Former *Christianity Today* editor Mark Galli will convert to Catholicism

I did not see this coming.

Here is Yonat Shimron at Religion News Service:

On Sunday (Sept. 13), Mark Galli will stand before Bishop Richard Pates in the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet, Illinois, to hear these words:

“Francis, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Pates will then dab Galli’s forehead with anointing oil (using a cotton ball instead of his thumb due to COVID-19).  And with that, Galli — who has chosen his confirmation name after St. Francis of Assisi— will become a Roman Catholic.

Galli’s journey to Catholicism is notable, in part because of the nation’s political climate.  A former Presbyterian pastor, Galli spent seven years as editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, the premier publication for evangelicals whose founder was the legendary evangelist Billy Graham. 

But for a few days last December, Galli was perhaps the most well-known evangelical in the country – after penning an editorial calling for Donald Trump’s impeachment and removal from office and arguing he was “profoundly immoral.”

It went viral, earning a rebuke from Trump on Twitter, and bringing Galli — who retired from the magazine in January — a tsunami of publicity. Some of his fellow evangelicals praised the editorial as courageous, given their movement’s overwhelming support for the president. 

Read the rest here.

Evangelicals seek Ivanka Trump’s help to protect migrant children

migrant

Here is Elana Schor of the Associated Press:

More than a dozen prominent evangelicals are appealing to first daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump to help ensure the Trump administration adheres to federal anti-trafficking law in its treatment of unaccompanied migrant children.

In a letter to President Donald Trump’s daughter sent Monday, the evangelical leaders laud Ivanka Trump for her recent declaration that human trafficking is “the gravest of human rights violations.” They urge her to “use your significant influence within the administration” to help end the suspension of a federal anti-trafficking law that had provided safeguards for unaccompanied children who cross the border.

“For many evangelical Christians throughout the United States, fighting human trafficking and standing for vulnerable children are key policy priorities,” the evangelicals wrote in their letter, which was shared in advance with The Associated Press.

Read the rest here.

Signers of this letter includes Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Scott Arbeiter of World Relief; Edgar Sandoval of World Vision; and Chris Palusky of Bethany Christian Services.

Emma Long: “Why Donald Trump still appeals to so many evangelicals”

Trump St. Johns

Here is Emma Long of the University of East Anglia on the anti-Trump evangelicals:

recent Pew Research Center poll indicated that although Trump’s approval ratings among white evangelicals have slipped slightly to 72%, eight out of ten still say they would vote for him again in November.

Yet given the focus on evangelical Trump supporters, it’s easy to overlook the 19% of white evangelicals, and those evangelicals of colour, who did not support Trump in 2016. Among the most prolific and high profile are John Fea, Messiah College professor of history, and Randall Balmer, professor of religion at Dartmouth College.

But there are others, such as the Red Letter Christians, a group who seek to “live out Jesus’ counter-cultural teachings” and whose focus on social justice tends to see them allied more often with the political left. In December 2019, even the leading evangelical publication Christianity Today published a widely reported editorial supporting Trump’s impeachment.

Although these divisions run deep within the evangelical community, they have scarcely caused a ripple in American culture more generally. So why has the political impact of these anti-Trump evangelicals been relatively small?

First, the “evangelical left” has always struggled to achieve political impact, often attracting enthusiastic support but not huge numbers. Second, the anti-Trump category is so large and diverse, and based on so many different issues, that it’s easy for any one group to be submerged into the larger howl of protest.

And third, evangelicals are a diverse group who disagree on many issues. Significant as it is within the evangelical community, the evangelical left is probably neither big enough nor sufficiently cohesive to have much of an electoral impact in November.

Read Long’s entire piece titled “Why Donald Trump still appeals to so many evangelicals.”

The Author’s Corner with Wendy Raphael Roberts

awakening verseWendy Roberts is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Albany, SUNY. This interview is based on her new book, Awakening Verse: The Poetics of Early American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Awakening Verse?

WR: When I began to study American poetry seriously in graduate school, I simply could not believe that early evangelicalism would have had no impact on verse in early America; yet, it seemed absent from most of the conversation. When it was there, it was a discussion primarily about hymns. I wondered if people involved in the early revivals wrote non-hymnal poetry and what function it served. It turns out they did—a lot of it—and that it was central to their experience and to the development of both American history and literature.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Awakening Verse?

WR: Awakening Verse, which is the first history of non-hymnal poetry in British North America, argues that early evangelicalism must be understood as a central aesthetic movement of the eighteenth century; and that to understand early evangelicalism as it first took shape requires sustained attention to its prolific poetry. I show that verse was foundational to evangelical belief and culture because it infused believers with the emotions and feelings necessary for a close relationship with Christ, for living out tensions in theology and society, and for performing lay ministries.

JF: Why do we need to read Awakening Verse?

WR: I think most people will be surprised at the extensive role of poetry in early America. Trying to understand early American culture, and especially evangelicalism, without attention to poetry is akin to trying to understand the last decade without acknowledging the influence of social media. Because the book helps break down a split between “secular” literature and religion, and between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” literatures, it reveals that literature and religious experience are deeply entwined, and that entanglement is important to American history. Even further, this book is important to read now because it shows how revival verse produced evangelical feelings that reinforced certain classed, raced, and gendered structures. Evangelicals have prided themselves on creating a less hierarchal and a more accessible version of Christianity. Yet, the actual history is much more complicated. Right now white evangelicals are reckoning with their complicity with white supremacy; this book can help with that endeavor.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

WR: I have always loved poetry and analyzing words and rhetoric. But I think that my own experience at an evangelical university and then a secular university made me hyper-aware that textual analysis is crucially tied up in history. At the same time, you cannot get to those meanings outside of the words. To me this pointed toward a beautiful messiness that I thought could produce respectful dialogue between Christian and non-Christian perspectives. This motivated me to study literary history.

JF: What is your next project?

WR: I have two projects: one seeks to answer the question of what the evangelical long poem, which became popular in the eighteenth century, tells us about the relationship of settler colonialism and evangelicalism. The other is a history of the poetic coteries with which Phillis Wheatley, the first Black American woman to publish a book of poetry, interacted.

JF: Thanks, Wendy!

Nostalgia for a past that never existed

Believe Me 3dIn Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I wrote:

It is easy for white evangelicals to look back fondly on American history. There is, of course, a lot to celebrate. We are a nation founded on the belief that human beings are “endowed by Creator with certain inalienable rights, namely, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We have established some of the greatest colleges and universities in the world. Our standard of living exceeds those in other countries. When we have failed to live up to our idea we have made efforts to correct our moral indiscretions. Those who fought tirelessly to end slavery, curb the negative effects of alcohol, defend human life, and deliver rights to women and the less fortunate come to mind. Americans have proven that they can act with a sense of common purpose and unity. We have seen the American character on display, for example, during two World Wars and in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And the United States has always been a place where immigrants can come and start new lives.

At the same time, America is a nation that has been steeped in racism, xenophobia, imperialism, violence, materialism, and a host of other practices that do not conform very well to the ethical demands that Christianity places upon our lives. Christians should be very careful when they long for the days when America was apparently “great.” Too many conservative evangelicals view the past through the lens of nostalgia. Scholar Svetlana Boym describes nostalgia as a “sentiment of loss and displacement” that “inevitably reappears as a defense mechanism in a time of accelerated rhythms of life and historical upheavals.” In this sense, nostalgia is closely related to fear. In times of great social and cultural change, the nostalgic person will turn to a real or an imagined past as an island of safety amid the raging storms of progress. In other words, to quote Boym again, “progress didn’t cure nostalgia but exacerbated it.” Sometimes evangelicals will seek refuge from change in a Christian past that never existed in the first place. At other times they will try to travel back to a Christian past that did exist–but, like the present, was compromised by sin.

Is it possible to long for a past that never existed? According to Felipe De Brigard, a Duke University scholar who works at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, it is indeed possible. Here is a taste of his piece at Aeon titled, “Nostalgia reimagined“:

I will conclude with a brief speculation on a topic of contemporary importance. In the past few years, we’ve seen a resurgence of nationalistic political movements that have gained traction by way of promoting a return to the ‘good old days’: ‘Make America Great Again’ in the US, or ‘We Want Our Country Back’ in the UK. These politics of nostalgia promote the implementation of policies that, supposedly, would return nations to times in which people were better off. Unsurprisingly, such politics are usually heralded by conservative groups who, in the past, tended to be better off than they currently are – independently of the particular politics of the time. In a 2016 study conducted by the Polish social psychologists Monika Prusik and Maria Lewicka, a large sample of Poles were asked nostalgia-related questions about how things were prior to the fall of communism 25 years earlier. The results revealed that people felt much more nostalgic and had more positive feelings about the communist government if they were better off then than now, if they were older, and if they were currently unhappy. Doubtlessly, older and conservative-leaning folk who perceive their past – whether accurately or not – as better than their present account for a significant portion of the electorate supporting nationalistic movements. But we’d be misled to think of them as the primary engine, let alone the majority. For the Polish results show something very different: a large number of younger individuals avidly supporting nostalgic policies that would return their nations to a past they never experienced.

The psychological underpinnings of this phenomenon would be hard to explain under the traditional view of nostalgia. If people have not experienced a past, how can they feel nostalgic about it? However, under the view proposed here, an explanation is readily available. For the politics of nostalgia doesn’t capitalise on people’s memories of particular past events they might have experienced. Instead, it makes use of propaganda about the way things were, in order to provide people with the right episodic materials to conjure up imaginations of possible scenarios that most likely never happened. These very same propagandistic strategies help to convince people that their current situation is worse than it actually is, so that when the simulated content – which, when attended, brings about positive emotions – is juxtaposed to negatively valenced thoughts about their present status, a motivation to eliminate this emotional mismatch ensues, and with it an inclination to political action. The politics of nostalgia has less to do with memories about a rosy past, and more with propaganda and misinformation. This suggests, paradoxically, that the best way to counteract it might be to improve our knowledge of the past. Nostalgia can be a powerful political motivator, for better or for worse. Improving the accuracy of our memory for the past could indeed be the best strategy to curb the uncharitable deceptions of the politics of nostalgia.

Read the entire piece here.

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism, is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

frederickdouglass01

There are many white evangelicals who believe that a spiritual revival will solve the problem of racism in the United States. When God transforms a human heart, the argument goes, the inclination to perform racist acts will subside. So we should pray for revival to “heal our land.”

As an evangelical Christian, I believe that God moves in the lives of his human creation and can change their hearts. But racism runs deep in American culture. It is systemic and structural.

The failure of white Americans to consistently and immediately apply Western ideals of liberty and freedom to African Americans is why we have systemic racism in this country. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments came around it was too late. White supremacy was baked in the American cake. (It was actually baked in the cake of Western Civilization well before 1776 because westerners failed to apply the universal values of the Enlightenment to the cause of racial difference). Neither did the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s end racism in America.

These reform efforts were important steps toward a new birth of freedom, but none of them were able to pull racism out by the roots. The roots were too deep.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this about court evangelical Robert Jeffress:

Jeffress thinks that racism will “evaporate overnight” if people just turned to God. Again, he fails to see that the sin of racism is structural–it is deeply embedded in our all of our institutions.  I recall the argument of  James Davison’s Hunter‘s book To Change the World”: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In that book, Hunter argues that individual transformation is not the best way to change the world. True change does not happen through some kind of Protestant populism, but rather by the “work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life.” Such change takes generations and it can only “be described in retrospect.” Individual spiritual transformation can bring about good ends, but it does not change the “moral fabric” or “DNA of a civilization.” I think Hunter’s words are an important reminder that the eradication of systemic racism is going to take a long time and a lot of work.

Other evangelicals are also calling for religious revival as a means of healing the nation of its racial divisions (and other divisions).

Here, for example, are court evangelicals Greg Laurie and Jack Graham:

If there is a spiritual revival, and it actually does do something to curb systemic racism in America, this would be a relatively new development in our history. I was reminded of this as I read David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was a slave at a time when a great religious revival moved through America. Some historians call this revival the “Second Great Awakening.” This spiritual awakening made considerable headway among the Methodists of the Delmarva peninsula. (See William Williams’s The Garden of American Methodism and John Wigger’s Taking Heaven by Storm).

Here is Blight on Douglass’s view of his owner Thomas Auld:

In August 1833, Frederick attained a special insight into Auld’s character when his master Blightallowed him to attend a religious revival at Bay Side, some eight miles from St. Michaels. This classic country Methodist camp meeting left indelible images in Douglass’s fertile memory. People came from all over Talbot County; two steamboat loads of pilgrims also arrived from Baltimore. The gathering lasted a week, and slaves relieved of work for a few days could hardly resist the excitement of hundreds of campfires roasting meat, a veritable tent city with a preacher’s stand in the middle and a “pen” marked off for “mourners” to enter and make their confessions, embrace the Lord, and be saved. A recent convert himself to Christian faith, although now struggling to understand whether God intended any justice on earth, Frederick witnessed the spectacle of master Thomas’s wrenching emotional breakdown and confession in that pen. Blacks were not allowed in the pen, nor in front of the preacher’s performances, but Douglass tells us that he imposed his way close enough to hear Auld “groan,” and to see his reddened face, his disheveled hair, and a “stray tear halting on his cheek.” Here festered the dark heart of the moral bankruptcy of slaveholders that the future abolitionist would make his central subject.

Douglass converted this memory into angry condemnations of the religious hypocrisy of the entire Christian slaveholding universe, especially the little microcosm of Auld’s household, where the young slave now had to listen daily to loud praying and testifying by the white family, and to participate in hospitality extended to local preachers who were sometimes housed at Auld’s home, all the while enduring the good Methodist’s verbal and physical cruelty. For Douglass, the proof of any sincerity in Auld’s “tear-drop” manifested in his actions. In his deeds and his glances, wrote Douglass, it was as if the pathetic master had concluded, “I will teach you, young man, that, though I have parted with my sins  , I have not parted with my sense. I shall hold slaves, and go to heaven too.” Such a vow, imagined by Douglass from the memory of his owner’s cowardly eyes, might serve as an unspoken motto of the Christian capitalists who ruled the antebellum South.

In his 1855 memoir, My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass says this about Thomas Auld:

It was not merely the agency of Master Thomas, in breaking up and destroying my Sabbath school, that shook my confidence in the power of southern religion to make men wiser or better; but I saw him all the cruelty and meanness, after his conversion, which he had exhibited before he made a profession or religion. His cruelty and meanness were especially displayed in his treatment of my unfortunate cousin, Henny, whose lameness made her a burden to him. I have no extraordinary person hard usage toward myself to complain of, against him, but I have seen him tie up the lame and maimed woman, and whip her in a manner most brutal, and shocking; and then, with blood-chilling blasphemy, he would quote the passage of scripture, “That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

Douglass thought the Methodist revival taking place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore during the 1830s was morally bankrupt because it gave white people a spiritual justification to continue their cruelty.

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

Are white evangelicals equipped for a conversation on race?

Black Lives

Robert Vischer is dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis. His piece at Religion News Service is titled “Will the death of George Floyd sway white evangelicals on race?” I like this piece because Vischer points to the intellectual deficiencies within white evangelicalism that lead many evangelicals to reject systemic racism.

Here is a taste:

In his 1994 book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” evangelical historian Mark Noll explained that evangelical culture encourages “intense, detailed, and precise efforts … to understand the Bible.” White evangelicals have not made a parallel effort “to understand the world or, even more important, the processes by which wisdom from Scripture should be brought into relation with knowledge about the world.”

When the Gulf War broke out in 1991, Noll recounted, evangelical publishers quickly produced, and evangelicals bought in bestselling numbers, books reading the crisis as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy signaling the end of the world.

These books, said Noll, “shared the disconcerting conviction that the best way of providing moral judgment about what was happening in the Middle East was not to study carefully what was going on in the Middle East,” but instead to draw “attention away from careful analysis of the complexities of Middle Eastern culture or the tangled 20th-century history of the region toward speculation about some of the most esoteric and widely debated passages of the Bible.”

Has white evangelical culture changed enough since Noll wrote these words to encourage a meaningful exploration of how American laws and policies have shaped the lives of our Black brothers and sisters since our nation’s founding? Will evangelical churches have the courage to host uncomfortable conversations that don’t pretend our nation’s history of racism stopped with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954?

If they look to their Bibles, they might. Recognizing the reality of structural racism is squarely in line with evangelical theology, which recognizes that human beings often sin corporately; the nation of Israel does so repeatedly in the Old Testament. “Sin corrupts every institution and every system because, one way or another, sinful human beings are involved,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. has said. This means that “laws, policies, habits, and customs are also corrupted by sin.”

Evangelicals have recognized legalized abortion as a structural injustice afflicting American society since Roe v. Wade was issued in 1973. Are they ready to recognize the extent to which the structural injustice of racism continues to afflict our country?

Read the entire piece here.

When Evangelicals open churches early

Evangelicals 2

Evangelicals like to think of themselves as people of faith. Faith is often irrational, but there is a fine line between faith and stupidity. As the title character of John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany reminds us, “I DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING THAT POPS INTO MY HEAD–FAITH IS A LITTLE MORE SELECTIVE THAN THAT.”

The New York Times has done some good reporting on what has been happening in churches and other evangelical ministries that have been opening too early.

Here is a taste:

But as new cases and clusters have emerged in recent weeks from Florida to Kansas to Hawaii, public-health experts have emphasized that, even with social distancing, the virus can easily spread through the air when hymns are sung and sermons preached inside closed spaces. One of the world’s first mass coronavirus outbreaks occurred in a secretive South Korean church.

“It’s an ideal setting for transmission,” said Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University, referring to church gatherings. “You have a lot of people in a closed space. And they’re speaking loudly, they’re singing. All those things are exactly what you don’t want.”

The Graystone Baptist Church in Ronceverte, West Virginia, had resumed Sunday services, with masks optional, just 10 days earlier when congregants began to fall ill in early June. There have been at least 51 confirmed cases and three deaths tied to the church, local health officials said.

Charles Hiser, 82, was the first of three churchgoers to die after contracting the virus.

His daughter, Libby Morgan, said her father had lived alone and had spent the last few months cooped up at home to stay safe. She brought him groceries and talked to him regularly on the phone so he was not lonely. But Hiser missed going to Graystone Baptist, where he had attended services for 30 years or so, his daughter said. So as soon as regular services resumed at the end of May, he went right back, eschewing a mask.

Within two weeks, he had tested positive for the virus.

“I felt like, gosh, I was thinking he’d be safe there,” Morgan said. “You know, you’re in church. Just like a child that goes to school is supposed to feel safe.”

The church is now reopened, again, after a two-week closure.

There were just six recorded cases of the coronavirus in Union County, in rural northeastern Oregon, when the Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church announced its reopening on May 22 in an Instagram post that also cited Trump’s remarks about reopening churches.

Now, the county has recorded 356 cases, many of them traced to the church.

Read the entire piece here.

Thoughts on Trump’s Proposed “National Garden of American Heroes”

 

Trump Rushmore

At his July 3, 2020 speech at Mount Rushmore, Donald Trump said:

More here.

And here is the text of the executive order:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Purpose.  America owes its present greatness to its past sacrifices.  Because the past is always at risk of being forgotten, monuments will always be needed to honor those who came before.  Since the time of our founding, Americans have raised monuments to our greatest citizens.  In 1784, the legislature of Virginia commissioned the earliest statue of George Washington, a “monument of affection and gratitude” to a man who “unit[ed] to the endowment[s] of the Hero the virtues of the Patriot” and gave to the world “an Immortal Example of true Glory.”  I Res. H. Del. (June 24, 1784).  In our public parks and plazas, we have erected statues of great Americans who, through acts of wisdom and daring, built and preserved for us a republic of ordered liberty.

These statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal.  They preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten.  These works of art call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation.  These monuments express our noblest ideals:  respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect union.  They are works of beauty, created as enduring tributes.  In preserving them, we show reverence for our past, we dignify our present, and we inspire those who are to come.  To build a monument is to ratify our shared national project.

To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance.  In recent weeks, in the midst of protests across America, many monuments have been vandalized or destroyed.  Some local governments have responded by taking their monuments down.  Among others, monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, leaders of the abolitionist movement, the first all-volunteer African-American regiment of the Union Army in the Civil War, and American soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars have been vandalized, destroyed, or removed.

These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn.  My Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory.  In the face of such acts of destruction, it is our responsibility as Americans to stand strong against this violence, and to peacefully transmit our great national story to future generations through newly commissioned monuments to American heroes.

Sec. 2.  Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes.  (a)  There is hereby established the Interagency Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes (Task Force).  The Task Force shall be chaired by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary), and shall include the following additional members:

(i)    the Administrator of General Services (Administrator);

(ii)   the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA);

(iii)  the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH);

(iv)   the Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP); and

(v)    any officers or employees of any executive department or agency (agency) designated by the President or the Secretary.

(b)  The Department of the Interior shall provide funding and administrative support as may be necessary for the performance and functions of the Task Force.  The Secretary shall designate an official of the Department of the Interior to serve as the Executive Director of the Task Force, responsible for coordinating its day-to-day activities.

(c)  The Chairpersons of the NEA and NEH and the Chairman of the ACHP shall establish cross-department initiatives within the NEA, NEH, and ACHP, respectively, to advance the purposes of the Task Force and this order and to coordinate relevant agency operations with the Task Force.

Sec. 3.  National Garden of American Heroes.  (a)  It shall be the policy of the United States to establish a statuary park named the National Garden of American Heroes (National Garden).

(b)  Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Task Force shall submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy that proposes options for the creation of the National Garden, including potential locations for the site.  In identifying options, the Task Force shall:

(i)    strive to open the National Garden expeditiously;

(ii)   evaluate the feasibility of creating the National Garden through a variety of potential avenues, including existing agency authorities and appropriations; and

(iii)  consider the availability of authority to encourage and accept the donation or loan of statues by States, localities, civic organizations, businesses, religious organizations, and individuals, for display at the National Garden.

(c)  In addition to the requirements of subsection 3(b) of this order, the proposed options for the National Garden should adhere to the criteria described in subsections (c)(i) through (c)(vi) of this section.

(i)    The National Garden should be composed of statues, including statues of John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

(ii)   The National Garden should be opened for public access prior to the 250th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2026.

(iii)  Statues should depict historically significant Americans, as that term is defined in section 7 of this order, who have contributed positively to America throughout our history.  Examples include:  the Founding Fathers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery or participated in the underground railroad, heroes of the United States Armed Forces, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor or Presidential Medal of Freedom, scientists and inventors, entrepreneurs, civil rights leaders, missionaries and religious leaders, pioneers and explorers, police officers and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty, labor leaders, advocates for the poor and disadvantaged, opponents of national socialism or international socialism, former Presidents of the United States and other elected officials, judges and justices, astronauts, authors, intellectuals, artists, and teachers.  None will have lived perfect lives, but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying.

(iv)   All statues in the National Garden should be lifelike or realistic representations of the persons they depict, not abstract or modernist representations.

(v)    The National Garden should be located on a site of natural beauty that enables visitors to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and be inspired to learn about great figures of America’s history.  The site should be proximate to at least one major population center, and the site should not cause significant disruption to the local community.

(vi)   As part of its civic education mission, the National Garden should also separately maintain a collection of statues for temporary display at appropriate sites around the United States that are accessible to the general public.

Sec. 4.  Commissioning of New Statues and Works of Art.  (a)  The Task Force shall examine the appropriations authority of the agencies represented on it in light of the purpose and policy of this order.  Based on its examination of relevant authorities, the Task Force shall make recommendations for the use of these agencies’ appropriations.

(b)  To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law and the other provisions of this order, Task Force agencies that are authorized to provide for the commissioning of statues or monuments shall, in expending funds, give priority to projects involving the commissioning of publicly accessible statues of persons meeting the criteria described in section 3(b)(iii) of this order, with particular preference for statues of the Founding Fathers, former Presidents of the United States, leading abolitionists, and individuals involved in the discovery of America.

(c)  To the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law, these agencies shall prioritize projects that will result in the installation of a statue as described in subsection (b) of this section in a community where a statue depicting a historically significant American was removed or destroyed in conjunction with the events described in section 1 of this order.

(d)  After consulting with the Task Force, the Administrator of General Services shall promptly revise and thereafter operate the General Service Administration’s (GSA’s) Art in Architecture (AIA) Policies and Procedures, GSA Acquisition Letter V-10-01, and Part 102-77 of title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, to prioritize the commission of works of art that portray historically significant Americans or events of American historical significance or illustrate the ideals upon which our Nation was founded.  Priority should be given to public-facing monuments to former Presidents of the United States and to individuals and events relating to the discovery of America, the founding of the United States, and the abolition of slavery.  Such works of art should be designed to be appreciated by the general public and by those who use and interact with Federal buildings.  Priority should be given to this policy above other policies contained in part 102-77 of title 41, Code of Federal Regulations, and revisions made pursuant to this subsection shall be made to supersede any regulatory provisions of AIA that may conflict with or otherwise impede advancing the purposes of this subsection.

(e)  When a statue or work of art commissioned pursuant to this section is meant to depict a historically significant American, the statue or work of art shall be a lifelike or realistic representation of that person, not an abstract or modernist representation.

Sec. 5.  Educational Programming.  The Chairperson of the NEH shall prioritize the allocation of funding to programs and projects that educate Americans about the founding documents and founding ideals of the United States, as appropriate and to the extent consistent with applicable law, including section 956 of title 20, United States Code.  The founding documents include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.  The founding ideals include equality under the law, respect for inalienable individual rights, and representative self-government.  Within 90 days of the conclusion of each Fiscal Year from 2021 through 2026, the Chairperson shall submit a report to the President through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy that identifies funding allocated to programs and projects pursuant to this section.

Sec. 6.  Protection of National Garden and Statues Commissioned Pursuant to this Order.  The Attorney General shall apply section 3 of Executive Order 13933 of June 26, 2020 (Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence), with respect to violations of Federal law regarding the National Garden and all statues commissioned pursuant to this order.

Sec. 7.  Definition.  The term “historically significant American” means an individual who was, or became, an American citizen and was a public figure who made substantive contributions to America’s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history.  The phrase also includes public figures such as Christopher Columbus, Junipero Serra, and the Marquis de La Fayette, who lived prior to or during the American Revolution and were not American citizens, but who made substantive historical contributions to the discovery, development, or independence of the future United States.

Sec. 8.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Does Trump think he is building another Trump Tower?

I digress.

Just to reiterate, there will be statues of: John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Quick thoughts:

1. We should not get too worked-up about this order because there is a chance Trump will be voted out of office in November 2020. In other words, this national garden may never happen.

2. Let’s not get too caught-up in debating who should be “in” and who should be “out.” This is actually what Trump wants to happen. Historians should just ignore these plans. By giving too much attention to this we lend credibility to the proposal. (I know–I should be taking my own advice here!).  This is not a debate over state history and social studies standards.

3. How much will this national garden cost the American taxpayer? If Trump really cares about history he should fund its study in schools. His budgets should provide more money for already existing historic sites and teacher training.

4. Let’s say Trump wins in 2020 and this national garden becomes a reality. Would I visit it? Maybe. But I would not go there to teach my students about the lives of these so-called “heroes.” I rely on my classroom lectures and discussions, primary sources, legitimate public history sites, and good books and articles to do that. I would, however, consider taking students to this place to teach them about the Trump administration much in the same way that I take students to Confederate monuments at Gettysburg to teach them about the Lost Cause. This is what historians mean by contextualizing monuments. Like the Confederate monuments we are fighting over today, monuments often tell us more about the time when they were erected than the moment in history that they commemorate. Confederate monuments were erected in the early 20th century as symbols of white supremacy and Jim Crow. Some of the figures Trump wants to memorialize in his national garden seem like random choices, but others speak volumes about Trump’s America and his 2020 re-election bid.

For example, the founding fathers are revered by Trump’s white conservative base. Good history teachers visiting this garden might say something to their students about founders chic. They might note that on the very day of this executive order millions of Americans were watching a movie-version of a Broadway play about Alexander Hamilton. All of this explains why George Washington, John Adams,  Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were chosen. (I don’t know why Dolley Madison was chosen over Martha Washington and Abigail Adams). I am sure Abraham Lincoln was chosen as an honorary founding father.

The African American selections (there are no native Americans) are Martin Luther King Jr.,  Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and Jackie Robinson. These are all safe choices, although a good history teacher might show this video in preparation for the class trip. There are reasons why W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, or Barack Obama were not chosen. (Future students will certainly wonder why the first Black president in American history was not selected). When viewed in the larger context of the Trump presidency, a legitimate argument could be made that these men and women were picked in an attempt to show Trump is not a racist.

Trump and his people are obsessed with military strength. We thus get Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Audie Murphy, George Patton, Ronald Reagan, and Douglas MacArthur.

And Trump needs his white evangelical base in November. He hopes a statue of Billy Graham, or at least the announcement of such a statue, might help deliver these votes.

Trump has an obsession with space and aviation. (Trump mentioned going to Mars during his Mount Rushmore speech). I would have my students read or watch his recent Cape Canaveral speech before we visited the national garden. We thus get Christa McAuliffe, Amelia Earhart, and the Wright brothers. Frankly, I am surprised he did not pick Charles Lindbergh, an early proponent of “America First.”

Was Henry Clay, the architect of the American System, chosen because of Trump’s infrastructure plans? Future history teachers will tell students that these plans never got off the ground, despite multiple “infrastructure weeks,” because Trump undermined them with tweets and other self-initiated scandals.

And, of course, any historian would have a lot to say about why Antonin Scalia made the cut instead of John Marshall, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hugo Black, or Oliver Wendell Holmes.

But in the end, I would put money on this national garden of heroes going the way of Trump’s border wall and many of his other grandiose plans.  It won’t happen.

 

When progressive evangelicals held the national stage

George_McGovern,_c_1972

George McGovern

Over at Sojourners, American religious historian Randall Balmer traces the history of progressive evangelicalism in the 1970s. Here is a taste of “Before the Religious Right, Progressive Evangelicals Gained the National Spotlight“:

Richard Nixon’s promise of a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, which boosted him to presidency in 1968, turned out to entail expanding the war to Cambodia in the spring of 1970, thereby prompting protests across the nation and the shooting of four students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Nevertheless, Nixon rallied his “silent majority” in advance of the 1972 presidential election, and he entered the campaign with decided advantages.

The Democratic nominee was George McGovern, senator from South Dakota who grew up in the parsonage of a Wesleyan Methodist minister and who himself studied for the ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary before going on to earn the Ph.D. from Northwestern University. McGovern, a decorated war hero in World War II, brought his campaign to Wheaton College’s Edman Chapel on the morning of October 11, 1972.

I was a first-year student at Trinity College, and I persuaded several of my classmates to skip our daily chapel and accompany me to Wheaton. I shall never forget the scene. Students paraded around the chapel with Nixon campaign banners. McGovern opened by saying that he had wanted to attend Wheaton, but his family couldn’t afford it. He went on to explain that his understanding of justice and social responsibility was derived from the Bible. By the end of his remarks, McGovern had won a respectful hearing from many of the students.

Nevertheless, Billy Graham had endorsed Nixon, and white evangelicals followed the evangelist’s lead.

Read the entire piece here.

For more on this history, I recommend three books:

Balmer, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter

David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism

Brantley Gasaway, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Mark Lempke, My Brother’s Keeper: George McGovern and Progressive Christianity

Trump to court evangelical journalist: if Biden gets elected “our nation will go to hell”

Trump at St. Johns

In yesterday’s court evangelical roundup, we called your attention to Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) journalist David Brody‘s interview with Donald Trump. Today, CBN released the full interview transcript. A few quick takeaways:

Trump appeals to the Christian Right political playbook when he says that if Biden gets elected president “it means choice. It means that you’re going to put a radical Lefty on the Court and that’s going to be the end of pro-life, it won’t even have a chance.” This is fear-mongering. As I have said multiple times, including in Believe Me, fear-mongering is successful when people don’t have facts. Overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion. Instead of thinking critically about how we can reduce the number of abortions in America, and I think this would have a lot to do with addressing issues of systemic racism and poverty in the country, evangelicals continue to cling to a forty-year-old playbook that teaches the only way to reduce or even end abortion is to appoint Supreme Court justices.

In response to a question about the opinions of Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts in the recent Bostock decision, Trump says that if more “radical Left” justices are appointed, “religion I think will be almost wiped out in America.” He is appealing here to the belief, popular among many conservative evangelicals, that the fate of Christianity is determined by SCOTUS.

When Brody asks Trump how he feels about the 2020 election in light of some polls that show him trailing Biden, Trump says that he thinks there is more enthusiasm for his candidacy in 2020 than there was in 2016. When Brody follows-up by asking “Why do you think that?,” Trump says, “I just think it. I feel it.” Let’s remember that Trump is conducting this interview after the Tulsa rally disaster. I did not see much enthusiasm there, at least in the number of people who showed-up. His comments about his gut-feeling should also be interpreted in the context of the latter part of the interview where Trump agrees with those who think he has been chosen by God for this particular moment in American history.  If the anointed one says he “feels” it, then it must be true.

Trump is continuing to say that coronavirus testing is a “double-edged” sword. By testing too much, he says, “I think we put ourselves at a disadvantage.” Who is “we” here? This statement reveals the inner-workings of Trump’s mind. Only a narcissist, who interprets everything through the lens of how it benefits his political ambitions, would say publicly that there is a political downside to coronavirus testing.

Trump says that he has done more for evangelicals “than any president in history by a factor of 10.” Brody responds with “Yeah, I don’t think anybody would actually disagree with that.” Actually, I know a lot of evangelicals who would disagree with that statement.

When Brody gives Trump the opportunity to show compassion and empathy for the African-Americans who have endured centuries of racial injustice in America, he immediately pivots to law and order.  By the end of his answer to Brody’s question about race, Trump is talking about Joe Biden and China: “If he got elected, China will own the United States.”

Read the entire interview here.

Fox News poll: white evangelical support for Trump in November drops to 66%. Biden is doing better now with white evangelicals than Obama in November 2012.

Trump St. Johns

According to a just-released Fox News poll, 66% of white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump in November 2020.

25% of white evangelicals say they will vote for Joe Biden.

It is worth noting here that Obama got 26% of white evangelical votes in 2008 and 21% of white evangelical votes in 2012. In other words, Biden is doing better than Obama did with white evangelicals in November 2012 and is doing about the same as Obama did in November 2008. Trump got 81% of evangelical votes in 2016. Hillary Clinton got 16%.

Only 3% will vote for another candidate in November 2020.

Some more revealing stuff in the recent Fox News poll:

  • 63% of Biden’s support comes from voters who “fear the other candidate might win.” (31% are “enthusiastic” for Biden to win).
  • It appears that the social and racial unrest in the wake of the George Floyd killing did not really change the way voters see Trump on race. In August 2017, 56% of voters did not think that Trump “respects racial minorities.” In June 2020, the number (56% is exactly the same).
  • 54% of Americans believe that racism is a “widespread” (systemic?) problem in the police department. 41% believe that the cases of police brutality are just “isolated incidents.”
  • 57% of Americans have a “favorable” view of the Floyd race protests.  35% of Americans have an “unfavorable” view of the protests.
  • 56% of American “disapprove” of Trump’s response to the protests. 31% approve.

And here is some specific stuff on white evangelicals:

  • 72% approve of the job Trump is doing as president. 49% “strongly approve” and 23% “somewhat approve.”  9% “somewhat disapprove.” 18% “strong disapprove.”
  • 75% approve of the way Trump is handling the economy.
  • 66% approve of the way Trump is handling health care.
  • 56% approve of the way Trump is handling race relations.
  •  61% are “extremely interested” in the 2020 presidential elections.  20% are “very interested.” 16% are “somewhat interested.” and 2% are “not at all interested.” This is very high when compared to other identity groups.
  • 58% have a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Hillary Clinton.
  • 48% have a “strongly unfavorable opinion of Joe Biden.
  • 66% believe that Trump “cares about” them.
  • 30% believe that Biden “cares about” them.
  • 61% believe Trump “respects racial minorities.”
  • 37% believe Biden “respects racial minorities.”
  • 51% believe that “corporate influences” are a “major threat” to government
  • 52% believe racism is a “major threat” to the country. (Compare this to 80% of Democrats and 73% of white suburban women).
  • 33% believe that income inequality is a major threat to the country.
  • 59% believe coronavirus is a “major threat” to the country. 31% believe coronavirus is a “minor threat” to the country. 10% say it is “not a threat at all.”
  • 39% are “concerned” about racism. 35% are “somewhat concerned” about racism. 24% are not concerned about racism.
  • 60% believe that police brutality against black Americans are “isolated incidents.”
  • 61% oppose reducing funding for police departments and moving those funds to mental health, housing, and other social service.
  • 50% have an unfavorable opinion of the George Floyd protests. 43% have a favorable opinion
  • 55% approve of Trump’s response to the protests.

Read the entire poll here.

Are white evangelicals turning to Biden?

BIden 3

Some solid reporting from Gabby Orr at Politico:

It was June 10, 2008. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama had gathered with dozens of evangelical leaders — many of them fixtures of the religious right — at the urging of campaign aides. If he could offer genuine glimpses of his own abiding faith, they insisted he could chisel away at the conservative Christian voting bloc.

At a rally in the Bible Belt, he talked about the church he’d attended for two decades in Chicago. Calling for an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to tackle poverty, he promised churches and religious organizations would play a greater public role in delivering social services under his administration. And during a faith-based forum in Southern California, he said his own support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, did not mean he wasn’t interested in reducing abortion in America.

The strategy worked. Obama’s campaign stops at churches, sermonlike speeches and his professed belief in Jesus Christ earned him 24 percent of the white evangelical vote — doubling Democrats’ support among young white evangelicals and gaining 3 percentage points with the overall demographic from the 2004 election.

Now, allies of President Donald Trump worry his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, can do the same — snatching a slice of a critical voting bloc from Trump when he can least afford departures from his base.

Biden, a lifelong Roman Catholic, has performed better in recent polling among white evangelicals — and other religious groups — than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and is widely perceived as more religious than the current White House occupant. A Pew Research study conducted earlier this year showed that a majority of U.S. adults (63 percent) think Trump is “not at all” or “not too religious,” versus 55 percent who said they believed Biden is somewhat or very religious.

Read the rest here.

How the history of white evangelical racism has led to Donald Trump’s election and continues to shape support for his presidency

Believe Me 3dI begin with a caveat. This post is not implying that all white evangelicals are or have been racist. Many white evangelicals have been anti-racist and have fought hard to curb systemic racism in American life. But, as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, these are not historical forces that led many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. They are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to continue to support Donald Trump. They are not the historical forces that will lead many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  And they are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to reject systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

But here is some history:

1 .After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, which resulted in sixty white deaths in Southampton County, Virginia, fearful white evangelical Christians in the South began to fight harder for the expansion of slavery to the west in the belief that its spread to more open country might reduce the proximity of slaves to one another and thus make insurrections more difficult. White churches responded to Turner’s rebellion with missionary efforts in the hope that the chances of passion-filled revolts might be reduced if slaves could be monitored more closely by white clergy and lay church leaders. Yes, the idea of African Americans rebelling and causing disorder has been around for a long time.

2. The anxieties stemming from slave insurrections led Southern ministers to develop a biblical and theological defense of slavery. These ministers argued that anyone who read the Bible in a literal, word-for-word fashion (as God intended it to be read) would conclude that God had ordained this system of labor. Commonsense interpretations of Bible passages that referred to slavery were often difficult to refute. Old Testament patriarchs such as Abraham owned slaves. Slavery was a legal institution in the New Testament world, and the apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to obey government laws. In the book of Philemon, Paul required the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his owner. Writing in the immediate wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, Thomas Dew, a professor of political science at the College of William and Mary, used the Bible to defend the view that all societies had a fixed and natural social structure. Citing 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, Dew reasoned that Africans should remain slaves because God had created them to fulfill such a role in society. Slaves had been given a divine “calling” and, in Paul’s words, “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” One South Carolina Presbyterians went so far as to say, “If the Scriptures do not justify slavery…I know not what they do justify.” I am reminded here of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler’s remarks about slavery.

3. Evangelicals thought that the South’s social order, and its identity as a Christian culture worthy of God’s blessing, was grounded in a proper reading of the Bible. In other words, the people of the South–and eventually the Confederate States of America–believed that they were living in a Christian society precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.  The abolitionist argument against slavery was not only heretical because it violated the explicit teaching of Scripture; it also threatened the Christian character of the United States. Robert L. Dabney, a Virginia Presbyterian clergyman and one of the strongest defenders of slavery and white supremacy in the South, contended that the notion that slaves–or any Africans for that matter–had “rights” and thus deserved freedom was a modern idea introduced in the eighteenth-century by the progressive thinkers of the Enlightenment, not by the expositors of God-inspired Scripture.  James Henley Thornwell, another powerful theological voice in support of slavery, understood the Civil War as a clash between atheist abolitionists and virtuous slaveholders: “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders–they are atheists, socialists, communist, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. Sound familiar? Watch this or most other episodes of the Eric Metaxas Show. One of Thornwell’s students, New Orleans Presbyterian minister Benjamin Palmer, said that the South had been called “to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as not existing.” It was a duty to “ourselves, to our slaves, to the world, and to almighty God.”

4. Southern evangelicals also feared the mixing of races (even though the races were mixed mainly because of the long history of master raping slaves). Slaveholders believed that their defense of a Christian civilization was directly connected to the purity of the white race. One Presbyterian minister in Kentucky claimed that “no Christian American” would allow the “God-defying depravity of intermarriage between the white and negro races.”  South Carolina governor George McDuffie, who  said that “no human institution…is more manifestly consistent with the will of God, then domestic slavery,” also claimed abolitionists were on a “fiend-like errand of mingling the blood of master and slave.” In the process, McDuffie argued, they were contributing to the “end of the white republic established in 1776.”

5. Longstanding racial fears did not fade away with the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction amendments that ended slavery (Thirteenth) and provided freedmen with citizenship rights (Fourteenth) and voting rights (Fifteenth) only reinforced Southern evangelical racism. A classic example of this was Dabney’s opposition to the ordination of freedmen in the Southern Presbyterian Church. During an 1867 debate over this issue, Dabney said that the ordination of African American minister in the white Presbyterian church would “threaten the very existence of civil society.” It was God, Dabney argued, who created racial difference and, as a result, “it was plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification.” He predicted a theological version of “white flight” by suggesting that black ordination would “bring a mischievous element in our church, at the expense of driving a multitude of valuable members and ministers out.” Dabney would not sit by and watch his denomination permit “amalgamation” to “mix the race of Washington and Lee, and Jackson, with this base herd which they brought from the pens of Africa.”

6. Northern Protestant fundamentalists at the turn of the 20th century were aware of the moral problem of racism, but they did very little to bring it to an end. While they did occasionally speak out against lynching and other acts of racial violence, they failed to see how their literal views of the Bible contributed to systemic racism in American life. White terror groups seemed to understand this better than the fundamentalists did. As historian Matt Sutton has shown, the Ku Klux Klan regularly sought partnerships with fundamentalists. The Klan’s leaders believed Protestant fundamentalist crusades to save Christian America made them a natural ally in the war against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. Some fundamentalist commentaries on race could have been lifted from the collected works of 19th-century pro-slavery theologians such as Lewis Dabney or James Henry Thornwell. A.C. Dixon, the fundamentalist pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, called the Fifteenth Amendment (the amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote) “the blunder of the age” because African Americans were “ignorant” and thus ill-equipped to cast a ballot. Other fundamentalists upheld typical racial stereotypes that portrayed African Americans as rapists, murderers, and threats to white women. In 1923, Moody Monthly, the flagship publication of fundamentalism, published articles defending Klan activity. Fundamentalist fears about the decline of Christian America regularly manifested themselves in racism.

7. In the wake of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event which historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” several evangelical and fundamentalist clergymen were quick to put their white supremacy on display. Edwin D. Mouzon, the bishop of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, said he did not know who was to blame for the massacre. But if you read the front page of the June 6, 1921 edition of the Morning Tulsa Daily World, “black agitators,” including black activist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, were to blame.
Mon, Jun 6, 1921 – Page 1 · The Morning Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com

Mouzon said, “there is one thing…upon which I should like to make myself perfectly clear. That is racial equality. There never has been and there never will be such a thing. It is divine ordained. This is something that negroes should be told very plainly…At the same time, we must have a Christian attitude toward the black man; he is made by the same creator; he is subject to the same Christian laws, he is our brother in Christ.” On the same day, Reverend J.W. Abel of Tulsa’s First Methodist Church said, “What other nation in all human history has done as much [for] a people as the white race has done for the race which but a brief century ago emerged from slavery? A race which even in slavery was a thousand times better off than the black princes who ruled their race in Africa.” Abel continued, “But the sin of this [black] race is that they are all too ready to protect a member of the race in crime, for no other reason that he is a negro…some day the negro will come to know that the white race is his best friend.” Dr. Howard G. Cooke, pastor of Tulsa’s Centennial Methodist Church, noted that “there has been a great deal of loose-mouthed and loose-minded talking about the white people of Tulsa being equally to blame with the blacks. This is not true.” He added, “[The massacre] should be the beginning of a new regime of law and order in this city.” This is is an interesting observation in light of the fact that a self-proclaimed “law and order” president will be holding a rally in Tulsa tomorrow night, only a few weeks after the 99th anniversary of the massacre.  (Thanks to historian Kenny Brown for bringing this material to my attention)

8. In the mid-20th century,  white evangelicals had a mixed track record regarding racial issues facing the country during the civil rights movement. Billy Graham was famous for desegregating his evangelistic crusades, and many evangelical leaders and publications supported the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in public schools, just as they supported the Civil Rights Acts (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). But very few Northern evangelicals actually participated in the movement, and strong pockets of segregationist thought and practice continued to exist in the evangelical South. Most white evangelicals were not particularly interested in the civil rights movement; they were far more concerned about–and opposed to–the way the federal government used its power to enforce desegregation and oppose Jim Crow laws in their local communities. Historian Mark Noll has argued that race and civil rights served as an entry point for the white conservative evangelicals critique of active government.

9. This relationship between race and evangelical opposition to “big government” intervention into state and local affairs is best illustrated in the evangelical response to two Supreme Court cases. Green v. Connally (1972) removed tax-exempt status from private schools and colleges that discriminated against students based on race. At the center of the controversy was Bob Jones University, a school that banned interracial dating and denied admission to unmarried African Americans. In 1975, the IRS moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the university, a case that was eventually decided in favor of the IRS in Bob Jones v. United States.  Green v. Connolly and Bob Jones v. United States also had implications for the hundreds of private Christian academies cropping up (at the rate of two per day) all over the United States. Many of these schools were in the South and had discriminatory admissions policies, which is not surprising given that many such schools were founded in the immediate aftermath of public-school integration. When President Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian,” supported the Green v. Connally decision, he alienated many conservative evangelicals who ran these academies. To be fair, many segregationist academies were already beginning to admit African American students in the early 1970s, but the leaders of these schools, true to their Southern heritage, wanted to deal with the issues of segregation, race, and civil rights on their own terms. They certainly did not want the federal government forcing them to desegregate.

10. Thus, when Jerry Falwell and like minded conservative evangelicals created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, they already had experienced the power of the central government when the Supreme Court intruded on the affairs of their segregated academies. In fact, historian Randall Balmer contends that it was this fear of big-government interference as it related to desegregation of institutions like Bob Jones University and Falwell’s own Liberty Academy that prompted the formation of the Christian Right. Paul Weyrich, one of Falwell’s closest associates and one of the leading organizers of the movement, told Balmer in a 1990 interchange that the Christian Right was originally founded, not on evangelicals’ opposition to abortion, but rather on opposition to the attempts by the IRS to desegregate Christian academies.

11. Many of Trump’s evangelical supports came to Trump’s rescue when, in August 2017, he drew a moral equivalency between white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia and those who came to the city to try to oppose them. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church–Dallas, went on Fox Business Network and said that Trump “did just fine” in his statement(s) about the event. He performed a rhetorical move that court evangelicals and other Trump supporters have perfected: he changed the subject and went from defense to offense. Jeffress warned Fox viewers that an “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, and the “GOP establishment) were plotting to take Trump down. He then reaffirmed America’s Judeo-Christian roots without any sense that many of the Judeo-Christian influences that have shaped United States history were intricately bound up with the kind of racism that the nation had witnessed in Charlottesville. Watch:

It is time that white evangelicals take a hard look at its past and stop trying to “Make America Great Again.” It is time, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.” The operate word is reconciliation, not “renew,” “restore” or “reclaim.”

Evangelicals Hit the Streets for Justice

Washington March

Christians, including white evangelical Christians, led many of today’s anti-racism protest marches.

Here is The Washington Post:

Hundreds of evangelical Christians sang, prayed and banged tambourines Sunday afternoon as they crossed the Anacostia River, headed downtown from Southeast Washington. The group, diverse in age and race, was organized a few days ago among conservative evangelicals who felt the marches haven’t had enough explicitly Christian voices — and because, some leaders said, they personally wanted to repent.

Starting off the march on a nondescript side street off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Anacostia was David Platt, pastor of one of the nation’s largest and most high-profile evangelical churches, McLean Bible.

“We pray that you would forgive us for our history and our present,” Platt, who is white, said as he marched.

Platt was introduced by Thabiti Anyabwile, the pastor of Anacostia River Church, one of conservative evangelicalism’s more outspoken black figures on issues of racism.

“We praise you in particular today, Jesus, as this group, for taking the judgment we deserve,” Platt said.

“As your children we pray you would forgive us for our history and our present. God forgive us,” he said, pausing a long time, “for the sin that so infects our heart.”

“We’ve not represented our Lord well,” said Kay Walker, 35, who carried a sign reading “Jesus is for justice.”

“If you say you’re with Jesus, you have to be for justice,” she said. “It should be the church in front but it’s a shame, in past years we haven’t been.”

Anyabwile said he helped organize the event after watching all week how few events were clergy-led.
“This iteration of civil rights is not located in the church, so the church is playing catch-up when it was once the vanguard,” he said.

His church is racially mixed but, he said, but conversations about the causes and solutions for racial inequality are challenging.

“One skill we don’t have as a country or a church is conversation,” Anyabwile said. “We’re unpracticed at that and so we’re wrestling with hope.”

Read the entire piece here.

Meanwhile, another group of evangelicals are paralyzed by their loyalty to the president and their denial of systemic racism.

 

Mitt Romney Marches With Evangelicals

Here is The Washington Post: “Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) joined a group of hundreds of evangelicals marching Sunday as the tenth day of demonstrations took on themes of faith and prayer.”

 

Ron Sider: It is the “Hour of Decision” for White Evangelicals

sider_horz

Ron Sider is one of the most prominent voices of the evangelical center-left. Here is what he wrote last night at his blog:

The video of a white policeman with his knee on the neck of a black man. As I told my wife, George Floyd could have been our African-American son-in-law.

But I did not think I had anything special to say. So many people like the African-American mayors of St. Paul and Atlanta and Senator Cory Booker, among many others, were saying so well what needed to be said.

But today as I participated in my church’s Sunday School (via zoom of course), I reflected on the painful statistics that were presented. African-American men are 21 times more likely than white men to be shot by the police. One national poll asked people if they thought that today in most cities, the police treat blacks as fairly as whites. 47% of white respondents said yes. Only 6% of blacks said they were treated as fairly as whites by the police. Another national poll asked if the local police treat minorities more harshly than whites. Only 19% of white people said yes. 54% of blacks said yes they are treated more harshly.

Month after month, year after year, there have been new stories of white people (the police and others) killing African-Americans. We all know that African-Americans continue to experience a wide range of disadvantages. Inner city, urban (largely minority) schools spend less money per capita and have education inferior to much better funded white suburban schools. One in every three African-American men go to prison but only one in 17 white men do. In the current COVID-19 epidemic, African-Americans have been dying at twice the rate of white folk. The average white family has 13 times as much wealth as the average black family – – a gap that was wider in 2015 than in 1983! Year after year, the black unemployment rate has been double that of the white unemployment rate.

We know – – we have known for years!– these and many other indicators of continuing structural racism. We all know that racism is America’s original sin – – a racism that has crushed African-Americans for 400 years.

But what began to churn in my mind – – and compel me to to write this blog–was my reflection on the failure of white evangelicals to deal with white racism. Indeed it’s much worse than that! White evangelicals have too often participated in, and even led, that racism.

It was white evangelical Christians in the South (helped by northerners) that passed the laws and organized the violence that effectively squelched the progress made by African-Americans in the first two decades after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. It was white evangelicals who led or tolerated thousands of lynchings for about 100 years. After the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision ending “separate but equal” school segregation, it was white evangelicals who organized segregated private “Christian” Academies so their white children would not have to go to school with black children.

When some courageous Jews and Mainline Protestants joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s great civil rights movement against racism, white evangelicals were at best overwhelmingly silent. When Frank Gaebelein, then coeditor of Christianity Today, moved from reporting on, to joining, Dr. King in one of his great civil rights marches, Gaebelein promptly experienced opposition and hostility from other white evangelical leaders. Jerry Falwell denounced Dr. King, condemning him for getting into politics instead of sticking to his proper role of evangelism. The seminary where I taught for 41 years was founded in 1925 as an evangelical alternative to theological liberalism. But the seminary refused to allow black male students to sleep overnight on campus and closed their swimming pool instead of integrating it. When the news of Dr. King’s assignation came to the white Los Angeles Baptist College where Dolphus Weary (one of John Perkins’ young black proteges) was studying, Weary discovered to his horror that the white students were celebrating! In 1989, George Gallup published a survey showing that white Southern Baptists were the most likely of all Christians to object to having black neighbors.

It’s true that many white evangelical institutions have made some progress in recent decades. There have been significant statements repenting of racism – – including one by the Southern Baptists.

But in 2016, a man ran for president making clear conscious appeals to white racists. He claimed –totally falsely–that President Obama had not been born in the US and was therefore not legitimately president. He did not reject support of his candidacy by white nationalists and even David Duke, the former head of the Klu Klux Klan. Paul Ryan, Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, publicly declared that one of Trump’s statements was a “textbook” case of racism. But in spite of these clear, blatant, racist appeals, 81% of white evangelicals voted for him. And longtime Republican leader, Peter Wehner shows in his book THE DEATH OF POLITICS, that a major factor in the 2016 vote of white male Christians for Trump was their anxiety about losing their cultural dominance in the society.

And now in the midst of this most recent tragedy of the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman, President Trump fails to try to unite the country as previous presidents – both Republican and Democrat – have done. Instead of speaking in ways to bring Americans together, he continues to stoke racism. Instead of helping us better understand the long history of racist discrimination that fuels the angry response to Floyd’s death, he makes partisan tweets. He denounced the “very weak radical left” Democratic mayor of Minneapolis. Trump said he would send in the National Guard and added in the tweet: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.“

This is the president white evangelicals have elected and continue to defend. There may or may not be some valid reasons for voting for Trump (that is the subject for other posts).

But unless white evangelicals rise up in large numbers to condemn Donald Trump’s racist, divisive response; unless the many prominent white evangelical leaders who vigorously support Trump’s presidency loudly and publicly condemn his failure to lead the nation away from racism; unless that happens, white evangelicalism loses whatever credibility it still retains.

This is white evangelicalism’s hour of decision. We must condemn Trump’s racist actions. We must repent of our long history of racism. We must throw ourselves into a decade-long peaceful struggle to end continuing structural racism in our schools, prisons indeed all areas of society.

If Billy Graham were still with us, he would call us to respond courageously in this hour of decision.

Most of California’s Evangelical Megachurches are Still Online

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Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA is online this weekend

1200 California churches will open this weekend in defiance of the governor’s orders. We posted about this here.

But before the press paints California evangelicals with one broad brush, as they are prone to do, it is worth noting that nearly all of California’s largest and most influential megachurches will continue to conduct services online this weekend. Most of them are not listening to Donald Trump. They are making their own decisions in conversation with local government and health officials. This is also the case with evangelical churches across the country.

These churches are online only (though dated (10 years old), we are using the Hartford Institute for Religion Research megachurch list for attendance numbers):

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest (Rick Warren): 22,055

Bayside Church in Roseville (Ray Johnston): 22,286

The Rock Church and World Outreach Center in San Bernardino (Dan Roth): 14,550

Mariners Church in Irvine (Eric Geiger): 13,567

West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles (Charles E. Blake):13,000

Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside (Greg Laurie): 13,000

The Rock Church in San Diego (Miles McPherson): 12,864

North Coast Church in Vista (Larry Osborne): 12,521

Calvary Chapel Golden Springs (Paul Ries): 12,000

Templo Calvario Assembly of God in Santa Ana (Daniel de Leon): 11,000

Shepherd Church in Porter Ranch (Dudley Rutherford): 8675

Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield (Ron Vietti): 10,300

Faith Community Church in West Covina (Dan Reeve): 10,000

Sandals Church in Riverside (Matt Brown): 9559

Calvary Church in Costa Mesa (Brian Broderson): 9500

Calvary Chapel South Bay in Gardena (Jeff Gill): 9200

The Church on the Way in Van Nuys (Tim Clark): 9032

Calvary Chapel in Downey (Jeff Johnson): 9000

Angelus Temple in Los Angeles (Matthew Barnett): 8975

Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim (Gene Appel): 8960

Cathedral of Faith in San Jose (Ken Foreman): 8000

Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood (Kenneth Ulmer): 8000

Grace Community Church in Sun Valley (John McArthur): 8000

Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego (David Jeremiah): 7513

Cottonwood Christian Center in Los Alamitos (Bayless and Janet Conley): 7000

Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego (Philip Macintosh): 7000

Emmanuel Faith Community Church in Escondido (Ryan Paulson): 6500

High Desert Church in Victorville (Tom Mercer): 6313

Lancaster Baptist Church in Lancaster (Paul Chappell): 6000

Bethany Slavic Missionary Church in Sacramento (Adam Bodnaruk): 5700

Crossroads Christian Church in Corona (Chuck Booher): 5221

Sunrise Church in Rialto (Steve Garcia): 5000

Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa (Bart Scharrer): 5000

Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena (Jeff Mattesich): 5000

 

ADDENDUM: When I posted this on Facebook I wrote: “Most California evangelicals will worship online this Sunday, but the media is obsessed with those that want to open-up.”

A reader responded:

The media is obsessed.” If I’m a journalist, it’s my responsibility to cover things like the Liberty Counsel’s “ReOpen Church Sunday” announcement which was made over a month ago. That’s not obsession, it’s simple reporting.

My response:

No argument here…You have to cover it. You are doing your job. But part of my job is to remind people that the reporting of individual cases–like the Liberty Counsel “ReOpen Church Sunday”– is used to create a larger narrative that informs programming and a given outlet’s approach to the news. You are covering facts. 24-hour news outlets are taking those facts and telling a story over the course of a given news cycle. CNN and MSNBC want to paint evangelicals as rights-obsessed, anti-science crazy people. FOX wants to portray them as patriots. Neither represents the everyday lives of most conservative evangelical Christians. A historian would tell this story very differently. 50 years from now, the story of Pentecost Sunday 2020 in California will be that the attendees of the largest megachurches in the state stayed home.

ADDENDUM #2 (Saturday, May 22, 2020 at 11:00am): John MacArthur of Grace Community Church is opening.