Why Did So Many Hispanics in Florida Pull the Lever for DeSantis Instead of Gillum?

Governors race

The pundits seemed baffled by the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race between Rep. Rick DeSantis (R) and Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum (D).  Here is a taste of an article at the Atlanta Black Star:

Initial Election Day results showed that a significant chunk of Latino men and women voted in favor of DeSantis, who once cautioned Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum as their next governor. According to the numbers, 46 percent of Hispanic men voted for the GOP candidate while 38 percent of women did the same.

Social media critics couldn’t help but notice the trend, and were left scratching their heads over how Latinos could vote for someone who’s backed President Donald Trump‘s tough stance on immigration.

“At some point we need to have a frank and non-judgmental conversation about these Hispanic numbers,” Twitter user @chukroxx opined. “I don’t understand them … And, emotionally, it mid-key stings. What’s happening here y’all?”

“I’m truly just tryna comprehend,” he continued. What about the republican platform is so inviting? Especially considering their immigration stances? Why wasn’t the racism Desantis off putting?”

Radio host Ebro Darden offered this explanation: “Some Latinos are white and even racist against Black & Brown. Many are evangelicals … just cause someone makes seasoned food and is stereotyped by the oppressor as murderous and criminal does not mean they don’t wanna be just like their oppressor.”

Other Twitter users chimed with their own ideas, pointing out some Latino’s allegiance to America prompts them to vote red.

I don’t know much about the Latino electorate in Florida, but I wonder if they voted for DeSantis because he is pro-life on abortion.  Many Latinos are evangelicals who take traditional positions on social and cultural issues.  Perhaps they placed their moral commitments over identity politics.  Just a thought.  Perhaps someone who knows more about this subject might be able to offer some insight.

It seems like the same argument could be made in other gubernatorial races as well.

Are Younger Evangelicals Any Different Than Older Evangelicals?

latin evangelicals

At nearly every stop I have made on the Believe Me book tour I am asked if I see a generational divide in evangelical support for Donald Trump.  I usually say, based on my attendance at an evangelical church, my interaction with students at a Christian college, and my conversations with my 17-year old and 21-year-old daughters, that there IS a generational divide.

The young evangelicals I speak with are pro-life on abortion and divided over gay marriage.  They are also pro-immigration, advocates of creation care (environment), opposed to capital punishment, interested in promoting social justice for the poor and oppressed, and supportive of a more inclusive and pluralistic society.

According to a recent study by political scientists Jeremy Castle, Ryan Burge, and Paul Djupe, the people I know are not very representative of most young evangelicals.  Here is a taste of their recent piece at VOX:

Overall, there isn’t much evidence of a young evangelical voice that is being “drowned out” by elders. On many issues, young evangelicals are quite similar to older evangelicals. When it comes to abortion, a signature issue among evangelicals, Ryan Burge finds that they are just as conservative on abortion as others. As Jeremy Castle shows in his forthcoming book Rock of Ages, one reason for this is that many evangelical churches have mechanisms for socializing members into conservative attitudes on cultural issues, including sponsoring Sanctity of Life Sunday and crisis pregnancy centers. As Andrew Lewis documents, another reason may be that the mandates of abortion politics drive conservatives to maintain support for anti-abortion candidates.

The most notable issue where young evangelicals are more liberal than older evangelical generations is same-sex marriage, but again, context is important. In particular, the change seems to be concentrated among low-commitment evangelicals (those who attend church, pray, and look to religion for guidance on day-to-day matters less). This suggests that changes in the broader society around them, rather than changes in evangelical theology, are behind evangelicals’ liberalization on same-sex marriage. Even so, young evangelicals are much more conservative on same-sex marriage than other young voters.

There also isn’t much evidence that the changing issue attitudes on same-sex marriage (or any other issues) are leading to broader changes in political behavior. In separate research, Castle and Burge find little evidence in nationally representative survey data that young evangelicals are changing their political identities. Both partisanship and self-identified left-right ideology among 18- to 29-year-old evangelicals have remained nearly constant since 1990, though with a demonstrable conservative uptick in 2016.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Good News” for Trump is that White Evangelicals “Just Don’t Care”

Marsha

Trump with evangelical Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn

75% of white evangelicals voted Republican yesterday.  Writer Jacob Lupfer offers his take on what this means.  Here is a taste of his Religion News Service piece: “As evangelicals win with Trump, little ‘good news’ is left in the religious right.”

Trumpism is now business as usual for white evangelicalism, and white evangelical politics are inseparable from Trump’s.

This is a dangerous equation for the religious right, which once justified its alignment with the GOP by saying it could dictate social policy because of the votes it could marshal at election time. But now conservative Christians depend on Trump, not the other way around. Democrats may control the House, but the Republican caucus is even more dominated by Trump disciples as many decent GOP members retired or lost their re-election bids.

Across Capitol Hill, the Senate is now another Trump property. The president believes, with good reason, that the new crop of Republican senators owes its election to his strong support. Even the evangelical senators who occasionally challenge the president’s worst excesses (though always through speeches, never their votes) look as weak and irrelevant as ever.

The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek New Testament. It means “good news,” in reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals at their best are a religious revival movement, not a voting bloc. True Christians would never abide the race-baiting, lying, dehumanizing rhetoric that Trump spews daily.

The “good news” for Trump is that they just don’t care.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals and the Honduras Caravan

Honduras

How can evangelicals, who supposedly believe in the teachings of the Bible, refuse to welcome immigrants and refugees? This is the subject of Tara Isabella Burton’s piece at VOX: “The Bible says to welcome immigrants.  So why don’t white evangelicals?”  It is written in the context of the large group of Honduras migrants fleeing gang violence and political instability.  Here is a taste:

How did white evangelicals come to so fully embrace the Trumpian rhetoric on immigration? How did a religious group whose foundational sacred text explicitly mandates care for the poor, the sick, and the stranger become a reliable anti-refugee, anti-immigrant voting bloc?

Read the entire piece here.

Many conservative evangelical Trump supporters, including almost all of the court evangelicals, will argue that immigrants are not welcome in the United States unless they enter legally.  But for Christians, immigration policy is not so black and white. Christians must remember that they are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God.  The ethical mandates of this Kingdom often contradict the ethical principles of the nation-state.  There will be times when our citizenship in the Kingdom of God will come into conflict with the laws of our nation.  I think the case of refugees fleeing persecution is a prime example of when the ethics of the Kingdom of God must trump the ethics of the nation-state.

Those who invoke Romans 13 (Christians must obey government at all times), or who believe that the ethics of the Kingdom of God as related to refugees and immigrants should not be applied to this caravan of Honduras (and others) refugees, will inevitably find themselves in a difficult situation.  At what point does opposition to illegal immigration give way to the Christian call to love the immigrant and refugee?  Where do evangelicals draw that line?  What will these conservative ministers do when they encounter refugees in need of love and compassion?  Should they send them away because they have violated the law of the land by entering illegally?  Or do they follow the teachings of scripture and welcome these refugees in need of God’s love?

Remaining Evangelical in the Age of Trump

Believe Me 3dDuring my travels promoting Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I have met dozens of folks who have left evangelical churches because of political polarization and the way evangelicals have supported Donald Trump.  I have also met a lot of people–especially young people–who have left Christianity altogether for this reason.  I have chosen to remain an “evangelical” largely because I believe in the “good news” of the Gospel.  In my own life, I continue to find David Bebbington’s “Quadrilateral” to define my faith.  I believe in the redemptive power of Jesus’s death on the cross.  I believe in the authority of the inspired Bible in my life.  I believe that Christians must embrace the Gospel through a conversion experience.  And I believe that my faith requires some degree of activism–whether it be evangelism or works of social justice and service in the world.

Madeleine Davies, the deputy news and features editor at the Church Times, also remains evangelical in the age of Trump.  Here is a taste of her piece at Financial Times:

After evensong last month, a priest from a different wing of the Church asked me why I considered myself evangelical and I found myself talking about my childhood. After my mother died when I was 12, it was people in an evangelical church that rallied round and, significantly, helped me to reconcile what had happened with my faith.

They never attempted to explain away this horrifying event, but they offered practical help to my family and, drawing on scripture, affirmed my belief in resurrection and heaven. Certainty can constrict, but it can also feel like blessed assurance, like standing on very solid earth. As a teenager, the God I learnt about was both infinitely powerful and as close as a friend you could call on in the middle of the night when you were terrified by the thought that everyone else you loved would die. My small heart heard God say, “Come and talk with me”, as the psalm puts it.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Good Stuff About Evangelicals

Evangelicals serving

I recently published a piece at the magazine of the National Association of Evangelicals titled “Hope, Humility, and History: How Evangelicals Have Been an Influence for Good.”  Here is a taste:

Evangelicals have been taking some hard hits lately. Some are even abandoning the label because it has become too associated with a political agenda. As a historian who has written and thought deeply about the relationship between evangelical Christianity and American life, I am fully aware that for every positive contribution evangelicalism has made to American culture, we can point to another way in which evangelicalism, sadly, has been at the forefront of some of the nation’s darkest moments.

It is imperative that evangelicals study their past and come to terms with it. This requires us to lament the moments in which we have failed and celebrate the moments when the good news of the gospel has changed lives, set people on a course for eternity with God, and led them to act in ways that are good and just. Throughout history, evangelicals have contributed to society in positive ways when we have emphasized hope over fear and humility over the pursuit of power.

Read the rest here.

My Morning on Capitol Hill

DirksenActually, it was more like “my forty-five minutes on Capitol Hill.”

As I wrote the other day, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) invited me to speak on Believe Me to about 100 “evangelical leaders” at its annual Washington Briefing.

I thought the talk went well.  If there were pro-Trumpers or court evangelicals in the room, they did not speak during the Q&A.  I met several evangelical leaders who voted for Trump, but most of them said they chose him because they did not want to vote for Hillary Clinton.

After the talk, I chatted in the hallway of the Dirksen Senate Building with about eight or ten attendees.  Almost all of them brought-up abortion and the Supreme Court. Frankly, I was surprised how many of these pro-life evangelical leaders agreed with my view that the overturning of Roe v. Wade was not the most effective way of reducing abortions in the United States.

Several folks on Twitter said that they were surprised the NAE invited someone like me to speak to their leadership.  Those who wrote these tweets do not understand the difference between the Christian Right-inspired conservative evangelicals loyal to Trump and the agenda of the NAE.   Actually, the NAE seems to be striking just the right tone in this so-called “age of Trump.”  For example, read their statement “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.”

I know a lot of people were praying for me or sending good wishes as I addressed the group this morning.  They were much appreciated.  Thank you!

I’ll be Southern Methodist University in Dallas tomorrow night.  Let’s hope my flights don’t get canceled due to Hurricane Michael.

Tara Isabella Burton Reviews *The Trump Prophecy*

 

Trump Prophecy

Some of you may recall our posts about The Trump Prophecy, an evangelical movie about a fireman who prophesied the election of Donald Trump.  Students at Liberty University produced the film.

VOX reporter Tara Isabella Burton saw the movie.  Here is a taste of her review:

But The Trump Prophecy is more than a feel-good, low-budget movie. It’s the purest distillation of pro-Trump Christian nationalism: the insidious doctrine that implicitly links American patriotism and American exceptionalism with (white) evangelical Christianity.

Everything about The Trump Prophecy— from its subject matter, to the way it’s shot, to the little details scattered through the movie’s (often interminable) scenes of domestic life — is designed not just to legitimize Donald Trump as a evangelical-approved president but to promulgate an even more wide-ranging — and dangerous — idea.

The Trump Prophecy doesn’t just want you to believe that God approves of Donald Trump. It wants you to believe that submission to (conservative) political authority and submission to God are one and the same. In the film’s theology, resisting the authority of a sitting president — or, at least, this sitting president — is conflated with resisting God himself.

David Barton, the Christian Right GOP activist who uses the past to promote his political agenda, also appears in the movie. Here is Burton again:

An inexplicable 30-odd minute “interview” segment at the end of the film features interviews with controversial evangelical historian David Barton (whose books champion the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation), Wallnau, former US Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and other prominent evangelical figures.

Read the rest of the review here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Headed to the Senate Building

50368-capitol-hill-4

On Wednesday morning, October 10, I will be on Capitol Hill (Dirksen Senate building) to speak to about 100 evangelical leaders gathered for the National Association of Evangelicals’ annual “Washington Briefing.”

The NAE leadership has asked me to talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The event is not open to the public, but I can announce that I will be sharing the day with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Mark Green, Nathan Gonzalez, Shirley Hoogstra, Ali Noorani, Sen. James Lankford, Brian Walsh, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Sen. Marco Rubio, Stephanie Summers, and Os Guinness.

Stay tuned.

University of Illinois Undergraduate: “Conservatism killed Christianity”

donaldtrumppatrobertsonhandshake_si

Trump shakes hands with Pat Robertson

Joseph Diller, a junior at the University of Illinois, is correct.  Here is a taste of his piece in The Daily Illini: Conservatism killed Christianity“:

The Kavanaugh issue is just a small part of the Republicans’ deal with the devil. In this deal, the party gets tax cuts and Supreme Court appointments in exchange for giving President Trump the highest office in the land, all while ignoring affairs with porn stars and pussy-grabbing.

The Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings put out a poll that asked if respondents believe whether “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” In 2011, while Evangelicals were the most likely group in America to say no, only 30 percent answered yes. By 2016, their opinion on an immoral personal life flip-flopped — 72 percent (more than any other group) believed that an official could ethically fulfill their duties despite their personal life.

Other mainline American Christians also experienced a spike. Why did the religious right shift their opinion to allow Trump in at all? Because they’re badly losing the culture wars.

Winners do not make deals with the devil; it’s a Hail Mary strategy. It has been 40 years since they have not been able to stop Roe v. Wade, gay marriage has been legalized and church attendance is in decline.  As further evidence of their downfall, not only are these things legal, but most Americans support abortion and gay marriage.

Read the entire piece here.

White Evangelicals and the New Marist Poll

Blasey

Here are some of the findings:

  • 72% of white evangelicals approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president (and 44% “strongly approve).
  • 71% of white evangelicals say that they will vote for a Republican in the 2018 midterms.
  • 58% of white evangelicals say that they are likely to vote for a congressional candidate in November 2018 who supports the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (27% of white evangelicals say that the confirmation of Kavanaugh will not make any difference in how they vote in November 2018).
  • 56% of white evangelicals have a “favorable impression” of Brett Kavanaugh. (31% are either “unsure” or have “never heard” of Kavanaugh).
  • Only 9% of white evangelicals have a “favorable impression” of Christine Blasey Ford.  59% of white evangelicals are “unsure” of her or have “never heard” of her.
  • 51% of white evangelicals have been following the Kavanaugh news coverage “very closely” or “closely.”
  • If Kavanaugh did commit the acts that Christine Blasey Ford said that he did, 48% of white evangelicals would still support his confirmation to the Supreme Court.
  • Only 14% of white evangelicals think Christine Blasey Ford told the truth about what happened at the party in high school.  41% are “not sure” who to believe.
  • 64% of white evangelicals support the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

Can Evangelicals and Secular Liberals Find Common Ground?

HandsAccording to J.J. Gould, the editor of The New Republic, the future of our democracy depends on it.  Here is a taste of his editorial, “Belief in Democracy“:

…Which means that as committed secular liberals and serious evangelicals, of the kind Bryan Mealer writes about for us this month, come to identify with each other politically, that’s a political identification between kinds of people who live in ways that are in some respects powerfully alien to one another. Mutual super-revulsion with Trump and elements of his base can only obscure this reality so much.

Which in turn represents a great hope for the still-tenuous future of liberal democracy in the United States: If you can sustain a common political identity despite such profoundly different beliefs about the nature of the universe and humanity’s place in it, you can sustain the promise of American life.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals Come to Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Wait–I thought evangelicals were racists and white supremacists?

Here is a taste of Josh Shepherd’s piece at Christianity Today:

Rising 825 feet over the skyline of Atlanta, Stone Mountain is the most-visited destination in the state of Georgia. On its north face, a carving in the granite wall depicts three figures central to the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.

Against this backdrop, observers might have puzzled over the scene unfolding on a recent Saturday at the top of the monument. An ethnically diverse crowd of more than 3,000 people, the majority under age 30, sang as a full rock band led the crowd in Christian praise songs.

Nearly all lifted their hands, shouted, and even danced as pop-rock worship music blasted from speakers. Then a black man in a bright red shirt with white letters reading Reconcile took the mic.

“Heaven is among us,” said Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, a young pastor from Ferguson, Missouri. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Thomas was followed by civil rights leader John Perkins, who was followed by apologies from Christian leaders to two Jewish leaders for the history of Christian anti-Semitism, who were followed by declarations of forgiveness for Dylann Roof by family members of Charleston church shooting victims. And this was all in the first 150 minutes.

Read the rest here.

Is Evangelicalism Primarily a Political Movement?

latin evangelicals

No, it is not. I think John Turner is correct in his recent piece at The Anxious Bench blog.

Here is a taste:

John Fea, in what has become a must-read age-of-Trump blog about American religion, quotes from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters in a recent post:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of [the cause] … Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours-and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours.

It’s possible that I am entirely misreading the present climate, but if one did not know anything about religion in the United States and merely relied on media coverage of contemporary politics, one would presume that evangelicalism is a political movement. A HUGE majority of evangelicals typically vote Republican, and an even HUGER majority voted for Donald Trump (just about the least Christian major-party nominee since … perhaps Richard Nixon?). [As an aside, it’s worth noting that Australia now has an openly evangelical prime minister]. The relationship between Trump and a small number of men and women whom John Fea terms “court evangelicals” receives considerable attention, as has the fact that large majorities of evangelicals support Trump’s policies on matters such as immigration. And this week President Trump hosted a dinner for his high-profile evangelicals supporters at the White House. Sadly, my invitation got lost in the mail.

Evangelicalism is first and foremost a religious movement.  It is a movement that celebrates the centrality of the cross, the born-again experience, evangelism, service, and the inspiration of the Bible.  Yes, there are American churches that bring politics into the pulpit, but the majority of evangelical churches do not dwell on politics.  Most clergy do not think it is a good idea to preach on political themes or endorse candidates.  I have yet to find an evangelical church with a “politics ministry.”

Evangelical congregations are primarily concerned about living holy lives of faith–a vertical relationship with God.  When most evangelicals think about moving beyond the walls of church, they think primarily in terms of missionary activity, serving neighbors in local communities, caring for the vulnerable, feeding the poor, and exemplifying acts of compassion.  I would even argue that this is true of evangelical churches and ministries run by court evangelicals such as Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and others.

Because the day-to-day acts of compassion and love performed by evangelicals rarely make headlines, the general public only sees politics.  And because many evangelicals have not thought deeply about political engagement, when they do try to bring their faith into the public square it usually results in a big mess.

All of this reminds me of the generation of early American historians who tried to make connections between the First Great Awakening and the American Revolution.  Rather than interpreting the First Great Awakening as a religious movement, many historians, driven by their Whig sensibilities, seemed to suggest that this deeply spiritual movement was only useful for what it told us about the coming of American independence.  In the process, they failed to understand this important historical event.

Today, when we define evangelicals or evangelicalism in a solely political way, we get a  very limited understanding of what the movement is all about.  Turner’s post is a good reminder of what really happens in evangelical congregations and para-church ministries.

Stealing “Evangelical”

On April 25, 2010, I wrote about writer Richard Rodriguez‘s 2003 address to the graduates of Kenyon College.

Watch it below.  It is short and worth your time:

There is so much to say about this speech.  I get something new out of it every time I watch it.  I watched it again the other day and I was struck by the way he defines the vocation of the writer:

I write books about the political language of our time.  I keep trying to steal the language of our time away from politicians and those talking heads on CNN and Fox. I want language back, into the realm of the writer.  So when the politicians go on about “minorities,” I want to steal the word back.  When the politicians talk about “borders,” I want that word.

This time around I thought about Rodriguez’s words in the context of my own book, Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I am an evangelical Christian. I want to steal the word “evangelical”–the Gospel, the “good news”–back from the pundits, politicians, and talking heads.  Perhaps Believe Me is an attempt to do this.  I need to give this more thought.

The Author’s Corner With Melani McAlister

McAlisterMelani McAlister is Professor of American Studies and International Affairs at George Washington University.  This interview is based on her new book The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Kingdom of God Has No Borders?

MM:  I was raised a Southern Baptist in North Carolina, and so the assumption many people make is that I wrote about evangelicals to understand my own past. But, in all honesty, I had no interest in writing about that, and I still don’t experience this book as being about my own history in any significant way – other than the fact that I get some of the jokes evangelicals make about Bible drills or summer camp.

Instead, I got interested in writing this book because I wanted to show the complexity of a history that I thought had been told as too entirely domestic, and too relentlessly white. I also realized that the international politics among evangelicals was more complex and interesting than I had acknowledged in my first book. That book, Epic Encounters, was a study of American images of the Middle East, focusing on popular culture and media. One chapter was on US views of Israel, and it included a discussion of the “prophecy talk” of white evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s, which was something I did know about from personal experience. When Epic Encounters came out in 2001, white evangelicals were in the news – with Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell both making aggressive comments about Islam in the wake of 9/11. So, at that point, I thought I would write a quick book about prophecy and politics among evangelicals after the Cold War. When I started that research, however, I realized that many more interesting things were going on in terms of evangelical engagement with international affairs – so much so that the discussion of prophecy became very minor—it was ultimately relegated to just a few pages inThe Kingdom of God.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Kingdom of God Has No Borders?

MM: The fundamental premise of the book is that, when international issues are taken into account, the history of modern evangelicalism looks different from the dominant stories we have about it. This book aims to both expand and challenge key components of the domestic story by showing how some theologically conservative Protestants in the United States came to understand themselves to be part of a truly global community, and to trace the impact of those transnational ties on thinking about race, gender, and the role of the US in the world.

JF: Why do we need to read The Kingdom of God Has No Borders?

MMIn the book, I tell a complex history of US evangelicals as part of a global community. Starting with controversies over racism and missionary work in the aftermath of WWII—including the role of missionaries in the Congo crisis of the early 1960s—and closing with debates over homosexual rights in Uganda in the 2000s, I show that evangelicals in the last seventy years were consistently engaged in politics, both domestic and international. I also highlight the fact that evangelicals have consistently disagreed about what their faith required of them politically and morally.

The focus of the book is on white and black theologically conservative Protestants in the US, but the story includes the Latin American leaders of the “social concern” faction at the Lausanne Congress in 1974, South African evangelical anti-apartheid activists (black and white), Arab Christians who challenge US policy in Iraq, and the theologically conservative Protestants in Uganda who supported the anti-homosexuality law in the 2000s. Global South evangelicals did not have one political view, and this is not a celebration of either their liberal views or their conservative impact. Instead, the book is an argument that American evangelicals were changed by their transnational encounters, becoming more liberal on race, sometimes more conservative on gender, and often more aware of themselves as just one part of a larger international network of believers. As Americans, they had wealth and power, but the story of the last few decades is a story of the rise of global South evangelicals into positions of cultural and moral authority.

So: read the book to learn a more complex story about evangelical history, to understand more about the debates that have shaped the community, and to see how one important subset of Americans came to understand their own role, and their country’s role, on the international stage.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Of if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

MMI was always interested in US foreign policy. Back in the 1980s, I majored in international studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and I was involved in an array of causes, including anti-apartheid work. Before I went to graduate school, I worked for several years as a staffer for a peace group in Boston. It was in the role of activist that I actually became interested in culture. After trying to go out and convince people of our views on policy issues, I came to see that none of us come to our political opinions with pure rationality–on foreign policy or much of anything else. Our values matter, and our values are often shaped by forces we aren’t fully aware of or don’t recognize, including popular culture. So I went to graduate school in American Studies at Brown, and I studied the role of culture—including religious cultures—in shaping our views of the larger world.

JF: What is your next project?

MMI am beginning work on a study of the popular culture of humanitarianism, focusing on the “long 1970s” (the late 1960s to the early 1980s). Tentatively titled “We Were the World,” the book will begin with the global response to the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-1970—where images of starving babies with distended bellies became the icon of a kind of activist humanitarian agenda on behalf of the Biafrans. It will end with the early 1980s concerts for Ethiopia. The basic argument of the book is that humanitarianism, like so many things, is a double-edged sword. Sometimes Americans became involved in humanitarian causes in problematic ways that were condescending and racialized; and yet sometimes they connected with those who were suffering in ways that reached toward genuine solidarity. Culture played a role in shaping our understandings, and thus our politics.

JF: Thanks, Melani!

The Willow Creek Mess

Hybels

A couple of weeks ago I was lecturing about George Whitefield to a group of K-12 history teachers gathered for a summer seminar at Princeton University.  I was rambling-on about Whitefield’s celebrity and his ability to attract large crowds.  I talked about his ability to unite Atlantic provincials in a common evangelicalism.  I described his relationship with Ben Franklin, his founding of an orphanage in Georgia, and his leadership of the First Great Awakening.

At one point in the lecture, an elementary-school social studies teacher who had never heard of Whitefield raised her hand and asked, “So what happened with this guy?  As I hear you talk I am expecting some kind of scandal or moral indiscretion.  How did Whitefield fall?”  This teacher seemed surprised that Whitefield never got caught-up in some kind of sex scandal.  She assumed that the Whitefield story ended badly.  We stopped and talked about Whitefield’s self-promotion, his ownership of slaves, and the way he divided local congregations, but as far as I know there was never an Elmer Gantry or Jimmy Swaggart moment in Whitefield’s life.

I thought about this teacher’s question as I read more about Bill Hybels and his moral indiscretions while serving as pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.  She may have meant her question to be snarky or cynical, but I did not take it this way.  It seemed like she had just come to expect this kind of thing from popular and powerful evangelical preachers.

You can get up to speed on the recent developments in the Hybels case by reading Laurie Goodstein’s piece in The New York Times.  I also appreciate Scot McKnight’s critique of Willow Creek and Hybels at Jesus Creed.  McKnight once attended Willow Creek.

Here is a taste of McKnight’s post; “Willow Creek, Your Time is Now”:

The time is now to be guided by this independent council of wisdom to tell the truth about Bill, to tell the truth about the women and Bill’s inappropriate, sexual relations, to tell the truth about governance that protected Bill’s reputation rather than Willow’s congregation, to tell the truth about bullying by the leaders through the Human Resources and buying silence through NDA (non disclosure agreements), to tell the truth about how the WCA’s Board was told by the three who resigned when the WCA refused to investigate Bill Hybels, and to tell the truth about the need for an independent investigation. The investigators cannot choose those who have to be investigated. An independent leadership council must do the choosing. Willow must be willing to listen to the council.  It is also time to tell the truth, in spite of what has been said by leaders after his resignation, about Bill’s continued contact with leaders at Willow to shape decisions.

It is time now to find the truth, to be transparent, to investigate the governance, and to tell that truth honestly.

The women told the truth. The Willow narrative is a false and deceptive narrative.

Why was it so easy for the journalists at Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today to find stories from women but Willow’s so-called investigation turned up nothing?

The time is now. Willow, your time is now. Time to find the truth, tell the truth, and live into that truth.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals and Trump: The Latest Poll

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

A poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic has much to say about white evangelicals in the United States.

  • 61% of evangelicals believe that the United States is moving in the right direction.  This compares to 64% of all Americans who believe that the United States is moving in the wrong direction.
  • 79% percent of white evangelicals believe “media bias” is hurting the country.  50% of religious unaffiliated people believe this.
  • 77% of white evangelicals view Trump favorably.   17% of non-white Protestants view Trump favorably.
  • 52% of white evangelicals feel negatively about the very real possibility that whites will be a minority in the United States by 2043.

On the last point: When Trump said last week that immigration was changing the “culture” of Europe, he was appealing to a significant portion of his evangelical base.

Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s article at Religion News Service:

“I argued that white evangelical voters have really shifted from being values voters to being what I call ‘nostalgia voters,’” said Jones. “They’re voting to protect a past view of America that they feel is slipping away. That’s driving evangelical politics much more than the old culture-war dynamics.”

Brantley Gasaway, a professor of American religious studies at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., said white evangelicals’ fears about the nation’s growing racial diversity might be linked to their perception of religious diversity.

“They perceive that America becoming less white means America will become less Christian,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true. Many Latino immigrants are coming from predominantly Christian nations. But they perceive changes in racial demographics as being a threat to the predominance of Christians in the United States.”

As a group, white evangelicals are declining. A decade ago they made up 23 percent of the U.S. population; today it’s more like 15 percent, Jones said. But they have an outsize influence at the ballot box because they tend to vote in high numbers.

The one area where religious groups appeared united is in their support for legislation that would make it easier to vote — measures such as same-day voter registration and restoring voting rights for people convicted of felonies.

Read the entire piece here.  Why do white evangelicals believe all these things?  I took a shot at explaining it here.

*Believe Me* in the *Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle*

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Last week I had a great phone conversation with Toby Tabachnik of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle for her story on evangelicals and Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of her piece: “They love Israel and Trump–the complex world of evangelicals“:

More than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for President Donald Trump, a candidate whose personal behavior arguably conflicts with the family values of traditional Christianity.

His purported marital infidelities, the vulgar way in which he spoke of women in the now infamous “Access Hollywood” interview and now, his alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels all seem pretty contrary to the ways of the church.

But in “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” a new book by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., the politicization of evangelicals and their overwhelming support of Trump can be explained as a natural corollary of their “culture war” begun in the 1970s — which includes a resolute stance against abortion and the defense of “religious liberty,” as they define it.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Thoughts on the Audience of *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dWho is the audience for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump? There are three audiences.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. The 81% of white American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.
  2. The 19% of white American evangelicals (and non-white evangelicals) who did not vote for Donald Trump
  3. Anyone who wants to understand why 81% of American evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.

I realize that many of those in the 81% will want nothing to do with this book. But I hope some will read it.  I hope the book can serve as a way of encouraging dialogue in churches and other places where evangelicals gather together in communities of Christian fellowship that transcend politics.  (I am assuming, of course, that some of these places still exist.  I think they do).

I also realize that those who study evangelicals at the highest level–many of them former evangelicals or disgruntled evangelicals–want to take evangelicalism to the woodshed for its many sins.  Their scholarship is good and needed, but I part ways with many of them when it comes to reaching the church.  As a Christian, I am a member of the body of Christ–the Church. That is where I must find my primary identity.

Of course I still have a responsibility to live out my vocation in the academy,  the classroom, and as a professor at a Christian college.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that some posts are written with my church community in mind.  Others are written for American historians or members of the academic community.  Still others are for the general public.  These groups often overlap.  I have written books for my students, my academic discipline, the general public, and the church.

As a Christian, I have chosen to worship among American evangelicals.  In 2016, a large number of my tribe voted for Donald Trump.  I don’t think that was a good idea.  I have even written a book to tell my tribe that I do not think it was a good idea.  But in the end, I must live with the people in my tribe and try my best to fulfill my vocation as a historian and educator in their midst.  Some will say I go too far in the criticism of my people.  I know this from the letters, e-mails, and phone messages I receive–some of them pretty nasty.  Others will say I don’t go far enough in criticizing my people.  I know this from the reviews of the book.

The trashing of evangelicalism is popular these days and you can get pretty far and become pretty successful in academic/scholarly circles–especially in the fields of history and religious studies–by doing this.  I am sympathetic to scholars who call evangelicals to task for their sins.  As I am learning on the Believe Me book tour, many people had (or are having) very, very bad experiences in evangelicalism.  They are hurting.  They are angry.  I am listening to their stories.

But in the end, I will continue to defend the term “evangelical” because it still means “good news.”  For me, this “good news” is the ultimate source of hope for those who are hurting.  I am still willing to fight for the “good news” of the Gospel because this message changed the trajectory of my life and the life of my family and extended family in positive ways.  And I have seen hundreds of other lives changed by this message—men, women, people of color, poor people, rich people, gay and straight people.

In the end, I want to use my vocation as a historian to be a more direct part of the solution in the evangelical church rather than someone who merely diagnoses the problem or calls-out evangelicals for their many sins.  I am not sure I can do this as an academic, but I am willing to try.  Perhaps other Christian and evangelical scholars are called to something different.  But if they are called to something different, they will need to convince me how they will use their gifts and knowledge to serve the body of Christ.  This point relates not only to the content of their work, but also to its style and means of dissemination.

If we pursue this path within evangelicalism today, it will mean that we must serve those with whom we disagree on a whole host of political and cultural issues.  It will also require us to work hard at uncovering the common spiritual and theological ground that draws us together every Sunday morning despite our differences. I am convinced that this kind of engagement deepens our faith, helps us to see the flaws in our precious arguments, makes us better listeners and communicators, and teaches us to love.  It may also mean, in some cases (but certainly not all cases), staying in a particular religious tradition rather than leaving for a more a comfortable place of worship and fellowship where people think more like us.

Postscript:

I am sure that for some of my readers, this post just made me a subject of analysis, rather than a detached scholar.  Of course such analysis goes both ways.  I have seen many of my fellow academics as subjects of analysis for a long time! 🙂