Why is Amy Coney Barrett’s Christian faith off limits, but Raphael Warnock’s Christian faith is fair game?

Conservative news websites are freaking-out because Georgia senate candidate Raphael Warnock decried the “moral bankruptcy” of the American church for supporting Donald Trump in such large numbers.

Watch this 2016 speech at Howard University:

He is right. I hope Georgia elects him to the United States Senate.

Conservatives are also upset about remarks Warnock made about militarism.

Jack Holmes of Esquire makes a great point when he asks why Amy Coney Barrett’s faith is “off-limits,” but Warnock’s faith is “fair game.” Here is a taste:

We saw this ahead of the nomination hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, when Republicans got pre-outraged about potential Democratic questioning that might probe Barrett’s religious faith—including her membership in People of Praise, a Catholic group with rituals and traditions thatfall outside mainstream Church practice. Senator Dianne Feinstein blundered her way through some questioning on this front during hearings on Barrett’s appointment to an appeals court in 2017, but there was virtually no Democratic probing here this time around, surely at least in part because the pre-outrage was so intense. This stuff works.

Among the early outrage merchants was Senator Marco Rubio, who issued a statement on September 26 that was preemptively indignant. “Sadly, I expect my Democratic colleagues and the radical left to do all they can to assassinate her character and once again make an issue of her faith during her confirmation process,” he said. Assassination by radicals! That does sound bad. Questioning someone’s fitness for public office based on their religious beliefs is completely unacceptable, you see. It shouldn’t factor into how you assess their candidacy at all. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, who offered some thoughts on Wednesday regarding Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate in one of Georgia’s two upcoming Senate runoff elections.

Never mind that what Warnock is saying appears to be an adaptation of the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus Christ, a guy who never was big on militarism. And never mind that Warnock can often be found speaking from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, once home to Martin Luther King, Jr., who himself said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Problem With Providence

c7789-trump

Over the last year I have received a lot of critical e-mails questioning my faith because I am not willing to assert that Donald Trump is God’s anointed servant to save America from the liberals (mostly Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama).

In the last couple months, I have also received e-mails from Christian anti-Trumpers who write to tell me that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on the United States for electing Donald Trump.

Even if you believe in the Christian doctrine of providence,  as I do, both of these positions are theologically problematic.

Does it make theological sense to invoke providence in political debates? Should we build our approach to politics and government on this doctrine? How do we reconcile providential claims–and the sense of certainty that comes with them–with St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  The Christian scriptures teach that God is the “blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” who “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1 Tim. 6:15-15). And let’s not forget Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,/ neither are your ways my ways,’ / declares the LORD.’ / ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, / so are my ways higher than your ways / and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

St. Augustine is helpful here. In book 20 of The City of God against the Pagans, he reminds us what Christians can and cannot know about God’s work in the world. History will end with the glorious triumph of the Son of God. But as we live with this hope, we must be cautious about trying to pinpoint the specific plan of God in history. We must avoid trying to interpret what is hidden from us or what is incomprehensible, because our understanding is so limited. As Augustine writes,

There are good men who suffer evils and evil men who enjoy good things, which seems unjust, and there are bad men who come to a bad end, and good men who arrive at a good one. Thus, the judgments of God are all the more inscrutable, and His ways past finding out. We do not know, therefore, by what judgment God causes or allows these things to pass.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who had a strong view of God’s providential ordering of the world, warned us about trying to get too specific in explaining the ways in which God’s work manifests itself in the world. In his book, American Providence, the late theologian Stephen Webb notes, Barth went so far in “advising restraint, modesty, and caution in the use of this doctrine that he nearly undermines his own insistence on its importance.”

The great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was also clear about what Christians can and cannot know about the will of God in human history. Luther always erred on the side  of mystery: God is transcendent and sovereign; humans are sinful and finite. During the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther was quite candid about the human quest to understand God’s purposes in the world. “That person, Luther wrote, “does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.”

When it comes to politics, Christians would do better to embrace an approach to citizenship with a sense of God’s transcendent mystery, a healthy dose of humility, and  a hope that one day soon, but not now, we will all understand the Almighty’s plans for the nations. We should again take comfort in the words of Augustine: “When we arrive at that judgment of God, the time of which in a special sense is called the Day of Judgment,…it will become apparent that God’s judgments are entirely just.” The will of God in matters such as these often remain a mystery. As theologian Charles Mathewes notes, “The lesson of providence is not that history can be finally solved, like a cryptogram but that it must be endured, inhabited as a mystery which we cannot fully understand from the inside, but which we cannot escape of our own powers.

I like to season any providential invocations with words like “perhaps” or “maybe” or “might.” Or as theologian N.T. Wright has argued, “When Christians try to read off what God is doing even in their own situations, such claims always have to carry the word perhaps about with them as a mark of humility and of the necessary reticence of faith. That doesn’t mean that such claims can’t be made, but that they need to be made with a “perhaps” which is always inviting God to come in and say, ‘Well, actually, no.'”

“It is part of the inalienable task of God’s people…to speak the truth to power.”

Wright God in PublicI have been reading a lot of N.T. Wright lately.   The Anglican New Testament scholar and theologian has been helpful as I try to think about how to speak faithfully in our current political moment in the United States.  In his book God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power TodayWright offers what he calls a “rough sketch of a Christian political theology.”  His sketch includes four points:

First:

…the creator God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic. The order in question is to be a human order: that is to say, God intends that there should be human structures of government.  God does not want anarchy.  Just as God intends the world of plants and crops to work under human management, so God intends that human societies should be wisely ordered under human stewardship.  This pattern, of delegated authority if you like, goes all the way back to the human vocation to be God’s “image bearers.” It corresponds to the pattern of God’s actions in and through Jesus Christ.  That is what Paul says in Colossians 1:15-17.

Colossians 1:15-17: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Second:

…if God intends that there should be power structures; if he wills that humans should find ways of running the world and bringing it to wise order–then, within a world in rebellion, this call to power translates all too easily into a temptation to the abuse of power.  As soon as you make someone a steward of creation…you challenge them to navigate past the temptation to use that power for their own advantage, to become, in other words, part of the problem to which they are supposed to be part of the solution….

Third:

…it is part of the inalienable task of God’s people, of those who worship the creator God, whom we see in Jesus and know through the Spirit, to speak the truth to power.  This calling will mean reminding governments, local councillors, authorities in every sphere, including church leaders, of their calling to selfless stewardship. It will mean pointing our fearlessly (but also humbly: arrogance will spoil the whole thing) where this trust is being abused, in whatever way. Once more, God is not nearly so interested in how rulers get to be rulers as he is in how they behave as rulers. That is why the church has the vital task of reminding them of their proper vocation and of calling them to account.

Fourth:

…it is the task of the followers of Jesus to remind those called to authority, in whatever sphere, that the God who made the world intends to put the world rights at the last. It isn’t simply a matter of reminding the authorities of duties they have always had.  It is a matter of calling them to acts of justice and mercy which will anticipate, in the present time, God’s final setting of all things to rights, God’s wiping away of every tear from every eye. This calling–which many authorities and rulers dimly recognize, though many alas glimpse it and turn away to more seductive options–is, whether people recognize it or not, the call to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Wright summarizes:

The doing of justice and mercy in the present time by those called to power locally, nationally and globally is thus to be seen within the framework of the historical victory of Jesus in his death and resurrection and of the future, coming, final victory of God over all evil, all violence, all arrogant abuse of power.

And this:

It’s no good saying “Jesus is telling you to do this” to someone who has no time for Jesus. But if the church can translate what we believe Jesus would say into the language, and the coherent argument, of the wider world then such obedience can become a possibility.

Instead of Booing Him, CPAC Should Have Embraced Mitt Romney.

40a3c-romney

This is a piece I wrote on last weekend’s CPAC that was never able to place.  –JF

The name of Mitt Romney was booed relentlessly at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Fort Washington, Maryland.

This year’s CPAC was noteworthy for the relative absence of Christian Right speakers and the general downplaying of the religious wing of today’s conservative movement, but it still spoke volumes about the nature of the movement’s view of the role of religion in public life.

Donald Trump has used his bully pulpit to attack Romney for voting in favor of removing him from office during the Senate impeachment trial.  At last month’s National Prayer Breakfast, the president made a less-than-veiled attack on Romney’s Mormon faith when he said: “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”

On Saturday, as he spoke to the CPAC faithful, Trump called Romney “a low life.”

Trump’s followers on social media and conservative cable outlets have also excoriated Romney.  Pundit Ann Coulter dubbed him a “useful idiot” for Democrats.  Donald Trump Jr. demanded Romney’s remove from the Republican Party: “He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled.”

In the immediate wake of Romney’s vote, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, the special interest group that stages CPAC each year, tweeted that the 2012 Republican presidential nominee was “formally NOT invited” to this year’s conference.  In a Fox News interview, he added: “This year I’d actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him.

Schlapp may have been right about Romney’s safety at this year’s CPAC. Charlie Kirk, a pro-Trump activist who works on college campuses, encouraged the audience to boo every time Romney’s name was mentioned during the conference.

In a relatively successful attempt to work the crowd into a frenzy, Kirk claimed that Romney lied to the people of Utah about his conservative credentials while campaigning for his Senate seat.

These attacks on Romney at CPAC and elsewhere seem counter-intuitive when one considers that the Senator’s deeply held religious convictions informed his vote to remove Trump from office.

“I am a profoundly religious person,” Romney said as he fought back tears during his address on the floor of the Senate on February 5, 2020, the day before the removal votes, “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”

Whatever one thinks about Romney’s speech and its references to his Mormon faith, it is hard to argue with the fact that it was exactly the kind of faith-informed, conscience-driven style of politics that Christian conservatives have long championed.

Romney’s speech seemed to bolster, not undermine, what Kirk calls his “conservative credentials.” It was an exercise of religious liberty, one of the major political issues that led many conservatives to support Trump in 2016 and will lead them to pull a lever for the president again in November.

Why then would Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian RIght school founded by his father in 1971 to fight for conservative evangelical values and the freedom to express those values in the public square, tell Romney, in a Fox News interview, to “keep his religion in his personal life?”

Falwell and Kirk recently founded the Falkirk Center, a Liberty University think tank designed to advance Judeo-Christian values and defend “religious liberty.”  Perhaps Falwell and Kirk should hire Romney as a spokesperson for their new center.

When Romney delivered his anti-Trump speech on the Senate floor, he was bringing religious belief and conviction to what John Roberts described during the impeachment trial as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”  Romney’s integration of faith and politics was a direct assault on secularism in government.

Romney exercised his religious-shaped conscience at a crucial moment in our nation’s political history.  When future school children study his speech, they will inevitably think about it in this light.

Those who care about religious liberty for all Americans should cheer, not boo, Romney’s invocation of faith on the floor of the Senate.  Unless, of course, Christian conservatives care only about faith-informed politics and religious freedom when it benefits Trump or their own political agenda.

E.J. Dionne on Political Idolatry

Trump USA Today

Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast

This morning I was on a local radio show in the Boston area.  When the host asked me what I thought about Christians getting involved in politics, I said, as I have before, that Christians who want to enter political life must be very careful about letting political ideology (of either party) co-opt their faith.

E.J. Dionne makes a similar point today at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

If you wonder why young people are leaving organized religion in droves, look no further than last week’s National Prayer Breakfast.

Many who care about religion and its fate have condemned President Trump’s vindictive, self-involved, God-as-an-afterthought speech at the annual gathering. By contrast, his backers were happy to say “Amen” as they prepared to exploit religion in one more election.

My Post colleague Michael Gerson, a beacon of moral clarity in the conservative evangelical world, noted that Trump’s address was a tribute to his “remarkable ability to corrupt, distort and discredit every institution he touches.”

Gerson is right, but I confess that there has always been something troubling about the prayer breakfast. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the faith of many of its organizers. There have been moments when politicians, including presidents, have used the occasion to promote humility in the face of God’s judgment and call each other to fellowship across their political differences.

Nonetheless, the whole exercise seems idolatrous. The gatherings encourage the suspicion that many politicians are there not because of God but because of their own political imperatives. They want to tell the world how religious they are and check the faith box on the advice of their political advisers. You worry that this is as much about preening as praying.

And, as historian Kevin Kruse pointed out in his book “One Nation Under God,” the prayer breakfast was a component of a public elevation of religion in the 1950s designed at least in part to serve the cause of conservative politics.

Read the rest here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren

Church of Brethren

I had a great visit yesterday with an adult education class at Mechanicsburg (PA) Church of the Brethren.  The class is reading Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and it was a privilege to be present to answer questions and talk more about the book.

We spent a lot of time exploring theological, political, and historical factors that led so many evangelical to support Trump in 2016, but we also talked about a vision for Christian politics defined by hope, humility, and an informed understanding of American history.  Class members had questions about abortion, “end times” theology, environmentalism, the 2020 election, and how to think more Christianly about political engagement.

As Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder explains, politics requires “attentiveness” and “availability.”  Attentive people are aware of what others are “doing, suffering, [and] saying.” But they also make themselves available.  They see the needs of the world and ask: “Is there anything I can do about it?”  If we think about politics this way, then churches are always engaged in political activity.  And if churches are always engaged in political activity, then it also has a responsibility to think deeply about how to exercise such engagement in accordance with scripture.

Thanks to Warren Eshbach for the invitation.

24 Hours in Cleveland, Tennessee

lee U

This past weekend (Friday and Saturday) I was spent some time at the beautiful campus of Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. I was there for the Lee Symposium: A Conversation on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  Retired Calvin College history professor Ron Wells founded the symposium at Maryville College and Lee took it over four years ago.  This year’s theme was “Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith.  You can read the program here.

The organizer of the Lee Symposium,  history professor Jason Ward, caps registration at fifty or sixty people in order to allow for maximum conversation and fellowship. Most of the attendees come from faith-based colleges in the Chattanooga area, but there are a few who travel from longer distances to participate.

The symposium centers around four plenary speakers and respondents.  These keynote addresses set the stage for about an hour of questions and conversations.  I got the ball rolling on Friday afternoon with a talk titled “Christian Liberal Arts in the Age of Trump.”  I suggested a few ways that thinking Christians might counter the divisiveness of the Trump era, the undermining of facts, evidence, and proof in the Trump era, and the general anti-intellectualism of evangelical congregational life.  Historian Lisa Clark Diller of Southern Adventist University offered some excellent commentary and feedback.  The discussion was rich and several students participated in the conversation.

On Friday night, Lee University political scientist Ana Shippey reminded us that most of what the Trump administration tells us about immigration is wrong and feeds into what she described as “Christian nativism.” On Saturday morning, University of Oklahoma historian Wilfred McClay suggested that Christian liberal arts should be about liberation (using Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”), the pursuit of the good, true and beautiful (using Philippians 4:8), and the celebration of the teacher in the classroomChrista Bennett of Community Well in Charlottesville, Virginia shared her journey from the conservative daughter of a Pentecostal minister to a Christian who is liberal, pro-choice, and pro-LGBTQ.  Much of her talk challenged us to think about how “power” plays-out in everyday political and social life.

Finally, Jason Ward summarized the weekend and challenged us to continue the conversation.

I enjoyed the weekend at Lee and learned a great deal from the robust conversation.  It was so good to see old friends (Lisa Diller, Bill McClay, Ron Wells) and make some new ones (Rondall and Pamela Reynoso, some of Lisa Diller’s amazing students, some of Jason Ward’s amazing students, Ana Shippey, Krista Bennett, Don Bennett, Drew Bledsoe, Randy Wood, Richard Follett, and the ever-hospitable Jason Ward!)

I also saw some familiar names on campus:

DeVos

The DeVos family (as in Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos) does not just give money to Calvinist schools in Western Michigan.  Sometimes they also fund recreation centers at Pentecostal universities

Graham at Lee

In 1936, Billy Graham spent a semester as a student at Bob Jones College (now University) when the Greenville, South Carolina school was located in Cleveland, Tennessee.  The old Bob Jones College campus is now the site of Lee University.  Apparently there is at least one building left from those days.

 

Jess King: A Mennonite Running for Congress

This is not my district, but I live close to its borders.  I have written before about the way Christianity has been fueling the Democratic candidates for Congress in south-central Pennsylvania.  (Also see this post on Lutheran minister George Scott).

Here is another Washington Post piece on Jess King, a Mennonite who is fighting an up-hill battle against Republican incumbent Lloyd Smucker in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District.

A taste:

LANCASTER, Pa. — Voters in the heart of Pennsylvania’s rolling dairy farms and Amish countryside have rarely seen a Democrat mount a competitive campaign for Congress — until now.

From all appearances, first-time candidate Jess King is giving freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker a fight to the finish in Tuesday’s midterm election in this heavily conservative district on Pennsylvania’s southern border.

Drawn by her Mennonite faith into a career of nonprofit anti-poverty work, King said she isn’t necessarily running against President Donald Trump.

For sure, she doesn’t like Trump, calling him inflammatory and divisive.

But, she said, she is trying to tap into issues where she and Trump voters can agree, whether on the need for health care, a level economic playing field or a government that is responsive to people, not corporate campaign contributions.

“That’s why we don’t talk about Trump so much because it’s not helpful, in that it becomes another element of the division, and shame is not a tactic that works,” King said in an interview in her bustling downtown Lancaster campaign office. “You know, to shame people into, ‘hey, you were wrong in your vote,’ or ‘hey, you should have done something else,’ or ‘hey, I think less of you.’ That doesn’t work, so we don’t do it.”

King, 44, is endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and has gone toe-to-toe with Smucker in fundraising without accepting corporate campaign contributions or getting help from Democratic Party organizations.

Smucker, 54, acknowledges the race is competitive. Two polls in recent weeks have shown a single-digit race and Republicans are not disputing that finding. Still, Smucker says Republicans are getting engaged and happy with the last two years, and will vote to ensure the seat remains in Republican hands.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence came to campaign and raise cash for Smucker, who began airing attack ads that King says are full of lies about her.

Smucker suggests she wants to legalize heroin and abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She doesn’t. He said she’s for open borders. She’s not.

The ads show Smucker in a plaid shirt, call him a central Pennsylvania native and suggest that “socialists” from San Francisco and New York are funding King’s campaign. King does not call herself a socialist and much of Smucker’s campaign contributions are from outside the district.

Read the rest here.

 

Yesterday’s Piece in *USA Today*

Trump court evangelicals

Yesterday USA Today published a piece I wrote about Trump and evangelicals.  The editors chose the following title: “White evangelicals fear the future and yearn for the past.  Of course Trump is their hero.”  The article draws heavily from the introduction to Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is a taste:

Donald Trump is about to name his second conservative Supreme Court justice now that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Conservative evangelicals are celebrating. They have been waiting, to quote the Old Testament book of Esther, “for a time such as this.”

For the last year I have been thinking deeply about why so many of my fellow evangelical Christians support Donald Trump.

I have wondered why they backed his zero-tolerance immigration plan that separated families at the border. I have tried to make sense of why some of them give him a “mulligan” (to use Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ now famous phrase) for his alleged adulterous affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Why did so many evangelicals remain silent, or offer tepid and qualified responses, when Trump equated white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer?

What kind of power does Trump hold over men and women who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ? Evangelical support for Trump goes much deeper than simply a few Supreme Court justices.

Read the entire piece here.

Believe Me 3d

The Author’s Corner with Matthew Bowman

41wkagDrU8L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Matthew Bowman is associate professor of history at Henderson State University. This interview is based on his new book, Christian: The Politics of a Word in America  (Harvard University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: I wrote the book because of Anne Rice, if you can believe it; she wrote a piece a few years back in which she announced that though she considered herself a follower of Jesus, she did not want to be called a “Christian” because it was commonly understood that Christians were anti- any number of things: women, Democrats, LGBT people, and so on. This struck me as fascinating, because I didn’t think she was alone: a lot of people seem to have come to similar conclusions in the past twenty years, and a wide range of surveys bear that out. Why is it, I wondered, that the Religious Right and millennials who leave Christian churches over their social politics have essentially come to an agreement that “Christianity” is about social conservatism?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: The book looks at the ways the word “Christian” has been used in American politics since the end of the Civil War, and particularly follows the process by which white Protestants in particular have come to identify Christianity with something called “Western civilization” as defined in the twentieth century, a fascinating story that involves war, Cold War, psychology, and children’s textbooks. It’s that link, I think, that has allowed the Religious Right to identify the religion with traditionalist social politics, although I also explore a great number of dissenting voices, and point out ultimately that “Christian” is an essentially contested concept, one which might be best defined as a collection of concepts and ideas that can be marshalled to serve any number of definitions, theologies, or social orders.

JF: Why do we need to read Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: I think this sort of book is essential these days both for historical reasons but also contemporary politics. Of course it’s desirable to have a nuanced and detailed understanding of the American past, but I think questions like those this book raises also show how that understanding can serve a social and civic function: most people seem to agree that the polarization taking hold of American politics and culture these days is a bad thing, and one of the things I hope this book does is show that the history of American Christianity is profoundly resistant to that sort of polarization.

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

MB: Like many past Author’s Corner authors, in college I found myself deeply confused about the culture and society I found myself in and was relieved, genuinely, when history I began reading helped explain it to me. I was a librarian in college, and sometimes my supervisor would find me kneeling in the stacks next to a cart of books thumbing through one or another; this, actually, is how I discovered Ann Braude’s Radical Spirits, one of the first monographs I ever read.

JF: What is your next project?

MB: I’m working on a cultural history of Betty and Barney Hill, the first people in the United States to claim abduction by a UFO, in the sense that we define “abduction” today: little gray men, profound trauma, lost time, medical probing, and so on. The Hills are interesting in their own right: when they were abducted in 1961, they were an interracial couple, practicing Unitarians, and civil rights activists, and all these identities intersected uncomfortably with their new status of “abductees.” I think this story will tell us a lot about race, sexuality, and the rise of the New Age movement in the United States.

JF: Thanks, Matt!

Episode 32: The Politics of Sex

uploads_2F1517801018608-g7jadvnppfm-49f71c59cada623d3fc8cd64f18ad36b_2FwoiHost John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling continue to explore the many facets of the Culture Wars. Today, they tackle the often taboo subject of sex and politics. John discusses how sex was politicized in colonial America. They are joined by R. Marie Griffith (@RMarieGriffith), author of Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics.

What Can 2 Kings 16 and Isaiah 7 Teach Christians About Politics?

assyrian-empire-to-sennarcherib-1950x1360x300

While I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (pre-order here), I did a lot of reading in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  (On Monday, I wrote some thoughts on 1 Samuel).  While my interpretation of these biblical chapters did not make the final cut, I found them to be helpful in my thinking about Christianity and politics.  What follows are some thoughts on King Ahaz in 2 Kings 16 and Isaiah 7.

In these passages we find Ahaz, the King of the southern Kingdom of Judah from 735-715 B.C., in a difficult political and diplomatic situation.  The northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) has formed an alliance with its northern neighbor Syria as a defense measure against the mighty Assyrian Empire threatening them.  Israel and Syria and are pressuring Ahaz and the Kingdom of Judah to join in their pact.

God speaks to Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7) to trust him: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart grow faint.”  Isaiah tells Ahaz to be firm in his faith. He promises him that the Lord will help him conquer the Syrians and the Kingdom of Israel.  Ahaz, however, has other ideas.  Rather than trusting God to get him through his diplomatic problems, Ahaz makes an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser III, the Assyrian king.  “I am your servant and your son,” he tells the gentile ruler, “come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel who are attacking me.”  After presenting Tiglath-Pileser with gold and silver from the temple, the alliance is sealed, and the Assyrian king invades the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Fear can lead people–even kings and political leaders–to make strange decisions.  Most historians and biblical scholars agree that the threat posed to Ahaz by Syria and Israel was not great. Yet Ahaz’s foreign policy was built on these exaggerated fears.  Ahaz made this alliance with Assyria despite the fact that the Lord also promised to protect him through his crisis.  As biblical theologian Walter Bruegemann writes in his commentary on this passage: “The world looks very different when the observer is consumed by fear.”  Ahaz lacked faith.  He did not trust God’s plan in this situation.  “Faith,” Brueggeman writes, “is…a matter of…practical reliance upon the assurance of God in a context of risk where one’s own resources are not adequate.  It means to entrust one’s security and future to the attentiveness of Yahweh—to count God’s attentiveness as adequate and sure, thereby making panic, anxiety, or foolishness unnecessary and inappropriate.”  Ahaz chose to put his faith in the strong man of Assyria rather than God.  There would be future consequences.

“Christian Politics?”: Week One

Faith and Politics

This morning I taught the first of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg.  We spent most of our time defining politics and examining five Christian approaches to political engagement.

I began with Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder’s definition of politics. Tinder writes: “Politics is the activity through which men and women survey the historical conditions they inhabit.”  I like this definition because it challenges us to think about politics beyond electoral politics and political parties.  According to Tinder, political engagement requires us to be “attentive” and “available.”  People who are attentive ask: “What are people in this world doing, suffering, and saying?”  Attentiveness moves from mere curiosity to politics when we make ourselves available.  People who are available ask” “Is there anything I can do about it?”

After we played around with this definition, I moved into a brief discussion of Christianity before and after Constantine.  I noted how Christian politics changed drastically after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.

We spent the bulk of our time discussion five approaches to Christian political engagement: Anabaptism, Lutheranism, the African-American Church, Calvinism, and Catholicism.

Since we had a lot of background work to do today, the discussion was limited.  I plan to allow more time for this in coming weeks.  I did get some really interesting questions though:

  • When did the idea of the “separation of church and state” develop?
  • Too what extent with the first-century Christians “atheists?”  (In other words, the Romans saw them this way because they did not worship the Roman gods)
  • Of the five Christian views of politics, which one was most influential at the time of the American founding?
  • In what way do pro-Trump Christians justify their vote using Lutheran theology?

Next week we will consider the following question: “How have American evangelicals practiced politics?”  We will try to unpack this question with three related questions:

  1. What is an Evangelical?
  2. What has Evangelical political engagement looked like in the past fifty years?
  3.  To what extent have Evangelicals drawn upon these historic models to craft their approach to politics?  In what way have they crafted a unique approach to politics?

We meet at 9:00am and 10:45am in room 202 at the church.

Christian Politics?: A 4-Week Class at West Shore Evangelical Free Church

westshoresign

Tomorrow at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania I will be leading a 4-week course titled “Christian Politics?”

Here is a description:

Christian Politics?

How should Christians engage in politics?  We will examine the historical roots of Christian participation in politics today as well as some popular approaches to Christian political activity.  We will think together about how we can be Christian citizens in a way that replaces fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia for the past with a healthier view of changes taking place in the moral life of the United States

Rooms 200-202.  9:00 and 10:45

I am still developing the course, but tomorrow we will be discussing different Christian approaches to politics:  Reformed, Lutheran, Anabaptist, African-American, and Catholic.

Jimmy Carter’s Christianity

81e2e-carterIn case you missed it, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently interviewed Jimmy Carter about his Christian faith.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday. But wait — do we really think Jesus literally rose from the dead?

I asked questions like that in a Christmas Day column, interviewing the Rev. Tim Keller, a prominent evangelical pastor. In this, the second of an occasional series, I decided to quiz former President Jimmy Carter. He’s a longtime Sunday school teacher and born-again evangelical but of a more liberal bent than Keller. Here’s our email conversation, edited for clarity.

ME How literally do you take the Bible, including miracles like the Resurrection?

PRESIDENT CARTER Having a scientific background, I do not believe in a six-day creation of the world that occurred in 4004 B.C., stars falling on the earth, that kind of thing. I accept the overall message of the Bible as true, and also accept miracles described in the New Testament, including the virgin birth and the Resurrection.

With Easter approaching, let me push you on the Resurrection. If you heard a report today from the Middle East of a man brought back to life after an execution, I doubt you’d believe it even if there were eyewitnesses. So why believe ancient accounts written years after the events?

I would be skeptical of a report like you describe. My belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from my Christian faith, and not from any need for scientific proof. I derive a great personal benefit from the totality of this belief, which comes naturally to me.

I do not judge whether someone else is a Christian. Jesus said, “Judge not, …” I try to apply the teachings of Jesus in my own life, often without success.

How can I reconcile my admiration for the message of Jesus, all about inclusion, with a church history that is often about exclusion?

As St. Paul said to the Galatians in 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” In His day, Jesus broke down walls of separation and superiority among people. Those (mostly men) who practice superiority and exclusion contradict my interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus, which exemplified peace, love, compassion, humility, forgiveness and sacrificial love.

Read the entire interview here.

Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran on Christian Support for Trump

9143b-hauerwasStanley Hauerwas, considered by many to be one of the turn of the twenty-first century’s greatest theologians, has written an essay with Baylor theologian Jonathan Tran which, as far as I can tell, is his most thorough treatment of his views on the role of Christians in the age of Trump.

Here are a few snippets from their piece at the Religion and Ethics page of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website:

On the failure of the Christian political imagination:

To us the most troubling thing was not that Christians voted for Trump when they had plenty of reasons and ways not to do so. While regrettable, that mistake follows a more basic one. We are most troubled by the ongoing belief Christians hold that the nation-state, not the church, is the arbiter of Christian political action. This belief obligates Christians to modes of statecraft in order to fulfil their moral commitments. In order to play at statecraft – again, for one’s “vote to count” – Christians will have to prioritize those commitments that will survive the state’s political processes over those that will not.

On abortion:

Take for instance the political issue of abortion, which some Christians cited as their reason for voting for candidate Trump. When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

On populism:

The nationalism of senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon and the so-called “Alt-Right” presents itself as a compassionate friend to those dispossessed by capitalism, bemoaning the loss of virtue and character and intoning a crisis of Western civilization. But when its antidote to global capitalism turns out to be the establishment of a 1950s version of Judaeo-Christian Victorian society without the recognition of that culture’s stewardship of capitalism or America’s guiding role in its operations, then its nationalism turns out to be only that, nationalism, and of the most nostalgic kind: to make America white again. The end result will be a nationalist-because-anti-globalist agenda that can achieve little more than a protectionist version of capitalism and a pseudo-intellectual endorsement of white supremacist activity. Not particularly original, but highly dangerous.

On lying:

Much has been made of President Trump’s shaky hold on the truth. When everything disagreeable is “fake news” then reality goes out the window. One approach to this state of affairs is to get the media to pile on as much discrediting evidence as possible with the expectation that Trump will be found to be caught in a lie. While this strategy has worthwhile benefits, we think it also has serious limitations, not least of which is that it positions the media politically in an endless troll/counter-troll game that will over time erode the public trust that is the source of its authority. The strategy also presumes that Trump is capable of lying. The way he presents himself makes us unsure that he is. Lying first requires an ability to distinguish truth from fantasy, an initial capacity to differentiate how things are from how one wants them to be. For anyone who has given himself to self-deception as constantly and continuously as Trump seems to, no amount of evidence will matter.

On sanctuary churches:

Acting as the church hospitable, Christians welcome those fleeing poverty, violence and oppression. As the powers threaten this hospitality because it challenges unjust political orders, the church militant responds with the grace and truth expressed in the sanctuary statement, against the grain of a crucifying world and with the grain of the universe. Upending oppressive arrangements, the church as sanctuary, a true international, attests to the absurdity of borders when millions starve and the thievery of states in a world given as gift.

On fear:

Shockingly there remain to this day Christians who support Trump’s anti-migration policies because they believe his policies will “keep us safe.” Surely one could not wish for a more misleading understanding of what it means to be Christian. Christians worship at the church of martyrs; they seek fellowship with the crucified Lord. Being a Christian is not about being safe, but about challenging the status quo in ways that cannot help but put you in danger. Thinking it possible to be safe in a world where Christians are sent out like sheep among wolves is about as unfortunate an idea as thinking that war is necessary to secure peace. We can only guess that those Christians who voted for Trump because of his willingness to use questionable tactics to keep them safe have forgotten what it means to be Christian.

Read the entire piece here.