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.

“Trump does the lying. We do the dying.”

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette nails it:

Naturally, the first defense Mr. Trump lunged for when the Woodward tapes came to light made no sense whatsoever. He didn’t want to panic anybody. Panic? Panic is the man’s brand. The drug-dealing criminal raping Mexicans are coming! The caravan is heading for our Southern border! Anarchists! Looters! Agitators! Rioters! Low-income housing will ruin the suburbs! Antifa! They’re coming for your beautiful Second Amendment! They’re gonna have late term abortions on demand! They’ll get rid of the death penalty! Radical left socialists! This will be the most rigged election in history! And my favorite, which I quote for you directly, “People that you’ve never heard of,” he told favored Fox bootlick Laura Ingraham, were controlling Joe Biden. “People that are in the dark shadows. They’re people that are on the streets. They’re people that are controlling the streets. We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane, it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that. They’re on a plane.”

Clearly, the man doesn’t want to alarm anybody.

It’s no accident that Mr. Woodward called his first volume on Mr. Trump’s monumental incompetence “Fear,” because when he asked Mr. Trump to define power for him, Mr. Trump answered, “Real power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.”

The hard truth is, Mr. Trump doesn’t mind panicking people if it adrenalizes his chances of retaining power; he’s only hesitant when it will clearly have the opposite impact, no matter how many people such hesitation might endanger, no matter how many weeks (25 in a row right now) more people file first-time jobless claims than ever before, no matter how many people who were alive when he knew what he knew in February have to die.

Ironically and tragically, the people whose safety he is least concerned with are his own loyalists. They’ve got to sign waivers when they come mask-less to his rallies, no social distancing necessary. These are rallies where he never mentions the “deadly stuff” he’s known full well about since January when he was briefed by the CIA. Herman Cain went to one in Tulsa. Indoors.

Herman Cain is dead. Along with nearly 200,000 others.

Former CIA director John Brennan, hearing Mr. Trump’s voice on Mr. Woodward’s recordings, blurted the inescapable 21st century conclusion: “In his comments to Bob Woodward, Donald Trump reveals what an absolute abomination he is. If he had a conscience or a soul, he would resign. Tragically for us, he has neither.”

I doubt that like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Trump will ever resign. Too many “smoking guns” and “bombshells” that have practically gone off in his hair have failed to alter our modern American dynamic, to which we always quickly return.

Mr. Trump does the lying. We do the dying.

Read the entire column here.

The court evangelicals respond to Donald Trump’s RNC convention speech and the aftermath

metaxas and Graham

Eric Metaxas and Franklin Graham were both in action (so to speak) at last night’s GOP convention

Last night I thought Franklin Graham offered a good opening prayer to kick-off the last night of the GOP convention. Today he sat for an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. At times Graham tried to be bipartisan, but in the end this was pure court evangelicalism. This idea that the socialists (and other secular enemies) are coming to close our churches has a long, long history in American evangelicalism. As I wrote in Believe Me, evangelicals said the same thing about Thomas Jefferson in the run-up to the election of 1800. On another matter, it is disingenuous for Graham to claim that he is “just one man” and does not speak for a significant portion of American evangelicalism. There are white evangelicals who hang on every word he says.  Watch:

Court evangelical Eric Metaxas showed us how to blind-side a protester and backpedal to safety. In this August 22, 2020 interview, Metaxas talks with fellow court evangelical Greg Laurie about “the role of virtue in the public square.” Metaxas notes how Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks were known for “turning the other cheek.” He laments the way “rage” and “violence” are “setting the [Christian cause] backward and confusing people.” He even speaks of non-violence as a Christian virtue. This 15-minute interview is interesting (to say the least) in light of what Metaxas did last night. Jab and move, jab and move.

Jack Graham ran into some trouble last night, along with dozens of other court evangelicals:

Two things are going on in this tweet. First, Graham’s story appears to be true. I am not sure how Graham was able to interrogate the “thugs” and “infidels” about their political ideology (Marxism), but he is right to suggest that this kind of harassment needs to stop. Second, Graham is playing to the base. He did not punch the protesters like Metaxas did, but Graham is obviously hoping his tweet will serve Trump politically by scaring evangelicals to pull a lever for the president in November.

If I recall correctly, in the New Testament Jesus stopped on the road to Golgotha with the old rugged cross on his shoulder and called his tormentors “thugs” and “infidels.” He then asked God to stop the insanity.

The same goes for Paula White:

I am guessing that Gary Bauer believed Trump delivered last night for the Christian Right

Ralph Reed saw his “good friend” Jack Abramoff Rudy Giuliani:

Reed and Giuliani

Robert Jeffress spent some time at the court today:

And then he talked with Lou Dobbs about it. There is no one “kinder and more gracious” than Donald Trump “and that’s what “makes him such an effective leader”:

67 days to go. I am afraid it is going to get a lot worse.

Fear and Frederick Jackson Turner: Night 4 of the GOP convention

Trump GOP convention 2

Well, it’s over. Last night Donald Trump, a president who lost the popular vote by 3 million and has never had his approval rating rise over 50%, used the White House–the “people’s house–for a political rally. Most of the sycophants in the crowd were not wearing masks and there was no social distancing.

Trump’s speech was filled with lies and misleading statements. His low energy reading of the teleprompter did not play to our hopes, it played to our fears. But this is now par for the course in the Trump administration. The president claimed that if Joe Biden gets elected, suicide, depression, drug and alcohol addiction and heart attacks would plague the country. (The only thing missing from this list is lower SAT scores). He suggested that if Joe Biden gets elected Black mobs will invade the white suburbs. Joe Biden will take your guns and abolish the police force. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

And most white evangelicals are on board. In fact, many of the court evangelicals were present at the speech.

Author Neal Gabler once said that “true religion…begins in doubt and continues in spiritual exploration. Debased religion begins in fear and terminates in certainty.” The great poet of the Jersey shore put it this way: “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black you can trust. It’ll take a God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Last night’s theme was “America: Land of Greatness.” But I don’t think court evangelical Franklin Graham got the message. Here is his opening prayer:

Graham talked about a nation in “trouble,” a nation “divided,” and a nation experiencing “injustice.” It was a good prayer. He turned to God, not Trump, for hope.

All week we have been hearing a lot about Trump as a man of empathy and compassion. He loves Black people. He loves women. He loves immigrants. Last night Trump claimed (again) that he has done more for the Black community than any president in American history (which is not true). But he failed to say anything about the plight of African Americans in this country. He ignored the family of Jacob Blake. It’s as if the real problems in America–death from coronavirus, racial unrest, and a struggling economy–do not exist in Trumpland.

I really don’t have much to say about last night that I haven’t written about many times before. Trump is a serial liar. Read NPR’s fact check here.

But near the end of the speech, Trump started riffing on the American past.

Our country wasn’t built by cancel culture, speech codes, and soul-crushing conformity. We are NOT a nation of timid spirits. We are a nation of fierce, proud, and independent American Patriots.

We are a nation of pilgrims, pioneers, adventurers, explorers and trailblazers who refused to be tied down, held back, or reined in. Americans have steel in their spines, grit in their souls, and fire in their hearts. There is no one like us on earth.

I want every child in America to know that you are part of the most exciting and incredible adventure in human history. No matter where your family comes from, no matter your background, in America, ANYONE CAN RISE. With hard work, devotion, and drive, you can reach any goal and achieve every ambition.

Our American Ancestors sailed across the perilous ocean to build a new life on a new continent. They braved the freezing winters, crossed the raging rivers, scaled the rocky peaks, trekked the dangerous forests, and worked from dawn till dusk. These pioneers didn’t have money, they didn’t have fame– but they had each other. They loved their families, they loved their country, and they loved their God!

When opportunity beckoned, they picked up their Bibles, packed up their belongings, climbed into covered wagons, and set out West for the next adventure. Ranchers and miners, cowboys and sheriffs, farmers and settlers — they pressed on past the Mississippi to stake a claim in the Wild Frontier.

Legends were born — Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Davy Crockett, and Buffalo Bill.

Americans built their beautiful homesteads on the Open Range. Soon they had churches and communities, then towns, and with time, great centers of industry and commerce. That is who they were. Americans build the future, we don’t tear down the past!

We are the nation that won a revolution, toppled tyranny and fascism, and delivered millions into freedom. We laid down the railroads, built the great ships, raised up the skyscrapers, revolutionized industry, and sparked a new age of scientific discovery. We set the trends in art and music, radio and film, sport and literature — and we did it all with style, confidence and flair. Because THAT is who we are.

Whenever our way of life was threatened, our heroes answered the call.

From Yorktown to Gettysburg, from Normandy to Iwo Jima, American Patriots raced into cannon blasts, bullets and bayonets to rescue American Liberty.

But America didn’t stop there. We looked into the sky and kept pressing onward. We built a 6 million pound rocket, and launched it thousands of miles into space. We did it so that two brave patriots could stand tall and salute our wondrous American flag planted on the face of the Moon.

For America, nothing is impossible.

I need to figure out some way to use this speech in an American history class. There was nothing in the speech about westward-moving southerners trying to find new land to spread their slave culture. There was nothing in the speech about the death of Indians or the forced surrender of  native land. There was nothing in the speech about the limits of American self-interest.

Trump said that the settlement of the West resulted in the creation of “churches and communities.” This was followed, in Trump’s view of history, by “industry and commerce.” Then came railroads, ships, skyscrapers, and victory in World War II. And finally the moon landing. I am surprised he did not use a quote or two from Rudyard Kipling.

What we heard last night was an eighteenth-century “stages of civilization” view of history, a progressive and Whig history focused on the inevitable triumph of liberty and freedom for all white Americans, and a Frederick Jackson Turner-esque story of rugged individualism. I am going to bet that the speech was written by Stephen Miller, Trump’s nativist alt-Right staff member who has spent his short career in politics celebrating the superiority and conquest of the white race.

November 3 is coming soon.

GOP Convention: Night 3

pence and trump at ft mchenry

Yesterday was my first day of face-to-face teaching since March. I am not yet in “classroom shape,” so I was exhausted by the end of the day. Mentally, I was still reeling from multiple technology failures (mostly due to my ignorance) and the panic (and sweat) that ensues when half of the class is watching you desperately trying to get the other half of the class connected via ZOOM.

This morning my youngest daughter headed-off to Michigan for her sophomore year of college, so we spent most of last night packing the car and spending a few hours together before the empty nest syndrome returns later today.

Needless to say, I did not get much time to watch the third night of the 2020 GOP Convention, but I did manage to see a few speeches and catch-up with the rest via news and videos.

Let’s start with American history:

  • In her speech, Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law (Eric Trump’s spouse), tried to quote Abraham Lincoln: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom,” she said, “it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” These are strong words. Lincoln never said them.
  • In his speech, Madison Cawthorn, a GOP congressional candidate from North Carolina’s 11th district, said that James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence. Here is the exact line: “James Madison was 25 years-old when he signed the Declaration of Independence.” Madison was indeed 25 in July of 1776, but he did not sign the Declaration of Independence. (He did serve in the Second Continental Congress from 1777 to 1779).
  • Clarence Henderson, who was part of the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworths, deserves the appreciation of every American. (Just to be clear, Henderson was not one of the famed “Greensboro Four“). He is free to vote for anyone he wants in November. But it is sad to see this civil rights activist buy into the idea that African-Americans should vote for Trump (or the GOP in general) because Lincoln freed the slaves and the Democrats (in the South) were the party of segregation. While this is true, it fails to acknowledge an important principle of historical thinking: change over time.
  • Finally,  Burgess Owens, a GOP congressional candidate from Utah (and former NFL player), talked about his father and World War II. He said, “mobs torch our cities, while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism that my father fought against in World War II.” Owens is confused. The socialists (communists) were actually on the side of the United States during World War II. The Nazi’s were opponents of Soviet-style socialism. This can get a little tricky because “Nazi” is short for “National Socialist.” Sort it all out here.

OK, let’s move on.

Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeated the popular mantra about liberals “removing God” from public schools and “erasing God from history.” A few quick thoughts on this:

  • From the perspective of Christian theology, I don’t think it is possible to remove God from public schools or anywhere else.
  • Ironically, McEnany’s statement about erasing God comes at a moment when American religious history is one of the hottest fields in the historical profession. We know more about Christianity’s role in America’s past today than at any other point in the history of the nation.

I want to spend the rest of this post on Mike Pence’s speech last night. Watch it:

I did not recognize much of the America that Pence described in this speech. He began with an attack on Joe Biden: “Democrats spent four days attacking America. Joe Biden said we were living through a ‘season of darkness.'”

In January 2017, Donald Trump used the word “carnage” to describe the United States. Is America any better four years later? 180, 000 are dead from COVID-19. Colleges and schools are closed. There is racial unrest in the streets. We are a laughing stock in the global community. Millions are out work. Less than half of Americans have any confidence in the president. And Pence has the audacity to say “we made America great again.”

Pence continues to peddle the narrative that the coronavirus derailed the accomplishments of Trump’s first term. This is partly true. But when historians write about this presidency, the administration’s handling of COVID-19 will be at the center of the story.  COVID-19 is not just an unfortunate parenthesis in an otherwise successful presidency. COVID-19, and Trump’s failure to act swiftly, will be this president’s defining legacy.

Like Kayleigh McEnany earlier in the night, Pence also made reference to the current conversation about monuments and their relationship to our understanding of the American past. “If you want a president who falls silent when our heritage is demeaned or insulted,” Pence said, “then he’s [Trump’s] not your man.”

It is important to remember that “heritage” is not history. Those who sing the praises of “heritage” today are really talking more about the present the past. The purpose of heritage, writes the late historian David Lowenthal, is to “domesticate the past” so that it can be enlisted “for present causes.” History explores and explains the past in all its fullness, while heritage calls attention to the past to make a political point. Since the purpose of heritage is to cultivate a sense of collective national identity, it is rarely concerned with nuance, paradox, or complexity. As Lowenthal writes, devotion to heritage is a “spiritual calling”–it answers needs for ritual devotion.

When Trump and Pence talk about defending an American “heritage,” they are selectively invoking the past to serve their purposes. Such an approach, in this case, ignores the dark moments of our shared American experience. This administration is not interested in history.  They reject theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.”

Pence’s speech was filled with misleading statements, half-truths, and blatant lies. He claimed that Joe Biden wants to defund the police. He said that Biden “opposed the operation” that killed Osama bin Laden.” He said that Donald Trump has “achieved energy independence for the United States.” He said Joe Biden wants to “end school choice.” He said Joe Biden wants to scrap tariffs on Chinese goods. He said that “no one who required a ventilator was ever denied a ventilator in the United States.” He said that Trump suspended “all travel from China” before the coronavirus spread. He said that Biden did not condemn the violence in American cities. He said that Biden supports open borders. All of these statements are either false or misleading.

Trump is a liar. So is Pence. But Pence is an evangelical Christian. How can anyone reconcile the peddling of such deception with Christian faith? It doesn’t matter if the Bible-believing vice president lies about his political opponent, as long as his lies are effective in scaring Americans to vote for Trump. Pence claimed that “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Of course this kind of fear-mongering has a long history in American politics. But when people claim the mantle of Christian faith and engage in such political rhetoric, we must always call it out.

Finally, Pence has proven to be a master at fusing the Bible with American ideals. Again, this is not new. The patriotic ministers of the American Revolution did this all the time. It was heretical then. It is heretical now. Such a rhetorical strategy manipulates the Bible for political gain.

For example, Pence said, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and that means freedom always wins.” Pence is referencing 2 Corinthians 3:17: “now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This passage has NOTHING to do with the political or “American” freedom Pence was touting in his speech. St. Paul spoke these words to encourage the Corinthian church to live Spirit-filled lives that would free them from the bondage sin, death, and guilt. Pence has taken a deeply spiritual message and bastardized it to serve partisan politics and this corrupt president.

In the same paragraph, Pence says, “So let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents, fix our eyes on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire. Let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom.”
Here Pence is referencing Hebrews 12: 1-2. That passage says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Again, see what Pence is doing here. Instead of fixing our eyes on Jesus, we should fix our eyes on “Old Glory,” a symbol of American nationalism. The “heroes” he speaks of are not the men and women of faith discussed in the previous chapter of Hebrews (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets), they are the “heroes” (as he interprets them) of American history. Jesus is the “author and perfecter” of our faith and [American] freedom.”

The use of the Bible in this way is a form of idolatry. My friend and history teacher Matt Lakemacher gets it right:

On to day 4!

The Complicit Court Evangelicals

COurt Evangelicals

I just finished “Collaborators,” Anne Applebaum‘s brilliant essay in the July/August 2020 issue of The Atlantic. It is subtitled: “What causes people to abandon their principles in support of a corrupt regime? And how do they find their way back?”

Applebaum writes about Trump supporters and members of the administration who have abandoned longstanding principles in order to support the corrupt presidency of Donald Trump. Throughout the essay she compares and contrasts people like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and others with similar “collaborators” drawn from her experience covering Eastern Europe under communism.

She writes

Czeslaw Milosz, a Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, wrote about collaboration from personal experience. An active member of the anti-Nazi resistance during the war, he nevertheless wound up after the war as a cultural attache at the Polish embassy in Washington, serving his country’s Communist government. Only in 1951 did he defect, denounce the regime, and dissect his experience. In a famous essay, The Captive Mind, he sketched several lightly disguised portraits of real people, all writers and intellectuals, each of whom had come up with different ways of justifying collaboration with the party. Many were careerists, but Milosz understood that careerism could not provide a complete explanation. To be part of a mass movement was for many a chance to end their alienation, to feel close to the “masses,” to be united in a single community with workers and shopkeepers. For tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace: It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil. Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Milosz wrote, ‘he eats with relish, his movement take on vigor, his color returns. He sits down and writes a ‘positive’ article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it.’ Milosz is one of the few writers to acknowledge the pleasure of conformity, the lightness of heart that it grants, the way that is solves so many perceived and professional dilemmas.

And this:

20 months into the Trump administration, senators and other serious-minded Republicans in public life who should have known better began to tell themselves stories that sound very much like those in Milosz’s The Captive Mind. Some of these stories overlap with one another; some of them are just thin cloaks to cover self-interest. But all of them are familiar justifications of collaboration, recognizable from the past. 

Applebaum then lists the “most popular” forms of collaboration or complicity:

  1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.”
  2. “We can protect the country from the president.”
  3. “I personally, will benefit.”
  4. “I remain close to power.”
  5. “LOL nothing matters.”
  6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.”
  7. “I am afraid to speak out.”

I could not help but think about Applebaums’s seven forms of collaboration in light of my own work on Trump’s court evangelicals. (She does mention a few of them in the essay).  It seems like most of these forms of complicity, to one degree or another, explain why so many conservative evangelicals stand with this immoral president.

1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.” When most conservative evangelicals talk about “great things” they have abortion, traditional marriage, and religious liberty in mind. They are thus willing to collaborate with Trump in order to accomplish these things. Applebaum tells the story of a man named Mark, a Trump administration official. Mark works for the administration, he claims, because he believes Trump is going to help the Uighurs.

She writes:

I thought I had misheard. The Uighurs? Why the Uighurs? I was unaware of anything that the administration had done to aid the oppressed Muslim minority in Xinjiang, China. Mark assured me that letters had been written, statements had been made, the president himself had been persuaded to say something at the United Nations. I doubted very much that the Uiguhrs had benefited from these empty words: China hadn’t altered its behavior, and the concentration camps built for the Uighurs were still standing. Nevertheless, Mark’s conscience was clear. Yes, Trump was destroying America’s reputation in the world, and yes, Trump was ruining America’s alliances, but Mark was so important to the cause of the Uiguhrs that people like him, in good conscience, keep working for the administration.

(Since Applebaum published this essay, John Bolton has written that Trump endorsed the mass detention of Uighur Muslims).

Many court evangelicals justify their support of Trump because they believe he will act on the policy issues they care about. They can use Trump to accomplish “great’ things and make the world a better place.

2. “We can protect the country from the president.” I am not sure many court evangelicals are making this argument. Why would they want to protect the country from a president who derives his power from almighty God?

3. “I, personally, will benefit.” On this one Applebaum writes:

These, of course, are words that few people every say out loud. Perhaps some do quietly acknowledge to themselves that they have not resigned or protested because it would cost them money or status. But no one wants a reputation as a careerist or a turncoat.

Of course no court evangelical will ever say that she or he supports Trump to gain a greater following or to become a Christian “leader” or to get rich. But we would be kidding ourselves if we think that this has nothing to do with it. Much of the court evangelical phenomenon can be explained by ambition and money and branding. They know where their bread is buttered. Just listen to Greg Thornbury talk about Eric Metaxas. Or head to Google and type in your favorite court evangelical’s name followed by the words “net worth.”

4. “I must remain close to power.”  I wrote extensively about the court evangelical pursuit of power in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Virtually every Christian Right operative who has left the movement or criticized it has said something similar to former Moral Majority leaders Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me:

…in 1999, Dobson and Thomas reflected soberly on their experience with Falwell and the Moral Majority in their book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? They concluded that the answer to the subtitle’s question was a definitive “no.” Neither Dobson nor Thomas left evangelicalism or ceased their commitment to conservative causes; but they were forced to admit that the political strategy they helped to forge in the 1980s had failed. Despite their efforts, Roe v. Wade had not been overturned. The Internet had made pornography more accessible than ever. Drug use had not subsided and crime had not dissipated in any significant way. In the process, the prophetic witness of the evangelical church was subordinated to political power and all its trappings. As Cal Thomas put it, in a reference to Palm Sunday, “Who wanted to ride into the capital on the back of an ass when one could go first class in a private jet and be picked up and driven around in a chauffeured limousine?

Thomas, who parlayed his Moral Majority fame into a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did not mince words when he disparaged the evangelical pursuit of political power. “Christian faith is about truth,” he tells his readers, and “wherever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Through his years with Falwell, Thomas learned how power is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” It is not only seductive, but all affects the judgment of the one who “takes it.” Thomas warned his evangelical readers who the case for political power threatens the spread of the gospel. He quoted the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.” Thomas pointed to the myriad ways in which the Moral Majority–and the Christian Right agenda that it spawned–played to the fears of white evangelicals. 

5. “LOL nothing matters.” I don’t think any court evangelical would embrace the kind of nihilism Applebaum writes about under this category, but I wonder if the rapture beliefs of some conservative evangelical Trump supporters might be relevant here. If the world will end at any moment, and true believers will be lifted from this earth to be with Jesus in heaven, then why not take a risk on a chaos candidate? If he defends the rights of churches, there will be more opportunities to preach the Gospel and get people to heaven.

6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.” On this point, Applebaum addresses court evangelicalism. She writes:

The Republican senators who are willing to express their disgust with Trump off the record but voted in February for him to remain in office all indulge a variation of this sentiment. (Trump enables them to get the judges they want, and those judges will help create the America they want.) So do the evangelical pastors who ought to be disgusted by Trump’s personal behavior but argue, instead, that the current situation has scriptural precedents. Like King David in the Bible, the president is a sinner, a flawed vessel, but he nevertheless offers a path to salvation for a fallen nation.

The three most important members of Trump’s Cabinet–Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Willial Barr–are all profoundly shaped by Vichyite apocalyptic thinking. All three are clever enough to understand what Trumpism really means, that is has nothing to do with God or faith, that it is self-serving, greedy, and unpatriotic. Nevertheless, a former member of the administration (one of the few who did decide to resign) told me that Pence and Pompeo “have convinced themselves that they are in a biblical moment.” All of the things they care about–outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage, and (though this is never said out loud) maintaining a white majority in America–are under threat. Time is growing short. They believe that “we are approaching the rapture, and this is a moment of deep religious significance.”

If one’s political philosophy is shaped by this sense of apocalyptic urgency, it makes sense the Hillary Clinton (and now Joe Biden) may be the Antichrist. It would also make perfect sense to instill fear in followers about what might happen if Trump is defeated in 2020.

7. “I am afraid to speak out.”  Applebaum writes:

In the United Sates of America, it is hard to imagine how fear could be a motivation for anybody. There are no mass murders of the regime’s political enemies, and there never have been. Political opposition is legal, free press and free speech are guaranteed in the Constitution. And yet even in one of the world’s oldest and most stable democracies, fear is a motive. The same former administration official who observed the importance of apocalyptic Christianity in Trump’s Washington told me, with grim disgust, that “they are all scared.”

They are scared not of prison, the official said, but of being attacked by Trump on Twitter. They are scared he will make up a nickname for them. They are scared that they will be mocked, or embarrassed, like Mitt Romney has been. They are scared of losing their social circles, of being disinvited to parties. They are scared that their friends and supporters, and especially their donors, will desert them…They are scared, and yet they don’t seem to know that this fear has precedents, or that it could have consequences. They don’t know that similar waves of fear have helped transform other democracies into dictatorships….

To what extent are court evangelical leaders and pastors scared to stand-up to Trump’s immorality because they might lose their congregations or donations for their evangelical media empires? Sometimes this kind of fear is covered-up by pious rhetoric about “civility” and “unity in the body of Christ.” Christian leaders of all stripes don’t want to rock the boat because they might offend Trump supporters.

You can read Applebaum’s entire piece here.

Trump’s new campaign ad in historical context

Have you seen Trump’s new campaign ad?

As Bruce Springsteen once said, “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Fear has been a staple of American politics since the founding of the republic. In 1800, the Connecticut Courant, a Federalist newspaper that supported President John Adams in his reelection campaign against Thomas Jefferson, the founding father and religious skeptic from Virginia, the country would have to deal with a wave of murder, atheism, rape, adultery and robbery.

In the 1850s, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant American Party, commonly known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” was infamous for its American-flag banner emblazoned with the words “Native Americans: Beware of False Influence.”

nativist flag

In modern America, campaign ads keep us in a constant state of fear–and not always from right-wing sources either. I still get a shiver up my spine when I watch “Daisy Girl,” the 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign advertisement. Watch:

And here is Richard Nixon in 1968, another “law and order” president:

Political fear is so dangerous because it usually stems from legitimate concerns shared by a significant portion of the voting population. For example, there are groups who want to defund the police. Television and social media make it easier for politicians to define our fears for us. They take these legitimate concerns, as political theorist Corey Robin puts it, and transforms them “into imminent threats.”

Jason Bivins, another scholar of fear, has noted that “moral panics” tend to “rely on presumptions more than facts; they dramatize and sensationalize so as to keep audiences in a state of continual alertness.” For example, Joe Biden does not want to defund the police. Nor do most Democrats. Yet Trump has managed to convince his followers that Biden and the Democratic Party are imminent threats to the country because of their supposed views on this issue.

Many of the people who will be scared by this new Trump ad are evangelical Christians. I wrote about their fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court evangelicals prayer

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

John Hagee invited Fox News commentator, conspiracy theorist, disgraced Christian college president, and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza to speak at the Sunday evening service at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Watch:

D’Souza tells the audience that American exceptionalism is ordained by God and it is under attack. He then moves into his usual critique of socialism. This then devolves into a rejection of systemic racism. If the camera shots of the audience members nodding their heads and cheering is any indication, D’Souza seems to be getting through to them. This is what pro-Trump megachurches have become. It’s pure fearmongering.

The Supreme Court made an important religious liberty decision today, but some court evangelicals and other Trump evangelicals are still fighting. They continue to stoke fear about threats to religious liberty.

“Christian” politico Ralph Reed turns a SCOTUS victory into a chance to get revenge against his enemy.

Johnnie Moore, the self-professed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” responds to the SCOTUS decision in a way Bonhoeffer would not have recognized as Christian. Perhaps Johnnie needs to read The Cost of Discipleship.

This is what blind court evangelicalism looks like:

And this (notice “ALL” in all caps):

When you think David French is an “irrational woke liberal” and mock someone’s military service it speaks volumes about you and the institution you work for. In Jenna Ellis’s case it is Liberty University. Remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Jenna Ellis was on the Eric Metaxas Show today talking about Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech. Metaxas, who is also a spokesperson at the Falkirk Center, says anyone who criticized the speech is “loony.” He mocks the Sioux leaders who pointed out that Mount Rushmore was on Lakota land: “They have benefited from this country.” Ellis thinks that Trump gave the nation an “honest history lesson” during the speech. Again, this should be offensive to any serious classroom teacher who is working to give American young people honest history lessons. In one of the more comical moments of the interview, Ellis praises Trump for his love of the nuclear family and commitment to the institution of marriage.

Wait a minute, I thought Biden was working with Black Lives Matter to undermine America?:

Richard Land is spewing Christian nationalism:

There is a lot that is wrong with this thread. I don’t have time to respond directly right now, but if you want to dig deeper:

  1. Read this blog. It has subject tags, category tags, and a search engine. I’ve been addressing this stuff for years.
  2. Read Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
  3. Read my post on Os Guinness’s similar claims about the American and the French Revolution.
  4. Read two books on American exceptionalism: John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea and Abram Van Engen’s City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism.

Jack Graham issues a warning:

Graham’s words remind me what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump about the Election of 1800 and the evangelical response to the threat of the Deep State Illuminati in the early republic.

Until next time.

Monday night court evangelical roundup

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Mike Pence’s nephew hosted a court evangelical conversation with Paula White, Johnnie Moore and Samuel Rodriguez. This is an event sponsored by the Trump campaign. Watch:

At the 5:30 mark, Moore starts out with a lie. Joe Biden does not want to prosecute people for going to church. Moore is outraged that St. John’s Church in Washington D.C. was burned during the protests earlier this month. Please spare us the sermon, Johnnie. If this was any other moment, Moore, who likes to fashion himself a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” would be attacking the rector of the church and its congregation for its liberal Protestant theology and commitment to social justice. (By the way, Bonhoeffer adhered to both liberal Protestantism and social justice. Moore’s Bonhoeffer comes directly out of the pages of Eric Metaxas’s popular, but debunked biography).

If you watch this video, you will see nothing but fear-mongering.

At one point in the conversation, Paula White says that Trump is fighting for the First Amendment and the Second Amendment. Since when was the right to bear arms a Christian concern? White claims that the Democratic Party platform says that it is a “party of the Godless.” Just to be clear, there is no such language in the platform. She also goes into what I call the “they are coming for our Bibles” mode. Here’s White: “We can basically kiss our churches goodbye, our houses of worship…we very well could be home churches at that.” As I wrote in Believe Me, this kind of fear-mongering reminds me of the Federalists during the election season of 1800 who thought Thomas Jefferson, if elected, would send his henchman into New York and New England to close churches and confiscate Bibles. (It didn’t happen. In fact, Jefferson was a champion of religious liberty). White believes that we are in a spiritual war for the soul of America. She mentions a conversation with Ben Carson in which the HUD Secretary told her that the forces of Satan are working to undermine Trump.

Moore defends Trump’s record on global religious freedom. Indeed, Trump seems to have made religious persecution abroad a priority. Only time will tell how successful this campaign has been or will be. But notice that Moore says nothing about the president’s approval of Muslim concentration camps in China. Why? Because Moore is not here to tell the whole truth about Trump as it relates to religious freedom. He is here to help Trump get re-elected. Or maybe talking about the religious persecution of Muslims in China won’t help Trump with white evangelical voters, many of whom still believe Obama was a Muslim. Most of Trump’s evangelical followers only talk about religious liberty when it relates to their own causes. Moore knows this.

Moore then attacks Democratic governors for trying to close churches during COVID-19. He has a lot of nerve. It was Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo (and GOP Ohio governor Mike DeWine, among others) who showed leadership during the coronavirus while Trump was tweeting “liberate Michigan.”

Samuel Rodriguez basically says that if you vote for Trump, you are voting against the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

OK, that was hard to stomach. Let’s move on.

Moore is also tweeting. He is upset about today’s Supreme Court decision on abortion, especially Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to join the liberal justices in blocking a Louisiana abortion law restricting abortion rights:

What does Moore mean when he says that this is the “Scalia-moment” of the 2020 campaign? Here is a passage from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Already hitting his stride with his base, [GOP presidential candidate Ted] Cruz gained a new talking point in mid-February, with Super Tuesday only a couple of weeks away. When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.

Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said. “And if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republican voters that the United States was “one justice away” from the “the Supreme Court mandating  unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”

I wonder if the modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer has learned the right lesson from 2016? Some might say that the recent Bostock decision, and today’s Louisiana abortion decision, should teach evangelicals to stop relying on the Supreme Court to “reclaim” America, especially when such an approach to “Christian” politics requires them to get into bed with a president like Trump. But, alas, Moore would never even consider such a lesson because it does not conform to the Christian Right’s political playbook.

Meanwhile, Paula White is supernaturally praying for her Twitter followers:

I’m just curious. Is there  a way to “pray” for a non-“supernatural provision?” Sorry, I had to ask.

Jentezen is also upset about the SCOTUS decision:

Tony Perkins too:

I agree with the idea that every life is valuable, including unborn babies. But putting faith in SCOTUS and POTUS is not the answer.

Robert Jeffress is still basking in the idolatrous glow of yesterday’s Lord’s Day political rally at his church. Here is his retweet of Mike Pence:

A spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center retweets Princeton University scholar Robert George. As you read this retweet, please remember that The Falkirk Center supports Donald Trump and Trump is a pathological liar:

She is also upset with John Roberts:

And this:

Sadly,  in light of what we have seen thus far from the Trump presidency as it relates to race and Confederate monuments, this “idiot activist” seems to be asking a reasonable question.

Charlie Kirk is also mad at John Roberts:

It looks like the court evangelicals are very upset about an abortion case in the Supreme Court, but they have said nothing about Trump’s racist tweet over the weekend. I guess this falls under the “I don’t like some of his tweets, but…” category.

John Zmirak, who is an editor at court evangelical James Robison’s website The Stream, is back on the Eric Metaxas Show. He is comparing Black Lives Matter to Jim Jones and Jonestown. The entire conversation, ironically, is about people blindly putting their trust in a strongman. Metaxas wastes no time in connecting Jonestown to today’s Democratic Party. A Christian Right bromance may be forming between these two guys.  Metaxas tells Zmirak: “we are so glad you are on the program today, thank the Lord.”

They also condemn Black Lives Matter. Zmirak calls BLM a “slogan, a “trademark,” and a “brilliant piece of marketing” that is “raising money off of white guilt.” Sounds a lot like another slogan, trademark and brilliant piece of marketing. This one is raising money off of white supremacy.

In another part of their conversation, Metaxas and Zmirak say that Black Lives Matter is wrong from a Christian point of view because all men and women are created in the image of God. In other words, anyone who wants to say that only Black lives matter is actually racist (reverse racism, as they say) because in God’s eyes “all lives matter.” I’ve heard this argument before. Here is a quick response:

Indeed, Christians believe that we are all created in the image of God. As the civil rights movement taught us, Christian faith offers plenty of theological resources to combat racism. Moreover, the Black Lives Matter movement is very diverse. Author Jemar Tisby makes some important points in this regard in Episode 48 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podast.

I am sure Metaxas and Zmirak are correct about some of the abuses of the Black Lives Matter movement. But notice what is going on here. Metaxas and Zmirak are really only interested in attacking the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the killing of George Floyd, Metaxas has not offered any sustained empathy or acknowledgement of the pain and suffering faced by African-Americans, either now or in our nation’s history. Yes, he had some black guests on the program, but they were invited on the show for the purpose of undermining Black Lives Matter and rejecting systemic racism. At this moment, when white evangelicals have a wonderful opportunity to think more deeply about the problems of race in America, Metaxas has chosen to divert attention away from these issues by going after the extreme fringes of a generally anti-racist movement.

In his second hour, Metaxas hosts a writer named Nick Adams, the author of a book titled Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization. He runs an organization called The Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness. Adams makes it sound like Trump has some kind of agenda to save Western Civilization. This strikes me as very far-fetched since I don’t think Trump even knows what Western Civilization is. Metaxas, of course, loves his guest’s ideas, going as far to say, in reference to World War II (Churchill) and COVID-19 (Trump) that both men carried their respective nations through their “darkest hours.”

Until next time.

Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Andy Rowell (a never-Trump evangelical) has a useful Twitter thread on Donald Trump’s visit yesterday to the “Students for Trump” rally at an Arizona megachurch.

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network says “God works in mysterious ways”:

Al Mohler admits systemic racism is real. Maybe this group forced his hand. The attacks from the right wing of the Southern Baptist convention should be arriving very soon.

Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk is not interested in why Bubba Wallace’s team was worried about nooses in the first place:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is tweeting about using Bible verses out of context and endorsing movements that support evil. Yes, you read that correctly:

Did John Hagee read Believe Me?

During an event in Colorado Springs called the “Truth & Liberty Coalition, “James Robison calls the last three-and-half years a “miracle of Almighty God.” He says a bunch of other court evangelical stuff, including that the media is working for the devil. If you want to get a good sense of the court evangelical way of thinking, watch this video.

Tony Perkins and Franklin Graham execute the Christian Right playbook to perfection. If you want to reclaim America as a Christian nation, you’ve got to get the judges. “Our hope is built on nothing less, than judges who pass the abortion test. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Kavanaugh’s name. On the Trump the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand”:

Eric Metaxas shows why I continue to support the so-called “fear thesis.” Fear-mongerers take the most radical and extreme manifestation of a movement and try to convince people that it is mainstream. All undocumented immigrants are murderers and rapists. All Democrats are extreme Leftists who don’t care about America. The goal is to scare people. Very few people concerned about systemic racism want to defund the police, tear down monuments of George Washington, or engage in violence. Yet Metaxas has devoted most of his shows in the last week to talking about these extremists. Trump and the Christian Right do this all the time.

One of Metaxas’s guests today, a writer for the aforementioned James Robison’s website, denies the existence of systemic racism. He describes “anti-racism” as “communism in blackface” and a “new fanatical religion.” The Hitler comparisons abound. Yes, Metaxas and his guest think that the protesters and the Democrats are behaving like the Nazis. The Eric Metaxas Show may have replaced the Glenn Beck Show as the new face of Godwin’s Law.

Until next time.

How the history of white evangelical racism has led to Donald Trump’s election and continues to shape support for his presidency

Believe Me 3dI begin with a caveat. This post is not implying that all white evangelicals are or have been racist. Many white evangelicals have been anti-racist and have fought hard to curb systemic racism in American life. But, as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, these are not historical forces that led many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. They are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to continue to support Donald Trump. They are not the historical forces that will lead many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  And they are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to reject systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

But here is some history:

1 .After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, which resulted in sixty white deaths in Southampton County, Virginia, fearful white evangelical Christians in the South began to fight harder for the expansion of slavery to the west in the belief that its spread to more open country might reduce the proximity of slaves to one another and thus make insurrections more difficult. White churches responded to Turner’s rebellion with missionary efforts in the hope that the chances of passion-filled revolts might be reduced if slaves could be monitored more closely by white clergy and lay church leaders. Yes, the idea of African Americans rebelling and causing disorder has been around for a long time.

2. The anxieties stemming from slave insurrections led Southern ministers to develop a biblical and theological defense of slavery. These ministers argued that anyone who read the Bible in a literal, word-for-word fashion (as God intended it to be read) would conclude that God had ordained this system of labor. Commonsense interpretations of Bible passages that referred to slavery were often difficult to refute. Old Testament patriarchs such as Abraham owned slaves. Slavery was a legal institution in the New Testament world, and the apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to obey government laws. In the book of Philemon, Paul required the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his owner. Writing in the immediate wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, Thomas Dew, a professor of political science at the College of William and Mary, used the Bible to defend the view that all societies had a fixed and natural social structure. Citing 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, Dew reasoned that Africans should remain slaves because God had created them to fulfill such a role in society. Slaves had been given a divine “calling” and, in Paul’s words, “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” One South Carolina Presbyterians went so far as to say, “If the Scriptures do not justify slavery…I know not what they do justify.” I am reminded here of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler’s remarks about slavery.

3. Evangelicals thought that the South’s social order, and its identity as a Christian culture worthy of God’s blessing, was grounded in a proper reading of the Bible. In other words, the people of the South–and eventually the Confederate States of America–believed that they were living in a Christian society precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.  The abolitionist argument against slavery was not only heretical because it violated the explicit teaching of Scripture; it also threatened the Christian character of the United States. Robert L. Dabney, a Virginia Presbyterian clergyman and one of the strongest defenders of slavery and white supremacy in the South, contended that the notion that slaves–or any Africans for that matter–had “rights” and thus deserved freedom was a modern idea introduced in the eighteenth-century by the progressive thinkers of the Enlightenment, not by the expositors of God-inspired Scripture.  James Henley Thornwell, another powerful theological voice in support of slavery, understood the Civil War as a clash between atheist abolitionists and virtuous slaveholders: “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders–they are atheists, socialists, communist, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. Sound familiar? Watch this or most other episodes of the Eric Metaxas Show. One of Thornwell’s students, New Orleans Presbyterian minister Benjamin Palmer, said that the South had been called “to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as not existing.” It was a duty to “ourselves, to our slaves, to the world, and to almighty God.”

4. Southern evangelicals also feared the mixing of races (even though the races were mixed mainly because of the long history of master raping slaves). Slaveholders believed that their defense of a Christian civilization was directly connected to the purity of the white race. One Presbyterian minister in Kentucky claimed that “no Christian American” would allow the “God-defying depravity of intermarriage between the white and negro races.”  South Carolina governor George McDuffie, who  said that “no human institution…is more manifestly consistent with the will of God, then domestic slavery,” also claimed abolitionists were on a “fiend-like errand of mingling the blood of master and slave.” In the process, McDuffie argued, they were contributing to the “end of the white republic established in 1776.”

5. Longstanding racial fears did not fade away with the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction amendments that ended slavery (Thirteenth) and provided freedmen with citizenship rights (Fourteenth) and voting rights (Fifteenth) only reinforced Southern evangelical racism. A classic example of this was Dabney’s opposition to the ordination of freedmen in the Southern Presbyterian Church. During an 1867 debate over this issue, Dabney said that the ordination of African American minister in the white Presbyterian church would “threaten the very existence of civil society.” It was God, Dabney argued, who created racial difference and, as a result, “it was plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification.” He predicted a theological version of “white flight” by suggesting that black ordination would “bring a mischievous element in our church, at the expense of driving a multitude of valuable members and ministers out.” Dabney would not sit by and watch his denomination permit “amalgamation” to “mix the race of Washington and Lee, and Jackson, with this base herd which they brought from the pens of Africa.”

6. Northern Protestant fundamentalists at the turn of the 20th century were aware of the moral problem of racism, but they did very little to bring it to an end. While they did occasionally speak out against lynching and other acts of racial violence, they failed to see how their literal views of the Bible contributed to systemic racism in American life. White terror groups seemed to understand this better than the fundamentalists did. As historian Matt Sutton has shown, the Ku Klux Klan regularly sought partnerships with fundamentalists. The Klan’s leaders believed Protestant fundamentalist crusades to save Christian America made them a natural ally in the war against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. Some fundamentalist commentaries on race could have been lifted from the collected works of 19th-century pro-slavery theologians such as Lewis Dabney or James Henry Thornwell. A.C. Dixon, the fundamentalist pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, called the Fifteenth Amendment (the amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote) “the blunder of the age” because African Americans were “ignorant” and thus ill-equipped to cast a ballot. Other fundamentalists upheld typical racial stereotypes that portrayed African Americans as rapists, murderers, and threats to white women. In 1923, Moody Monthly, the flagship publication of fundamentalism, published articles defending Klan activity. Fundamentalist fears about the decline of Christian America regularly manifested themselves in racism.

7. In the wake of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event which historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” several evangelical and fundamentalist clergymen were quick to put their white supremacy on display. Edwin D. Mouzon, the bishop of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, said he did not know who was to blame for the massacre. But if you read the front page of the June 6, 1921 edition of the Morning Tulsa Daily World, “black agitators,” including black activist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, were to blame.
Mon, Jun 6, 1921 – Page 1 · The Morning Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com

Mouzon said, “there is one thing…upon which I should like to make myself perfectly clear. That is racial equality. There never has been and there never will be such a thing. It is divine ordained. This is something that negroes should be told very plainly…At the same time, we must have a Christian attitude toward the black man; he is made by the same creator; he is subject to the same Christian laws, he is our brother in Christ.” On the same day, Reverend J.W. Abel of Tulsa’s First Methodist Church said, “What other nation in all human history has done as much [for] a people as the white race has done for the race which but a brief century ago emerged from slavery? A race which even in slavery was a thousand times better off than the black princes who ruled their race in Africa.” Abel continued, “But the sin of this [black] race is that they are all too ready to protect a member of the race in crime, for no other reason that he is a negro…some day the negro will come to know that the white race is his best friend.” Dr. Howard G. Cooke, pastor of Tulsa’s Centennial Methodist Church, noted that “there has been a great deal of loose-mouthed and loose-minded talking about the white people of Tulsa being equally to blame with the blacks. This is not true.” He added, “[The massacre] should be the beginning of a new regime of law and order in this city.” This is is an interesting observation in light of the fact that a self-proclaimed “law and order” president will be holding a rally in Tulsa tomorrow night, only a few weeks after the 99th anniversary of the massacre.  (Thanks to historian Kenny Brown for bringing this material to my attention)

8. In the mid-20th century,  white evangelicals had a mixed track record regarding racial issues facing the country during the civil rights movement. Billy Graham was famous for desegregating his evangelistic crusades, and many evangelical leaders and publications supported the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in public schools, just as they supported the Civil Rights Acts (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). But very few Northern evangelicals actually participated in the movement, and strong pockets of segregationist thought and practice continued to exist in the evangelical South. Most white evangelicals were not particularly interested in the civil rights movement; they were far more concerned about–and opposed to–the way the federal government used its power to enforce desegregation and oppose Jim Crow laws in their local communities. Historian Mark Noll has argued that race and civil rights served as an entry point for the white conservative evangelicals critique of active government.

9. This relationship between race and evangelical opposition to “big government” intervention into state and local affairs is best illustrated in the evangelical response to two Supreme Court cases. Green v. Connally (1972) removed tax-exempt status from private schools and colleges that discriminated against students based on race. At the center of the controversy was Bob Jones University, a school that banned interracial dating and denied admission to unmarried African Americans. In 1975, the IRS moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the university, a case that was eventually decided in favor of the IRS in Bob Jones v. United States.  Green v. Connolly and Bob Jones v. United States also had implications for the hundreds of private Christian academies cropping up (at the rate of two per day) all over the United States. Many of these schools were in the South and had discriminatory admissions policies, which is not surprising given that many such schools were founded in the immediate aftermath of public-school integration. When President Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian,” supported the Green v. Connally decision, he alienated many conservative evangelicals who ran these academies. To be fair, many segregationist academies were already beginning to admit African American students in the early 1970s, but the leaders of these schools, true to their Southern heritage, wanted to deal with the issues of segregation, race, and civil rights on their own terms. They certainly did not want the federal government forcing them to desegregate.

10. Thus, when Jerry Falwell and like minded conservative evangelicals created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, they already had experienced the power of the central government when the Supreme Court intruded on the affairs of their segregated academies. In fact, historian Randall Balmer contends that it was this fear of big-government interference as it related to desegregation of institutions like Bob Jones University and Falwell’s own Liberty Academy that prompted the formation of the Christian Right. Paul Weyrich, one of Falwell’s closest associates and one of the leading organizers of the movement, told Balmer in a 1990 interchange that the Christian Right was originally founded, not on evangelicals’ opposition to abortion, but rather on opposition to the attempts by the IRS to desegregate Christian academies.

11. Many of Trump’s evangelical supports came to Trump’s rescue when, in August 2017, he drew a moral equivalency between white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia and those who came to the city to try to oppose them. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church–Dallas, went on Fox Business Network and said that Trump “did just fine” in his statement(s) about the event. He performed a rhetorical move that court evangelicals and other Trump supporters have perfected: he changed the subject and went from defense to offense. Jeffress warned Fox viewers that an “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, and the “GOP establishment) were plotting to take Trump down. He then reaffirmed America’s Judeo-Christian roots without any sense that many of the Judeo-Christian influences that have shaped United States history were intricately bound up with the kind of racism that the nation had witnessed in Charlottesville. Watch:

It is time that white evangelicals take a hard look at its past and stop trying to “Make America Great Again.” It is time, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.” The operate word is reconciliation, not “renew,” “restore” or “reclaim.”

Friday night court evangelical roundup

Metaxas

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Eric Metaxas is still attacking systemic racism. Today one his guests said, “systemic racism does not exist. It is a conspiracy theory that the radical Left has been using to try to destroy the whole American system of justice, of equity, of individual rights, and of the Christian mission of the human being as morally responsible for his own actions and for no one else’s.” (For what people mean when they say “systemic racism,” I point you to Chris Cuomo’s show last night).

Metaxas says that people are now talking so about systemic racism right now because Donald Trump “has been such a monkey-wrench in the deep state.” (No reference here to the idea that people may be talking about systemic racism because of the death of George Floyd and the peaceful protest in every U.S. city”). His guest also compares what is happening right now in America to the Salem Witch Trials. Metaxas compares the woke mob to “Hitler and the Nazis” and also suggests that Black Lives Matter and anyone else who is sympathetic to the movement is the Antichrist. Metaxas knows where his ratings bread is buttered.

OK.

In other court evangelical news:

Robert Jeffress believes that churches should lead the way in solving the problem of racism. He writes, “Every major social and political movement in American–from abolition to the Civil Rights Movement–has been led by pastors and churches. Too many attempts have been made in recent years to scrub our public square clean of religious language and devotion.”

Leave it to Jeffress to somehow connect the church’s role in social justice to the victimization of white evangelical churches.

I wish Jeffress was correct. I wish white churches would step-up and work to end racism in America. But first let’s stop and think more deeply about the history of American reform movements. Yes, Christians were active in the abolition movement and civil rights movement. This activity has been well documented. But let’s also remember that abolitionism was necessary because white churches in the South–including Jeffress’s own Southern Baptist Convention–endorsed slavery. In fact, the Southern Baptist Church was born out of its defense of slavery.

And how about the civil rights movement? Let’s remember that Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the Black church had to fight for civil rights because white churches and pastors did nothing to end it. King wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the white clergymen in Birmingham who did not not want him in town because he was an “outside agitator.” And let’s not forget that Jeffress’s own First Baptist Church in Dallas was a bastion of segregationist theology. So before Jeffress starts pontificating about churches leading the way, he should look at the history of his own people.

Jeffress says that “reform is always local.” I wish this were true when it comes to the history race relations in America. The racist localism of white cities, and the fear of “outside agitators” like King, meant that change had to come from the outside, including the federal government. History teaches that when we leave white evangelical churches, especially those in the South, to solve the problem of racism, very little happens. I pray that things might be different this time around.

Below is a video of Jeffress’s appearance tonight on Fox News Business with Lou Dobbs. I was waiting for Jeffress to bring up Romans 13 to defend the police. It happened tonight, just after Jeffress asserted that Trump does not have a racist bone in his body. And he concludes by saying that if Biden wins in 2020 he will bring out the guillotines and kill everyone who has a thought that the Left does not like. What is it lately with all of these references to the French Revolution? Jeffress sounds like the Federalists in New England who feared that if Thomas Jefferson were elected president in 1800 the Democratic-Republicans–fueled by the spirit of the French Revolution– would start closing churches and confiscating Bibles. And there are still smart people out there who reject my fear thesis.

Meanwhile:

Ralph Reed is trying to convince people that he has compassion for Stacey Abrams

Franklin Graham wants you to vote for law and order:

Until next time.

Back In The Zoo: Trust in the Valley

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Messiah students engaged in discussion at the latest Erasmus Club dinner with Dr. Bernardo Michael. Photo by Keanan Wolf

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about a recent discussion with fellow history major about COVID-19 –JF

How will COVID-19 be remembered in 50 years? What about 100 years? What about 500?

Will future generations condemn us for the way we handled the pandemic? Will they look down on us for not doing enough? How will the hardships we experience today compare to the sufferings experienced by the generations that came before us?

I don’t have answers to these questions, and I’m not convinced anyone does right now. Yet, it is these questions, and many more, that we wrestled with at the history department’s Erasmus Club dinner earlier this month. We pushed two round tables together in Martin Commons, piled our plates with various dining-hall entrees and began our discussion. We were supposed to discuss the intersection of history and memory, but within minutes our conversation veered off course and steered toward the coronavirus. No one consciously tried to bring it up, but because COVID-19 was already on everyone’s minds the topic was inevitable. The Saturday before the dinner, I found out that the first two cases of coronavirus had been discovered in Pennsylvania. Now, three weeks later, there are a few thousand cases in Pennsylvania and my home state of Michigan is a week and a half into a stay-at-home order. It’s crazy how fast things change.

How will I remember COVID-19? Right now it’s hard to be sure. Cases are still rising, the markets are still plummeting, and it’s hard to tell just how big of an impact it will have on my life, and on the lives of the people I love. I have never experienced anything like this in my entire life, and neither have my parents or my grandparents. It seems like whenever I think I have a grip on what’s going on, things change yet again.

But in the midst of all the uncertainty, I am sure of one thing: I worship a God who is working all things out for my good and his glory. At the beginning of the year, I started reading this book called Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. My boyfriend and I started it as a kind of New-Year’s resolution for the two of us. The book is all about trusting that God is in control, even when bad things happen. Even when we lose our job, even when our vacation is rudely interrupted, even when death and disease run rampant, God is still sovereign and worthy of our confidence. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God doesn’t promise that bad things won’t happen. As long as we live on this side of eternity, there will be trials, there will be suffering, and there will be tears. But he does promise to be with us through it all. He promises us peace and strength to endure. He tells us that when our foundations are shaken, when the world falls apart before us, He still remains. Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 

I hope that future historians will be able to look at this season in my life and see that I trusted God with everything. I hope they will see that I chose to trust God even when it wasn’t easy, even when I didn’t feel like it, even when my heart ached. I am not there yet, but I hope I will get there someday. Will you join me?

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

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From America magazine: “Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ address during the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing he delivered while praying for an end of the coronavirus.”

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

Read the rest here.

What Should a President Say to Americans Who are Scared?

Today an NBC reporter asked Donald Trump this very question. Watch:

The reporter, Peter Alexander, later said that he was “pitching Trump a softball question.”  Watch:

If my memory serves, there was also a president who tried to calm the fears of the American people:

Here is another one:

Here is conservative commentator on Matt Lewis on Bill “I Feel Your Pain” Clinton:

 

White Evangelicals Fear the Future and Yearn for the Past

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at USA TODAY on July 8, 2018:

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.

Like most Americans on Nov. 8, 2016, I sat in front of my television to watch election returns, fully expecting that Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president. When this did not happen, I was saddened and angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the way my fellow evangelicals were using their social media feeds to praise God for Donald Trump’s victory.

I sent off a quick tweet: “If this is evangelicalism — I am out.”

Five days later, I could barely muster the will to attend services at my central Pennsylvania evangelical megachurch. As I stood singing Christian worship songs, I looked around the room and realized that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every 10 people in that sanctuary — my brothers and sisters in my community of faith — had voted for Trump.

I eventually calmed down and decided that, at least for now, I would still use the word “evangelical” to describe my religious faith. The word best captures my belief in the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have experienced the life-transforming message of this Gospel and I have seen its power in the lives of others.

My raw emotions gave way to my training as a historian and my study of American religion. My distress about Trump’s election did not wane, but I should have seen this coming. Trump’s win was just the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to politics.

Read the rest here.

A Short History of Evangelical Fear

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at The Atlantic on June 24, 2018:

White conservative evangelicals in America are anxious people. I know because I am one.

Our sense of fear, perhaps more than any other factor, explains why evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Donald Trump in 2016 and continue to support his presidency.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” The great poet of the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen, sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing, it can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Robinson and Springsteen echo verses in nearly every book of the Bible, the sacred text that serves as the source of spiritual authority in evangelical life. Moses told the Israelites to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” The Hebrew God told Job: “At the destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth.” The Psalmist wrote: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

The Gospel of John teaches Christians that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” St. Luke writes: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Despite all these scriptural passages, it is still possible to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of a people failing miserably at overcoming fear with hope, trust, and faith in their God. But it is also possible to find evangelicals, drawing deeply from Christian theological resources, who sought to forge an alternative history.

A history of evangelical fear might begin with the 17th-century Puritans in Salem, Massachusetts, who feared that there were witches in their midst threatening their “city upon a hill” and their status as God’s new Israel. They responded to this fear by hanging 19 people.

But other evangelical options were available. As Puritans began to lose control over Massachusetts Bay, they might have turned to their sovereign God for guidance and trusted in his protection to lead them through a new phase in the history of the colony. Or they could have heeded the warnings put forth by those—such as Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, or the growing number of Baptists in the colony—who saw potential problems with such a close relationship between church and state.

Our history of evangelical fear might also include a chapter on the early 19th-century Protestants who feared the arrival of massive numbers of Catholic immigrants to American shores. They translated their panic into political organizations such as the nativist Know-Nothing Party and religious tracts cautioning fellow believers of the threat that such “popery” posed to their Christian nation.

Read the rest here.

Michael Gerson on Fear, Hope, and Advent

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In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I wrote:

Fear has been a staple of American politics since the founding of the republic.  In 1800, the Connecticut Courtant, a Federalist newspaper that supported President John Adams in his reelection campaign against Thomas Jefferson, suggested that, if the Electoral College chose Jefferson, the founding father and religious skeptic from Virginia, the country would have to deal with a wave of murder, atheism, rape, adultery, and robbery.  In the 1850s, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant American Party, commonly known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” was infamous for its American-flag banner emblazoned with the words “Native Americans: Beware of Foreign Influence.”

In modern America, campaign ads keep us in a constant state of fear–and not always from right-wing sources either.  I still get a shiver up my spine when I watch “Daisy Girl,” the 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign advertisement that opens with a little girl standing in a quiet meadow picking the petals off a daisy.  Midway through the ad, an ominous countdown begins, and the camera zooms into the girl’s eye, where we the viewers see the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion.  As the ad closes, we hear the voices of sportscaster Chris Schenkel reading the following words on the screen: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd…The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”  This ad played an important role in Johnson’s landslide victory over his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, the conservative Arizona senator who made reckless statements about the use of nuclear weapons.  Fear is a powerful political tool.

Political fear is so dangerous because it usually stems from legitimate concerns shared by a significant portion of the voting population.  Thomas Jefferson did question many supernatural elements in the Bible.  Barry Goldwater did support the use of atomic weapons in Vietnam.  Today the growing number of Muslims living in the United States does raise important questions about how religious identity intersects with American values, or how we should defend the religious liberty of the millions of peaceful Muslims while still protecting Americans fro, the threat of murderous Islamic terror groups.  The United States States does have a problem with undocumented immigrants entering the country illegally.  And it is clear that television and social media make it easier for politicians to define our fears for us.  They take these legitimate concerns, as political theorist Corey Robin puts it, and transform them “into imminent threats.” 

And here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump about hope:

Can evangelicals recover [a] confidence in God’s power–not just in his wrath against their enemies but in his ability ability to work our his purposes for good?  Can they recover this hope? The historian Christopher Lasch once wrote this: “Hope does  not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity.  Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to most who lack it.”  I saw this kind of hope in every place we visited on our [history of the Civil Rights bus tour].  It was not mere optimism that things would get better if only we could elect the right candidates.  Rather, it was a view of the world, together with an understanding of the world to come, forged amid suffering and pain.  Not everyone would make it to the mountaintop on this side of eternity, but God’s purposes would be worked out, and eventually they would be able to understand those purposes–if not in this life, surely in the world to come….

But too often fear leads to hopelessness, a state of  mind that Glenn Tinder has described as a “kind of death.”  Hopelessness causes us to direct our gaze backward toward worlds we c an never recover.  It causes us to imagine a future filled with horror.  Tyrants focus our attention on the desperate nature of our circumstances and the “carnage” of the social and cultural landscape that they claim to have the power to heal.  A kernel of truth, however, always informs such a dark view of life.  Poverty is a problem.  Rusted-out factories often do appear like “tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  Crime is real.  But demagogues want us to dwell on the carnage and, to quote Bruce Springsteen, “waste our summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.”  Hope, on the other hand, “draws us into the future,” and in this way it “engages us in life.”

If I ever met Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, I think we would have a lot to talk about.  Here is a taste of his recent column on hope, fear, and the Advent season:

This is the time of the Christian year dedicated to expectant longing. God, we are assured, is at mysterious work in the world. Evil and conflict are real but not ultimate. Grace and deliverance are unrealized but certain. Patient waiting is rewarded because the trajectory of history is tilted upward by a powerful hand.

None of this is to deny the high stakes of politics and elections. But the assurance at the heart of Advent is the antidote to fear. No matter how desperate the moment, we are told, time is on the side of hope.

Such hope does not come naturally to human beings. On the evidence of our senses, despair is perfectly rational. Entropy is built into nature. Decay is knit into our flesh. By all appearances, the universe is cold, empty and indifferent. There is a certain bleak dignity in accepting the challenge of a hopeless cause.

But most of us can’t be content in this state. We fill the void with cries of protest, or hymns of thanksgiving, or demands for justice. This search for answers seems essential to our humanity. It is possible, of course, that our deepest longings are actually cruel jokes of nature. But it is also possible and rational that our longings are hints of a reality beyond nature. Perhaps our desires exist because they are meant to be fulfilled.

Read the entire piece here.

Fear not.