What Matthew 4 REALLY says about Christians and power

Recently an evangelical pastor who was a college of classmate of mine wrote to me praising Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court. He seemed very excited about the nomination and was surprised when I was not as excited as he was.

As I have argued, I think what McConnell did was wrong in 2016 when he refused to give Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing and a vote in the Senate. As many of you recall, McConnell claimed that since it was an election year the American people, through the ballot box, should decide who would replace the late Antonin Scalia on the bench. Trump won in 2016 and he nominated Neil Gorsuch. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him.

2020 is an election year. In fact, the election will take place in about a month. McConnell now seems to have no problem with confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He is hard at work pushing Barrett through the system.

This evangelical pastor friend did not see any problem with McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy. Actually, I don’t even think he understands what McConnell did as a form of hypocrisy. As my old college acquaintance put it in his note to me, we now have a Republican president and a Republican Senate and “elections have consequences.”

Based on other exchanges I have had with this pastor, I highly doubt he would have said “elections have consequences” if the same thing happened with a Democratic president’s nominee and a Democratic-controlled Senate. He would instead be making an appeal to the Constitution or perhaps the scriptures. But I digress.

The GOP is licking its chops to confirm Barrett. Its members thus need some kind of argument to save face and explain that they are not hypocrites. Most of these GOP Senators and pundits believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based upon the original intent of the framers. But they are not consistent in this belief. They only claim original intent when it meets their needs. There is nothing in the Constitution that says a Supreme Court nominee in an election year can only get a Senate hearing if the president making the nomination is of the same political party as the party controlling the Senate. The GOP just made this up.

And if the GOP really believes the original intent of the founders is important, they should be talking about how the founders would be appalled at the rank partisanship driving this whole nomination and confirmation process.

But perhaps most revealing is the way this pastor reconciles 2016 (Obama and Garland) and 2020 (Trump and Barrett) with an appeal to raw power. Again, notice that he did not appeal to the Constitution, the Bible, or some other moral code to defend McConnell’s decision. The exact words he used to justify Barrett’s nomination were “Republicans in power. Elections have consequences.” In a single sentence he confirmed a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Of course Jesus had a chance to obtain worldly power as well.

I recall that passage in Matthew 4 when Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if he would just bow down and worship him. When Jesus turned down Satan’s offer (“away from me Satan!”) God sent angels to attend to him. Jesus rejected worldly power and God was there to offer comfort and assurance in the form of the angels. The rest of the Gospel story, of course, is God showing how he would carry out his plan in another way–The Way–a way that did not require the kind of earthly power Satan was offering to Jesus.

But most people don’t know that in the 1980s Jerry Falwell Sr., while conducting a Moral Majority Holy Land tour, discovered early manuscripts of the Matthew 4 that show Jesus actually taking Satan’s deal. According to these ancient manuscripts, Jesus drove a hard bargain with Satan. In this manuscript Jesus specifically defined the “kingdoms of the world” as the future United States and demanded that Satan bring “splendor” to this kingdom by one day raising-up a morally bankrupt pagan leader (similar to King Cyrus of old) who would have the opportunity to appoint three Supreme Court justices. Satan agreed to deal, but fitting with his cunning spirit, took over 2000 years to fulfill his promise to Jesus.

What? You’ve never heard this before? It’s all there in the Lynchburg scrolls. The reason people don’t know about these scrolls is because the fake media won’t report on them.

🙂

Donald Trump now believes that the president is “constitutionally obligated” to appoint a Supreme Court justice

Trump says he is “constitutionally obligated” to nominate someone to serve on the Supreme Court:

Trump is correct. He is constitutional obligated to nominate someone to serve on the Supreme Court. So was Barack Obama in 2016.

Watch:

And here was Donald Trump in 2016 on whether or not Obama should pick the next Supreme Court justice:

I think the next president should make the pick,” Trump said. “And I think they shouldn’t go forward, and I believe, you know, I’m pretty much in line with what the Republicans are saying. I think that the next president should make the pick. We don’t have a very long distance to wait. Certainly they could wait it out very easily. But I think the next president should make the pick. I would be not in favor of going forward.

What has changed, Donald?

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!

Hypocrisy: Does Anyone Care?

Hypo

Sometimes I wonder if calling out so-called “Christian leaders” in the age of Trump for their hypocrisy is a waste of my time.

Christopher Douglas teaches English at the University of Victoria.  Over at Religion Dispatches he reflects, using Frederick Douglass’ Narrative, as to why the critique of hypocrisy may have “run out of steam” in American life.  There is a lot to think about in this piece.

Here is a taste:

But the hypocrisy we witness today may not be so much acts of pretense and public false performance as self-deception. In Hypocrisy: Ethical Investigations, Béla Szabados and Eldon Soifer suggest that our perception of hypocrisy has shifted in modern times. If Biblical and Medieval thinkers saw hypocrisy primarily as a matter of pretense, of the difference between the inner morality and outward performance, modern thinking has recognized a greater psychological complexity of self-deception: our human capability of fooling ourselves, of shunning information inimical to our beliefs, of avoiding moral self-introspection.

This was actually Douglass’s assessment of some of his Christian masters. As he says of one slave “breaker” to whom he was leased for a year, “Poor man! such was his disposition, and success at deceiving, I do verily believe that he sometimes deceived himself into the solemn belief, that he was a sincere worshipper of the most high God; and this, too, at a time when he may be said to have been guilty of compelling his woman slave to commit the sin of adultery.” In Douglass’s view, Christian slaveholders were often as much subjects of self-deception as they were self-conscious frauds.

Douglass’s Christian slavers were the ancestors, in theology and church tradition, if not in actual family genealogy, of today’s Christian Right. Although the popular tale of the political empowerment of white evangelicals has it that they were reacting against Roe v. Wade and the sexual revolution, a more complete history includes the early Christian Right’s energization by anti-Civil Rights politics. These Christian Segregationists—like the early Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones Sr.—had their heritage in the Christian Slavery that Douglass had targeted in his critique a century before.

Why this matters is that it gives us a clue as to why the critique of hypocrisy has run out of steam: it never had much steam to begin with if we think of it as a method for correcting individual behavior. The reason the target was not the audience for Douglass is that there was almost no chance Christian slavers were going to listen to the moral and theological reasoning of an escaped slave. In this sense, from the Christian slaveholders’ point of view, Douglass didn’t have the authority to make a moral claim on them. He was an outsider to their group and, moreover, deemed to be morally (and, not incidentally, racially) inferior to them.

Read the entire piece here.