweeting.  With the exception of the beautiful central Pennsylvania weather, I  leave the weekend pretty discouraged.

First, there was Beto O’Rourke’s remarks about removing the tax exempt status from churches, charities, and institutions that uphold traditional marriage.  Read my posts here and here and here.  I know that O’Rourke has no chance of winning, but his statement at the CNN Equality Forum has fired up pro-Trump conservatives.  I did not watch all of Tony Perkins’s Values Voter Summit this weekend, but in the time I did watch I noticed that Trump, Oliver North, and Todd Starnes all used the remarks to rally the base.

Will the removal of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations be bad for the church?  Not necessarily.  Jesus said that if Christians are persecuted they should consider themselves blessed.  When Christians are persecuted they share in Christ’s sufferings and join “the prophets who were before you.”  We enter into a community of saints whose members followed Jesus in circumstances that were much more difficult than what American Christians are facing today.  This, I might add, is one of the reasons why more Christians should study history.  We need to know more about this communion of saints as it has unfolded over time.

In other words, Christians who believe that God is committed to preserving His church should have nothing to fear.  This does not mean that the church should not make intelligent and civil arguments to defend religious liberty, but, as I wrote in one of the posts above, it should also prepare for suffering.

Will the removal of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations be bad for the United States?   Yes.  On this point I agree with  University of Washington law professor John Inazu.  Read his recent piece at The Atlantic: “Democrats Are Going to Regret Beto’s Stance on Conservative Churches.”  Here is a taste :

First, pollsters should ask voters about O’Rourke’s comments and the issue of tax-exempt status, both now and in the exit polls for the 2020 presidential election. We can be certain this issue will be used in Republican political ads, especially in congressional districts that Obama won in 2012, but that Trump won in 2016. And I suspect this issue and O’Rourke’s framing of it will lead to increased turnout of evangelicals in states that matter to Democrats, such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. O’Rourke’s comment may quickly fall out of the national news cycle, but it won’t be forgotten among churches, religious organizations, and religious voters. And if the Democrats lose in 2020, this issue and their handling of it will likely be a contributing factor. That will be true regardless of who the eventual Republican or Democratic candidates are.

Second, journalists should ask O’Rourke and every other Democratic candidate how this policy position would affect conservative black churches, mosques and other Islamic organizations, and orthodox Jewish communities, among others. It is difficult to understand how Democratic candidates can be “for” these communities—advocating tolerance along the way—if they are actively lobbying to put them out of business.

Third, policy analysts should assess the damage O’Rourke’s proposal would cause to the charitable sector. O’Rourke’s stance—if played out to its end—would decimate the charitable sector. It is certainly the case that massive amounts of government funding flow through religious charitable organizations in the form of grants and tax exemptions. But anyone who thinks this is simply a pass-through that can be redirected to government providers or newly established charitable networks that better conform to Democratic orthodoxies is naive to the realities of the charitable sector.

Read the entire piece here.

Second, there is Elizabeth Warren.  Here is what I wrote at the end of this piece:

Warren seems to suggest that a man who believes in traditional marriage will not be able to find a woman to marry because women who uphold traditional views on marriage are few and far between.  Really? This answer reveals her total ignorance of evangelical culture in the United States. (It may also reveal her ignorance of middle-American generally).  If she gets the Democratic nomination she will be painted as a Harvard elitist who is completely out of touch with the American people.

If you watch the video, and interpret Warren’s body language, it is hard to see her come across as anything but smug.  But my primary criticism here is political.  Warren has a legitimate chance to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.  If she gets the nomination, and hopes to win the general election, she needs to convince middle America that she wants to be the president of all America.  Her response to this question about gay marriage reminds me of something I wrote in Believe Me about the Hillary Clinton campaign against Donald Trump in 2016:

Though Clinton would never come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign.  In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.”  Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions.  During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Clinton was also quiet on matters pertaining to religious liberty.  While she paid lip service to the idea whenever Trump made comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, she never addressed the religious liberty issues facing many evangelicals.   This was especially the case with marriage.  Granted, evangelicals should not have expected Clinton to defend traditional marriage or promise to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, but she did not seem willing to support something akin to what law professor and author John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.”  The question of how to make room for people with religiously motivated beliefs that run contrary to the ruling in Obergefell is still being worked out, and the question is not an easy one to parse.  But when Hillary claimed that her candidacy was a candidacy for “all Americans,” it seemed like an attempt to reach her base, not to reach across the aisle.  Conservative evangelicals were not buying it.

Here is my point:  If my conversations with evangelicals are any indication, there seem to be some of them who voted for Trump in 2016 and are now looking for a reason–any reason– to vote for another candidate in 2020.  This is obviously not a significant number of evangelical voters, but after the close election in 2016 we should have learned that every vote counts.  If O’Rourke, Warren, and other Democratic candidates keep up their assaults on religious liberty, these voters will vote again for Trump.  The Christian Right will use these assaults to rally the base and perhaps get some pro-Trumpers who did not vote in 2016 to pull a lever in 2020.

Third, as noted above, I watched some of the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit” this weekend.  I tweeted a lot about it.  Check out my feed here.  Last night Donald Trump gave a speech at the summit.  You can watch it here.

Trump spent most of his talk lying about the impeachment process.  He demonized his political opponents.  At one point he mocked the physical appearance of Adam Schiff.  He used profanity.  And the evangelicals in the room cheered:

 

A few folks on Twitter this weekend chastised me for attacking the president and his evangelical supporters.  They told me that I was not being “Christ-like” and suggested that I am being just as “uncivil” as Trump.  I will admit that I am still angry about the way my fellow evangelicals have rallied around this president.  Anger is wrong, and I am still wrestling with how to balance “righteous anger” with just pure, sinful, and unhealthy “anger.”

But I keep coming back to the limits of “civility.” Here is what I said to a group of evangelical academics last weekend at Lee University. I said something similar to a group of Christian college provosts, chief academic officers, and student life-leaders in January:

Donald Trump has exacerbated a longstanding American propensity for conflict and incivility.

I think many in the room today would agree when I say that Christian Colleges must continue doing what we’ve always done, that is stepping into the breach as agents of healing in the places, communities, neighborhoods and regions where we have influence. Sadly, the fact that so many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump means that we may have to go back to square one. We need to keep reminding our constituencies and our students about the work of reconciliation across racial lines, gender lines, political lines, class lines, denominational lines. We must model empathy and civility. This means resisting the historic American propensity for conflict—the usable past that Trump exploits. We much chart another—more countercultural—path.

Our schools must be places of prayerful conversation, not cable news-shouting matches. Conversation is essential on our campuses. We need to be intentional about creating spaces for civil dialogue. We must learn to listen. We must be hospitable. But it is also important to remember that dialogue does not always mean that there must be a moral equivalence between the two parties engaged in the exchange. We come to any conversation from a location, and that is the historic teachings of biblical faith. We can debate whether Trump’s policies are good for America or the church, but when the president of the United States engages in endless lies, petty acts of jealousy and hatred, racist name-calling, and certain policies that undermine the teachings of Jesus Christ—we must reject such behavior and model an alternative way. At Christian colleges we cannot allow those defending such behavior and policies to operate on an equal moral footing. When Trump’s antics are celebrated by MAGA-hat wearing white evangelicals at rallies screaming “Lock Her Up” and then those same Christians inform pollsters that they are “evangelical or born-again” as they leave the voting booth, something is wrong. Something that should concern us deeply.

Maybe I’ll feel better by the end of the week.  I am seeing my daughters next weekend, I get to teach U.S. history to some great students this week, I will hear some Messiah College history alums tell their stories on Thursday at my department’s annual “Career Night,” and I will be speaking to Kansas history teachers on Monday afternoon.  There is much for which to be hopeful!

What Kind of Literature Can You Pick-Up at the Values Voter Summit?

Meadows

Here are a few of the exhibitors at the event.

American Association of Evangelicals: We wrote about one of its founders, Kelly Monroe Kullberg, here.

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: Court evangelical organization run by Franklin Graham.

Family Research Council: Home of Tony “Mulligan” Perkins.

Liberty Counsel:  Christian nationalist lawyers from Lynchburg, Virginia.  We wrote about them here.

The NRA

Regent University: Home of Christian Broadcasting Network and Pat Robertson

The Heritage Foundation

The John Birch Society: Learn about this organization here.

Wallbuilders: The organization run by David Barton, the GOP operative who uses the past to promote his present-day political agenda.

Liberty University School of Government

When you combine these organizations with the various speakers, you get a pretty good glimpse into the pro-Trump Christian Right.

Ed Stetzer is Right About CNN’s Equality Town Hall

Beto

Here is a taste of the Wheaton College professor’s recent post at Christianity Today:

I’m concerned with the clear and complete disregard around religious liberty. This term was used a few times, often with the phrase “so called” tacked on. Candidates would say they affirm religious liberty, but then describe exactly how they did not.

Elizabeth Warren was asked a revealing question: How would she respond if an “old fashioned” voter told her that they believed that marriage is between one man and one woman? She retorted with, “I’m going to assume it is a guy who said that,” before answering, “Well then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.”

There was much applause. However, she then shrugged, adding, “assuming you could find one.” The audience roared with laughter, further insinuating that any person who held such values is so out of step, bigoted, homophobic, and small minded that he could not find someone who would be willing to marry him. (See the CNN clip.)

But let’s be honest: that’s really not the issue. The issue is: Can people dissent from what is now the majority view of marriage? As we saw, Warren not only mocked those who disagreed but advocated for policies that seek to marginalize and penalize those who do hold a biblical view of marriage.

Contrary to Warren’s playing to the choir, these views are not representative of frustrated men but rather reflect a broad array of people of faith— people many Democrats have recently ignored.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Slate published an analysis of “Why Hillary Clinton Bombed with Evangelical Voters.” In the article, I said it appeared that Hillary Clinton was working hard to alienate evangelicals—and she succeeded.

Later, the news would be how evangelicals had aligned with President Trump, while neglecting the clear and obvious reality that even Slate Magazine noticed: when it comes to evangelicals, Hillary was disengaged and even alienating.

Last night’s CNN debate was a perfect example of that same alienation.

While Warren’s quip lit up social media, another candidate delivered the biggest surprise in giving voice to what many perceived to be the trajectory of religious liberty debates, long left unsaid by other Democrats. Facing a question over the tax exempt status of churches, Beto O’Rourke asserted that not only churches but any organization that opposed same-sex marriage, should lose their tax exemption.

tweeted a link to the Beto video and this comment:

2009: How is my gay marriage going to hurt you? We just want marriage equality.

2019: We want the tax exempt status of the churches, charities, and colleges revoked for your failure to change your views on gay marriage.

In 2009, the mantra was “We just want our marriage equity. We just want to be able to let love be love.” Ten years later, the goal posts have moved for many: affirm the new orthodoxy on same sex marriage—or lose tax exempt status. This is quite a striking position, considering all the institutions he mentioned (churches, charities, and colleges). That’s your religious hospital, the orphanage, the homeless shelter, and more.

Now, this was Beto O’Rourke, not every candidate. But, it is important to consider the Equality Act if we want to talk about the broader field of Democratic candidates.

Equality Act is widely supported by the Democratic political candidates for president. That act has significant implications for the very institutions that Beto did mention—charities and colleges.

At Wheaton College where I serve, we have a community covenant that aligns our life and beliefs. We affirm the biblical teaching that marriage is designed and created for one man, one woman, and one lifetime.

The Equality Act would in essence say that our beliefs are unacceptable and that we must change. 

Read the entire piece here.  We covered this story here and here.

Do Beto and Warren represent all the Democratic candidates for president?  I imagine that we find out soon.  As I mentioned here yesterday, Don Lemon’s question to Beto Rourke should be asked of all the Democratic candidates.

How might evangelicals respond if all that Stetzer proposes comes true?  I stand by what I argued in Believe Me.  The answer is not fear, the pursuit of greater political power (to the point that we put our trust in a strongman to save us), or an appeal to nostalgia.  The answer is hope, humility, and thoughtful efforts to bring about a more confident pluralism.  We might also be called to suffer. These are the things evangelicals should be thinking and praying about right now.   The answer does not lie in what is happening in Washington D.C. this weekend.

Trump Showed His Desperation Last Night in Minneapolis

I watched Trump’s rally last night in Minneapolis.  It was ugly.  This is a desperate man.

Watch:

Note: Minneapolis has one of the largest Somali populations in the United States.

In response to the rally I wrote this Twitter thread:

 

*Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House*

PenceJournalist Tom LoBianco has published a religious biography of Vice President Mike Pence.  I have not read the book, so I cannot endorse it.  But I can say that I spent significant time on the phone with LoBianco as he conducted research for the book.

He writes:

As part of my general research for this book, I relied on a handful of insightful books (and highly recommend them for anyone interested in understanding Mike Pence better).  I’ll start with Pence’s two favorite books: the Bible, and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind.  Additionally, I relied on John Fea’s tour of evangelical history and the Trump campaign, Believe Me; The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, as well as Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson’s review of the start and disbanding of the Moral Majority, Blinded by Might.  And for all Hoosier-philes, I highly recommend James Madison’s The Indiana Way.  I also feel like I found my own  bible in this process, Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story.

Trump Will Speak at the Value Voters Summit on Saturday

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Christian Broadcasting Network has the scoop.  Trump will join the following speakers at the Omni Shoreham Hotel: Gary Bauer, Bill Bennett, Sam Brownback, Sebastian Gorka, Dana Loesch, Mark Meadows, Eric Metaxas, Oliver North, Tony “Mulligan” Perkins, Dennis Prager, Steve Scalise, and Todd Starnes.

I was also interested to see that David Muselman, a student at evangelical Taylor University, will speak.  He defended Mike Pence’s visit to Taylor last May.

There are also a host of breakout sessions and breakfasts:

  • Columbia International University, an evangelical Bible school (formerly Columbia Bible College), will host a breakfast on Friday morning.  Speakers at this event will include CIU president Mark Smith and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.  You may recall that Smith was recently accused of covering-up his son’s sexual harassment when he was president of Ohio Christian University.  I have never known Columbia International University to be a such a politicized institution.  Smith appears to have taken it in this direction.
  • Todd Starnes will sign copies of his recent book in the wake of his firing from Fox News.
  • Other sessions include: “Speech, Sex, and Silenced Parents: The Darkening Landscape of American Education;” “Two Paths to Becoming a Young Conservative Influencer;” “Why Christians Should Support Israel;” “The Progressive Assault on Christian Freedom of Conscience;” “How Conservatives Can Win in 2020.”  If future historians want to see how evangelical Christians have influenced the Republican Party and vice-versa, they should read the proceedings of these sessions.

2 final comments:

  1. This will be a court evangelical-fest
  2. The evangelicals who attend this will return home very afraid.

Jim Wallis: “Trump is operating in the spirit of the anti-Christ”

Wallis with politicians

Jim Wallis with John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama

Jim Wallis, the progressive evangelical leader of Sojourners, recently said in an interview with Publishers Weekly that Donald Trump “is operating in the spirit of anti-Christ.” (Wallis was discussing the themes of his new book Christ in Crisis : Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus).

I like Jim Wallis. I have never met him, but over the past two decades I have heard him speak at Messiah College.  I agree with him on many social issues and I share his evangelical faith.  I have written for Sojourners magazine.

At times, however, I think Wallis falls into the trap of mixing religion and politics.  Too often he wants to merely replace the power of the Christian Right with the power of the Christian Left.  I tend to follow University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter on this point.  Check out his chapter on the evangelical left in To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  A taste:

When [Wallis] accuses Falwell and Robertson of being “theocrats who desire their religious agenda to be enforced through the power of the state,’ he established the criteria by which he and other politically progressive Christians are judged the same.  In its commitment to social change through politics and politically oriented social movements, in its conflation of the public with the political, in its own selective use of scripture to justify political interests, and in its confusion  of theology with national interests and identity, the Christian  Left (not least the Evangelical Left) imitates the Christian Right.  The message is obviously different, their organizational scale and popular appeal are different, and their access to media outlets are different, but in their framework, method, and style of engagement , politically progressive Christians are very similar to their politically conservative counterparts.

There is another point of similarity.  It is found in their relationship with the party system and the Democratic Party in particular.  With all sincerity, they aspire to broaden and deepen the values people bring to the political process.  But influence is never unidirectional in any relationship.  Given the resources of the Democratic Party and the special interests that drive it, there is little question that progressive Christianity is instrumentalized (or used as a means to an end) by the Democratic Party in its quest for power, just as conservative Christianity has been used for quite some time by the Republican Party. (p.147-148).

Over at The Anxious Bench, David Swartz, a historian of progressive evangelicals, shows us that Wallis’s strong criticism of Trump is fitting with much of his career as an evangelical activist.  Here is a taste of his piece:

It’s hard not to notice similarities in style between these radical evangelicals and the religious right. Both groups blurred lines between faith and politics. Indeed, this was precisely the point—to tie the sacred to the temporal so closely that the two were indistinguishable. Did Wallis and his comrades, who moved so contentiously into politics nearly a decade before the Reagan revolution, prefigure the political style of the religious right?

That’s probably going too far, but it does seem clear that Wallis’s most recent invocation of the anti-Christ is not a promotional ploy. It is an authentic and deeply grounded application of a profoundly felt theology that has been with him since the 1960s. It’s an attempt, as he notes in his twelfth book Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus, to ensure that “one’s identity in Christ precedes every other identity.”

Wallis’s rise to prominence was smoothed by his willingness to tamp down Manichean language. But during times of crisis—Watergate in the early 1970s, the rise of the religious right and the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s, and the Iraq War debacle and Islamophobia in the early 2000s—this more radical strain resurfaces. As Trump and white evangelicalism combine and self-destruct, there’s no question that we’re in another such moment now.

Read the entire piece here.

Ralph Reed’s Forthcoming Book Claims That Evangelicals Have a “Moral Obligation” to Support Trump

Believe Me 3d

Politico is reporting that court evangelical Ralph Reed, one of the early architects of the Christian Right, has written a book calling for evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump.  Regnery Publishing, known for their conservative books, will release the book in April 2020.

As some of you know, I also wrote a book about evangelicals and Donald Trump. It is titled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpEerdmans Publishing will release the paperback in January 2020, three months before Reed’s For God and Country hits the shelves.  In this book I make the case that American evangelicals DO NOT have a moral obligation to vote for Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s piece at Politico:

One of Donald Trump’s most prominent Christian supporters will argue in a book due out before the 2020 general election that American evangelicals “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back” the president.

The book’s author, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, became a loyal foot soldier for Trump immediately after he nabbed the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — commanding hordes of white evangelical voters from his perch on the candidate’s religious advisory board to trust that the New York businessman would grow the economy, defend religious freedom and dismantle federal protections for abortion, if elected.

According to the book’s description, obtained by POLITICO, the original title for the book was “Render to God and Trump,” a reference to the well-known biblical verse, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The message from Jesus in Matthew 22, has been used in contemporary politics to justify obedience to government — or in the case of Reed’s book, to Trump.

Regnery Publishing confirmed the book’s existence but said the title is “For God and Country: The Christian case for Trump.” The publisher declined to comment on the reason for the title change.

In his book, Reed will “persuasively” argue evangelicals have a duty to defend the incumbent Republican leader against “the stridently anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and pro-abortion agenda of the progressive left,” according to the description.

He will also rebut claims by religious and nonreligious critics that white evangelical Protestants “revealed themselves to be political prostitutes and hypocrites” by overwhelmingly backing Trump, a twice-divorced, admitted philanderer, in 2016.

“Critics charge that evangelical Trump supporters … have so thoroughly compromised their witness that they are now disqualified from speaking out on moral issues in the future,” the description reads.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Do I Keep Repeating Myself?

Trump court evangelicals

Some might say I am obsessed with Trump and the evangelicals who support him.  Maybe that’s true.  But I keep writing and posting about Trump and the court evangelicals for a couple of reasons:

  1. I have written a book on the subject and I hope short-form writing might direct people toward my longer thoughts on the matter of Donald Trump and his evangelical supporters.  By the way, the book is titled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpThe hardback is available at most booksellers and the paperback, with a new epilogue, will be released by Eerdmans in January 2020.
  2. Fear, power, and nostalgia continue to define evangelical political engagement and I believe that such an approach is not Christian. If people stop bringing thus up, Trump’s behavior and the court evangelical defense of him might become normalized.

If you are tired of it all, feel free to change the channel.  I will not be offended.

What is Franklin Graham’s “Decision America” Tour All About?

In 1950, Billy Graham started a radio show called “Hour of Decision.” Cliff Barrows, Graham’s musical director, hosted the show.  It featured Graham sermons and usually ended with a call to make a “decision” to accept Jesus Christ as savior and be born-again.

Billy Graham’s sermons often included political commentary (usually something about the evils of communism), but when the evangelist talked about a “decision,” it was always meant in a spiritual context.

Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, is current on the road on a tour he is calling “Decision America.”  When a reporter asked Franklin “what is the question being decided?” by his tour,  he gave an answer that would have made his father proud:

If you can’t see the video in the tweet, here is a summary of what Graham says:

[By “decision” I mean] where do you stand before God.  Are you ready to meet Him…Life is coming to an end for all of us one day and are we ready to stand before God at that point.  I believe there is God.  He sent His son to die for our sins….The problems in this world is because of our sin of the human heart. So I hope many people will come.  I hope many people will put their faith and trust in Christ and they’ll have their lives changed forever.

But is this really what “Decision America” is really all about?  Is this tour just about the preaching of the Gospel?  We will have to see how the tour unfolds.

In the meantime, check out Alana Schorr’s Associated Press piece on Decision America’s Greenville, North Carolina stop.  The piece does not say that Graham used his platform to preach politics explicitly, but I think Schorr’s is right when she suggests that when Graham makes reference to the “trouble” our country is facing, he is probably referring to the Democratic attempts to impeach Trump.  It is hard to understand this in any other way in light of Graham’s court evangelicalism.

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Rev. Franklin Graham did not utter the word “impeachment” as he spoke to thousands of Christians here this week, the latest stop on a long-running tour he has dubbed Decision America — a title with political and religious undertones.

But evangelicals who turned out to see Graham didn’t necessarily need his warning that “our country is in trouble” in order to tap into their deep-rooted support for President Donald Trump during an intensifying political crisis hundreds of miles north in Washington.

“I do feel like we are, as Christians, the first line of defense for the president,” Christina Jones, 44, said before Graham took the stage. Trump is “supporting our Christian principles and trying to do his best,” she added, even as “everybody’s against him.”

The impeachment furor is the latest test of Trump’s seemingly unbreakable bond with conservative evangelical Christians. Trump suggested this week that the peril of impeachment would only cement his ties to that voting bloc, which helped propel him into office, and supporters who have stood by him through accusations of sexual assault and infidelity see no reason to back away from a president they view as unfairly beleaguered.

Frances Lassiter, 65, dismissed Democrats’ pursuit of a case against Trump as “all a bunch of crap” designed to push him from office.

Read the entire piece here.

Metaxas: If you are an evangelical who did not vote for Trump “you don’t have a lot going on upstairs”

Start watching this at 10:46 minute mark:

I have never heard of this guy Doug Giles, but he apparently hosts a podcast called “Warriors and Wildmen.”  He also writes books.  Here are a few of his titles:

Pussification: The Effeminization of the American Male (White Feather Press)

Raising Righteous and Rowdy Girls (White Feather Press)

Rise, Kill, and Eat: A Theology of Hunting from Genesis to Revelation (Liberty Alliance Press)

Raising Boys Feminists Will Hate (White Feather Press)

The Bulldog Attitude: Get It Or Get Left Behind (Self-published)

A Time to Clash: Papers from a Provocative Pastor (Townhall Press)

As you can see from the above video, Giles is a “tough guy.”  He will no doubt kick your ass in the name of Jesus.  🙂

In this video, Metaxas discusses Giles’s recent book, Would Jesus Vote for Trump?  Of course the answer to the question in the title of his book is “DAMN YES!”

Some takeaways:

  • Giles says that “Trump’s policies, from a biblical standpoint, if you run them in particularly through the sieve of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I’d say if you’re a Christian and you really take your Christian world view seriously, he’s your best buddy from a political standpoint.”  Has Giles read the Gospels?  I’ve heard a lot of evangelicals quote the Old Testament (Isaiah 45–Cyrus) or even the Pauline Epistles (Romans 13) to defend Trump, BUT THE GOSPELS?
  • Giles’s remarks allow Metaxas to once again play the victim and chastise his fellow Christians for refusing to vote for Trump.  If you did not vote for Trump, Metaxas says, “you don’t have a lot going on upstairs.”  He adds: “your faith is very shallow” and is irrelevant to “real life.”  Finally, he says that anyone who did not vote for Trump was driven by emotions and not “biblical thinking.”
  • Giles says that God has used sinners like Trump to carry out His will in the past. He references David’s sin with Bathsheba and David’s Psalms of repentance.  Fair enough.  But let’s remember that David DID repent of his sins. And he and Israel had to live with the consequences of this sin. Read all of the Old Testament history books.  The story is not pretty.
  • Notice how both Giles and Metaxas display their arrogance (or at least their lack of humility) by claiming to know God’s will as it relates to Trump and politics in general.  Their sense of certainty is the mark of a fundamentalist.
  • Metaxas is under the impression that anti-Trump Christians don’t like the president for something he did “fourteen years ago.” Even if we give Trump a “mulligan” (to use court evangelical Tony Perkins’s phrase) for his past sins, what about his present behavior: the lies, the racist statements, the misogyny, the manipulation of his office for political gain, etc., etc., etc.?  (By the way, Giles defends Trump calling women “dogs.”  This seems to be consistent with his book about raising sons who feminists will hate and his other book on “pussification”).
  • Metaxas makes an attempt to compare Trump’s statements to Jesus and John the Baptist

OK–I’m done.  Watch it for yourself.

The Third Great Evangelical Awakening is Here and Donald Trump is Leading It

Believe Me 3dDonald Trump claims that his impeachment is “electrifying” the evangelical churches.  He talks as if he is somehow responsible for a religious revival that is apparently influencing “hundreds of thousands” of people.  Hallelujah!  It is the Third Great Awakening!

Watch:

Here is a question to consider:  Is Trump right?  Are people joining churches because they want to rally around the president during this impeachment crisis?  If so, what does this say about American evangelicalism?

Why do so many evangelicals support Trump?  I tried to answer this question in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  It will appear in paperback in January 2020, just in time for primary season.  In the meantime, check out the book’s recently updated website.

I’m open for some more book talks or lectures in the wake of the paperback release.  Let me know if you are interested in setting something up for Winter, Spring or Summer 2020.

Todd Starnes, the Fox News Radio Host Who Gave a Platform to the Court Evangelicals, is Out

Starnes and Jeffress

Former Fox News radio host Todd Starnes often referred to court evangelical Robert Jeffress as the official chaplain of his Right-Wing radio program.  Just recently, Jeffress appeared on Starnes’s program and said that Democrats worship the Old Testament god “Moloch, who talks about child sacrifice.”  Starnes responded by saying “I believe that.”  Read all about Jeffress’s appearance here.

Starnes was fired today.  Apparently these comments were even too much for Fox News, although an article at The Wrap suggests that the firing was in the works well before the Moloch incident.   It will be interesting to see how Jeffress will respond.  How can he blame the liberal mainstream media for firing Starnes?

And here is an even more interesting question: Will Jeffress, another employee of Fox News, be next?

But before we leave this story, let’s reflect on some of the memorable Todd Starnes-Robert Jeffress-court evangelical moments that we have covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  • Jeffress tells Starnes that 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg needs to look at a rainbow and read Genesis 9.
  • Jeffress supports Donald Trump’s view that no good Jew can vote for a Democratic candidate.
  • Starnes defends Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tweet telling McLean Bible Church pastor David Platt to “grow a pair.”
  • Richard Land tells Starnes that Trump was the “lesser of two evils” in 2016 and adds that Hillary Clinton will always be the “greater evil” in any election in which she runs “unless she is running against Lucifer.”
  • Starnes describes Christians who oppose patriotic worship services “so-called evangelical Christians.”  Jeffress calls Christianity Today “fake news.”