Evangelicals and QAnon

At last night’s town hall meeting on NBC, Donald Trump refused to condemn QAnon.

Many evangelicals are embracing QAnon conspiracy theories. (Never heard of QAnon? Read this Atlantic cover story).

I continue to be interested in the connections between QAnon and its prediction of a coming “great awakening.” Here is Daniel Burke at CNN:

Friedberg said he sees elements of his experience as a young evangelical in the QAnon movement: Its seamless blend of Christianity and nationalism, its promise of spiritual knowledge and the primacy of scripture, and, finally, the desire to evangelize to friends and family.

But Friedberg said he doesn’t see QAnon itself as a religion.

“This is an information operation that has gotten out of the direct control of whoever started it,” he said. It’s an operation, he added, that likely would not exist in a less polarized, confusing and frightening time.

Under somewhat similar strains, a group of 1840s Baptists called the Millerites predicted the Second Coming of Jesus.

When Jesus didn’t arrive, the Millerites were greatly disappointed, but they adjusted their apocalyptic timetables and soldiered on, eventually becoming the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Travis View said he sees echoes of the Millerites in QAnon. Numerous QAnon “prophecies” have proven false. Hillary Clinton was not arrested in 2017, Republicans didn’t rout Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections and Trump has not imprisoned his political enemies at Guantanamo Bay.

These days, Q shies away from giving specific dates, View noted, suggesting a shift in tactics. Even so, believers attempt to explain away any contradictions between QAnon and reality, just as the Millerites did centuries ago.

Park Neff, the Baptist pastor, said the failed prophecies are all part of QAnon’s master plan.

“Some of it seems like deliberate misinformation to throw off the other side,” Neff said, “as should be apparent to anyone who watches the news. Sometimes he (Q) does it to rattle their cages, sometimes to keep them guessing. It seems to work.”

Meanwhile, Neff, like many interested in QAnon, looks forward to the Great Awakening. The pastor said it won’t be like the other Great Awakenings, the religious revivals that torched through early America.

This one, he said, will concern the state, not the church.

It will start when the prevailing evil in our government is finally revealed, he said, and end with Trump validated and all the bad people jailed on an island far, far away.

Read the entire piece here. This is not the first time evangelicals have fallen for conspiracy theories.

On Israel, Great Awakenings, and absurdly bad court evangelical “history”

Is Bob Mathias’s 1948 Gold Medal linked in some way to Israeli statehood?

Mike Evans is one of the lesser known court evangelicals. One of America’s leading Christian Zionists, Evans recently founded the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to celebrate the “everlasting bond between the Jewish and Christian peoples.” When Donald Trump announced that he was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Evans enthusiastically told the Christian Broadcasting Network that when he next saw Trump in the Oval Office he would say to him: “Cyrus, you’re Cyrus. Because you’ve done something historic and prophetic.”

Evans believes that Trump was a modern-day Cyrus who has made possible the restoration of Jerusalem and the further confirmation of Israel’s future role in biblical prophecy. Because of Trump’s actions, Evans affirms, the blessing of God will come upon America. This decision made America great in the eyes of God. It also made Trump great in the eyes of the court evangelicals.

Evans also believes that American support for Israel will result in a spiritual revival in evangelical churches. He knows such a revival is coming because, as he says in a recent article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website, it has apparently happened before. Evans says:

  1. When America supported Israeli independence and statehood in 1948, Billy Graham came on the scene.
  2. When the United States supported Israel in the Six-Day War (1967), the “Jesus People” “revival” broke-out in Southern California, thousands of college students gathered in Dallas in 1972 for an event described as the “Christian Woodstock,” and the Catholic Charismatic Movement began.
  3. Now, with the so-called “Abraham Accord” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed, Evans says we can expect another revival.

I don’t know if we will see another spiritual revival, but Evans’s theory seems to suggest that the emergence of Billy Graham, the rise of the Jesus People, the Catholic Charismatic Movement, and Explo ’72 all had something to do with U.S. Middle East policy. But Evans doesn’t go far enough. Doesn’t he know that Bob Mathias’s victory in the decathlon at the 1948 Summer Olympics and the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike were also connected to U.S. support of Israel? 🙂

Moreover, one could argue that none of these aforementioned movements or events (Graham, Jesus People, Charismatics, Explo ’72) were “great awakenings.”

I am continually intrigued by evangelicals’ recent fascination with “great awakenings.”

Read Evans’s piece at CBN here.

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center meets all expectations at its “Get Louder” event

Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.

If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:

This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.

Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:

The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:

Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.

And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.

Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:

Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.

Night two (Tuesday) at the DNC convention

Joe and Jill
Here are some of my tweets from last night with additional context.

My twitter followers seemed to be split 50-50 on this take:

Yes, the Democratic Party is putting aside their differences for a few months in order to remove Trump, but as I watch the convention and the surrounding news coverage there appears to be a lot of division behind the mask of party unity.  The progressives in the party did not like the fact that members of the GOP, especially John Kasich, took speaking slots away from people of color. Bernie Sanders told the convention that Biden was moving to the left. Kasich promised independents that Biden was staying in the center. Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most recognizable faces in the party, nominated Bernie Sanders. Julian Castro, in the midst of the convention, is saying that Biden’s election will hurt the Democratic Party’s support among Latinos. And a clear generational divide exists in the party.

Meanwhile, the GOP is likely to put on a unified front next week. None of the dissenters–George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, etc.–will be speaking, but apparently speaking slots have been reserved for Nick Sandman of Covington Catholic High School and the St. Louis couple who pulled their guns on Black Lives Matter protesters.

I have been thinking a lot about these connections lately, especially after reading Adrienne LaFrance’s piece at The Atlantic, Katelyn Beaty’s piece at RNS, and seeing court evangelicals like Jack Graham and Greg Laurie connecting post-COVID19 economic revival with spiritual revival and the opening of churches. I was struck by this quote from LaFrance’s piece:

[Qanon conspiracy theorist David] Hayes tells his followers that he thinks Q is an open-source intelligence operation, made possible by the internet and designed by patriots fighting corruption inside the intelligence community. His interpretation of Q is ultimately religious in nature, and centers on the idea of a Great Awakening. “I believe The Great Awakening has a double application,” Hayes wrote in a blog post in November 2019

“It speaks of an intellectual awakening—the awareness by the public to the truth that we’ve been enslaved in a corrupt political system. But the exposure of the unimaginable depravity of the elites will lead to an increased awareness of our own depravity. Self-awareness of sin is fertile ground for spiritual revival. I believe the long-prophesied spiritual awakening lies on the other side of the storm.”

I hope to write something about these connection soon. In the meantime, as my tweet indicated, I also hear a lot of “rise-up,” “awakening,” and “revival” language coming from the Democrats during this convention. It is not meant spiritually–at least in a Christian “revival” sense of the world–but it does seem to be tapping into some kind of renewal or revival of the American spirit. I realize that this is a pretty common political message, but it seems to take on a new meaning in light of all this talk of #GreatAwakening.

Watch:

It’s uncanny:

Schlossberg

I didn’t see any disagreements on this one:

In case you missed the bingo card.

City of Ruins:

When I wrote the above tweet I had no idea this video was coming:

Here is was responding to Jack Jenkins’s tweet about Jill Biden’s speech:

 

Doug Sweeney Reviews “Sarah Osborn’s Collected Writings”

OsbornYale University Press recently published Catherine A. Brekus’s edited volume, Sarah Osborn’s Collected Writings. Check out Sweeney‘s review at the website of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

A taste:

This lightly annotated edition of selected Osborn manuscripts arrives as a companion to the highly-acclaimed monograph on Osborn Brekus published back in 2013, which we reviewed here.

Brekus, who teaches at Harvard, is a specialist in the religious lives of women in early America. And Osborn (1714-1796) is one of the few colonial American women–religious or otherwise–whose writings were preserved. More than 2,000 pages of her manuscripts survive (out of nearly 15,000 Osborn penned altogether), in addition to a book published anonymously by Osborn (with the help of a local clergyman) and material by Osborn published shortly after she died (by two of her admirers). Several other scholars have treated Osborn before, but only now is she receiving the attention she deserves, thanks in large part to Brekus.

Read the rest here.

 

Review of Eric Metaxas, “If You Can Keep It”: Part 5

MetaxasWe are in the midst of a short series on Eric Metaxas’s new book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.  You can get caught up here.

This post examines Metaxas’s understanding of the First Great Awakening and, specifically, the role in the Awakening played by George Whitefield.  Since Metaxas devotes an entire chapter to Whitefield and connects the eighteenth-century ministry of the evangelist to the coming of the American Revolution and the creation of the United States of America, it is worth spending some time exploring his treatment of this topic.

As Metaxas correctly points out (over and over again), George Whitefield was extremely popular.  During the height of the evangelical revival known as the First Great Awakening he was, without a doubt, the most popular person in the British-American colonies.  As the first inter-colonial celebrity, Whitefield’s message of the New Birth did play a unifying role in the colonies.  The evangelist forged an inter-colonial community of the saved. Indeed, this is why many historians have traced the origins of American evangelicalism to Whitefield.

But after establishing Whitefield as an American rock star who brought the colonies together in unprecedented ways, Metaxas’s argument goes off the rails.  First, it is worth noting that not everyone liked Whitefield.  There were many who opposed him or simply did not care about what he had to say about the state of their souls.  On p.112, Metaxas cites evangelical pastor John Piper as a historical authority on this issue.  Since there is no footnote (there are only 8 footnotes in the entire book) I have no idea where Metaxas got the quote, but Piper apparently once said: “by 1750 virtually every American loved and admired Whitefield and saw him as their champion.” I like John Piper–but he overstates his case here.

Second, and perhaps most troublesome, is Metaxas’s effort to turn Whitefield into some kind of spiritual founding father of the American republic.  Here are the passages worth thinking about more deeply:

p. 100:  “During his lifetime [Whitefield] would cross the Atlantic thirteen times, but it was this second trip to America that would forever alter the landscape of the New World, which in turn would affect the rest of the world. Because it would unite that scatting of peoples into a single people, one that together saw the world differently than any had before and that was prepared to depart from  history in a way none had ever done.  What would happen during his time in the thirteen colonies would begin the process of uniting them into something greater than the sum of their disparate parts, would begin the process of preparing them to become the United States of America.”

p.103: “Americans were becoming united in the wake of his nonstop preaching.  People were being offered a new identity that fit well with the American way of thinking.  Some were German by background and some were French and some were English, but none of it mattered.  They were all equal under God; they were all Americans.  This was something new, an identity that was separate from one’s ethnicity or one’s denomination.  To be an American meant to buy into a new set of ideas about one’s equal status in God’s eyes–and by dint of this to be accepted into a new community, to be an Americans.

p.112:  “[Whitefield] united the colonies as they had never been united, articulating what they came to believe.  So that everyone who accepted these views about liberty and independence–with all of their ramifications and corollaries–would have this in common with the others who did; and sharing these ideas set forth by Whitefield became a vital part of what it meant to be an American.  All who believed these things began to think of themselves as Americans as much as–if not more than–they thought of themselves as citizens of Connecticut or Maryland or North Carolina, for example.  The various members of the thirteen colonies thus slowly became a people; and these people–this people–would eventually seek political independence and would become a nation.”

Metaxas suggests that Whitefield paved the way for the American Revolution.  At one point in his book he even describes Whitefield’s conversion, which took place while he was a student at Oxford University, as “a hinge in the history of the world–a point on which everything turns.”  Not only does this imply that Whitefield somehow triggered the American Revolution and the birth of the United States, but it also feeds into Metaxas’s argument, which we will discuss in a later post, that God raised up America as an exceptional nation to accomplish His will in the world.

To be fair, there are several historians who have suggested a link between Whitefield (and by extension the First Great Awakening) and the American Revolution.  The argument goes something like this:  Whitefield’s egalitarian message taught the colonists that they were all equal before God and his preaching in local communities taught the colonists how to challenge the authority of ministers who had not experienced the New Birth.  This new sense of equality and resistance to tyrannical authority was then somehow transferred to the political realm, thus explaining the colonial resistance to Great Britain in the 1760s and 1770s.

Those who make this argument today do so with a great deal of caution.  But Metaxas throws caution to the wind. No legitimate historian would take this argument as far as he has done in the three passages I quoted above.  The reason why so many historians tread lightly when connecting the evangelicalism of the Great Awakening to the American Revolution is because there is limited concrete evidence that the founding fathers, or the people for that matter, were specifically drawing upon evangelicalism as they articulated their political resistance to England.

Metaxas is basically trying to argue for the evangelical origins of the American Revolution. The New Birth, he suggests, melted away all other forms of identity–ethnic identities, local political identities, religious identities–into a unique and exceptional “American” identity.  He offers a Whig interpretation of the American Revolution on steroids.  It fails to explain the persistence of ethnic identity in the decades following the Revolution.  It fails to explain the states-rights and local orientation of the Articles of Confederation.  It fails to explain denominationalism as it developed in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War.  And it highly exaggerates the influence of Whitefield, evangelicalism, and the Great Awakening on colonial life.  Metaxas fails to realize that religious belief was not particularly strong at the time of the American Revolution.

Finally, let’s remember that the First Great Awakening was a transatlantic spiritual movement.  Whatever unity among evangelicals that Whitefield helped to create was not unique to the British-American colonies.  Whitefield preached the same gospel message in England, Wales, and Scotland.  The people in the British-American colonies who embraced the New Birth saw themselves as part of a movement that was transatlantic in nature.  In other words, the Great Awakening made the religious and cultural relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies stronger, not weaker.

The Great Awakening was a deeply religious movement that had a profound impact on ordinary people and their relationship with God. Metaxas’s interpretation makes it into a political movement. When people experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit they were not thinking about the ways in which their newfound encounter with God was planting the seeds of rebellion against England.  It is time to stop interpreting the Great Awakening through the grid of the American Revolution.

Stay tuned.

One and Done

jmm16In case you haven’t seen the First Round results in the 2016 Junto March Madness tournament, my article “The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian’s Rural Enlightenment (JAH 2003lost to Jon Butler’s “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Intepretive Fiction,” (JAH 1982).  Butler received 58% of the vote.  I received 42%.

Here is a taste of the Junto results summary:

It was an interesting first round, everybody. 168 of you voted, which, as you’ll see, was a real problem in one of our brackets. Upsets occurred in every category, and we had our first ever March Madness tie. Read on for your results!In the Atlantic World, Warsh surged at the end to defeat Gould. Things got complicated, as they tend to, in the Gender bracket, where Camp and Hughes Dayton tied (more on how we’re dealing with this, below). In Economic and Social History Rao smoked Hartog, and in the American Revolution Brown beat out Jasanoff. The History of Ideas had two upsets; Junto supporter Fea lost to Butler, despite a strong Twitter game, and Kloppenberg lost to Grasso. In Native American history Barr upset Greer, and in Slavery and Race Formation Waldstreicher just beat out Johnson. Our Historiography and Theory bracket was the only bracket in which the seeds performed as anticipated. It’s shaping up to be an exciting tournament!

I am still not sure how my article received a #1 seed in the “History of Ideas” category.  It is perhaps even stranger that Butler’s article received a #8 seed.  So I guess, technically, the Butler victory was an “upset.”  Although any early American scholar worth his or her salt knows that Butler was the favorite.

Oh well.  We made a nice run.  Thanks to everyone who voted for Philip Vickers Fithian and the “rural Enlightenment.”  I hope that everyone who voted for my article will now throw their support behind Butler in the “History of Ideas” bracket.  His 1982 article really did shape the field.

 

Was the United States Born as a Result of a Religious Revival?

On June 11, 2012 I appeared on Jerry Newcombe’s radio program when it aired on a local Fort Lauderdale station.  David Barton was scheduled to follow me on the show that evening, but at the last minute he backed out.  I don’t know why he backed out.  Maybe he had a schedule conflict. Maybe he was sick.

Jerry Newcombe promotes the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and should continue to be a Christian nation.  His website is called “Jerry Newcombe: For God and Country.” During our conversation in 2012 we had our disagreements, but I appreciated his civility.  I even chided the powers-that-be at the Right Wing Watch blog for not presenting a full picture of my interaction with Newcombe. 
Newcombe and Mark Beliles of the Providence Foundation have a new book out.  It is called Doubting Thomas: The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson.  I have not read this book, but if the Amazon description is any indication it sounds like something similar to David Barton’s discredited The Jefferson Lies.  Perhaps Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter should look into this.
But I have read Newcombe’s latest post at his website.  It is titled, “How Is Participating in a National Call for Revival Service ‘Controversial’?” Newcombe starts by defending Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall’s recent prayer rally.
Here is a taste:

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal did something supposedly “controversial.” He called for a national revival.
As a Washington Post article by Rosalind S. Helderman (1/24/15) noted: “Skipping an Iowa event that drew a number of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls in favor of a controversial Louisiana prayer rally, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) called for a national spiritual revival and urged event attendees to proselytize on behalf of their Christian beliefs.”
According to Helderman, Jindal insisted this was a religious event, not a political one. The rally was founded by American Family Association.
Jindal said: “Let’s all go plant those seeds of the gospel….Share the good news with all whom we encounter.”
He added: “We can’t just elect a candidate to fix what ails our country. We can’t just pass a law and fix what ails our country….We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country.”
I am more than willing to defend Jindal’s right to have such a rally.  I think praying for our country and our leaders is a good idea.  As a Christian I have prayed (and will continue to pray) for spiritual revival in this country.  “Hallelujah thine the glory, Hallelujah Amen/Hallelujah thine the glory, revive us again!”

But I would hesitate to say that Jindal’s event was not “political” in nature.  The fact that Jindal may be seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2016 hovered over this event.  Any future historian studying this event would be irresponsible if they did not discuss the rally’s close connection to politics.

Most of the speakers and prayers at Jindal’s rally were politically conservative.  Where were the moderate Christians?  The liberal Christians? I seem to recall Billy Graham, during the heyday of his evangelistic rallies, inviting all kinds of Christians to sit on his platform and pray.

In the end, the entire Jindal’s event felt rather unseemly.  I watched some of the rally online and heard a lot of speakers come close to equating the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the United States.   I also heard a lot of talk about the United States being a Christian nation.  Check out this Jindal video for a really strange mix of evangelical revivalism, the American Dream, and the success of the American economy.  In other words, a spiritual revival will make Americans more comfortable and happy.  Joel Osteen couldn’t have put it any better.

(I felt the same way about a similar rally staged a few years ago in Texas by then governor Rick Perry. So did my friend Thomas Kidd, the esteemed conservative and evangelical historian at Baylor University).

As I have said many times before, when church and state mix, the church loses its ability to speak truth to power. Or as my Baptist friends like to say, when you mix horse crap with ice cream it doesn’t really change the horse crap but it sure ruins the ice cream.

My real gripe with Newcombe’s post is his use of history.  He defends Jindal’s prayer rally by stating: “So, what makes the rally so “controversial”? Is it the liberal protesters outside the rally? For those aware of America’s history, there should be nothing controversial about Governor Jindal’s appearance at the rally.  America was born as a result of a national revival, known as the First Great Awakening.

Was America “born as the result of…the First Great Awakening?”  The relationship between the religious revival known as the Great Awakening and the American Revolution is a complicated and contested one.  I have gone on record saying that there is very little connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution.  But even those historians who do claim that the Great Awakening had some connection to the birth of the United States would never claim that America “was born as the result” of this revival.  

Newcombe makes a fair case about the Great Awakening’s impact on American culture during the years in which the revival fires flamed, but the claim he makes about the relationship between the Awakening and the Revolution is not supported by any evidence apart from the fact that the founding fathers wanted people to be “virtuous.”

I am assuming that Newcombe is trying to make a connection between the founders’ call for a virtuous citizenry and the spiritual interest that stemmed from the Great Awakening.  This is a stretch.  The Awakening was separated from the Revolution by almost two generations.  Nearly all historians agree that Christianity was very weak during the Revolution.  Whatever spiritual vitality the Great Awakening brought to the colonies had largely subsided by 1776.  Moreover, the founders’ thought that Christianity was merely one source of the kind of virtue necessary to make a republic work.  I tried to make this argument in both The Way of Improvement Leads Home and Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?  

We really need to move beyond these simplistic views of the relationship between religion and the founding era that lead us to manipulate the past to serve our own cultural, religious, and political agendas.

I will stop now.  Thanks for reading.