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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am sure this interview focused on family separation. 😉

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

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

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

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

When Did Evangelicals Start Talking About Family Values?

QuakersOver at The Anxious Bench, David Swartz of Asbury University argues that “family values” is a relatively knew idea in American evangelicalism.   Here is a taste:

“Turning hearts toward home”—a phrase Dr. James Dobson has repeated so often over the last four decades that it sounds like scripture. It’s hard to believe now, but his unrelenting focus on the family would have been viewed as heretical by evangelicals a century and a half ago.

Indeed, revivalistic religion in the eighteenth century often tore families apart. As Christine Heyrman writes, “For those to whom Canaan’s language long remained an unintelligible tongue, the conversion of beloved relatives could lead to enduring emotional estrangement. Transformed by their newfound zeal, dutiful sons and daughters, affectionate siblings and spouses . . . [could become] remorseless, relentless, seemingly heartless in dealing with loved ones.”

The instinct to de-emphasize family continued in the nineteenth century. Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer suffered the death of two young children, and she interpreted these tragedies as divine discipline. “After my loved ones were snatched away,” she wrote in her journal in 1831, “I saw that I had concentrated my time and attentions far too exclusively, to the neglect of the religious activities demanded. Though painfully, learned, yet I trust the lesson has been fully apprehended. From henceforth, Jesus must and shall have the uppermost seat in my heart.” Palmer’s heart was sanctified at the moment it turned away from home.

Ironically, the nurture of family was first a mainline value. As historian Margaret Bendroth shows in her terrific book, Growing Up Protestant: Parents, Children and Mainline Churches (2002), white middle-class Protestants in the 1860s advocated for regular family devotions, recitations of the catechism, Bible memory, and careful attention to children’s dress and diet. Congregationalist minister Horace Bushnell wrote, “Dress your child for Christ if you will have him a Christian; bring everything, in the training, even of his body, to this one final aim, and it will be strange, if the Christian body you give him does not contain a Christian soul.”

Read the entire piece here.

I am not sure how Swartz is defining “evangelical” or “family values,” but certainly the seventeenth-century Puritans were quite concerned with family.  The nuclear family was part of their “values” system.  Or at least that is what Edmund Morgan taught us decades ago.

I would also argue, along with Barry Levy, that the modern middle-class family as we know it today had its roots in the Quakers of Pennsylvania.  As far as I know, Levy’s interpretation has not been challenged since he first published Quakers and the American Family in 1988.

And if a whole generation of women historians is correct, the Second Great Awakening had something to do with women’s role in preserving the family, preparing citizens of the republic, and the cultivating the domestic hearth.

As I argued in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment, the real threat to eighteenth-century “family values” was mobility, ambition, and education.

Has David Brooks “Come to the Lord?”

ff26b-brooks_new-blog427Has David Brooks converted to Christianity?   I also asked this question back in October 2015.  Now Jim Daly, the host of the radio program Focus on the Family, notes that Brooks, who was raised Jewish, “came to the Lord later in life through the reverend theologian, the late John Stott…”  (Brooks was a guest on Focus yesterday and he will be on again today.  Brooks wrote about Stott back in 2004).

Here is Daly on Brooks:

He’s come to the Lord later in life through the reverend theologian, the late John Stott, who he felt posed very difficult questions for David to answer. And that’s a beautiful way to describe where David Brooks is today. He’s still workin’ out some of those deep theological issues. But he is a man who believes in God and I think it is worthy to listen to someone who thinking deeply about the character of this nation and there are nuggets of truth in here that I want people to hear and that’s what you gotta look for.

Here is what Brooks had to say about sin in his conversation with Daly:

Yeah and I found there’s a word that is very much resisted in the secular world and frankly, it’s sometimes ignored in the Christian world and that word is “sin.”

And you know, you gotta understand, there are many different definitions of sin. There’s original sin. The way I express it in the book and I say I want to be accessible to other people, is disordered love. And this is Saint Augustine’s version, which is, we all love a lot of things. We love money. We love fame. We love our families. We love truth, but we all know certain loves are higher than others.

And if a friend tells you a secret and then you blabbed it at a dinner party, you’re putting your love of popularity above your love of friendship and we know that’s wrong. That’s a sin. And so, that’s a breach of the divine order.

And so, I looked at my own life and, what sins do I have? I think we all have achieved sin, and I think early in life it was shallowness. I just didn’t go deep. I was so interested in career. I was so on the move. Maybe I’m a bit of a pleaser. And so, looking at those core sins, I think you gotta acknowledge it and write it down and then work on it every day.

I have a friend who’s a pastor, who his chief sin is he’s not always present for people. He’s got a very busy life and people come to him with their needs and he’s got 5 million things to do that afternoon and he wants to appear clever at a conference or at a sermon he’s giving. So, he’s not really present and so, he sits there at night on the pillow and says, “Well, that’s my core sin. How did I do today? Did I get a little better?”

And so, for me, I think it was just the tendency toward shallowness. I work in a job that rewards my ego a lot. I’m in front of a microphone a lot (Chuckling) and that can lead to pride and a sense of arrogance. So, you have to step back and say, what is my core sin?

Read the entire interview here.

James Dobson Endorses Ted Cruz

Some of you may have heard this news.

One of the elder-statesman of the Christian Right has made his endorsement.  James Dobson, the former leader of Focus on the Family, has endorsed Ted Cruz for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Dobson became an evangelical celebrity by offering parenting and marriage advice to evangelicals, but sometime during the 1990s he turned toward politics and began endorsing candidates.

Over the years Dobson has endorsed George W. Bush (2000, 2004), Mike Huckabee (2008 primaries), John McCain and Sarah Palin (2008 general election), and Rick Santorum (2012 primaries).  It is not clear whether he gave an official endorsement to Mitt Romney in 2012 after Santorum bowed out. (Perhaps someone could clarify this for me).

Historians will also view him as one of the first evangelical leaders to encourage single-issue voting based on moral issues, particularly a candidate’s view on abortion.  I think it is fair to say that he had more influence than any other member of the so-called Christian Right, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.  We need a critical biography of him.

Dobson believes that Ted Cruz is the strongest candidate on matters of religious liberty, traditional marriage, and abortion.

There was a time when Dobson’s endorsement meant something.  Some baby-boomer evangelicals will take his endorsement of Cruz seriously, but most millennial evangelicals have never heard of him.

Call for Papers: 7th Annual U.S. Intellectual History Conference

This year the good folks at the Society for U.S. Intellectual History will be hosting their annual conference from October 15-18, 2015 in Washington D.C.  Check out the call for papers here. Deadline for submissions is April 15, 2015.

Corey Robin will be the keynote speaker.  I am sure he will be great. But for me the highlight will be the plenary roundtable on public intellectuals.  How often do you get to see Russell Jacoby, Leo Ribuffo, Claire “The Tenured Radical” Potter, and the V.P. for External Relations at Focus on the Family (Timothy Goeglein) all on the same stage!

The New Focus on the Family

Jim Daly

A couple of weeks ago I was doing a public interview on religion and the American founding at an international conference on secularism at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

During the course of the conversation, Jacques Berlinerblau, the organizer of the conference and the interviewer, asked me about the religious and political views of young evangelicals.  I turned to the usual talking points about the next generation of evangelicals.  They were not interested in the culture wars of their parents, they were pro-life but their social vision was broader than just one or two issues, and they despised hypocrisy and wanted a Christianity that was authentic.

Berlinerblau, an astute observer of American religion, seemed to agree.  He mentioned that he was shocked when he heard Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family, do an interview with National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

Berlinerblau was right to be surprised.  Focus’s former president James Dobson began the organization with the goal of strengthening American families, but it eventually evolved into a political organization that became a major player in the culture wars.  (Of course, Dobson would not have it seen this way.  The politicization of Focus, he believed, was a fundamental part of its original mission). As far as I know, Dobson never did an interview with NPR, but I could be wrong.

I thought again about my public conversation with Berlinerblau after I read this profile of Daly in The New York Times.  Daly is clearly moving Focus on the Family in a new direction, at least in terms of its approach to the larger culture.

Here is a taste:

James Dobson

Mr. Daly has succeeded in differentiating himself from an earlier generation of Christian leaders, like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer and Donald E .Wildmon, who made their fame and notoriety alike in the battles around abortion and homosexuality.

In quite a vivid way, Mr. Daly, 51, has also departed from the example of his predecessor at Focus, James C. Dobson, who retired in 2009. Just a few months ago, referring to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Dr. Dobson said on his syndicated radio program, “I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God almighty, and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.”
As he became president of Focus in 2005 and chief executive four years later, Mr. Daly put forward the message of humility and outreach in an autobiography, “Finding Home,” and an acutely titled spiritual manifesto, “ReFocus.” He has welcomed members of the same gay rights organization, Soulforce, whose activists had been arrested during protests at Focus during the Dobson years.
Focus has collaborated with the local alternative weekly, The Colorado Springs Independent, in a campaign to encourage families to take in foster children. (“No, hell has not frozen over,” the paper quipped about the partnership.) Most recently, Focus hosted a question-and-answer session with Jonathan Rauch, a journalist who has advocated gay marriage.
Such efforts have won Mr. Daly praise from unexpected quarters. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for instance, has classified the Family Research Council, another conservative Christian organization, as a hate group because of its position on homosexuality. But the law center’s senior fellow, Mark Potok, said Focus had tried to evolve with the times.
Perhaps Daly is returning Focus on the Family to its roots.  Christianity can be an important resource for strengthening American families.  I have listened to Dobson’s radio show and have read some of his books. Some of his thoughts have helped me to be a better parent and husband.  But when Focus on the Family became a political organization, and Dobson began endorsing candidates for office, I stopped listening and reading.  So did many of my more progressive Christian friends. This is a shame, because some of the things he had to say about strengthening the American family transcended politics.  Unfortunately, the politicization of Focus meant that it would never reach those who shared different political views.
Daly seems to be charting a different course.  I am glad to see it.