“Who is an Evangelical?”: Thomas Kidd on NPR

Kidd who isI was listening to National Public Radio on my drive to Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday and somewhere around Ann Arbor I heard Baylor historian Thomas Kidd talking about the definition of the word “evangelical.”  Kidd, of course, was discussing his new book Who Is an Evangelical: The History of a Movement in Crisis.

Here is a taste of what I heard:

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We’ve reached the point in the media where the word evangelical has lost a lot of its original meaning. Author Thomas Kidd points this out in his new book “Who Is An Evangelical?”

THOMAS KIDD: I think it is a sign of the politicization of evangelicalism that people who, say, don’t go to church would still be willing to say that they’re an evangelical. I think that signals that somehow, evangelical now is a fundamentally political term.

CORNISH: Thomas Kidd says prior to the mid-’70s, there wasn’t a box to check. But it was shortly after pollsters started actually asking voters about their religious affiliation that we saw the coalescing of a powerful political voting bloc.

KIDD: The transition moment has to be 1976…

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: My name is Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for president.

(APPLAUSE)

KIDD: …When one of the major parties nominates an outspoken evangelical, Jimmy Carter, for the Democrats…

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: All of us – our individual fates are linked.

KIDD: …As the presidential candidate and obviously eventually became president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: In that knowledge and in that spirit, together, as the Bible says, we can move mountains. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

KIDD: And one of the most important developments that comes associated with that is that 1976 is the first year that the Gallup organization begins polling about whether people are evangelicals or born again. And it’s often not being asked about whether you’re an evangelical to see what your spiritual beliefs and practices are but to determine what your political behavior is.

Read or listen here.

H.L. Mencken and Michael Gerson?

mencken (1)

I never thought of putting these two writers together, and I am not sure they belong together, but Martin Longman tries to make some connections between Mencken’s response to William Jennings Bryan and Gerson’s response to Trump.  Here is a taste of his piece at Washington Monthly:

The main difference between Gerson and Mencken’s takes is that Gerson blames the evangelicals for following Trump while Mencken emphasized Bryan’s efforts to lead them. But, in both cases, the evangelicals were easy to lead.

Mencken remarked of Dayton’s citizenry that “this is a strictly Christian community, and such is its notion of fairness, justice and due process of law” and “what Bryan says [against the theory of evolution] doesn’t seem to these congenial Baptists and Methodists to be argument; it seems to be a mere graceful statement to the obvious….”  It’s hard not to hear the echo in Gerson’s words: “American evangelicals are significantly crueler…than the national norm…they have become involved in a political throuple with Trump and Fox News, in which each feeds the grievances and conspiracy thinking of the others. The result has properly been called cultlike. For many followers, Trump has defined an alternative, insular universe of facts and values that only marginally resembles our own.”

Mencken believed that the leading citizens of Dayton hoped that the trial would revitalize their town which had been losing population over the preceding couple of decades; “It is believed that settlers will be attracted to the town as to some refuge from the atheism of the great urban Sodoms and Gomorrah.” But what is Fox News but this exact kind of refuge?

Nearly a century has passed since the Scopes Trial and most things have changed in dramatic ways. For one, towns like Dayton, Tennessee are less likely to be as idyllic as Mencken described:

It would be hard to imagine a more moral town than Dayton. If it has any bootleggers, no visitor has heard of them. Ten minutes after I arrived a leading citizen offered me a drink made up half of white mule and half of coca cola, but he seems to have been simply indulging himself in a naughty gesture. No fancy woman has been seen in the town since the end of the McKinley administration. There is no gambling. There is no place to dance. The relatively wicked, when they would indulge themselves, go to Robinson’s drug store and debate theology….

Today, these towns are shells of their former selves, with opioid addiction more the norm than debates about theology.  In this limited sense, Gerson may be onto something when he argues that there has been a lowering of standards and moral leadership within the evangelical community. But the grievances and conspiracy thinking remain largely the same. The contempt for “fairness, justice and due process of law” is the same. The desire to be free of “the atheism of the great urban Sodoms and Gomorrah” is unchanged. The  “alternative, insular universe of facts and values that only marginally resembles our own” is only enhanced and weaponized by conservative media and a Republican Party that feed and rely upon it.

Read the entire piece here.

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.

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.

The American Council of Christian Churches Still Exists

accc-exec-comm-early

When post-fundamentalists like Billy Graham, Carl. F.H. Henry, and Harold John Ockenga began to forge a kinder and gentler brand of conservative Protestantism known as “neo-evangelicalism,” there were many veterans of the fundamentalist-modernist battles of the 1920s who continued to cling to the “fundamentalist” label. The primary difference between these groups of former fundamentalists focused on how to engage the larger religious world.  Neo-evangelicals favored cultural engagement and an irenic spirit toward liberal Protestantism.  Fundamentalists championed separation from the world and a more militant attitude toward liberal Protestantism. As historian George Marsden once quipped, a fundamentalist is “an evangelical Christian who is angry about something.”  The fundamentalists believed that the neo-evangelicals were compromising true biblical faith by participating in religious events with modernists.  The neo-evangelicals founded the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942.  A year earlier, the fundamentalists founded the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC).  I wrote about the distinctions between these two groups here.

The American Council of Christian Churches was founded by Presbyterian minister Carl McIntire.  His fundamentalist credentials were strong.  McIntire was defrocked by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. for violating his ordination vows in 1936 and quickly joined J. Gresham Machen’s Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).  A year later he broke away from the OPC and formed the Bible Presbyterian Church.  I wrote about these splits here.

McIntire had grandiose dreams of a national council of fundamentalist churches similar to the ecumenical Federal Council of Christian Churches (FCC).  By early 1940, he was calling for a national organizations from the pages of his weekly newspaper, the Christian Beacon.  McIntire used the Christian Beacon to unleash scathing attacks against modernists and those fundamentalists who refused to separate from mainline Protestant denominations.  He would devote entire issues of the paper to the publication of charts and graphs designed to document the growth of liberal theology in the FCC and expose its modernist leaders.  In one editorial on the FCC and modernism, Mcintire wrote:

There is a need for an organization representing the true Protestant position which can receive its proportionate share of time from the radio broadcasts…The reason that the Protestants are not represented is that they have no spoken up.  We believe God is able and that He is going to raise up a voice.

As this quote reveals, McIntire imagined an organization that championed fundamentalist voices on the radio.  He also wanted an organization of churches that would advocate for fundamentalist military chaplains during World War II.

The American Council of Churches was born on September 17, 1941 at McIntire’s National Bible Institute (later Shelton College) on 55th Street in New York City.  The original sponsors included Will Houghton of Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones Sr. of Bob Jones University, and Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life Fellowship.   The original ACCC was made-up of two fundamentalist denominations: McIntire’s Bible Presbyterian Church and the Bible Protestant Church, a group of separatist Methodists who withdrew from the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939 in protest to the merger between the Methodist Protestant Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, and Methodist Episcopal Church South.

The ACCC grew modestly.  In the next several years the Bible Presbyterian Church and Bible Protestant Church were joined by the American Bible Fellowship, the General Association of Regular Baptists, the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Old Evangelical Catholic Church, the Union of Regular Baptist Churches of Ontario and Quebec, the Tioga River Christian Conference, the Conference of Fundamentalist Churches, the United Christian Church, the National Fellowship of Brethren Churches, the Ohio Independent Baptist Church.  The two largest denominations were the General Association of Regular Baptists, which under the leadership of Robert T. Ketcham had split from the Northern Baptist Convention, and the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, who were a untied group of independent churches under the leadership of William McCarrell.

The leaders of the ACCC, despite the organization’s small constituency (1.2 million members), understood it as the ecclesiastical opponent of the massive FCC, which contained over 30 million members.  The zealous voices of the ACCC made it appear as if they had a much large piece of the American religious landscape.  They energetically, and successfully, lobbied for radio time and military chaplains.   The organization launched McIntire into the national spotlight.

I lost track of the activities of the American Council of Christian Churches after I turned my scholarly attention to early American history.  But last week I learned that the organization still exists.  In fact, its national meeting will take place this weekend right in my own backyard.

The 2019 meeting of the ACCC is scheduled for October 22-24 at Faith Chapel in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  You can read all about it here.

It appears that the present-day ACCC is made up of nine denominations and continues to uphold its historic commitment to separation.

The 2019 conference theme is “Biblical Fundamentalism: Pursuing Purity.”  Here is what attendees can expect:

The emergence of Biblical Fundamentalism late in the 19th century was not the creation of something new in Christendom.  It was the call to return to the Apostolic roots of Christianity and to resist the efforts of modern liberalism to redefine the message of the Bible.  The Bible conferences that took place at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, beginning in 1876, recognized the theological drift that afflicted churches across the United States and Canada.  Long before the appearance of the New Evangelicalism with its cultivation of dialogue with enemies of the faith and compromise of the faith’s core principles, the early Fundamentalists confronted the emissaries of German rationalism and their campaign against the cardinal doctrines of Christianity.  They faced those enemies of the truth with resolve and summoned believers in Christ to take their stand for the separated witness of the Gospel. 

Nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century, Biblical Fundamentalism tends to be an expression of scorn and contempt among so-called conservative evangelicals who appear to desire the revival of the New Evangelicalism.  The American Council of Christian Churches declines all association with such a desire.  It takes its stand without apology for the faith once delivered to the saints.  It bears the historic name of Biblical Fundamentalism as a badge of honor and an assertion that it will stand with Christ outside the camp of worldliness and compromise.  For its 78th annual convention, to take place October 22-24 at Faith Chapel, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the American Council of Christian Churches calls the people of God to a revival of their old resolve to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  The history of Biblical Fundamentalism is replete with courageous contenders for the truth whose example 21st century believers do well to emulate.  The answers to the challenge of this time lie in the Holy Scriptures and in their revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ.  To both the written and Incarnate Word, the faithful people of God owe all their allegiance and the devotion of their lives.

The titles of the plenary addresses tell us a lot about the organization.  They include:

“The Battle Royal: Biblical Fundamentalism”

“God Would Raise Up New Generations of Fundamentalists”

“Knowing Our History: Biblical Fundamentalism’s Past”

“Has the Battle Ended? Biblical Fundamentalism’s Present and Future”

The conference also includes breakout sessions devoted to the legacies of McIntire, Bob Jones Jr. Gresham Machem, Robert T. Ketcham, Bob Jones Sr, Ian Paisley, and William Bell Riley.

Yes, it appears the American Council of Churches is alive and well.  There are still groups out their who gladly embrace the label “fundamentalist.”

Thomas Kidd on “What is an Evangelical?”

Kidd who is

Here is the Baylor University historian discussing his latest book on the Christianity Today “Quick to Listen” podcast:

The book is Who is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis.  Here is my back cover blurb:

“Thomas Kidd, an accomplished U.S. historian and practicing evangelical Christian, reminds us that evangelicalism has always been primarily a religious and spiritual movement that, when at its best, has transcended race, class, ethnicity, and politics.”—John Fea, author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

This is a good interview, but where is Morgan Lee?

Robb Ryerse: An Evangelical, Pro Gay Rights, Small Government, Medicare for All, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Confederate Monument, Pro Tax Reform, and Green Energy Republican Who Ran for Congress in 2018

Learn more here:

Ryerse is a graduate of Summit University (formerly Baptist Bible College) in Clarks Summit, PA and Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA.   Summit University has roots in the fundamentalist General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.  Biblical Theological Seminary is a generally evangelical seminary founded when theologian Allen McRae broke ranks with fundamentalist crusader Carl McIntire.  Ryerse has since left fundamentalism and now pastors a more progressive evangelical congregation.

At one point early in the film, Ryerse notes that one his favorite books is “Feinberg’s Systematic Theology.”  I did not know that John Feinberg, Paul Feinberg, or their father Charles Feinberg ever wrote a complete systematic theology.  Perhaps I did not hear this correctly.

He is considering another run in 2020.

On “Evangelical Leaders”

Evangelical Praise

While we were hosting the #2 women’s volleyball team in the nation (NCAA Division III), I heard another Twitter battle erupted over the definition of “evangelical.”  The debate is summarized by religious historian Jesse Curtis at his blog Colorblind Christians.  Here is a taste:

In recent days an evangelical twitter tempest has reemerged, this time over the question of whether Jerry Falwell, Jr. is an evangelical leader. This is a more specific variation on the perennial question of who is an evangelical, and the Trump-era twist on it: what has happened to evangelicalism?

On one side are some evangelical elites and evangelical scholars who continue to insist on a theologically-defined evangelicalism rooted in David Bebbington’s work. The upshot of this definition is that you can make a distinction between “real” evangelicals and evangelicals in name only.

But other scholars, including sizable numbers of evangelicals, have come to see this theological definition as analytically unhelpful. To some critics, it smacks of contemporary movement boundary policing more than serious historical inquiry.

Among the more notable examples of this critique in recent years is Timothy Gloege’s 2018 Religion Dispatches piece, “Being Evangelical Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry.” Basically, if a so-called evangelical is behaving badly, you can just write them out of the movement and rebrand it. Sorry, not sorry.

Read the entire piece here.

So is Jerry Falwell Jr. an “evangelical leader?”  Of course he is.

So is Franklin Graham, Beth Moore, Robert Jeffress, Al Mohler, Mark Galli, John Perkins, David Barton, Kim Phipps, Paula White, Jo Anne Lyon, Russell Moore, D.A. Carson, Samuel Rodriguez,  Jim Wallis, Shirley Hoogstra, Andy Crouch, Tim Keller, Tony Campolo, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Justin Giboney, Max Lucado, David French, Philip Ryken, Richard Cizik, Ron Sider, Richard Mouw, Jimmy Carter, Leith Anderson, Eugene Habecker, Johnnie Moore, Gary Bauer, Shirley Mullen, John Piper, Eric Metaxas, Samuel Escobar, James Robison, Philip Yancey, Lisa Sharon Harper, Tony Evans, Michael Gerson, Joel Hunter, Bono, Joyce Meyer, Luis Palau, Tim Tebow, John Hagee, Joni Eareckson Tada, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Wayne Grudem, Louis Giglio, Os Guinness, T.D. Jakes, John MacArthur, Jen Hatmaker, Rick Warren, Mike Pence, Francis Chan, J.I. Packer, Ken Ham, Josh McDowell, Creflo Dollar, Ralph Reed, Andy Stanley, George Marsden, Charles Stanley, James Dobson, Joel Osteen, Mike Huckabee, Lynne Hybels, Mark Noll, Ravi Zacharias, Randall Balmer, Cal Thomas, Kenneth Copeland, Gary Haugen, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Kay Arthur, Shane Claiborne, Jim Bakker, Michael Lindsay, Jim Daley, and Pat Robertson.  I am sure there are many I left out here, but I hope you get the picture.

If we thought about this historically, I would say that following individuals (not a comprehensive list, of course) were evangelical leaders in the United States:  Nancy Hardesty, Doug Coe, Charles Colson, Virginia Mollenkott, Leighton Ford, Angelina Grimke, Pat Boone, William Bentley, Dallas Willard,  Paul Rader, Sarah Grimke, Bob Jones, Bob Jones Jr., Phoebe Palmer, Bill Gothard, Jarena Lee, Charles Finney, Kathryn Kuhlman, Arthur Tappan, Harriett Beecher Stowe, A.B. Simpson, Harriett Livermore, David Payne, Roberta Hestenes, Oliver Buswell, Francis Scott Key, John Jay, Robert Dabney, Carl F.H. Henry, Fanny Crosby, Isaac Backus, David Wilkerson, W.A. Criswell, Tammy Faye Bakker, Alexander Campbell, Lott Cary, James Montgomery Boice, Nat Turner, Nathan Bangs, Jack Van Impe, Kenneth Kantzer, Carl McIntire, George Eldon Ladd, Jonathan Blanchard, Frank Gaebelein, Harold Lindsell, Francis Wayland, Arthur Holmes, Jimmy Swaggart, Sarah Lide Fountain,  Olaudah Equiano, John Walvoord, Denmark Vesey, John Fee, Sam Jones, Abraham Vereide, Anita Bryant, James D. Kennedy, Lemuel Haynes, Charles Parham, Richard Allen, Larry Norman, John Wimber, Thomas Coke, Beverly LaHaye, Thomas Dew, Robert E. Lee, A.C. Dixon, Elias Boudinot, Paul Jewett, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Ida B. Robinson, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Fuller, Anne Beale Davis, Johnny Cash, Francis Willard, John Jea, David Zeisberger, David Walker,  John R. Rice, Samuel Stanhope Smith, Paige Patterson, Sharon Gallagher, David Rice ,Chuck Smith, John Stott, James Earl Massey, Oral Roberts,  Samuel Adams, Billy James Hargis, Jack Hayford, Lyman Beecher, Roger Sherman, John Todd, Lorenzo Dow, Michael Cromartie, John Jasper, John Leland, James McGready, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Donald Grey Barnhouse, William Lloyd Garrison, C. Everett Koop, Elisabeth Elliott, Jerry Falwell Sr., Bill Bright, Billy Graham, R.A. Torrey, William Bell Riley, Charles Colcock Jones,  William Seymour, Mark Hatfield, Aimee Semple McPherson, William and Catherine Booth, A.T. Pierson, Tom Skinner, Billy Sunday, Stonewall Jackson, James Henry Thornwell, Cameron Townsend, Mary Craddock, John Witherspoon, Francis Asbury, William Jennings Byran, Charles Fuller, J. Frank Norris, Harold John Ockenga, Henrietta Mears, Timothy Dwight, Wilbur Smith, Philis Wheatley, J. Howard Pew, William Pannell, Rex Humbard, Barton Stone, D.L. Moody, C.I. Scofield, Tim LaHaye, Francis Schaeffer, and Nelson L. Bell.

Read about these figures.  They have/had different views on a host of “hot button” issues– the role of women in the church, race, slavery, foreign policy, social justice, politics, etc.  They disagree on a lot.  But they are also united in a shared approach to Protestant faith. They all believe(d) that human beings were sinners in need of redemption through a born-again experience and made such an experience the hallmark of religious identity.  They all believe(d) in the authority of a divinely/inspired Bible as a rule of faith and practice and turned to it to justify their views on a host of issues.  They all believe(d) in the necessity of sharing their faith with others through personal evangelism, mass crusades, and local revivalism.

They are/were all evangelicals.

Michael Gerson on Evangelical Anxiety

Trump court evangelicals

Many evangelicals believe that their religious liberty under attack.  Perhaps “attack” is a bit extreme, but there are some legitimate threats to religious liberty.  Michael Gerson of The Washington Post agrees with this assessment.  But he also reminds us that evangelicals face a much greater threat.  Here is a taste of his recent column:

Much white evangelical support for President Trump is based on a bargain or transaction: political loyalty (and political cover for the president’s moral flaws) in return for protection from a hostile culture. Many evangelicals are fearful that courts and government regulators will increasingly treat their moral and religious convictions as varieties of bigotry. And that this will undermine the ability of religious institutions to maintain their identities and do their work. Such alarm is embedded within a larger anxiety about lost social standing that makes Trump’s promise of a return to greatness appealing.

Evangelical concerns may be exaggerated, but they are not imaginary. There is a certain type of political progressive who would grant institutional religious liberty only to churches, synagogues and mosques, not to religious schools, religious hospitals and religious charities. Such a cramped view of pluralism amounts to the establishment of secularism, which would undermine the long-standing cooperation of government and religious institutions in tasks such as treating addiction, placing children in adoptive homes, caring for the sick and educating the young.

But this is not, by any reasonable measure, the largest problem evangelicals face. It is, instead, the massive sell-off of evangelicalism among the young. About 26 percent of Americans 65 and older identify as white evangelical Protestants. Among those ages 18 to 29, the figure is 8 percent. Why this demographic abyss does not cause greater panic — panic concerning the existence of evangelicalism as a major force in the United States — is a mystery and a scandal. With their focus on repeal of the Johnson Amendment and the right to say “Merry Christmas,” some evangelical leaders are tidying up the kitchen while the house burns down around them.

Read the rest here.

This is the Best You Will Get from the *National Review* on “The 1619 Project”

1619

Jim Geraghty writes about everything that is missing from the story of African-American history told in The New York Times 1619 Project.  The National Review writer seems to think that the project is an African-American history textbook that must cover everything.

But David French sees some merit in the project:

The black American argument for liberty is achieving new prominence in part because of the New York Times’s “ 1619 Project” — an ambitious effort to reframe the arrival of the first slaves on America’s shores as our nation’s “true founding.” Many of the accompanying essays are interesting and provocative, though they don’t truly make the case that America came into being as a result of slavery rather than through the ratification of one of the most stirring and aspirational documents in human history. The true founding of our nation resulted in the creation of a series of painful conflicts between the promise of liberty and the reality of oppression, and the promise of liberty has prevailed time and again. But the focus on 1619 should provide modern Evangelicals — many of whom are in a state of near-panic — with a healthy dose of perspective.

I like French’s piece because he draws upon African-American history as an antidote to evangelical political pessimism.  A lot of his thoughts here echo the last chapter of Believe Me in which I suggested that the Civil Rights Movement could serve as a model for white evangelical political engagement today.

Mainline Protestants for Trump

Bethel Lutheran Church ELCA, Willmar

When it comes to Christians supporting the Trump presidency, evangelicals get all the attention.  But as Chris Gehrz notes in his recent Anxious Bench post, mainline Protestants are not immune to Trump love.  I don’t know of any “court mainliners,” but it seems like a pro-Trump sentiment is alive and well among Lutherans.  Here is a taste:

Consider the largest Protestant denomination in my part of the country: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). At its annual meeting earlier this month, the ELCA not only passed statements condemning patriarchy and white supremacy, but made national news for declaring itself a “sanctuary church body.” Hundreds of delegates joined Lutheran activists in marching a mile to the Milwaukee office of the federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where they held a prayer vigil and posted 9.5 theses on care for refugees and other immigrants. “We put the protest back in Protestant,” proclaimed some of the signs held by protestors. (And I don’t think they meant it like one of our blogging neighbors does.)

As religion reporter Emily McFarlan Miller had predicted, the 2019 ELCA assembly offered “a window into the issues important to many progressive Christians across the country.” But how many of the ELCA’s 3.5 million members are actually (politically) progressive?

Consider some of the numbers that political scientist Ryan Burge has been crunching from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), which surveys over 64,000 Americans every two years. Not only do 49% of ELCA respondents in the 2018 CCES identify as Republican (vs. 42% as Democrats), but even more approve of Donald Trump: 52% of those Lutherans, 35% strongly. When Burge drilled down to look at religious behavior, he found that ELCA support for Trump was strongest among those who attended church most often and weakest among those who show up just once or twice a year.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Evangelicals Did Not Like Trump’s Use of Profanity at a Recent Rally

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

In 1982, the evangelical activist Tony Campolo gave a sermon to an evangelical conference called Spring Harvest.  Here is how he began his talk:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 45,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said ‘shit’ than the fact that 45,000 kids died last night.

I thought about Campolo’s line again as I read about evangelicals in West Virginia who were upset that Trump used profanity at his recent Greenville, NC rally.  Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s piece at Politico:

Paul Hardesty didn’t pay much attention to President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., last month until a third concerned constituent rang his cellphone.

The residents of Hardesty’s district — he’s a Trump-supporting, West Virginia state senator — were calling to complain that Trump was “using the Lord’s name in vain,” Hardesty recounted.

“The third phone call is when I actually went and watched his speech because each of them sounded distraught,” said Hardesty, who describes himself as a conservative Democrat.

Here’s what he would have seen: Trump crowing, “They’ll be hit so g–damn hard,” while bragging about bombing Islamic State militants. And Trump recounting his warning to a wealthy businessman: “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be so g–damn poor.”

To most of America, the comments went unnoticed. Instead, the nation was gripped by the moment a “send her back” chant broke out as Trump went after Somali-born Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, an American citizen. But some Trump supporters were more fixated on his casual use of the word “g–damn” — an off-limits term for many Christians — not to mention the numerous other profanities laced throughout the rest of his speech.

Read the entire piece here.

Do Evangelicals Have a Porn Problem?

AddictedYes and no.  Or at least this is the argument of Oklahoma University sociologist Samuel Perry in his new book Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants.

Perry argues that evangelical men who take their faith seriously and try to practice it in everyday life view porn less than non-evangelicals.  The real porn problem is the church’s perception that is has a serious problem.

Here is a taste of Jana Riess’s interview with Perry at Religion News Service:

There are several. Drawing on numerous studies, Perry finds that:

Despite the statistical finding that conservative Christians are less likely to use porn, the perception within evangelical churches is that this has become an enormous problem for the faithful. To them, the fact that only 40% of conservative Protestant men under age 40 have seen porn in the last year is not cause for rejoicing but for alarm—and the alarm itself may be creating, or at least exacerbating, psychological and marital problems for those Christian users.

Whereas many other Americans seem to be able to view porn without it causing significant mental health problems, for conservative Christians it’s different. The church’s zero-tolerance policy for porn means those who consume it only occasionally might see themselves as addicts from the first viewing. Even though conservative Christians use porn less than other Americans, they are statistically twice as likely to consider themselves “addicted” to it. Their shame can be soul-crushing.

Read the entire interview here.

My Favorite Moment From the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society of the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR)

Yesterday I was part of a panel of early American historians who write op-eds and other public pieces for public consumption.  The panel included Jill Lepore, Erica Dunbar, Yoni Appelbaum, and Grantham Rao. I will blog about this panel later today, but I thought I would share an exchange that occurred during the session:

Me (during my presentation):  “I am an evangelical Christian.”  (This was relevant because I was talking about an op-ed I wrote about Trump in The Atlantic).

Audience member during Q&A, speaking to the standing-only crowd: “I think it is worth noting here that we have a real live evangelical in our midst.”

Me:  “Yes–and after the session I will be outside in a cage so you can all examine me more fully.”  (Yes, I can get a bit snarky).

Audience: Awkward laughter.

Jill Lepore (addressing the aforementioned audience member): I’m gonna stop you right there. This is not a session about John or his faith, it is about writing op-eds for public audiences.

Thanks, Jill.

I also appreciate all of the evangelicals and people of other Christian faiths who came up to me after the session and offered words of encouragement for my work.

More later.

The Collapse of Evangelicalism’s Cultural Center

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Over at Slate, Ruth Graham writes about the decline of the Christian bookstore.  Here is a taste of her piece:

The Christian publishing industry, and its distribution arm in Christian bookstores, plays a central role within evangelical culture, even for those who don’t read “Christian books.” Since evangelicalism has no central authority, the publishing industry’s self-defined borders have a huge impact on the people, ideas, and practices that get publicly promoted—and eventually accepted—as “true” Christianity. “Publishers have been really central to granting authority within evangelical culture … and for evangelical celebrities to be created,” said Daniel Vaca, a historian at Brown University whose book Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America will be published later this year. “Publishers have provided a cultural center for evangelicalism.”

Read the entire piece here.

This is so true.  As I read Graham’s piece, I was reminded of how little evangelical churches do to help their congregations navigate the evangelical culture–books, videos, television shows, movies, “Jesus junk,” and music–that they encounter online and in Christian stores.  A lot of evangelical churches have libraries, but they are usually not curated very well and have limited access to funds.  (There are exceptions to this rule!).

These Christian bookstores served as evangelicalism’s “cultural center” in the sense that they connected local believers to a broader evangelical world shaped by booksellers and other market-oriented forces.  The curators of this world brought us Joel Osteen, Paula White, Beth Moore, Rick Warren, Hal Lindsey, Josh McDowell, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, Frank Peretti, Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado, Dave Ramsey, Lee Strobel, Eric Metaxas, Ben Carson, T.D. Jakes, David Jeremiah, Sarah Young, John Eldridge, Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Kay Arthur, Anne Graham Lotz, Andy Stanley, and Joni Eareckson Tada, to name a few.

The evangelical world created by Christian publishing and bookstores largely centered on personal piety, Bibles and bible studies, self-help, and products that fused evangelical Christianity with the American dream.  (I have actually read and benefited from a few authors on the list in the previous paragraph, but I find that most of this stuff does not feed my soul or help me navigate my world in a thoughtful way).  In other words, these Christian bookstores rarely had large sections devoted to serious theology, biblical scholarship or books on how to bring serious Christian thinking–the kind produced at Christian colleges and seminaries–to social issues.  (This is why places like Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania or Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan are so important).

Now that the Christian bookstores are going away, and since it is unlikely that the church will replace the publishing industry’s curating function, the Internet and social media will become the cultural center of evangelicalism.  (One could probably argue that this has already happened).  In some ways, this is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.  Individual websites, tweeters, and “influencers” will now serve as curators, resulting in the increasing fragmentation of American evangelicalism.

Conservatives Are at Each Other’s Throats. Alan Jacobs Weighs-In

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I have not been following this whole David French–Sohrab Ahmari dust-up happening right now conservative circles, but I am guessing it has something to do with Trump.

But I did get a kick out of this exchange between an editor at First Things and David French.

But wait, there’s more:

As I noted above, I am not really following this debate.  But when Alan Jacobs weighs-in on something I read it.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

A story commonly told these days on both the left and the right says that American Christians, and especially evangelicals, are solidly behind President Donald Trump. The real story is far more complex, and has led many Christians to some fairly serious soul-searching, and others to ask hard questions about whether we even know what an “evangelical” is. Among Christians, as among so many other Americans, one of the chief effects of the rise of Trump has been to widen some fault lines and expose others that we didn’t even know existed. It is at least possible that some good will come from this exposure.

You can see some of these fault lines opening up in a recent controversy that has greatly occupied many journalists, scholars, and ordinary people who care about the relations between Christianity and conservatism. The controversy began when Sohrab Ahmari, the op-ed editor of the New York Post, tweeted, “There’s no polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war”—referring to the lawyer, former soldier, and senior writer of National Review who has often made the case that Christians in the public arena need to practice civility. Ahmari then expanded that tweet into a full-scale attack on French, and since then, the conservative world has been fairly obsessed with adjudicating the dispute.

It’s important to note that Ahmari sees the differences between him and French as rooted, ultimately, in their different Christian traditions: Catholicism for Ahmari—who recently published a memoir of his conversion—and evangelical Protestantism. But whether this is indeed the heart of the matter, the dispute so far hasn’t fallen out that way. Some Catholics are with French, some Protestants with Ahmari. And in any case, I’m more interested in the ways this dispute illuminates questions that all Christians involved in public life need to reckon with than in choosing sides. How Christians choose to reckon with these questions will have consequences for all Americans, whether religious or not.

Read the rest here.

Discrimination Against Evangelicals and the Evangelical Victimization Narrative

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Earlier this month I was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the Boston area for a panel discussion with Dartmouth religion scholar Randall Balmer on “Evangelicals and Politics.”  Mark Massa of Boston College’s Boisi Center served as the moderator.

Massa asked us if evangelicals had a “distinctive political style.”  I suggested, as I did in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, that much of evangelical politics is defined by fear, power, and nostalgia.

Balmer summarized evangelical’s political style in one word: “victimization.”  I thought about his answer again after reading Griffin Paul Jackson’s recent piece at Christianity Today: “Half of Americans Say Evangelical are Discriminated Against.”  Here is a taste:

Though evangelical Protestants remain the largest faith group in the country, as clashes over their beliefs turn up in the public square, half the country has come to believe evangelicals face discrimination in the US.

A new report from the Pew Research Center reveals that Americans see discrimination on the rise or holding steady across demographic groups, with evangelical Christians and Jews experiencing a significant uptick over the past few years.

Fifty percent of US adults agree that evangelical Christians are subject to discrimination, up from 42 percent in 2016. One in five (18%) say that evangelicals—about a quarter of the population—face “a lot” of discrimination.

Read the rest here.

Evangelicals only represent about 25% of the American population.  This means that a lot of non-evangelical Americans also believe that evangelicals face discrimination.  As the readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of the victimization narrative that defines much of political discourse on the Christian Right.  Balmer is right.  But I also think some of the discrimination of evangelicals is probably real.  Perhaps we brought it upon ourselves, but it is nonetheless real.  I wrote about this a few years ago at Aeon.