*Salon* Covers “Christians Against Christian Nationalism”

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Check out journalist Paul Rosenberg’s piece at Salon on this statement.  Here is a taste:

The statement was released along with brief additional statements from 19 prominent endorsers, six of them Baptists, but—true to its Baptist origins—it’s not conceived as a top-down organization. “This is a grassroots movement, spreading through word of mouth and social media,” Tyler told Salon. “We had signers from all 50 states and more than three dozen denominations in the first eight hours of the campaign,” she said, with a total of more than 10,000 additional signatories in just over a week. “Anyone who self-identifies as Christian is invited and welcome to join us,” she said. “Our goal is not just to gather signatures, but to start conversations about what Christian nationalism is and how it shows up in our society today.”

To help further that conversation, BJC launched the above-mentioned podcast series, and EthicsDaily.com, a partner in the project, has published a series of opinion pieces from signatories.

Rosenberg also drew on some of my own writing on this subject:

On his blog, evangelical historian John Fea, who signed the statement, pushed back against critics who claimed there was no such thing as Christian nationalism, a subject he’s written a whole book on. “Christian nationalism not only exists, but it is a view of church and state that drives a significant part of the Donald Trump presidency,” Fea wrote. “As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, some of the fastest-growing evangelical groups in the United States embrace Christian nationalism.”

Read the entire piece here.

What Does Colin Kaepernick and Nike Have to Do With a Christian College?

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The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that the College of the Ozarks will no longer use Nike athletic gear after the sports apparel company revealed an ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.  Here is a taste:

Nike’s new ad campaign includes a close-up photo of Kaepernick’s face with the sentence, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

As a result, the College of the Ozarks, a small Christian institution in rural Missouri, announced that it would get rid of all athletic uniforms that had been purchased from Nike and anything else that displays the Nike “swoosh” logo, according to a news release.

The college revised its sports contracts in October 2017, adding a stipulation that all participating coaches and players “show respect for the American flag and national anthem,” the release said.

“If Nike is ashamed of America, we are ashamed of them,” the college’s president, Jerry C. Davis, said in a written statement. “We also believe that those who know what sacrifice is all about are more likely to be wearing a military uniform than an athletic uniform.”

Marci Linson, vice president for patriotic activities and dean of admissions, said that “Nike is free to campaign as it sees fit, as the college is free, and honor-bound by its mission and goals, to ensure that it respects our country and those who truly served and sacrificed.”

First, what does it say about the College of the Ozarks that it has a “vice-president for patriotic activities?”

This is not the first time the College of Ozarks has made news for its God and country convictions.   In October 2017, we wrote about the college’s course on “patriotic education and fitness.”  We also wrote about the school’s refusal to engage in intercollegiate athletics against schools that “disrespect the flag.”  David Barton, the Christian nationalist and GOP activist who uses the past to promote his agenda, has described College of the Ozarks as a “safe college.”

I am curious how the  “God and country” program at the College of the Ozarks affects faculty members.  Is a faculty member’s job in jeopardy if they support, based on Christian conviction, “taking a knee” at a football game?  What if a professor argues that patriotism should not play such a strong role at a Christian college?

Fox News Radio Host: “Apparently… There are Some So-Called Evangelical Christians Who Have a Problem With Patriotic Church Services”

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Listen to Todd Starnes of Fox News and court evangelical Robert Jeffress talk about patriotic worship services.

A preview:

  • Starnes takes a shot at the critics of patriot worship services by calling them “so-called evangelical Christians.”
  • They criticize Michelle Boorstein’s recent Washington Post piece on patriotic sermons.
  • They take some shots at The Gospel Coalition, a group of theologically conservative evangelical Calvinists.  Starnes makes the Gospel Coalition sound like they are some kind of left-wing progressive group.
  • They call Christianity Today and The Washington Post “fake news.”
  • They continue to peddle the false notion that America was founded as a Christian nation.

To be fair, Jeffress does make a good point about anti-Trump evangelicals when he says “they can’t reconcile [President Trump] with their faith.”

Does anyone else see a realignment taking place in American evangelicalism?

*Christianity Today*: America is a “Great and Terrible Nation”

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Mark Galli, the editor in chief of Christianity Today, makes it abundantly clear that America was not founded as a Christian nation.  Here is a taste of his July 4th editorial:

The point is this: Can we in any way, shape, or form say that America was founded on Christian principles when its very existence and prosperity were set on a foundation of unimaginable cruelty to millions of other human beings?

This is not to say that America has practiced unparalleled evil in world history. Every nation has sins it needs to repent of. The irony of American history is that a nation founded on subjugation and cruelty nonetheless became a land of freedom and opportunity for millions. It has been and continues to be a beacon of light for refugees across the world. Our economic and justice systems, for all their flaws, make it possible for people to prosper in ways unimaginable in most of the world today. And yes, a few prophetic Christians in their day spoke up about the injustices perpetrated on Native Americans and blacks. And nearly all Americans today deeply regret how we have treated Native Americans, blacks, Chinese, Japanese, and a host of other ethnic and cultural minorities in the past, and most of us rightly continue to deplore injustice in any form—whether it be toward ethnic and racial minorities or (to name one especially grievous injustice) developing children killed before birth.

In short, the United States is a nation like all others, in some ways blessed by God, in some ways standing under God’s judgment. And so it shall be until the Lord returns.

On this and every Independence Day, we can thank God for the many blessings we enjoy, undeserved as they are. We can also repent of the ways we have denied the very values we proclaim in our founding documents and in our Pledge of Allegiance, in which we hold out the ideal of a nation that practices “liberty and justice for all.”

Read the entire piece here.

Did Your Church Have Patriotic Worship on Sunday?

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Did your church have a patriotic service yesterday?  Did you sing any patriotic songs?  My church did not.  I came in a few minutes late, but I don’t think the 4th of July was ever mentioned.  This does not mean that the leaders of my church are unpatriotic.  It means that they probably realize it is a bad idea to mix civil religion in the form of patriotic celebrations with Christian worship.

Over at The Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein has a nice piece on the debate over whether to bring patriotism into church.  The piece quotes my recent History News Network piece on the topic.

Here is a taste:

In 2016, LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 61 percent of Protestant pastors agreed that it was “important for July Fourth worship services to incorporate patriotic elements to celebrate America. Fifty-three percent of pastors in that survey agreed that their congregation “sometimes seems to love America more than God.”

The context of 2018 may be new — rapidly changing religious and racial demographics in the United States, growing secularism, the explosion of Web-based faith — but debates about how churches handle July 4 began surfacing early in American history.

Catherine Brekus, a Harvard University historian of U.S. religion, noted that in the early 1800s, Methodists opposed Fourth of July celebrations on the grounds that they were not Christian. By the 1850s in Cleveland, Protestant ministers “usually took the lead in organizing 4th of July activities, and speeches were given in churches. After the 1850’s, ministers still gave benedictions, but the ceremonies were usually held outdoors, and commercial leaders and businesses were prominently involved,” she wrote in an email, noting historical accounts.

John Fea, a U.S. historian from Messiah College who just published a book about Christian nationalism, wrote in June for the History News Network about why activities such as July 4 services are being debated anew:

“Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished their perceived status as God’s new Israel — His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God,” he wrote. Today, the anxiety about how to be Christian and American is high because history is being reexamined.

“The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made.”

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals, American History and Support for Donald Trump

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The ideas and proposals I put forth in the last section of this piece I just published with History News Network are very important to me.    Thanks for considering them and sharing the piece with those who may need to read it.  I had hoped to publish this with a Christian, evangelical or conservative media outlet, but could not find any takers.  I am thankful to Rick Shenkman for running it.

A taste:

If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

We do.

We have. 

But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

Read the entire piece here.

Tony Perkins Praises Pence Speech at the Southern Baptist Convention and Confuses God and Country…Again

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We have already weighed-in on Wednesday’s Pence speech.

Here is court evangelical Tony Perkins on the speech:

As [Pence] touched on the country’s divided times, several in the room probably thought about the division right there in that room. Just yesterday, one SBC messenger made a motion to disinvite the vice president, insisting that, “By associating publicly with any administration, we send a mixed message to our members, suggesting that to be faithful to the gospel, we ought to align with a particular administration.”

Fortunately, wisdom prevailed, soundly defeating the ill-conceived resolution. But it is a clear indication that there are some within the church that are either too ill-informed or too focused on the headlines to understand the difference between influencing and being influenced, or – as Jesus described in John 17 – being in the world but not of it. We can’t influence if we retreat. We don’t have to agree with everything this president has said or done, and we don’t, but it is foolish and even detrimental to persecuted believers around the world to fail to acknowledge that this administration is being used to set the table for the church to do its work unhindered. The vice president, Mike Pence, is an unabashed believer who’s championing their cause in the White House. Look at the doors this administration is opening for religious liberty and free speech. Now is not the time for shutting doors – now’s the time to rush through and seize this moment of opportunity.

Read the entire piece here.

Wow! There is a lot to unpack in Perkins’s post.

  1. Perkins criticizes pastor Garrett Kell’s resolution to replace Pence’s speech with a time of prayer.  But notice how he does it.  He blames Kell (“one SBC messenger”) for promoting disunity.  Actually, if you read Kell’s resolution, it was steeped in unity–not for the nation, but for the Southern Baptist Convention.  Perkins seems confused.  The SBC meeting in Dallas was not a political event or a God and country rally.  It was a religious event.  It seems to me that “unity” at a religious event should revolve around spiritual things, not politics or nationalism.
  2. Perkins suggests that anyone who opposed Pence’s speech is “too ill-informed or too focused on the headlines to understand the difference between influencing and being influenced.”  In other words, those who opposed Pence’s speech are not smart enough to realize that they are being played by the Left, the media, or (add your favorite bogeyman here).  But let’s remember that the Trump White House asked the SBC if Pence could come and speak.  Is it possible to view this as anything but an attempt to shore-up votes among the evangelical base?  Who got played here?
  3. Perkins has the audacity to quote John 17, a passage in which Jesus prays for unity in his church.  Again, he confuses Jesus’s prayer for unity among fellow Christians with national unity.  Jesus was not praying for national unity.  He was not praying for unity in the United States.
  4. Perkins’s piece would make a great primary source for students to read in an American religious history course.  It provides an amazing example of the way that the Christian Right conflates the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of America.  Politics don’t “set the table” for the church.  God sets the table.  Perkins sees everything in political terms.  He also talks about “seizing opportunities,” a clear reference to the 2018 election.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress’s “Freedom Sunday” is Coming

It’s that time of year again.  Time for Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and a prominent court evangelical, to hold his annual “Freedom Sunday.”  This year’s celebration of God and country will take place on June 24.  Last year’s celebration got a lot of attention.

Robert Wilonsky writes about the city of Dallas for the Dallas Morning News.  He took the above picture while sitting in traffic.  And then he wrote an article about Jeffress at the Morning News.  Here is a taste:

The newly planted billboard touts a “Freedom Sunday” worship service June 24 at the downtown church and hosted by the man who serves as one of President Donald Trump’s main spiritual advisers — a job that appears to be part propagandistpart contortionist. According to a video Jeffress prepared for Freedom Sunday, there will be “inspiring patriotic worship” and “a salute to our armed forces,” followed by the Fox News’ commentator’s “special message” advertised on that billboard. 

There will be indoor fireworks, too, which is not how they concluded the Last Supper. And first-time visitors to First Baptist will receive a copy of Jeffress’ book Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Days Can Be Your Best Days, a grim piece of work about “the coming collapse of our nation,” according to Mike Huckabee’s foreword.

Consider this your semi-regular reminder that Jeffress, Fox News’ go-to religious authority, is among this city’s most divisive voices. Nothing he says shocks me anymore. I mean, this is a preacher — a follower of Christ — who actually said, “America is not a church where everyone should be welcomed regardless of race and background.” 

Which is the opposite of Hebrews 13:1. And, I think, the rest of the Bible. 

Read the rest here.

“[Fea finds] any healthy celebration of patriotism as like unto worshipping the Beast of Revelation.”

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I am patriotic!  I really am!  I own flags and I even have a  “Patriot’s Bible!”

Check out Jon Ward‘s recent piece at Yahoo News on court evangelical Eric Metaxas.  In addition to Ward’s profile, he also posted a series of e-mails he exchanged with Metaxas.  Those e-mails include Metaxas’s responses to several of Ward’s questions.

Here is one of the questions Ward posted to Metaxas:

Have you engaged much with John Fea’s critique of your book? He makes a persuasive argument that you have airbrushed the American founding into an airbrushed version that exaggerates the role of Christianity as the sole source of virtue (not one of several), that exaggerates the extent to which there was religious liberty at the founding (Seamus Hasson’s “Right to Be Wrong” is best I’ve read on this topic), and treats the American experiment as more of a miracle detached from anything before it than it was. Fea writes that America built on the democratic principles at play in British life, which is something of a subtle point, but an interesting one which tempers exuberance over American exceptionalism as some kind of divinely ordered miracle. He also believes you give the Great Awakening too much credit for how it influenced American politics. The greater point is that Fea thinks you make a common mistake of many evangelicals, that of confusing America with the kingdom of God. This is a complex and nuanced point. A firm rootedness in one’s citizenship in heaven should not produce passivity or fatalism about one’s community or nation here on earth. But the critique of culture warriors often is that they cling too tightly to worldly outcomes because the two categories (kingdom of God and America) have become almost unintelligibly mixed or combined. Do you think you have done this in any way?

And here is Metaxas’s response to Ward:

Mr. Fea’s critiques have not only not persuaded me, they have helped me see more clearly why what I said in my book If You Can Keep It is necessary to communicate to as many Americans as possible at this time in history. If I could give a copy of that book to every American — or at least to every young American — I would do so. Mr. Fea’s misunderstanding on this central issue — one that particularly seems to plague academics — is at the heart of our problems as a culture and as a church.

To mix these very separate categories is a great sin indeed, but such sins must be in the eyes of the beholder. I am afraid Mr. Fea has committed the opposite sin in being so enamored of a certain anti-populist and anti-American narrative — which view is so trendy in the Academy that he should be concerned about having accepted it himself — that he falls into the category of those who find any healthy celebration of patriotism as like unto worshipping the Beast of Revelation.

I am glad Metaxas is familiar with my critique of his book If You Can Keep It and he no longer just sees me as “some guy.”  You can read my critical posts here and decide for yourself.  As you will see from those posts, I don’t think it is a good idea to give a copy of this book to every American. You can also read my 2016 piece on Metaxas at Religion News Service.  I still stand by both pieces.

I also wrote this on August 5, 2016. Here is a taste:

…I get fired up about bad history.  This, for example, is why I wrote a six-part review of Eric Metaxas’s book If You Can Keep It.  I am not suggesting that Metaxas set out to tell blatant lies about the past, and his errors are certainly not as egregious as Trump’s, but I do think that much of his argument is based on a misunderstanding of historical facts. The claims of his book are built on a very weak foundation. They are not just cosmetic errors, they are historical errors that affect the entire structure and message of the book.

I know its easy to dismiss historians as idealistic ivory tower-dwellers with too much time on their hands.  I get this criticism a lot, but I have never accepted.it.  Perhaps the late historian of the African-American experience John Hope Franklin put it best when he said: “One might argue the historian is the conscience of the nation,if honest and consistency are factors that nurture the conscience.”

Now back to the Olympics. I am thinking about staying up late tonight to cheer on the U.S men’s curling team.   I wonder if this counts as “healthy patriotism.” 🙂

Trump’s “God and Country” Language in National Prayer Breakfast Speech

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I offered my take on the speech here. I also contributed to Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s piece at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

In some ways, Trump’s speech fit the types of prayer breakfast speeches given by presidents in the past, said John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College. Trump spoke about the role America has to play to create a more just world, an idea President Barack Obama would have promoted as well.

“There are Christians both on the left and the right who see America as a force for good,” Fea said.

However, Trump went a bit further, he said, where American exceptionalism was implied. “This is something that gets the Christian right … very excited,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Quick Reflections on Trump’s Prayer Breakfast Speech

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G.K. Chesterton once said that America “is a nation with the soul of a church.”  Trump’s prayer breakfast speech this morning was as good as it could be in a nation with the soul of the church.  The speech was infused with the usual themes of civil religion:  “In God We Trust,” “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, “Praise to be to God” on the Washington Monument,” and plenty of references to the Providence of God.  When you combine Christian theology with nationalism it can breed the worst forms of idolatry.  At the same time, American presidents have been doing this for a long time.  Check out Kevin Kruse’s excellent book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.

Some of my anti-Trump friends will trash the speech.  Fair enough.  But there was nothing about this speech that was unusual or unique to Donald Trump.  A version of this speech could have been delivered by FDR, Ike, JFK, Reagan, or Obama.  It was a straight-forward appeal to American civil religion.

A few quick observations:

  • I am glad that there was no reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger this year.
  • I was unsure if the reference to “we are God’s handiwork” was a reference to individuals or the United States
  • Irony:  Trump said prayer helps families to thrive even as he is tearing families apart with his immigration policies.
  • At the end of the speech Trump said we should follow the founders.  It implies that they were Christians or at least people who cared about peace and justice.  This is not entirely true.  The founders were morally complex people.  We should probably not invoke them in a prayer breakfast.

The Court Evangelicals in Today’s Washington Post

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Here is a taste of my piece “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.”

If you want to understand white evangelicalism in the age of Trump, you need to know Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Jeffress is not a household name in the United States, known mainly in Southern Baptist circles. But he has recently gained national attention as a “court evangelical” — my term for a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

Read the rest here.

Court Evangelical Jeffress Defends “Make America Great Again” Song

I actually thought the “Make America Great Again” song was pretty catchy.  (It starts at about the 34:00 mark in the video below):

I was, however, surprised at the way Robert Jeffress, the pastor First Baptist Church–Dallas, defended the song against critics who thought it was inappropriate for a church choir.

In a recent interview at The Christian Post, Jeffress said:

There is no difference in singing “Make America Great Again” than there is in singing any other patriotic song, like the “Star Spangled Banner.” This song was sung at a patriotic rally at a concert hall on Saturday night, not sung in a church as a worship song on Sunday morning.

Fair enough.  I was willing to give Jeffress a pass here.  But then he says that the song is okay because it was “not sung in a church as a worship song on Sunday morning.” Oh boy.  By this logic,  how does Jeffress explain what happened at First Baptist–Dallas on Sunday, June 25, 2017?

Patheos blogger Jonathan Aigner recently wrote about the “Make America Great Song”:

It’s not only their candidate’s campaign slogan, it’s now a part of their gospel…It’s their mantra, their creed, their prayer, and they shout it out with nationalistic fervor. Pledging allegiance to God and to America in the same breath, melding together the Kingdom of God and self, they pray a blasphemous prayer to a red, white, and blue Jesus.”

Frankly, it is hard to see this any other way when the song is interpreted (like any historian would interpret it) in the context of the June 25, 2017 “Freedom Sunday” service and Jeffress’s remarks of introduction for Trump after the song was performed last Saturday night.

The Jeffress interview does not stop there.  He describes his evangelical critics as “gnats”:

They are absolutely nothing but evangelical gnats who are looking for any excuse to nibble at the president. What we do have in President Trump is the president who has done the most to protect religious liberty of any president in America…If you take these critics’ argument to their logical end, then Christians need to quit saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Actually, some Christians do think that they need to quit saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I am not one of them, but I fully understand why some of my fellow Christians might find this problematic.

And then Jeffress continues:

These evangelical Never Trumpers are incensed because President Trump’s election demonstrated how irrelevant they are to Christians. Christians did not listen to these Never Trumpers, in spite of all their blogs and all of their tweets about President Trump,” Jeffress said. “If anybody listened objectively to what President Trump said Saturday night, it was the most god-honoring, faith-affirming speech I have ever heard any president give at any time in history.

“At any time in history?”  I can think of at least five (and probably more) Obama speeches that were more “faith-affirming” than what Trump said last Saturday night.  But let’s go back even further.  How about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural for starters?

Jeffress is probably correct when he says that Trump’s election demonstrated the irrelevance of the evangelical “Never Trumpers.” What scares me here Jeffress’s attempt to equate the “relevance” or popularity of a particular political view with whether or not such a view is correct or moral.  Do we really want to go there?  Anyone who knows anything about American history will understand what I mean when I ask this question.

Apparently Jeffress’s new moral standard is 81%.

I remain a faithful #19percenter.

Rod Dreher: It’s “grotesque idolatry”

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Rod Dreher, conservative blogger and author of The Benedict Optionunloads on Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress, his First Baptist Church in Dallas, and patriotic worship.

Here is a taste of his blog post at The American Conservative:

I find it impossible to watch that ceremony (I’ve been sitting here in the Miami airport watching much of it) and judge it as anything but grotesque idolatry. Not patriotism, idolatry. It’s idolatry of Donald Trump, and idolatry of the United States of America. It is shocking and repulsive, and there will be heavy consequences for conflating the Gospel of Jesus Christ with burning a double handful of incense to President Trump and the USA.

It is good to love one’s country, and to be grateful to God for it. I do, and I am. But this is something different.

What, exactly, does it mean to call on the church to “lift the torch of freedom all across the land”? It’s cant. It’s kitsch. “Freedom” is not the same thing as righteousness. As St. Augustine taught, sin is disordered love. You can love good things in a disordered way, and fall into sin. Christians whose moral imaginations are formed in this way, what is going to happen to them when the US government — under Donald Trump, or some future president — does something wicked, something that followers of Jesus Christ ought to stand against?

Read the rest here.

A Contrarian’s View of Patriotic Worship Services

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Did your church have a patriotic worship service yesterday?

I know a lot of churches will pause to give thanks for their country or acknowledge veterans on the 4th of July weekend.  I am not a fan of this, but I accept it as part and parcel of the American Christian experience.  Anything that goes beyond this kind of brief patriotic pause gets dangerously close to idolatry.  Fireworks and flag-waving are not brief patriotic pauses.

If the response to my recent First Baptist–Dallas post is any indication, it looks like a lot of Christians agree with me.

On the other hand, if what I watched on Saturday night at The Kennedy Center is any indication, it looks like a lot Christians do not agree with me.

I appreciate the perspective of Stephanie Wheatley (aka “Dr. Crazy Cat Lady“), a religion professor at Oklahoma State.  Here is a taste of her recent post “Why I Don’t Do ‘Patriotic’ Worship Services“:

We still see vestiges of this historical mixing of religion and civil religion throughout our places of worship, however.  Many churches have an American flag at the front of the sanctuary along with the Christian flag (and woe betide any minister who attempts to remove said American flag).  Churches offer patriotic-themed worship around Memorial Day and the 4th of July.  My theological problems with this are two-fold: first, if Pentecost taught us anything, it’s that the message of Christ is available to everyone, everywhere, of every language, tribe, and nation.  To plant our flag (literally and metaphorically) on the mountain of American Christianity does a disservice to that message.  Second, idolatry becomes a real problem.  Wrapping Jesus in an American flag often bastardizes the message of Christianity and sets up the flag, the country, and the leaders of the country as objects of devotion at best, worship at worst. 

Don’t believe me?  Allow me to share what Robert Jeffress, one of the “court evangelicals” as John Fea calls them, has been up to lately.  Last Sunday, his church (First Baptist) in Dallas hosted “Freedom Sunday.”  I’m not sure exactly what was being worshipped, but I don’t think it was the risen Christ.  Yesterday, he and his merry band commandeered the Kennedy Center for an uber-patriotic celebration of the July 4 holiday that included—no kidding—the First Baptist Church-Dallas choir singing a song called “Make America Great Again.”  While this is obviously the marriage of God and country taken to an extreme conclusion, it is not abnormal.  In fact, according to a survey done by Lifeway, the Southern Baptist Convention’s research outfit, 53% of Protestant pastors said they think that their congregations sometimes seem to love America more than God.  Love or devotion to something other than the Almighty is the very definition of idolatry.

Is it any wonder, then, that someone who has studied the American civil religion would be squeamish about it?  The sociological implications of the civil religion are equally difficult to stomach.  It is often weaponized against those who don’t follow the party line (like politically incorrect patriots).  This has been seen as recently as last fall when Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem before San Francisco 49er games as a protest against the state of race relations in this country drew outrage from all over.  In fact, it may have killed his football career, proving that violating the civil religion is more injurious to a public figure than domestic violence or other criminal activity.  Furthermore, minorities in general have been left out of the civil religion.  Richard Hughes’ book Myths America Lives By lays out the various myths that have informed the civil religion as well as Black critiques of those myths.  Such critiques are easy to find because the civil religion is so often blind to its own faults.

Read the entire post here.

This Video Proves Why Robert Jeffress is the Court Evangelical of All Court Evangelicals

Watch it if you can stomach it.  The court evangelicals were out in force at the Kennedy Center last night.  Paula White was also there.

In just under 6 minutes:

  • Jeffress claimed that “our nation was founded on a love for God and a reverence for His word.”  Is this correct?  I am wrestling with this question all weekend @johnfea1 and at #ChristianAmerica?. We are posting every 30 minutes during Fourth of July weekend.  Or you can just go get a copy of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  This Christian nation stuff never goes away.  Christians (the followers of David Barton and his ilk will not listen to non-Christians) need to offer an alternative narrative to this way of thinking about American history.  We are here, but we don’t have the resources or the funding.
  • Jeffress dabbles here in American exceptionalism.  He sounds like a 17th-century Puritan delivering a jeremiad calling the new Israel back to its spiritual roots. Jeffress asks “Has God removed his hand of blessing from us?” Earlier today someone on Twitter reminded me of a 2012 statement from Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  He was writing about the idea that the United States is a Christian or chosen nation.  Anderson said “The Bible only uses the word ‘Christian’ to describe people and not countries.”
  • Jeffress suggests that Donald Trump is a messianic figure who God raised up to save Christian America from despair.  He says, “but in the midst of that despair came November the 8th, 2016 (wild applause) and that day represented the greatest political upset in American history.  Because it was on that day, November the 8th, that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were going to choose the next President of the United States.  And they chose Donald Trump” (more wild applause).  I think November 8, 2016 just became part of the Christian calendar at First Baptist Church–Dallas.
  • Jeffress reminds us that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump.  He says they “understood that [Trump] alone had the leadership skills necessary to reverse the downward death spiral our nation was in” (wild applause). Jeffress claims that people are more excited now about Trump than they were on election day because Trump “has exceeded our every expectation.” OK.  Those expectations must be pretty low. (By the way, I am still waiting for Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals to condemn the Morning Joe tweets).
  • Jeffress claims that Trump has done more to protect religious liberty than any POTUS in U.S. history. Really?  More than Jefferson?  More than Madison?
  • Jeffress says that “millions of Americans believe that the election of President Trump represented God giving us another chance, perhaps our last chance, to truly make America Great Again.”  Apparently God wants to give us another chance to return to the 1950s or the 1980s.

Trump’s speeches to evangelicals are always the same.  They are getting old. I am pretty sure his speech writers have exhausted everything they know about evangelicals. But why should they think more deeply about faith and public life when they can just have Trump throw out catchphrases and talking points about religious liberty or “the wall” or ISIS and have the crowd go wild.

Trump railed against the fake media and gets rousing cheers from an audience that I assume was made up of parishioners of First Baptist Church in Dallas.  I am inclined to give this cheering a pass because it is not occurring on a Sunday morning in a church sanctuary, but it is still disturbing to watch my fellow evangelical Christians put their hope in a strongman and do so with such zeal.  For example, when Trump says that “in America we do not worship government, we worship God,” the audience starts chanting “USA, USA, USA.” Something is wrong when a reference to the worship of God triggers nationalist chants.

A few final points:

Someone needs to tell Trump’s speechwriter that there was no public prayer at the Constitutional Convention.  Ben Franklin suggested it, but it did not happen.

And let’s also remember that his Executive Order on the Johnson Amendment accomplished nothing.  The Johnson Amendment is still in the tax code.  It can only be changed by Congress.

I remain part of the #19percent!

The Problem With Mixing Christianity and Nationalism

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Kyle Roberts is Schilling Professor of Public Theology and the Church and Economic Life at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.  He explains, from the perspective of Christian teaching, some of the problems with what happened last Sunday at First Baptist Church in Dallas.  I am glad that a theologian has commented on this story.  As a historian, my level of analysis is limited.

According to Roberts, there are 10 “negative consequences” when a church conflates nationalism and Christianity.

  1. It contributes to false assumptions of God’s special blessing or privilege
  2. It confuses the power of God with the power of the State
  3. It confuses the gospel of grace with the “good news” of material wealth and security.
  4. It undermines the separation of church and state
  5. It undercuts the prophetic power that Christianity needs in order to be salt and light
  6. It makes us forget that nation-states are a recent development
  7. It undermines the cross
  8. It replaces transcendence with immanence
  9. It disrespects those who have been marginalized by the configuration of powers in the nation-state
  10. It suggests that the basis of Christian hope is not the counter-cultural Messiah, but the “worldly” powers of the State.

Click here to see how Roberts develops each of these points at his blog Unsystematic Theology.  Great stuff.

Why Did First Baptist Church of Dallas Have “Freedom Sunday” on June 25?

Perhaps it had its worship America Sunday morning service this weekend because Court Evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress will be busy on 4th of July weekend:

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DALLAS—President Donald Trump will join Pastor Robert Jeffress to honor our veterans at the “Celebrate Freedom” Concert at 8 p.m. July 1 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The event, which is being co-sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Dallas and Salem Media, will be a night of hope, celebration and commemoration. President Trump will deliver a powerful address honoring our veterans, hundreds of whom will be coming from D.C. area to attend the event, including patients from the Walter Reed Medical Center.

“The Kennedy Center, known for presenting the greatest performers and performances from across America and around the world, is the perfect location for an unforgettable patriotic evening that honors our veterans, celebrates our country, and proclaims a message of hope,” said Pastor Robert Jeffress. “We are honored the president of the United States will be joining us, but we are not surprised. We have in President Donald J. Trump one of the great patriots of our modern era and a president who cherishes the sacrifice and service of those in our armed forces.”

Stirring patriotic music will come from the renowned choir and orchestra of First Baptist Dallas, under the direction of Dr. Doran Bugg. The First Baptist Dallas Choir & Orchestra is no stranger to our nation’s most prestigious concert halls, having been the first church music ministry invited to perform at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas and host of the radio and television program “Pathway to Victory,” seen in 195 countries, will also bring a message of hope and encouragement.

The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance by going to http://www.ptv.org/washington.

The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert rally will be the capstone of a weeklong series of events Pastor Robert Jeffress will host through the nation’s capital including speaking at a Bible study for Congressional staffers in the Capitol, a tour of Washington highlighting our country’s Judeo-Christian foundation, and personal visits with various others numbered among our nation’s leadership.

“I’m grateful that President Trump has created an atmosphere in which Evangelical Christians feel at home once again in our nation’s capital,” said Pastor Jeffress.