Where are the Court Evangelical Defenders of “Family Values” Today?

families

Getty Images

The Trump Administration separated 1000s of immigrant children from their parents.  If I am reading this article correctly, the administration does not know where these kids are located. They simply failed to write down where they sent them.  It will take up to two years to find them.

And where are the court evangelicals today?  They brag about unprecedented access to Trump.  Now is the time to use such access.  These men and women built their political careers around defending “family values.”  Why aren’t they lined-up at the White House door to demand that these families are reunited sooner?

Here is Tony Perkins, president of an organization called the FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:

Apparently Perkins’s “religiously informed values” do not bear on “public policy decisions” about reuniting families separated by Trump immigration policy.  It seems like this might be something an organization called the FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL may want to take up.

I wonder how Perkins would respond if these were white middle class families?

First Baptist-Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress spent his Sunday interviewing a guy from Duck Dynasty:

I am sure this interview focused on family separation. 😉

Gary Bauer, a former president of the Family Research Council, is using his Twitter feed to spew anti-immigrant rhetoric:

Former “Focus on the Family” host James Dobson is wondering what “love” looks like:

Eric Metaxas was on NPR earlier today wondering if the American Republic has “lost its way’:

These court evangelicals, if they really believe in family values, should be screaming from the rooftops today.  Sadly, it’s not going to happen.

Tony Perkins Has It All Wrong

Lamb

Conor Lamb

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, the guy famous for saying that he is willing to give Donald Trump a “mulligan” for his adulterous affair with Stormy Daniels, chides his fellow conservative evangelicals in western Pennsylvania for not coming out to vote in the recent special election.  He writes:

Although the liberal media won’t admit it, there’s a deliberate effort to try to discourage evangelicals from voting and being involved. That’s why we’re seeing an almost daily rehashing of Trump’s past. Americans can’t make it through a half-hour of cable news without hearing about the president’s behavior back in 2006. They can’t open a newspaper without another columnist shaming Christians for supporting Trump. That’s by design. Liberals know that if they can shame evangelicals for supporting this president, they can suppress their enthusiasm. Their aim is to translate that into a decline of our record participation in 2016. If that decline happens — even a little bit — they can retake Congress. And they understand as well as we do that if Republicans lose either chamber, the president’s conservative agenda is as good as dead

Thoughts:

  1. Perkins repeats a version of the old “mulligan” argument.  I have addressed this in multiple places, including here and here and here and here.
  2. Perkins devalues evangelical voters.  He makes it sound as if they are too easily swayed by the media and are incapable of making up their own mind.  This might be true (i.e. Fox News), but usually it is those on the Left who say this about conservative evangelicals.
  3. Perkins is engaging in the usual paranoia and scare tactics that we usually see from the court evangelicals.  Perkins knows that the success of his message is dependent upon his ability to cultivate fear in ordinary evangelicals.  I develop this point more fully in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  (Don’t forget to pre-order!)
  4.  I don’t know how many evangelicals in this special election voted for Democrat Conor Lamb, but I would guess that many did.  These evangelicals sent a message to people like Tony Perkins and Donald Trump.  Perkins assumes that Lamb beat Rick Saccone because evangelicals did not come out and vote.  But what if Lamb beat Saccone because evangelicals did come out and vote and in the process rejected Trump’s agenda?

The Editor of *Christianity Today* Weighs-In on the Perkins and Falwell Jr. Debacle

CT

Christianity Today usually tries to stay out of the political fray.  Frankly, I was somewhat surprised that they were willing to let me write so freely about Ted Cruz during the 2016 campaign.  (The piece actually won an award).  I respect the folks at CT and I am always impressed by their reporting on evangelicalism and politics.  Court evangelical Robert Jeffress has described those affiliated with the CT approach to politics as the “Christianity Today crowd.”  (Count me as one of the crowd!)

Earlier this week, editor Mark Galli (check out his new book on Karl Barth) weighed-in on the Tony Perkins “mulligan” and Jerry Falwell Jr.’s wacky comments and tweets.

Here is a taste of his piece:

To be fair to Perkins, however, the call to turn the other cheek is not a universal guideline for Christian behavior. It is a very good guideline in many, many situations, and one Christians should instinctively start with. But it doesn’t take deep imagination to recognize that Jesus does not call us to simply absorb evil in every instance. He certainly didn’t. He called out the Pharisees in the strongest language—“hypocrites,” “blind fools,” “sons of vipers” (Matt. 23)—and he turned over the tables in the Temple and drove out the money changers with a whip (John 2:15).

In the same vein, we rightly tell women they should not simply turn the other cheek when a man sexually assaults them. Similarly, African Americans who are abused by the system should fight for justice. And so on and so forth. Christianity is not a passive faith in the face of evil, but one that encourages and models courage and standing up to evil, along with the virtues of patience and forbearance.

This is one reason being a Christian is so hard at times. It takes a fair amount of wisdom to discern when and how these various virtues come into play in any given situation. I’m making a larger exegetical point here: We Christians should not reflexively default to one set of virtues when we’re trying to craft or critique public policy. So formally Perkins is right to suggest that.

Galli is much harder on Falwell Jr.  Read the rest here.

The Slow and Steady Decline of Evangelical Morality

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Tony Perkins’s recent blog post at the Family Research Council is entitled “On Morals and Mulligans.” Here is a taste:

As I said when that footage was released in October to rationalize or excuse this type of behavior. But let’s also be realistic: Americans can only hold President Donald Trump accountable for what he does in office. We can’t do anything about the past. Americans may not like it, find it distasteful, and wish it hadn’t happened — but it did. Like any of us, he needs to own his failings and take responsibility for his actions. And in some of these cases, I believe he did. (Italics mine).

If we except Perkins’s problematic suggestion that we should only hold Trump accountable for what he does in office, then I have several follow-up questions:

  1.  Trump tried to cover-up the affair with $130,000 weeks before the election.  Should Trump be held accountable for this?
  2.  As I wrote two days ago:  How does a man who runs an organization committed to strong Christian families give Trump a pass on adultery?  Yes, it happened ten years ago, but does Perkins really believe that the fallout of such a revelation will have no effect on Trump’s family.  Does he think Melania should give Trump a pass because his adulterous affair with a porn star happened ten years ago?  Shouldn’t a so-called “family values” crusader be standing up for those hurt by Trump’s sins?  I could say the same thing about Roy Moore’s victims.  Why wasn’t the Family Research Council supporting these victims?
  3. What has happened to evangelical morality?  Trump should be held “accountable” for all kinds of things he has done in office: his racist comments, his arrogance, the crassness of his Twitter feed, his endless lies.  And we could go on.  There was a time when evangelicals thought officeholders needed to be called out for these things.  How low is the moral bar for people like Perkins and the rest of the court evangelicals?  (We will support Trump as long as he doesn’t cheat on his wife in the oval office with a porn star).

Perkins goes on:

As I said again on CNN Tuesday night, I was not an early supporter of Mr. Trump because of his past personal conduct. But, after the candidate I was supporting dropped out of the race, it became a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. So, I began communicating what I thought it would take for Mr. Trump to gain evangelical support. You may recall that we said he would: 1) need to commit to appointing pro-life judges, 2) choose a conservative pro-life, pro-family running-mate with a solid record, and 3) agree not to undermine or dilute the conservative GOP platform. To my amazement (and several others’), he not only met — but exceeded — the high bar we had set. No other Republican nominee had ever pledged to nominate “pro-life” judges. Mr. Trump put it in writing and released it to the nation.

Perkins, as you might expect, has a pretty firm grasp on the Christian right political playbook.  The playbook teaches him to elect a pro-life POTUS who will pick a pro-life running mate and support pro-life justices.

Hey Tony, how has this playbook been working for you and your predecessors over the last forty years?  You are fighting a losing battle.  In fact, you have probably lost the battle already. And I write this as a fellow evangelical.  Isn’t it time to develop a new playbook–perhaps a playbook that does not force you to trade your integrity and moral voice for a handful of federal judges?

Read Perkins’s entire piece here.

Melania and the Tony Perkins Mulligan

Trumps host Hispanic Heritage Month event at the White House in Washington

One more thought about the Tony Perkins “mulligan.”

If the story about Trump and Stormy Daniels is true, and Trump did cheat on his wife, then how can a man like Perkins, a champion of “family values,” EVER give this kind of thing a pass?  Think about it.  The president of the Family Research Council gives an adulterer a moral mulligan because the adulterer will help him advance the cause of strong families and marriages.  Perkins ignores whatever pain and embarrassment Melania might be feeling.  For him this is all one big political calculation.

Trump’s “Mulligan”

Perkins

I am not surprised that Family Research Council president Tony Perkins wants to give Trump a “mulligan” on the whole Stormy Daniels affair. Perkins says he will not judge Trump for his apparent adulterous affair with a porn star in 2006.

Here is his interview last night with CNN’s Erin Burnett:

Perkins says that if Trump did the same thing today he would lose the support of evangelicals.  Frankly, I am not so sure.

But let’s also remember that the attempt to cover-up the Daniels affair took place only three weeks before the 2016 election.  Does he get a mulligan for that?  When Burnett asked Perkins about this he did not have much of an answer.  So let’s get this straight:  Perkins will give Trump a pass on the 2006 affair because it happened in the past.  He will also give Trump a pass for the 2016 cover-up.

Finally, Perkins says that evangelicals were not on board with Trump until he won the GOP nomination.  Who are the evangelicals Perkins represents?  Does he represent Robert Jeffress or Jerry Falwell Jr.?  They were with Trump from the beginning.  Does he represent the average evangelical voter who handed Trump the nomination?

Christian Nationalists Making the Usual Mistakes About American History

Perkins

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, was not very happy with Paul Rosenberg and Frederick Clarkson’s recent Salon article on Religious Freedom Day.  He writes:

When Americans celebrate Religious Freedom Day tomorrow, not everyone will be happy about it. Liberals are already blasting the tradition that honors the 1786 signing of one of the most influential documents in American history: the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Now, more than 230 years into the tradition that sparked a revolution, the Left is ready to recast history.

In Salon, hardly the bastion of conservative thought, Paul Rosenberg tries to persuade readers that freedom is the oppression, insisting that when Christians talk about religious liberty, it’s really just code for “theocratic supremacism of their own religious beliefs inscribed in government.” Taking aim at FRC in particular, Rosenberg points to Frederick Clarkson, who insists that our Church Ministries team has been “empowered to advance a dangerous suite of theocratic and persecutory policies” (while producing absolutely zero evidence to the effect). Instead, he talks suspiciously about our Culture Impact Teams (CITs), our network of on-the-ground activists in churches across America. Operating under the authority of the church’s leadership, CITs serve as the command center for a church’s efforts to engage the culture.

Then he starts to play fast and loose with the Constitution.  He quotes Rosenberg: “I think if we got serious about taking Jefferson and Madison’s foundational ideas of religious equality under the law into the 21stcentury, Christian nationalism would crumble.”  And then Perkins adds: “Our own Constitution closes with the words, ‘In the year of our Lord, 1787.’ That’s a reference to Jesus! The signers not only embraced Christianity, they anchored our most important document in it.”

OK.  I have written about this before.  First, the Constitution says “year of our Lord.”  It does not say anything about Jesus.  Second, this phrase hardly serves as an “anchor” of the Constitution.  Third, “In the year of our Lord” was a standard eighteenth-century way of referencing the date.  We need to be careful about giving it too much theological meeting.  Fourth, it is worth noting that an appeal to God does tell us something about the eighteenth-century world that the founders inhabited.  We don’t sign documents like this today.  Fifth, because the phrase “In the year of our Lord” is boilerplate, it was probably not added until after the delegates had left Philadelphia.  Sixth, the minutes of the Constitutional Convention reveal that there was no discussion about the phrase “In the year of our Lord.”  In other words, NO ONE said anything like: “Let’s end the document with the phrase ‘In the year of our Lord’ because it will send a message to everyone that we are creating a Christian nation.”

Perkins is correct when he says that Jefferson included the writing of the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom on his tombstone.  Jefferson was a champion of religious freedom.  He believed that everyone had the right to worship God freely without government interference.  Jefferson did not comment on whether or not it was appropriate to have a Ten Commandments display in a courthouse or a prayer before a football game.  It is very difficult to appeal to his writings (or the writings of James Madison) to argue for or against such things.

Perkins writes: “Before President Trump, Jefferson would barely recognize his country.”  Really?  Jefferson lived in a different era, but he would certainly be able to spot Christian nationalists like Perkins.  He did battle against them in his own day (Christian Federalists) and would probably do battle with them today.  Jefferson regularly slammed pious New Englanders and their Christian political establishments.  He worried that they were trying to create a Christian nation, not a nation informed by religious liberty.

I have mixed feelings about this whole religious liberty debate:

  1. When Christian Right evangelicals talk about religious liberty they use this idea in a negative way–to protect themselves and their views.  In other words, they are rarely interested in articulating a positive view of religious liberty that defends the right of all people to worship freely.
  2. There are real religious liberty issues at stake in our country right now.  Will Christian institutions who uphold traditional views of marriage, for example, remain in a position to receive government funds or maintain a tax-exempt status?  I wrote about this yesterday.

On the one hand, people like Rosenberg and Clarkson need to offer a vision of religious liberty that protects the rights of churches, Christian schools, and other Christian institutions to practice their faith in the way they see fit, even in areas of sexual politics.  Frankly, I think Hillary Clinton’s failure to defend religious liberty in this way may have, among other things, cost her the election in 2016.

On the other hand, Christian Right activists like Perkins need to stop manipulating history.  When it comes to Jefferson, Perkins could probably learn a great deal from what David Barton went through when he published The Jefferson Lies.  In the end, if Perkins believes in liberty then he cannot, at the same time, defend the idea that the government should privilege one form of religious belief over another.

 

Gerson: “For many years, leaders of the religious right exactly conformed Christian social teaching to the contours of Fox News…”

Bannon Voters Valye

Michael Gerson continues to bring the fire.  He starts his October 16, 2017 Washington Post column with this line: “At the Family Research Council’s recent Values Voter Summit, the religious right effectively declared its conversion to Trumpism.”

He continues:

The president was received as a hero. Stephen K. Bannon and Sebastian Gorka — both fired from the White House, in part, for their extremism — set the tone and agenda. “There is a time and season for everything,” said Bannon. “And right now, it’s a season for war against a GOP establishment.”

A time to live and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot. A time to mourn and a time to embrace angry ethnonationalism and racial demagoguery. Yes, a time to mourn.

There is no group in the United States less attached to its own ideals or more eager for its own exploitation than religious conservatives. Forget Augustine and Aquinas, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury. For many years, leaders of the religious right exactly conformed Christian social teaching to the contours of Fox News evening programming. Now, according to Bannon, “economic nationalism” is the “centerpiece of value voters.” I had thought the centerpiece was a vision of human dignity rooted in faith. But never mind. Evidently the Christian approach to social justice is miraculously identical to 1930s Republican protectionism, isolationism and nativism.

Do religious right leaders have any clue how foolish they appear? Rather than confidently and persistently representing a set of distinctive beliefs, they pant and beg to be a part of someone else’s movement. In this case, it is a movement that takes advantage of racial and ethnic divisions and dehumanizes Muslims, migrants and refugees. A movement that has cultivated ties to alt-right leaders and flirted with white identity politics. A movement that will eventually soil and discredit all who are associated with it.

Read the entire column here.

I took the weekend off, so I did not get a chance to see much of the display of court evangelicalism known as the “Voters Value Summit,” but I hope to get caught up soon.

Family Research Council Weighs-In On My “Court Evangelicals” Piece

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Perkins supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primaries

Tony Perkins, the President of the evangelical Family Research Council, is not a big fan of my recent Washington Post piece “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.”  He not only critiques this piece, but he also references a 2012 piece I wrote on Barack Obama.  (By the way, I still stand by that piece).

Here is what Perkins wrote yesterday at this blog:

John Fea, a professor at Messiah College, took aim at the president in a Washington Post column earlier this week called “Trump Threatens to Change the Course of American Christianity.” He starts by labeling the White House’s religious base as “court evangelicals,” his term for “a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.” When I hear the phrase “court evangelicals,” I think of Scripture’s Daniel, Joseph, and others who brought their faith into the presence of the king — people who God strategically placed to influence leaders for the benefit of an entire nation. But Fea doesn’t mean it as a compliment. On the contrary, he accuses them of “changing the religious landscape in the United States” and “alter[ing] long-standing spiritual alignments.”

For the last 50 years, he argues, “evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.” Fea insists that Trump has done little for evangelicals, a charge hardly substantiated by the strides the White House has made on our pro-life and religious liberty agendas. But Fea measures Trump’s sincerity on a different scale: how often he attends church. No wonder he once called Barack Obama “the most explicitly Christian president in American history.” In a column from 2012, he made the staggering claim that the most pro-abortion, anti-faith president to ever occupy the Oval Office was also the most pious.

It’s a startling suggestion until you consider that Fea and other Religious liberals judged Obama on his words, not his ungodly policies. “If we analyze his language [emphasis mine] in the same way that historians examine the religious language of the Founding Fathers or even George W. Bush, we will find that Obama’s piety, use of the Bible, and references to Christian faith and theology put most other American presidents to shame on this front. I think there may be good reasons why some people will not vote for Obama in November, but his commitment to Christianity is not one of them.” His record makes clear that President Obama’s only commitment to Christianity was to drive it underground.

I can’t speak to Donald Trump’s personal faith walk. But I can say that he shares some of evangelicals’ deepest concerns. And although we don’t agree on everything, I fail to see what’s lost by exposing the president to the same God Fea and Barber claim to worship? Isn’t it good for him to be exposed to faith? Obviously, Fea, Barber, and others on the Religious Left have one goal: pushing Christians away from political engagement. But the truth is this: our government is only as good as the character of the people managing it — and the people influencing them. On this point, I do agree with Fea — Christians should never place access over the accountability of Scripture. We should never desire a seat at the table so much that we would compromise the truth to be there. Rather, we should speak truth wherever we are. And as far as I’m concerned, that applies from the White House to our own house.

Read the entire post here.

Just for the record, I don’t see myself as part of the “Religious Left.”  I am an evangelical Christian.  Perkins’s piece is yet another piece of evidence to support my Washington Post piece.  Religious alignments are changing.

Evangelical Tony Perkins Is Upset About Trump’s Pick for Secretary of State

perkinsTony Perkins of the Family Research Council is not happy with Donald Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.  It has nothing to do with the fact that Tillerson has connections to Vladimir Putin.  Neither does Perkins seem to be bothered that Tillerson’s company, ExxonMobil, has a horrible track record when it comes to the environment (or God’s creation, to use evangelical parlance Perkins is familiar with).

What does bother Perkins about the Tillerson appointment is the fact that he headed the Boys Scouts of America from 2010-2012 and helped convince the organization to admit gay boys.  Perkins is also bothered by the fact ExxonMobil gives money to Planned Parenthood.

I am not disparaging Perkins’s moral convictions on these things, but let me get this straight.  Perkins is OK with a POTUS-elect who cannot seem to tell the truth, who brags about his affairs with women, who wants to undermine religious liberty (which evangelicals are fighting for as well) for Muslims, etc., etc.  But he is upset because Trump’s pick for Secretary of State supported gay Boy Scouts and is part of a company that gives money to Planned Parenthood.

Where was this moral outrage during the election Tony?

Source: David Gibson’s piece at The Washington Post website.

GOP Candidates at the Values Voter Summit

While the Pope is getting all the attention this week, conservative evangelicals are gathered together in Washington D.C. for the Values Voter Summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council.  You can watch it live by clicking on the first link above.

Several GOP candidates are speaking:  Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz Bobby Jindal, and Lindsey Graham.

Other speakers include Bill Bennett, Kim Davis, Mark Levin, John McCain, and Rick Perry,

I have watched some of this and read some of the transcripts.  On the religion and politics front, here are some of the major (and interrelated) themes:

  • Religious liberty
  • Abortion and the defunding of Planned Parenthood
  • The links between liberty and God-given (inalienable) rights
  • The Kim Davis case
  • Same-sex marriage
  • The “progressive agenda” to destroy religion in the United States
  • Islam
No surprise here.
I should also add that Donald Trump brought his Bible with him.
What I find especially interesting about what I have seen or read so far is that there has been no reference to the United States as a Christian nation.  I think the idea that the United States is, and was founded, as a Christian nation is implied in many of the conversations and speeches, but specific historical references and appeals to the past have been absent.
When it comes to issues related to church and state, it appears that the Christian Right has changed its approach.  As I have said elsewhere on this blog, the Christian Right is now talking about religious liberty.  This is telling, because appeals to religious liberty have historically been made by outsiders. 
We can have an honest debate about whether or not the Christian Right has ever had cultural hegemony in the United States, but right now they seemed to be operating as dissenting minorities in a non-Christian nation.