White evangelical voters helped Joe Biden nationally and in Michigan and Georgia

In the 2020 election, 27% of voters identified as either “white evangelical” or a “white born-again Christian.”

According to Edison Research, 76% of them voted for Trump and 24% voted for Biden. This means that Biden received four million more white evangelical votes than Hillary Clinton received in 2020. (Biden is currently leading Trump by more than 6 million votes nationwide).

Here is some exit polling. If these exit polls are correct, it appears that the white evangelical vote helped Biden in Michigan and Georgia. (We don’t have polling for the evangelical vote in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin).

Biden won 29% of the white evangelical vote in Michigan. In 2016, Clinton won 14% of that vote.

In Georgia, Biden won 14% of the white evangelical vote. In 2016, Clinton won 5% of that vote.

In Iowa, Biden won 24% of the white evangelical vote. In 2016, Clinton won 25% of that vote.

In North Carolina, Biden won 14% of the white evangelical vote. In 2016, Clinton won 17% of that vote.

In South Carolina, Biden won 13% of the white evangelical vote. In 2016, Clinton won 11% of that vote.

In Ohio, Biden won 18% of the white evangelical vote. In 2016, Clinton won 20% of that vote.

In Texas, Biden won 13% of the white evangelical vote. In 2016, Clinton won 12% of that vote.

In Virginia, Biden won 19% of the white evangelical vote. In 2016, Clinton won 14% of that vote.

Fox News is discipling many white evangelicals

In January, Donald Trump launched “Evangelicals for Trump” at a Miami megachurch. After that event I wrote in USA Today:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson) and the hosts of “Fox and Friends.”

Read the entire piece here.

In April 2019, I wrote in The Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

In both of these pieces, I tried to suggest that Fox News is shaping the religious lives of many white evangelicals today. Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College makes a similar case at Christianity Today. Here is a taste:

In an interview on immigration with Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition, I concluded by talking about discipleship. It was a bit tricky because I was a little unsure about mentioning the idea of “discipling” in that context.

Inskeep specifically asked me whether evangelicals were hitching their wagon to the wrong horses. I explained, cautiously using the term “discipleship” on NPR’s flagship program:

“Well, it’s a fair question. The challenge is a lot of people are being discipled—or spiritually shaped—by their cable news choices. I think ultimately evangelicals need to be known for what they are for rather than what they’re against; and, showing and sharing the love of Jesus seems like a better thing to hitch ourselves to over the long term as evangelical Christians.”

I may have been unsure at first, but I am glad that I could use the word “disciple” in that context. Discipleship highlights a fundamental issue for followers of Jesus right now: there are certain things that are in us and need to be discipled out of us and other things that need to be discipled in us and aren’t there currently.

Some things need to be discipled out of believers.

The first is fear. In John 20:19, we read how the disciples were hiding behind closed doors because of fear. Two thousand years later, a lot of people are hiding behind closed doors because of fear. We not only fear the coronavirus; we are also fearful of the future.

Today, people hiding behind closed doors because of fear have something that humanity didn’t always have: The Internet. We’re hiding behind closed doors, fearful for ourselves and others, and spreading that fear to other people online. Fear needs to be discipled out of all of us.

Read the entire piece here.

Court evangelical Ralph Reed says Trump will get more than 81% of the white evangelical vote in 2020

It wouldn’t surprise me.

Here is Jon Ward at Yahoo News:

Ralph Reed, a veteran Republican operative who has helped corral the evangelical vote for Republicans for the last 30 years, said he thinks white evangelical support for President Trump is likely to be higher in the 2020 election than it was four years ago.

“I think the 81 percent of the evangelical vote that Trump received four years ago is the floor,” Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that he could end up in the mid-80s.”

Reed said that by Election Day his organization will have knocked on between 3.7 million and 4 million doors in a get-out-the-vote effort.

And he predicted that the efforts of his group, and others like it, combined with white evangelical enthusiasm for Trump, will produce votes from 5 million to 10 million white evangelicals who did not vote at all in 2016. Reed claimed that there were 31 million white evangelical votes for Trump four years ago.

Read the rest here.

African evangelicals like Trump

Check out Dickens Olewe’s piece at BBC news about evangelical Christians in Africa. A taste:

President Trump has been a polarising figure the world over but he is popular in African countries like Nigeria and Kenya, according to a Pew Research poll released in January, where supporters do not appear to be bothered that he reportedly referred to African countries as “shitholes” in 2018.

Both Nigeria and Kenya are deeply religious countries. Mega churches proliferate in the Christian south of Nigeria – Africa’s most populous nation – and in Kenya many politicians go to church sermons to address their supporters, such is their popularity.

Many evangelical Christian groups in Africa, which are mostly anti-abortion, against gay rights and support Israel, were not keen on Mr Trump’s predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, despite his Kenyan heritage.

“The Obama administration had been pushing a liberal agenda here in Africa and that agenda was of concern to some of us Christian leaders. It was a relief that during Trump’s time he’s taken a bit of a back seat,” Richard Chogo, a pastor at the Deliverance Church in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, told the BBC.

Read the rest here.

Former VP of Ohio Right to Life says evangelical movement has “sold its soul”

I continue to hear from people who despise Donald Trump, but will vote for him anyway because he is anti-abortion. Stephanie Ranade Krider was the vice president and executive director of Ohio Right to Life. She recently resigned.

It’s hard to find a more anti-abortion advocate than the director of a state right to life organization. Here is Krider in The Washington Post in a piece titled “I’m a pro-life evangelical. In supporting Trump, my movement sold its soul.”

The prospect of a Justice Barrett is cause for excitement, and this legal milestone — the chance to overturn Roe — is something I’ve hoped for and worked toward for more than a decade. Yet I feel deep unease at how we arrived at this moment. Pro-life evangelicals threw their support behind Trump in 2016 aiming for precisely this outcome, but I fear it has been to our detriment. Aligning our movement with Trumpism has reduced our commitments to a single goal: outlawing abortion at any cost, putting our reputation (but not his) on the line. 

I watched all of this unfold from the front lines. Until recently, I served as executive director of Ohio Right to Life. When I started there in a part-time role in 2009, I was grateful for the opportunity to change hearts, minds and laws to recognize the humanity of the unborn and the vulnerable. I advised candidates for elected office, advocated for legal protections for unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome, and lobbied successfully to gain state funding for pregnancy help centers and to end late-term abortions in Ohio.

I’ve spent my career fighting for a cause I believe in, one in which I could live out my faith as a Christian. Over the past decade, our state saw a 25 percent decrease in the number of abortions, consistent with the broader nationwide decline in abortions over the past 30 years. But as the cause became increasingly tied to Trump, it transformed into something with which I could no longer identify. Every major pro-life organization has endorsed Trump’s reelection. Protecting innocent life is a cause that’s deeply steeped in morality, but with this political choice, the movement has shown itself to be too willing to trade moral character for power.

Read the rest here.

Why don’t white evangelicals vote for Democrats?

Historian Daniel Williams, in a thought-provoking piece at The Anxious Bench, asks:

Why have white evangelicals been so antipathetic to Democrats, even before their disagreements with Democrats over abortion or LGBT issues emerged?  And can anything ever convince them to support a Democratic presidential candidate?

And here is part of his answer:

I am convinced that as far as evangelicalism is concerned, there are deeply rooted theological and cultural reasons for white evangelicals’ rejection of the Democratic Party.  In other words, white evangelicals who vote Republican really are acting consistently with their own theological worldview, as can be seen in at least three areas where evangelical theology has clashed with liberal Protestantism and, by extension, with a Democratic Party that is today a largely secularized form of liberal Protestant theology.

Here are the three areas Williams identifies:

  1. White evangelical commitment to individualism means that they do not except political policies that address systemic or structure inequity.
  2. White evangelicals are suspicious of the state.
  3. White evangelicals do not view inequality as a social problem

I totally agree with Williams’s assessment here.

But then, if I read him correctly, Williams suggests that the “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” movement embodies these ideals as well.

He writes:

Trump, they argue, is not a moral leader for the nation.  His racially charged rhetoric is dividing the church and making Christian racial reconciliation more difficult.  While the website for Pro-Life Evangelicals does note some areas in which pro-life Christians should support the policies of the Democratic Party (except, of course, on abortion), the explanations given by leading evangelical pastors as to why they joined the group focus much more on familiar evangelical arguments about individual character than on policy proposals.  “I’ve never seen someone so divisive and accusatory,” Joel Hunter, who voted for Trump in 2016 and now regrets it, declared. “We’re becoming divided and angry, and it’s the opposite of pro-life.”

In other words, the argument of many members of Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden is that in a world of imperfect political choices, the Democratic presidential nominee this time around would be better than the Republican incumbent for the cause of the gospel.  Whether a majority of white evangelical voters will accept this argument and vote Democratic is highly doubtful.  But even if they don’t, it’s hard to imagine an argument that has a greater claim to being authentically evangelical.  If any argument could conceivably convince white evangelicals who genuinely believe in their own theological tradition to consider breaking with the Republican Party in this election, an argument about individual moral leadership and the cause of the gospel is the one that should.

This is a fair critique of the statement on the Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden website, but I am not sure it accurately describes the positions of the men and women who signed this statement.

  1. I don’t know the policy positions of all of the signers, but John Perkins, Ron Sider, and Richard Mouw certainly believe in systemic injustice.
  2. I don’t think any of the signers of the statement are suspicious of the state.
  3. I would imagine everyone who signed this statement believes that inequality is a social problem.

Read Williams’s entire piece here.

Pro-life evangelicals for Biden

A group of evangelical leaders have formed “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden.” Here is the official statement:

As pro-life evangelicals, we disagree with vice president Biden and the Democratic platform on the issue of abortion. But we believe a biblically shaped commitment to the sanctity of human life compels us to a consistent ethic of life that affirms the sanctity of human life from beginning to end.

Knowing that the most common reason women give for abortion is the financial difficulty of another child, we appreciate a number of Democratic proposals that would significantly alleviate that financial burden: accessible health services for all citizens, affordable childcare, a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty.

For these reasons, we believe that on balance, Joe Biden’s policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump. Therefore, even as we continue to urge different policies on abortion, we urge evangelicals to elect Joe Biden as president.”

Signers include Richard Mouw (Fuller Theological Seminary); Ronald Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action); Jerushah Duford (Billy Graham’s granddaughter), John Huffman (Christianity Today); Richard Foster (spiritual writer); Roberta Hestenes (former president of Eastern University); Joel Hunter (former megachurch pastor); Myron Augsburger (Eastern Mennonite University); John Perkins (Christian activist); Samuel T. Logan (Westminster Theological Seminary).

Mouw and Sider wrote an op-ed on the group in The Christian Post.

The Washington Post covered the announcement.

Sider wrote about it today at his Substack newsletter. Here is a taste of that post:

The group is diverse. At least one signer voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It includes at least one lifelong Republican. There are several who never before publicly endorsed a presidential candidate but now feel compelled to do so this year. Richard Mouw and I organized this effort. 

The court evangelicals are not happy:

Randall Balmer: Evangelicals “have been outsourcing their judicial appointments to conservative Catholics”

Back in July 2018, National Public Radio reporter Sarah McCammon asked me why there are no evangelical Christians on the Supreme Court. Here is the part of my answer that made it into her story:

MCCAMMON: A major goal for many conservatives, and one supported by Catholic theology. Trump’s shortlist for the next justice was overwhelmingly Catholic. One major religious group known for its social conservatism that’s notably absent from the court is evangelicals. That’s despite white evangelicals’ influence in the Trump administration and critical role in helping him win the presidency. John Fea is a historian at Messiah College, an evangelical institution in Pennsylvania.

JOHN FEA: A lot of that has to do with the direction that the evangelical movement has taken in America.

MCCAMMON: Fea says unlike Catholicism and Judaism, which both have a long intellectual tradition, American evangelicalism has been more practical in focus.

FEA: Evangelicals are primarily concerned with preaching the gospel, with service. So as a result, you have a lot of evangelicals doing great things, but they’re not necessarily pursuing this kind of intellectual vocation because they’re out trying to win people to Christ.

Most of the evangelical lawyers with a public profile are people like Trump’s impeachment lawyer Jay Sekulow, men and women who specialize in church-state law and believe that the primary way of being a Christian lawyer to help the Right win the culture wars.

In a recent piece at CNN, Ron Brownstein explores the place of conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court. If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, she will join John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh as Catholic justices with a conservative judicial philosophy. (Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal justice, is also Catholic).

Brownstein’s piece draws heavily from the work of Dartmouth American religious historian Randall Balmer. Here is a taste:

“You have a situation where the evangelicals have been outsourcing their judicial appointments to conservative Catholics,” says Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Dartmouth University, who has written extensively on the history of evangelical political activism.

The Catholic dominance in these selections, many observers say, simultaneously reflects an ideological convergence and an institutional divergence. The ideological convergence is that conservative Catholics, including those in the legal field, have displayed as much commitment to conservative social causes, particularly banning abortion, as evangelical Christians. The institutional divergence is that there is a vastly stronger legal network — from well-respected law schools to judicial clerkships to lower court appointments — to provide conservative Catholics with the credentials required to obtain a Supreme Court nomination than exists for evangelical Protestants.

The Republican tilt toward Catholics over evangelicals “has to do, in really simple terms, with supply and demand,” says Joshua Wilson, a political scientist at the University of Denver and co-author with Amanda Hollis-Brusky of “Separate But Faithful,” an upcoming book on conservative Christians in the legal world. “You don’t have a robust pool of evangelical Protestant lawyers and judges, whereas you do have a robust pool of conservative Catholic judges and lawyers and academics.”

Read the entire piece here.

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.