James Dobson in September 1998 vs. James Dobson in September 2020

Court evangelical James Dobson just released his monthly newsletter. It is worth comparing what Dobson said about presidential character in 1998 with what he is saying today about presidential character.

Here is 1998 (italics mine):

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.

Read the entire statement here. The president at the time was Bill Clinton

Here is his most recent newsletter:

How will Americans, and how will you, decide who to vote for as our Chief Executive Officer? I have heard from dozens of friends and acquaintances in recent weeks who tell me they will base their decision solely on a candidate’s rhetoric, tone, style, or likeability. Does that describe your thinking process? … This vote has awesome implications for future generations and the nation we love. It is about our Constitution and the immutable, God-given rights it protects. It is about values, and truth, and greatness, and hope. That is why the notion of choosing a president based on frivolous personality characteristics is so unfortunate.

Read the entire letter here.

I think I will just leave it there.

Court evangelical James Dobson invokes the Civil War in a letter to followers on the November elections

Dobson and Trump

Read the entire letter here.

Let’s break it down:

Dobson:

As I write this newsletter, voters across this nation are only a few short months away from the next general election. What an ominous time this is for our 244-year-old republic. Its future hangs in the balance. The choices we make on November 3rd will send this nation down one of two dramatically different paths. The wrong decision will be catastrophic. I agree with former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who said recently that the next election will be “the most important since 1860.” He also warned that if we appease or ignore the violence and anarchy occurring in the streets, it might be the end of civilization as we have known it. Those are sobering words coming from a man who has stood at the pinnacle of national power.

This is standard Christian Right rhetoric. Dobson quotes Gingrich’s claim that this coming election is the most importance election since 1860. Gingrich has been using this line (or something similar) for a long time. He said the exact same thing about the 2016 election (go to the 1:55 mark of this video). And before that he said the exact same thing about the 2012 election. In 2008, he said the outcome of the election “will change the entire rest of our lives.” In 1994, he said that the midterm elections “were the most consequential nonpresidential election of the 20th century.” Every election is consequential. How long are we going to listen to Gingrich before we call this what it is: fear-mongering.

Dobson:

Mr. Gingrich referred to the significance of 1860 because that was the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president. I’m sure the Speaker would agree that the following election of 1864 was also critical to the future of the nation. Lincoln and his opponent, Maj. Gen. George McClellan, were in a hotly contested campaign for the White House that could have gone either way. The “war between the states,” as it was called, had been raging for three ghastly years, and the entire nation was staggered by reports from the bloody battlefield.

Lincoln was running for a second term, and he campaigned on the promise of finishing the war and preserving the Union. These were momentous times for the young nation. During the first week of January 1863, the President signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.

Democrats and their presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. McClellan, initially campaigned on a “peace platform,” pledging to end the war and send soldiers home. As the election approached, he talked more about negotiating to let the South establish a separate government whose cornerstone would be slavery. If McClellan had been elected, there would have been no foreseeable end to the inherent evil of buying and selling human beings and treating them like cattle. Thus, the Civil War was a struggle for the soul of America.

Dobson then mentions why he spent so much time on the Civil War in this newsletter:

Why have I recounted our Civil War history and the election of 1864 at this time in our history? It is for two reasons. The first is to consider some striking similarities between then and now. Our nation is divided like no time since the Civil War. Lawlessness and anarchy stalk the cities as angry mobs riot, burn, loot, rob, and kill innocent bystanders. Cultural monuments are being destroyed. Scores of people have been shot. Our courageous police officers are being brutally attacked by the same people they have vowed to protect. A man and his son stopped to ask for directions, and he was gunned down on the spot. A one-year-old baby was shot in the stomach while he sat in his stroller. The child died at the hospital.

What began as a justified and lawful protest in response to George Floyd’s senseless murder by a rogue police officer has morphed into violence for the sake of violence. Hatred flows in the streets, including vitriol directed at the President of the United States or anyone who dares to support him or his policies. Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religious liberty are being trampled. There is also widespread belief that violence and anarchy are being organized and funded by powerful forces that are maneuvering America toward a socialist dictatorship. There is always a kingmaker behind such lawlessness. Most disturbing is open talk of another civil war. It is troubling to even utter those words. The last time Americans faced off against each other, 600,000 soldiers died. May God forbid it from happening again.

Please don’t tell me that I am wrong about the role fear plays in the Christian Right view of politics.

What is happening in our country right now is disconcerting to many of us. But it pales in comparison with what the country faced during the lead-up to the Civil War and the war itself. There is no chance that an actual civil war will erupt in this country. Dobson is using the past to scare people. But this is what culture warriors do. These kinds of historical analogies are not helpful.

Instead of scaring people by referencing “600,000” lost lives, Dobson should spend more time critiquing the president for his handling of the coronavirus. If he really cares about families he will condemn Trump’s failure of leadership, his ambivalent rhetoric on masks, his treatment of Anthony Fauci, and his appeal to doctors who believe the virus comes from demon sperm. Nearly 155,000 Americans have died of this virus and the number is growing every day. Perhaps these are the deaths Dobson should be worrying about right now.

Dobson goes on:

During the revolution of the 1960s, I recall a ubiquitous bumper sticker that read, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” It was a catchy phrase that made sense to those who opposed the Vietnam War. But my reaction to it then and now is “What if they gave a war and only one side came?” That question keeps me awake at night. There are multiple millions of passive Americans out there today, many of them Christians, who are clueless about what is happening to their homeland. They are losing something precious and irreplaceable. Do they not understand that their children and those who are yet to be born will live in tyranny if we fail them on our watch? Countless young men and women have laid down their lives on battlefields around the world to protect liberty and our way of life. Now, what they purchased for us with their blood is slipping away. Disengaged people won’t lift a finger to preserve this great land. They won’t take even a few minutes to go to their polling places to vote. There are also thousands of pastors who won’t allow voting registration tables in the lobbies of their churches. Don’t they know or care that America is on the ropes? Hordes of angry anarchists are salivating over the next election, hoping to push America over a cliff. If they succeed, as Newt Gingrich said, Western civilization will never recover. Is there anyone left who believes some things are worth dying for? Aren’t there patriots out there such as Patrick Henry who said in defiance of British tyranny, “Give me liberty or give me death!”? That was the spirit during his day. The Declaration of Independence closed with these words endorsed by the signers, “We pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They knew they would be hanged if they lost the war. Why did they do it? Because they loved their country enough to die for it.

Dobson has been watching too much Fox News. The average American family is worried about their jobs, whether to send their kids to school, and keeping themselves and their families safe from COVID-19. They are less concerned about the “hordes of angry anarchists…salivating.” In one speech on July 22, 2020, Biden showed more empathy and concern for American families than Donald Trump has shown in his entire presidency thus far.

By the way, kudos to all those pastors who refuse to bring electoral politics into their churches.

Dobson invokes Patrick Henry. But where is his acknowledgement of men like John Lewis, a man whose entire life was defined by the phrase “give me liberty or give me death?” Lewis loved his country and was willing to die to defend its promise. Perhaps he should watch Barack Obama’s speech yesterday at Lewis’s funeral. (I doubt that will happen).

And now Dobson is calling us to vote for a man–Donald J. Trump– who knows nothing about true patriotism, Christian faith, or the promise of America.  Dobson’s president couldn’t pull himself away from his Twitter feed long enough to pay his respects to Lewis. This Christian Right culture warrior has a lot of nerve dropping this fundraising newsletter during a week that we remember a true American hero.

More Dobson:

How I pray for the emergence of silent, intimidated Americans who will come out of their hiding places to let their voices be heard on Election Day 2020. There must be tens of thousands of ministers in our midst who, like the Black Robed Regiment of the Revolutionary War, will strip off their clerical garb and fight valiantly for religious liberty. If these men and women of faith and conviction don’t come to the rescue of their country, it is doomed.

Dobson doesn’t realize that the violence in the streets propagated by 18th-century patriotic ministers–the so-called “Black Robed Regiment”–makes what is happening in Portland right now look like a county fair.

Dobson closes his letter with “seven critical issues”:

1. The Next Generation

There is a fierce battle being waged now in the nation’s classrooms for the hearts and souls of our children and grandchildren. Those of us who are passionately committed to the Judeo-Christian system of beliefs are losing our kids right before our eyes. They are being force-fed a radical curriculum that is godless, anti-American, and sexually perverse. Make no mistake, the left and secular culture are manipulating the minds of your sons and daughters every day of the year. I urge you to be extremely careful about those whom you set in power over your children. Protect them with your very lives.

Let’s remember that Dobson founded an organization called “Focus on the Family.” What does it say about the state of the white evangelical middle class family if its kids are incapable of navigating our current cultural waters from the perspective of Christian faith? Perhaps Dobson should be asking this question. If white evangelicals and their churches were doing their jobs in educating young people how to engage the spirit of the age, there would be nothing for them to fear in the public schools.

2. The Sanctity of Human Life

All life is sacred and is a gift from Almighty God. But as you know, America has the blood of innocents on its hands. Since 1973, more than 60 million babies have been murdered through abortion and countless lives have ended by euthanasia. This is the most tragic holocaust in the history of the world! Some states have even passed laws allowing wounded and suffering infants to lie alone on porcelain trays after somehow surviving unsuccessful abortions. They will die without the comfort of their mothers’ breasts. If that doesn’t touch your heart, you are without compassion. I hope you will not cast a single vote for any politician who supports such wickedness.

Neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden can stop abortion in America. Trump’s Supreme Court justices might one day overturn Roe v. Wade, but this will merely send the issue back to the states. Does anyone expect California, New York, and other so-called “Blue” states to make abortion illegal? If you care about abortion, why not vote for a candidate with a plan to address poverty and racial injustice? Such a focus will keep abortions in America on a steady downward trajectory. Dobson needs a new political playbook.

Abortion rates

3. Marriage and Family

The family is God’s original building block for society. Marriage continues to serve as the foundation for every dimension of human life. Everything of value rests on it, including procreation and the care and training of children. If that ground floor is weakened or undermined, the entire superstructure of civil society will come crashing down. But listen carefully: powerful and highly funded forces, including LGBTQ and other leftist entities, are determined to destroy the family as an institution. It is already on its knees, and its future is grim. Before you vote, find out what position the candidates have taken on this issue. Then vote accordingly.

This emphasis on the family comes from a man who said little or nothing when Trump separated families at the border, put children in cages, and threatened to deport DACA recipients. Parents shield their kids from this president because they don’t want to expose them to his lies, tweets, vulgarity, and general manner of treating people. Trump has brought pornography into the mainstream of our culture and has made a mockery of the civic virtues we try to teach our kids. Please, Dr. Dobson, consider that the man you support undermines everything you have spent your life defending. Your support of him is dripping with hypocrisy.

4. Religious Liberty

The first item listed in the Bill of Rights addresses the issue of religious liberty. All the other enumerated rights flow from that fundamental freedom. That is why it is alarming to recognize that this right to worship and honor God as we choose is under vicious attack today. The courts have done the greatest damage, but now an entire sub-culture is trying to bring down the Christian faith. Whether it has invaded your private world or not, it is at your front door. It was this primary concern that led to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War in 1776. We can’t compromise one jot or tittle within that fundamental right. Fight for it with every ounce of your strength and determination. Don’t let the government close the doors of your church or tell you when you can sing praises to the Lord Almighty. They have a devious agenda, and it is dangerous. Be ready to go to the mat in defense of what you believe. And let this passion influence how you cast your ballot in November. Here I stand. Will you join me?

This paragraph is wrong on so many levels. While real threats to religious liberty do exist, especially for faith-based schools, hospitals, and other institutions, this kind of rhetoric does little to help the country reach a genuine pluralism. (Here is a more thoughtful approach to the matter).

First, let’s be clear about the meaning of the American Revolution. An attack on Christian faith and religious liberty was not the primary concern that led to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

Second, the rights of Christians to worship when such gatherings might lead to the illness and death of other people is not a very Christian approach to public life. Does Dobson really think that governors trying to protect the health of all of the people in their state are operating with some kind of “devious agenda” to extirpate Christianity from the land? This is absurd. One could even make an argument that the care these governors are taking to protect citizens from COVID-19 is actually more Christian in character than this selfish appeal to individual rights.

5. Capitalism v. Socialism

It is difficult to believe that for the first time in American history, our nation appears to be thinking about trading our democratic way of life for the tyranny of socialism. I can hardly catch my breath. Could we really consider abandoning the beloved system of government that was designed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people? Is it true that up to 40 percent of millennials and others are prepared to surrender their liberties in exchange for the absolute authority of the state? Democracy and capitalism have made ours the most powerful and successful nation in the history of the world. Are we really considering scuttling the system that has served us for 244 years in exchange for what some people call “free stuff?” I pray not! But that option awaits you in the polling booth.

Joe Biden is not a socialist. Joe Biden believes in democracy. (By the way, I am not sure Trump believes in democracy). I don’t know of anyone who is willing to “surrender their liberties in exchange for the absolute authority of the state.” Another scare tactic.

6. The Judicial System

Given recent rulings, we know that judicial overreach has almost ruined this great nation. Justices and judges are constitutionally charged to interpret the law, not make law. But again, and again, they have overstepped their authority and brought us atrocities such as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and the so-called “separation of church and state,” which doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Most recently, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most egregious rulings since Roe v. Wade. It is the case of Bostock v. Clayton County. This decision was not based on constitutional law but on the whims of six justices. It created a new legal definition of sex out of thin air. Lawyers tell us that this ruling will affect every dimension of culture and haunt the nation as long as it endures. Please don’t vote for politicians who will expand, rather than limit, the power of the judiciary.

When the Supreme Court rules in Dobson’s favor he loves it. When it does not rule in his favor, he says they have “overstepped their authority.” If the Supreme Court suddenly decided to make gay marriage illegal, overturn precedent in Roe v. Wade, or pass an Amendment declaring the United States to be a “Christian nation,” Dobson would cheer such judicial activism.

7. The Nation of Israel

Scripture tells that those who bless Israel will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Our prayer is that the next Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. will continue to promote and cultivate a vibrant bond of friendship with the nation of Israel, which is our only ally in the Middle East. Anti-Semitism and all forms of racial discrimination are inherently evil, and we condemn them categorically. We are a nation that is dedicated to “freedom and justice for all” (The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance).

Is Dobson willing to extend “freedom and justice for all” to all Americans? Does he give his highest loyalty to Israel or to fellow Christian believers–members of the worldwide body of Christ–in Palestine? It is possible for Christians to reject anti-Semitism and still find solidarity with fellow believers. Dobson’s binary thinking does not allow for such a position.

I have written about this here before, but as I read Dobson’s newsletter, and saw the big orange “DONATE” button on the top of the web page, I was reminded of what Moral Majority veterans Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson (no relation) wrote about the Christian Right fundraising formula in their 1999 book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America:

First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general. Second, the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or to impose their morality on the rest of the country. Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done…Fourth, to get this job done, please send money.”

Wednesday Night Court Evangelical Roundup

Court Evangelicals at Table

Since my last update, a few things have changed in court evangelical land. Neil Gorsuch, one of two Donald Trump Supreme Court nominees, has defended LGBTQ rights and has proven he may not be the best court evangelical ally when it comes to questions of religious liberty. I imagine some evangelicals who are looking for a reason to reject Trump at the ballot box in November may have just found one.

Police reform and debates over systemic racism continue to dominate the headlines. On the COVID-19 front, more and more churches are opening this weekend and Donald Trump is preparing for a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What do the court evangelicals have to say?

In an interview with Charisma magazine, James Dobson writes:

In an outrageous ruling that should shake America’s collective conscience to its core, the U.S. Supreme Court has redefined the meaning of “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Not only was this decision an affront against God, but it was also a historical attack against the founding framework that governs our nation.

Dobson says nothing about Trump or how Gorsuch burned white evangelicals on this decision.

I don’t know if Louie Giglio supports Trump, but he is now apologizing for his use of the phrase “White Blessing”:

The apology seems honest and sincere.

Jenetzen Franklin praises Trump as a great listener and defender of law and order.  But Trump’s police reform speech failed to address the systemic problem of racism in America. It attacked Obama and Biden and it defended Confederate monuments. Is this big action?

Johnnie Moore, the guy who describes himself as a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” is doing the same thing as Jenetzen:

Greg Laurie interviewed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on police reform. Scott talks about the “character” of police officers and shows a solid understanding of the Bible, but the issues of racism in America go much deeper than this. I encourage you to listen to Gettysburg College professor’s Scott Hancock upcoming interview at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

The Laurie-Scott conversation is a step in the right direction, but it focuses on striking a balance between law and order (Scott quotes Romans 13) and individual acts of racism.  The real conversation should be over to have an ordered society and address systemic racism. Today, for example, Scott said that the United States is not a racist country.

Robert Jeffress is “thrilled” to have Mike Pence speak at his church for “Freedom Sunday.” Expect fireworks. Literal fireworks! Once again, it will be God and country on display.

Here is another view of Pence.

Last Sunday, Jeffress addressed the Floyd murder and its aftermath with his congregation at First Baptist-Dallas. He summarized his response to our current moment in three statements:

1. God hates racism. Jeffress FINALLY admits that First Baptist Church was on “the wrong side of history” on matters relating to race. This is a huge step! It would have been nice to have this history included in the church’s 150th anniversary celebration, but I don’t think I have ever heard Jeffress say this publicly.  Let’s see where this goes. First Baptist-Dallas has some reckoning with the past to do.

2. God hates lawlessness. Jeffress says that there is “nothing wrong” with peaceful protests, but he condemns the looting and riots. He does not say anything about the root cause of the riots. One more question: Does God hate Christians who disobey unjust laws? I think Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about that. So did most of the patriotic pastors during the Revolution. You know, the guys who created America as a “Christian nation.”

3. Racism and lawlessness is not the problem, the problem is sin. Agreed. The sin of racism pervades every institution in America. In order to address the problem of racism we need to go beyond mere calls for personal salvation. American history teaches us that some of the great evangelical revivals led to abolitionism and other forms of social justice. At the same time, some of the great evangelical revivals led to a deeper entrenchment of racism in society. Jeffress’s church, which celebrates its history of soul-winning, is one example. Also, let’s remember that when Frederick Douglass’s master got saved during an evangelical revival, he became more, not less, ruthless in his treatment of his slaves. We will see what happens this time around, but individual spiritual regeneration does not always solve the deeply embedded problems of race in America.

Now I want to hear how this generally good, but also insufficient, message applies to Jeffress’s support of Donald Trump.

James Robison is right. But so is Jurgen Moltmann when he said that Christians must “awaken the dead and piece together what has been broken“:

Tony Perkins is talking with David Brat, the dean of the Liberty University School of Business, about law and order and the breakdown of K-12 and higher education. Perkins thinks the real problem in America is a “lack of courage.” I did a post about courage a few weeks ago.

Brat wants Christians to be “prophets, priests, and kings.” Yes. Here is something I wrote last month about such royal language:

What does it mean, as Scot McKnightN.T. Wright, and Matthew Bates, among others, have argued, that Jesus is King? What role do Christians play as a royal priesthood, proclaiming the truth of God to the darkness and, as Wright puts it, “reflecting God’s wisdom and justice into the world.”And there’s the rub. Reed’s Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God as understood by many conservative evangelicals, looks the other way when a ruler from another kingdom (so to speak) practices immorality. They do not seem to take their citizenship in this Kingdom as seriously as they take their American citizenship or, at the very least, they seem unwilling to say more about the tensions between the two. (There is, of course, a deep history behind the conflation of these two kingdoms).

Gary Bauer just retweeted this:

Perhaps he should have made a caveat for Christians in prayer. But let’s face it, the court evangelicals don’t do nuance very well.

Ralph Reed is fully aware of the fact that Gorsuch and Roberts have betrayed him and his followers. Yet don’t expect him to throw out the Christian Right playbook anytime soon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is ready to retire and Reed will no doubt try to make the 2020 election about the Supreme Court:

Rob McCoy, the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Thousands Oaks in Newbury Park, California, invited Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonderboy, to preach at his church last Sunday. McCoy introduced him by quoting Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever it admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Kirk then got up and gave a fear-mongering political speech that ripped evangelical pastors who have participated in anti-racist protests. At one point, Kirk told the Christians gathered on this Sunday morning that if the Left “takes him down” he “will be on his feet” not “on his knees.” This was an applause line. If you want to see hate preached from an evangelical pulpit, watch this:

And let’s not forget Charles Marsh’s twitter thread exposing Eric Metaxas’s use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to attack Black Lives Matter.

Until next time.

The Court Evangelicals Take a Photo

Most of them were there on Friday night:

COurt Evangelicals

I don’t recognize everyone, but I see Alveda King, Jack Graham, Jenetzen Franklin, James Dobson, Shirley Dobson, James Robison, Michael Tait, Greg Laurie, Michelle Bachmann, Eric Metaxas, Tony Suarez, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Johnnie Moore, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, Richard Land, Cissie Graham, Tim Clinton, Harry Jackson, and Jim Garlow, Paula White, and Guillermo Maldonado.

I wonder if Trump can identify them all.

Many of these people feature prominently in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Thoughts on the “Evangelicals for Trump” Rally

Court evangelical prayer in Miami

Earlier this evening Donald Trump launched his “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign with a speech at a Miami megachurch.

The King Jesus International Ministry Church, a Hispanic megachurch, was filled with court evangelicals.  Prior to Trump’s speech, some of them laid their hands on the president and prayed for him.  This group included Paula White, Jack Graham, Michael Tait (of the Christian rap group DC Talk), Jentezen Franklin, Cissie Graham (Franklin’s daughter), and Alveda King.  “Apostle” Guillermo Maldonado, the pastor of King Jesus Church, prayed that Trump would fulfill his role as a new King Cyrus.  Paula White prayed against the demonic forces trying to undermine Trump’s presidency.  Later Trump acknowledged James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, Charlie Kirk, and other court “eeeeevangelicals” in attendance.

As Trump took the lectern, the evangelicals in attendance, many wearing pro-Trump clothing and MAGA hats, began chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”  It was clear from the outset that this event would be no different than any other Trump rally.  The applause lines were the same.  Trump degraded his opponents by name.  Nothing new here.  “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Trump’s theme song, blared over the church loudspeaker when he was done with his speech.

Once the crowd stopped their patriotic chanting, Trump started bragging about the crowd size, adding that there were “1000s of people” outside “trying to get in.”  He called the “Evangelicals for Trump” movement the “greatest grass roots movement in American history.”  He reminded everyone how he killed Qassem Soleimani.

Trump generally stuck to the teleprompter, but he did go off script every now and then.  He painted himself as a president who was protecting American evangelicals from the those on the “Left” who want to “punish” people of faith and “destroy religion in America.” During this part of the speech one of the evangelical Christians in the audience screamed “Pocohontas,” a reference to Massachusetts Senator and Democratic president candidate Elizabeth Warren.  Trump was visibly pleased.  Indeed, Trump the strongman was on display.  Like autocratic leaders before him, he stirred fear among his people and offered them safety under his regime.  (This, I should add, is why evangelicals prefer Trump to Mike Pence, the Vice President who sees eye-to-eye with conservative evangelicals on every social and moral issue they care about.  Trump is a fighter and protector. Pence is not.)

Trump spent the entire speech reiterating the talking points that have defined his rhetoric when speaking to evangelicals.  He falsely claimed, once again, that he ended the Johnson Amendment.  He continued to claim, falsely, that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam wants to kill babies after they are born.  He said that he was going to return prayer to public schools when, in reality, prayer never left. He bragged about his commitment to global religious freedom, but failed to mention how he threw Syrian Christians under the bus.  He compared the crowd size of his Lincoln Memorial July 4, 2019 speech to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television.  The crowd cheered as Trump read this laundry list of conservative media pundits.  It was all very appropriate for such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of most of the people in the room.  Trump’s staff knows this.  Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech? It was like Trump was reading the court evangelical heroes of the faith (Heb. 11), but instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Hannity, Ingraham, Carlson, and the hosts of Fox and Friends.  (It is also worth noting that Trump never quoted from or referenced the Bible in his speech).

At one point Trump had to rebuke one of the evangelicals in the crowd.  As the president praised himself for appointing conservative federal court justices, someone apparently yelled something about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent health problems. The implication was that Ginsburg would soon die (was this guy praying for it?) and then Trump could appoint another conservative Supreme Court justice. Trump had to tell this person that he did not wish any harm on Ginsburg.  Think about this for a moment.  Trump was in a room full of evangelicals and he, at least in this case, took the moral high road.

In one of the most human moments of the rally, Trump introduced two members of the Fresno State University pro-life club.  These women told a story about a professor who tried to stop them from sharing pro-life messages on campus.  They sued the professor and won in court.  Good for them. What was this professor thinking? He denied these young women free speech, but he also gave the court evangelicals more fodder for their victimization campaign–a campaign that was on full display in Miami tonight.

Trump also focused on non-religious issues.  He took credit for the strong economy.  He said he would make sure the evangelicals in attendance would not lose their Second Amendment rights.  And, despite the fact that there were probably undocumented evangelical immigrants in the room, extolled the virtues of his border wall.

By now I am used to this kind of thing from Trump.  But tonight I witnessed evangelical Christians–those who identify with the “good news” of Jesus Christ–raising their hands in a posture of worship as Trump talked about socialism and gun rights. I watched them rising to their feet and fist-pumping when Trump said he would win in 2020.

I usually get angry about evangelicals worshiping at the feet of Trump.   But tonight I just felt sad.

More Court Evangelicals Defend Trump in Light of the *Christianity Today* Editorial

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

Court evangelical after court evangelical are rising-up to defend Donald Trump in the wake of Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for his removal.  Franklin, Graham, Robert Jeffress, Tony Perkins, Jenetzen Franklin, James Dobson, Samuel Rodriguez,  Johnnie Moore,and Jim Garlow, to name a few, have all turned to their favorite web pages and news outlets to make sure the evangelical base does not crack in light of this.  I would not be surprised if a White House memo has prompted this surge in commentary.  All of these responses share several things in common:

  1. A fundamental misunderstanding of the impeachment process.  The House of Representatives has a constitutional mandate to impeach a president when its members believe that the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors.  Such “high crimes and misdemeanors” are defined by the members of the House.  Yes, as Alexander Hamilton said in Federalist 65, this will often be a partisan endeavor.  But let’s remember that the people of the United States gave Democrats control of the House in 2018 and these Democrats, after careful consideration, decided to impeach.  That’s how it works. It is now up to the Senate to decide if Trump should be removed from office.  I should also add that in at least one case it appears that a court evangelical does not realize that if a president is impeached the vice-president takes over until the next election.
  2. An attempt to paint all Democrats who support impeachment as radical leftists and socialists.  This is fear-mongering.  It is also not true.  (As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, fear-mongering is usually built on the propagation of false information and half-truths).  Impeachment has been led by mainstream Democrats, not the progressive wing of the party. Actually, I have been surprised just how quiet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the so-called “Squad” have been during this entire process.
  3. A failure to reckon with exactly what Donald Trump did during his phone call with the Ukrainian minister.  It appears that most Trump evangelicals agree with the president when he says the phone call was “perfect.  Instead, court evangelicals echo GOP talking points about the unfair nature of the process.  One court evangelical said that there was nothing–NOTHING– in Mark Galli’s editorial that has any merit or truth.
  4. An attempt to paint Christianity Today as a progressive and left-wing magazine with little influence.  Anyone who reads Christianity Today knows that the magazine is not progressive or left wing.  Mark Galli has said that Christianity Today has never imagined itself to be a spokesperson for all evangelicals.  So I’ll say it again: if Christianity Today is so irrelevant, why are the court evangelicals taking to the airways and websites?  Why are they so afraid?
  5. An attempt distract ordinary evangelicals from thinking deeply about whether or not what Trump did on the Ukraine call (abuse of power), and his refusal to provide witness and documents (obstruction of Congress), is indeed an impeachable offense.  They do this by appealing to the fact that Trump has appointed conservative Supreme Court justices and is advancing a “biblical world view.” One court evangelical even praised Trump as a man of “character,” “integrity,” and “moral fiber.” Another said he is a “man who really wants to do what is right” and praises his “honesty.”  Thinking evangelicals need to cut through the distraction and realize that Trump’s Supreme Court appointments have nothing to do with whether or not he should be impeached.  Neither does his views on abortion, religious liberty, or Israel.  Let’s remember that over 500 legal scholars, 2000 historians, and editors at The National Review and American Conservative, among many others, have said that what Trump did is an impeachable offense.

James Dobson Weighs-In on the *Christianity Today* Editorial

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Here is the latest from the court evangelical and family values champion:

I have read a new editorial published by Christianity Today that promotes impeachment of President Donald Trump. The editors didn’t tell us who should take his place in the aftermath. Maybe the magazine would prefer a president who is passionately pro-abortion, anti-family, hostile to the military, dispassionate toward Israel, supports a socialist form of government, promotes confiscatory taxation, opposes school choice, favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms, promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda, opposes parental rights, and distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct. By the way, after Christianity Today has helped vacate the Oval Office, I hope they will tell us if their candidate to replace Mr. Trump will fight for religious liberty and the Bill of Rights? Give your readers a little more clarity on why President Trump should be turned out of office after being duly elected by 63 million voters? Is it really because he made a phone call that displeased you? There must be more to your argument than that. While Christianity Today is making its case for impeachment, I hope the editors will now tell us who they support for president among the Democrat field. That should tell us the rest of the story.”

Statement made in my individual capacity.

Commentary:

  1. I answered most of Dobson’s critiques of Mark Galli’s editorial in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
  2. When a president is removed from office, the vice-president assumes the presidency.  That would be Mike Pence.
  3. The framers of the United States Constitution instituted impeachment to discipline a president who committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” between elections.  Impeachment, in other words, does not overturn a presidential election.  I have seen too many court evangelicals and other pro-Trump pundits make the “overturning the election” argument.  It is wrong.
  4. Trump did not make a phone call that “displeased” Mark Galli.  He made a phone call that asked a foreign nation to investigate a political rival.  In other words, Donald Trump asked Ukraine to interfere in an American election.  The facts are clear.  Over 500 law professors and over 1500 historians agree. This was an abuse of power.

ADDENDUM

Historian Patrick Connelly offers a quote from Dobson made in September 2016 at Christianity Today: “If Trump turns out to be an incorrigible demagogue, we can hope he will be reined in by the political process. There are checks and balances in our system of government.”

The *Washington Post* Follows-Up on a Big Friday for *Christianity Today* Magazine

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Josh Dawsey and Sarah Pulliam Bailey have done some great reporting here.  A few interesting nuggets:

  • Dawson and Bailey raise the same point I made yesterday: “Even a slight drop in support among these [evangelical] voters could be detrimental to the president’s reelection hopes….”
  •  Yesterday the Trump campaign announced that they were launching “Evangelicals for Trump” on January 3, 2020 in Miami.  Dawson and Bailey write: “While the event was already in the works, it was announced Friday to appease the president, who also wants evangelical leaders to come to the White House in January, according to one White House official.”
  • Galli said that he was under no illusion that his editorial would “change many minds.”
  • Galli “likened the president to a wife abuser who also has good qualities.”
  • James Dobson was upset that Galli’s editorial “did not state who should replace Trump.”
  • Doug Birdsall, head of the Lausanne Movement and a former CEO of the American Bible Society, wrote: “Those who have perhaps sat in silence not wanting to be divisive or political realize there’s a certain point where . . . the dangers outweigh the choice of remaining silent…“It’s morally powerful.”  He added: “There’s a sense that so-called evangelicals have a greater love for Trump than they do for Christ. Evangelicals have become synonymous with Trump. When you think of evangelicals, you don’t think about Jesus and the Bible, you think of red hats and Trump….”
  • David Sutter, the pastor at York Bible Church in York, Pennsylvania, canceled his subscription to Christianity Today. He was a longtime subscriber.  (NOTE:  Others on Twitter have said they subscribed or donated to the magazine today).
  • Galli’s children thought he was a real celebrity yesterday.  “He was on CNN nearly every hour Friday, wearing a sweater vest to calmly discuss the piece.”

Read the entire piece here.

James Dobson Visits the Border and Shows His Nativism

Detention

Court evangelical James Dobson, the evangelical who is most associated with the idea of “family values,” visited the Mexican border and wrote a letter to his supporters.  I have published it here:

Dear Friends,

Several weeks ago, I was invited by White House staff to visit our southern border at McAllen, Texas, where federal agents are struggling to deal with a massive influx of poor and destitute human beings. They come in never-ending waves. Please believe me when I tell you that the media and leftist politicians have not been truthful about what is going on there. It is a human tragedy. 

I promised the exhausted U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agents that I would go home and tell as many people as possible what I had seen “up close and personal.” Today, I am attempting to fulfill that commitment.

Approximately 5,500 people show up every day in districts organized along our southern U.S. border. McAllen is the site of only one of them, but it is the busiest and most besieged. The “refugees” arrive exhausted and ragged from walking hundreds of miles. Among them are large numbers of children, many of whom are unaccompanied by a caring adult. Last year, 382,000 aliens were apprehended for illegally crossing into this country and almost 100,000 of them were minors. Some of the kids have been abused along the way. Many of them carry lice, scabies or other diseases. Currently, the facility I visited is experiencing a flu epidemic, and there are no additional beds on which to lie. Some of the women have been raped. More than 70 people of all ages are sent to local hospitals daily along the southern border. Doctors and medical staff are overwhelmed by their patient load. Remember that word, “overwhelmed.” It describes every aspect of the effort to deal with the situation there.

The most heart-wrenching experience occurred during our tour of the holding area. It is a huge gym-like building consisting of dozens of fenced-in areas. Each one is crowded with detainees standing or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on benches. They stared out at us with plaintive eyes.

I noticed that almost none of them were talking to each other. The children looked traumatized and frightened. Tears flooded my eyes as I stood before them. They had no toys or dolls, except for a few items bought by compassionate border patrol agents. One tiny little girl clutched something that resembled a doll bought for her by an agent. There are few provisions made to accommodate the children. The week before we were there, a delegation of agents went to meet with members of Congress, and begged them for additional money to buy Pampers, toothbrushes, and other necessities. They were turned down flat. These meager supplies have to be purchased with the border patrol budget, which is stretched to the limit. 

I then walked up to a fenced area holding many skinny young men. An agent standing beside me asked if I would like to speak to them. He offered to translate for me, to which I replied, “Please tell them that God loves them.” Then I said, “Now tell them that I love them, too.” They smiled and waved timidly. 

My heart aches for these poor people. Lest I be misunderstood, let me make clear that I am among the majority of Americans who want the border to be closed to those who attempt to enter illegally. There has to be a better solution than this. I have wondered, with you, why the authorities don’t just deny these refugees access to this nation. Can’t we just send them back to their places of origin? The answer I received was “No,” for reasons I will explain.

Only 10 percent of the detainees are Mexicans. This year alone, people have come to our southern border from 127 countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, India, China, Palestine, Albania, San Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other nations around the world. They speak their native tongues, which means they can’t be understood by each other or the staff. What are we to do with them? The Mexican government will not take them back, and there is no place to send them. Our current laws do not permit us to repatriate them to their country of origin. This is a disaster with no solution or projected conclusion. 

Let me tell you how these desperate people come to be our responsibility. They are the lowest rung of many societies. They sell their shanties and any other possessions to scrape together $3,500 to $10,000 to pay “coyotes” to guide them. I don’t know what happens to those who can’t meet this demand. Apparently, most manage to pay the fee, and arrive penniless and profoundly needy. I was told that some of the vulnerable children are “recycled” repeatedly to help men gain entry to this country. An unknown number of these men are hardened criminals and drug runners, and they are difficult to identify. Most make their way across the border.

Here’s something else you should know. I have been under the impression that these would-be immigrants try to cross the Rio Grande River and outrun or evade the agents. That is not true of most. They come in large groups, from 100 to 400 people at a time. As I write this letter, a record 1,200 people arrived together at El Paso. The refugees quickly give themselves up to agents. That is why they have made this journey. They know they will be fed, medicated, and treated humanely, even if they are in holding areas while they are in our custody. Then they will be released on American soil. This is the system set up by a liberal Congress and judges. It is a well-known fact that President Obama’s administration established many of these unworkable policies, and Congress is steadfastly unwilling to change them. Every effort at reform has been overridden or ignored. It is set in stone. Democrats want massive numbers of immigrants who will someday become voters. Some Republicans support the policies because they want cheap labor for agricultural purposes. The border could be fixed, but there are very few in authority who seem to care. 

Getting back to my story, our group of national faith leaders and humanitarian organizations was taken to a grassy park underneath the international bridges where the “coyotes” bring the refugees. We stood 50 feet away from them and watched as about 200 people sat on the ground. Then buses arrived to transport them to Border Control. Agents have to work fast because another group will be showing up soon, and then another and another. The would-be immigrants are taken to the center and given cursory medical exams. Then they are segregated by sex and age and placed in the fenced-in areas to be held for the next 20 days until they are processed and given a Notice to Appear. If that sounds inhumane, what would you or I do? There is simply no other place to “house” them. 

Mismanagement of the border has a long history. A federal judge years ago issued a ruling called the Flores Settlement Agreement. It is still the source of many problems. It requires that any unaccompanied alien child must be released within 72 hours. This is now the law of the land, and poor people around the world know it. A single male typically seeks to find a child and a woman to help him “game the system.” Clearly, many of these are “fake families,” but there is no documentation in Pakistani or Bangladesh to challenge their claims. Lawyers at home have told them to claim that they are fleeing from oppression or seeking asylum. They are allowed to plead their cases to judges, but there are too few of them to keep up with the volume. These people are given a court case and released. The vast majority are never seen again. Most then become “anchor babies” who are citizens with rights to bring members of their families. Others are given transportation to an American city where they disappear into the culture. 

In addition to this influx of people from places around the world steeped in poverty and despair, Senator Chuck Schumer authored and helped pass a “lottery” system, whereby winners are brought to the United States. They become permanent residents, who then begin bringing their families to our shores. Thank you, Senator.

Ten years ago, 90 percent of illegals apprehended at the border were single males, mainly from Mexico. Now, more than 50 percent show up with babies and children, and 90 percent of them are from countries other than Mexico with 64 percent being family units or unaccompanied alien children. Together, they claim to be “families” and within three weeks, they will be home free in America. Is there any doubt why there have been more than half a million illegal immigrants this year alone?

Before I conclude, I must tell you about the agents who have to deal with this chaos. They are compassionate men and women, sworn to uphold federal law and protect our borders.

They obviously care about the detainees, and I respect them highly. They work tirelessly feeding people three times a day and providing clean clothing. They must also maintain the portable toilets in the cells. It is a never-ending task. There are only two large showers in the facility, one for males, the other for females. Their capacity is for only 20 people at a time, which is insufficient.

The border patrol agents administer this program, but most of them didn’t sign up to be caregivers. Agents were trained to patrol the border and apprehend drug runners, traffickers, smugglers, murderers, and every kind of lawbreaker. This is very dangerous work. But, please understand this: the border patrol agents are so busy caring for refugees seeking entry to the United States that they have very little time to police the borders. It is so porous that huge quantities of contraband, including all kinds of narcotics, flow into this country every day. Then it is transported northward to America’s cities to be consumed by adolescents and millennials. Lawless gangs, such as MS-13, are also pouring into the culture, making violence for inner cities a way of life. 

There is one more aspect to the work of the agents that you should know. They are openly hated by citizens who resent the work they do. They are routinely vilified and mocked and demonized. Their families are also subjected to ridicule. These agents need our appreciation and prayers. They have one of the most thankless jobs in America. 

The situation I have described is the reason President Donald Trump’s border wall is so urgently needed. He seems to be the only leader in America who comprehends this tragedy and is willing to address it. Those who oppose him do everything they can to impede his effort. That is why I went to the border to see the situation for myself. I came away with an array of intense emotions. First, I was profoundly grieved over the misery of thousands of people. Second, I felt a deep appreciation for those who are doing their best to help in an impossible circumstance. Third, and frankly, I was angry at the political fat cats who have deliberately allowed this chaos to occur for political or financial gain. They, and their friends in the fake media, have told the American people that there is no crisis at the border! Shame on them all.

What I’ve told you is only a glimpse of what is occurring on the nation’s border. I don’t know what it will take to change the circumstances. I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature. But in this instance, we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.

Thanks for letting me set the record straight.

Here are some thoughts:

1. James Dobson saw what is happening at the border and he believes that what he saw was immoral.  This separates Dobson from some other court evangelicals and “family values” advocates who think that there is no crisis of human dignity at the border.

2. When Dobson says “thank you” to Chuck Schumer for his lottery system I can’t tell if he is being serious or sarcastic.

3. Essentially, Dobson says that we must treat these refugees with Christian love.  He even told a group of detained men that Jesus loves them.  Then, several paragraphs later, he concludes that the building of Trump’s wall is the only way to solve this crisis.  I must admit, the early paragraphs of Dobson’s letter surprised me.  He seems to show real Christian compassion.  But then I got to the end of the letter only to find that his Christian compassion got hijacked by his nationalism.  We love you.  God loves you.  But you can’t come into our country.  Sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a humanitarian crisis at the border. But Trump and the politicians have failed to offer creative solutions for how to fix it.  Instead, they just blame their political opponents.  I am no expert, but there must be a way to balance compassion and security.

4. At the end of the letter, Dobson takes a really ugly turns toward nativism.  He says that these refugees and immigrants are unskilled, illiterate, unhealthy, and violent.  He adds that they will soon “overwhelm the culture  as we have known it.”  He makes an appeal to history: the United States has always been a generous, caring, and Christian country, but in this instance (italics mine) we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down….”

I italicized the words “in this instance” because Dobson makes it sounds as if Americans have been warm and fuzzy toward newcomers in the past, but this instance is different.  These immigrants, he suggests, are a serious threat to American culture.  Dobson shows his ignorance of American history here. Historically, this kind of nativism arises whenever people fear immigrants and they demographic change they bring to the country.  I have offered a few examples of this below.  Read these quotes carefully and notice how the rhetoric is nearly identical to the language Dobson uses in his letter.

In a May 9, 1753 letter to Peter Collinson, Benjamin Franklin described German immigrants as “the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation.”  He did not believe that they could assimilate to our political culture, saying that since they are “not…used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it.”  He worried that these Germans were coming to America “in droves.” (Notice Dobson’s use of the word “flooding” to describe refugees).  Franklin concludes: “in short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies…they will soon so out number us , that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our [English] language, and even our Government will become precarious.”

In Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751) he writes: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”‘

In his 1835 speech, “A Plea for the West,” evangelical preacher and reformer Lyman Beecher warned against the “danger from the uneducated mind [that] is augmenting daily by the rapid influx of foreign emigrants, unacquainted with our institutions, unaccustomed to self-government, inaccessible to education, and easily accessible to prepossession, and inveterate credulity, and intrigue, and easily embodied and wielded by sinister design.” He added, “In the beginning this eruption of revolutionary Europe was not anticipated, and we opened our doors wide to the influx and naturalization of foreigners.  But it is become a terrific inundation; it has increased upon our native population from five to thirty-seven percent, and is every year advancing….”  Notice Beecher’s argument here.  We have always welcomed immigrants, but this instance (the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants) is different.

Here is nativist Frederick Saunders in 1856:  “The foreign voters, who are proved to be ignorant and in every incompetent, are admitted to the enjoyment of the electoral franchise.  We, who never knew what a blind and passive obedience to law is, can form no adequate idea of the recklessness and delirium which seize hold of so many foreign immigrants the moment they put foot upon our shores.  We admit that some of them are men of intellectual culture, while it will not be denied that too many are persons of the most degraded character, and destitute even of the most meager attainments….”  When I read this quote about Irish immigrants I thought about Dobson’s remarks about these immigrants voting for Democrats and their lack of education.

Here is Texas congressman John Box in 1928: “The admission of large and increasing number of Mexican peons to engage in all kinds of work is at variance with the American purpose to protect the wages of its working people and maintain their standard of living.  Mexican labor is not free; it is not well paid; its standard of living is low….To keep out the illiterate and the diseased is another essential part of the Nation’s immigration policy.  The Mexican peons are illiterate and ignorant.  Because of their unsanitary habits and living conditions and their vices they are especially subject to smallpox, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, and other dangerous contagions.”

Of course my own people (on my father’s side), the Italian immigrants who arrived to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, were also considered unclean, smelly, illiterate, unskilled, and violent.

There is nothing new about Dobson’s words here.  He is not only echoing his president, but he is also echoing some of the darker moments of American history.

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

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Getty Images

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.

Some Thoughts on James Dobson

Dad

My grandparents’ house in Montville (Taylortown), New Jersey, 1972.  My Dad is on the left.  I am standing by the car in the back.  The woman is my mother’s cousin.

I have been a critic of James Dobson for a long time.  I hit him pretty hard in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  I am no fan of his Christian nationalism, his culture-warrior approach to public life, or his court evangelicalism. My wife and I raised two strong and independent daughters who both describe themselves as feminists in the best sense of the word.  Unlike millions of our fellow evangelicals, we did not turn to Dobson for advice on how to raise them.  On marriage, we are not complementarians, as Dobson suggests we should be.

You can read my posts about James Dobson here.  Almost all of them are critical.

But history is complicated.  And Dobson’s influence is much more complex than the story that those of us who want to demonize him often tell.

Back in the early 1980s my father, a general contractor, son of Italian immigrants, and former Marine, converted to evangelical Christianity.   My entire family–myself included–soon followed him out of our white ethnic Catholicism and into a non-denominational Bible church.  My family’s conversion experience changed the direction of my family’s life.  My parents, my brothers, and my sister would be quick to agree with this statement.  Those who knew and continue to know our family would say the same thing.  I am sure extended family members would also agree.  My conversion changed the direction of my life.  As I have written elsewhere, I became an academic historian and a better and more thoughtful person because of, not in spite of, my born-again experience.

I think it’s fair to say that my father raised his children, especially his boys (my sister came later), with an iron fist.  He was tough on us.  He was a stern disciplinarian who could get angry easily.  He used corporal punishment on us, but I never thought he was abusive.  When he spanked us, we usually deserved it.  My Dad is now 77-years-old and I am sure he would agree with everything I just wrote.  He was a good Dad, but we also feared him.

When my Dad converted (I was in high school), his life changed.  Someone in our new church suggested that he read books by James Dobson.  My Dad was never much of a reader, but I remember Dobson’s books sitting next to his chair in our family room.  Since my Dad spent a lot of time during the day in his pick-up truck, he would listen to Dobson’s Focus on the Family programs as he drove between jobs.   James Dobson helped my Dad become a better father. Though I have never talked about this with my mother, I think she would say that he became a much better husband as well.  Our home became more loving, more peaceful, and more God-honoring.  We had a long way to go, but we were on the right track.

The point is this:  My Dad did not need James Dobson to teach him how to be a  masculine, authoritarian, patriarch.  He already knew how to do this and he was pretty good at it.  Dobson softened him.  He raised my younger sister very differently, partly as a result of Dobson’s advice.  He learned to love my Mom better because James Dobson spoke into his life through his books and his radio show.

I am sure there are thousands of stories like my Dad’s. Who will tell these stories?  Some might say Dobson taught evangelicals how to be patriarchal jerks who represent everything that is wrong with American evangelicalism.  And perhaps there is some truth to such a diagnosis.  But my mother, my sister, my brothers, and I have never seen it that way.

History is complex.

Conservative Evangelicals Defend Steve King and Want Kevin McCarthy to Apologize

King and trump

Perhaps some of you missed it.  Iowa congressman Steve King, in an interview with the New York Times, said this: “White nationalists, white supremacist, Western Civilization–how did that language become offensive?”

King later tried to back away from the statement, but it was too little, too late.  House minority leader Kevin McCarthy removed King from the House Judiciary and Agriculture Committees earlier this week and he was almost censured.  King’s remarks were the latest in a long career defined by racist and nativist comments.

Not everyone is happy with what McCarthy, the House Republicans, and Congress have done to King.  Right Wing Watch has brought to my attention news of a group of Christian Right leaders who are supporting King.  The group is led by Janet Porter, a Christian Right activist who served as the spokesperson for Roy Moore’s 2017 Alabama  Senate race.  Porter is asking Christian Right leaders to sign a letter to Kevin McCarthy.  Here is the text of that letter:
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Dear Leader McCarthy,

We are appalled that Republican leadership would choose to believe a liberal news organization famous for their bias over an outstanding member of Congress who has served the people of Iowa and the United States honorably and faithfully for 16 years.

If Congressman Steve King believed and stood by the outrageous misquote of the New York Times, then the actions taken against him would have been warranted, but the opposite is true.

Unlike North Korea, we in the United States are “innocent until proven guilty” and hold to the principles of Western Civilization, as Rep. King so admirably does. The foundational principle begins with the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are the principles to which Rep. King was referring and which he has championed for more than two decades of public service.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of turning the reins of the U.S. Congress over to the liberal media, allowing them to target, misquote, and falsely brand any member of Congress they wish to remove. 

We call on you to do the right thing as Minority Leader: issue a public apology and reinstate Rep. King to his committee assignments.  If we don’t stand with this good man against the media-manufactured assault today, none of us will be safe from it tomorrow.

The Christian Right leaders who signed this letter include:

  • The scandal-ridden former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
  • Court evangelical and family values radio host James Dobson
  • Court evangelical and charismatic media mogul Steven Strang
  • Paul Blair, president of an organization called Reclaiming America for Christ
  • Rick Scarborough, a conservative Southern Baptist political activist
  • Lance Wallnau, a court evangelical who claims to have prophesied Donald Trump’s election.
  • Rena Lindevaldsen, a law professor at Liberty University
  • Jim Garlow, a pastor and prominent court evangelical who recently co-authored a book with David Barton.
  • Cythnia Dunbar, a member of the Republican National Committee who is probably best known for trying to bring Christian nationalist ideas into American history books in Texas.  (She also claimed that Barack Obama, if elected POTUS, would work with terrorists to attack the United States within his first 6 months in office).
  • William Federer, a Christian nationalist known for collecting quotes about the founding fathers

I discuss Dobson, Strang, and Wallnau in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This letter may be more revealing for the people who DID NOT sign it, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Johnnie Moore,  Eric Metaxas, and other court evangelicals.

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.

The Court Evangelicals are Out in Full-Force Tonight

In case you have not heard, Donald Trump is having a big dinner right now for evangelical leaders.  It looks like a court evangelical extravaganza.

Click here to see what court evangelical Robert Jeffress is saying about it at the Christian Broadcasting Network.  Jeffress makes it all sound like a political calculation.  We need Trump and Trump needs us.

Court evangelical Johnnie Moore is there:

Court evangelical Gary Bauer is there:

Court evangelical Jack Graham is there:

Court evangelical Greg Laurie is there:

So are James Dobson, Jentezen Franklin, Samuel Rodriguez, and Ronnie Floyd:

Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas is yucking-it-up with fellow court evangelical Mike Pence (more on Metaxas in my next post.  Stay tuned)

Metaxas at Party

It also looks like court evangelical Tony Perkins got an invitation:

Trump finally said something nice about John McCain. I guess he did not want to come across as an unforgiving man with court evangelicals in the room:

Court evangelical Darryl Scott is there:

It wasn’t very hard to learn which evangelicals came to the White House tonight.  Many of them proudly tweeted to their followers and congregation as they relished in the power of the court and solidified their celebrity.

Some of you may be wondering what I mean by the term “court evangelical.”  I wrote a an entire chapter about these Christians in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpThat chapter builds off of several shorter pieces, including:

Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity,” Washington Post, July 17, 2017

The term “court evangelical” has even made it into the Urban Dictionary.

Perhaps the court evangelicals should go back to their hotel rooms tonight and read 2 Samuel 12. (There is a Gideon Bible in the drawer).  Nathan was one of King David’s court prophets.  In other words, he had a “seat at the table.”  When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then arranged for her husband, Uriah, to be killed on the battlefield to cover up David’s sins, Nathan rebuked his king.  He told David the story of a poor man whose beloved “little ewe lamb” was stolen by a self-centered rich man who had plenty of lambs but wanted the poor man’s only lamb to serve his guests.  When David’s anger “was greatly kindled” against the rich man in the story, Nathan said to the king, “You are the man!”

Will there be a Nathan in the room tonight?  Somehow I doubt it.

What the Christian Right’s Political Playbook Sounds Like

James Dobson insisted that Bill Clinton did not have the character to be POTUS, but he has no problem with Donald Trump.  I discuss Dobson and others in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is an interview he recently conducted with Jerry Newcombe, a Christian nationalist author who writes about the American past.  Newcombe interviewed me on his radio show in June 2012.  We had a good conversation.

There are several problems with Newcombe’s view of Thomas Jefferson, but he also gets some things right.  I am not going to go into the details here.  As many of you know, I wrote about Jefferson and religion in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

It is striking to listen to these culture warriors.  They continue to follow the political playbook of the Christian Right that they learned (and in some ways helped to create) in the 1980s.  In fact, much of this interview could have taken place in the 1980s.  Little has changed in their approach to political engagement.  They cling to the playbook.

If you get a chance to listen to this interview, you will hear two evangelical men (especially Dobson) who place their trust in the Supreme Court to save the moral decline of the country.  I am confident that Dobson and Newcombe believe that Jesus is their Savior, but when they talk about cultural change it is all about winning political battles.  Dobson gets nostalgic about Robert Bork.  Newcombe blames the Supreme Court for the cultural “mess” in America.  They say almost nothing about the role of the church and its place in the culture promoting life, peace, justice, love, compassion, and mercy.

 

My Latest Piece at Religion News Service: “Why aren’t most of Trump’s ‘court evangelicals’ publicly condemning his border policy?”

immigrants

Here is a taste:

(RNS) — The United States is facing a crisis in “family values.” This, however, is not the kind of crisis we often hear talked about by the evangelical wing of the Republican Party. Rather, it stems from the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policy that separates families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A few of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who visit the White House and discuss policy matters with him — I describe them as the “court evangelicals” — have condemned the policy that separates children from their parents. But most others have failed to criticize it publicly. Their general silence sheds light on how conservative evangelical leaders have come to define and limit “family values” in the past 40 years.

Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse and prominent Trump supporter, called the policy of separating families “disgraceful.” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who has expressed his disagreement with Trump on immigration in the past, signed a letter of evangelical leaders criticizing the policy. And Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, this week called the policy “heartbreaking and tragic.” Even still, most court evangelicals have not publicly addressed the crisis. If the separation of children from their families is not a family values issue, then what is?

We don’t know if these leaders are counseling Trump behind the scenes, but as the national outcry has risen against the policy, some of the prominent court evangelicals seem to be fixated on other topics.

James Dobson, the leader most responsible for the Christian right’s “family values” agenda, tweeted last week: “Dear God, no matter what our family circumstances, let us never waver from our charge as parents. Help us to be worthy of Your trust in us to lead and love our kids.” Fair enough, but how do you fulfill your parental responsibilities when the federal government is taking your kids away from you?

Read the rest here.

Unless of Course You are Stopped at the Border and Your Children are Confiscated…

Gotta love the court evangelicals!  😦

 

Some Court Evangelicals Break Ranks on Trump’s Immigration Policy

immigrants

The Trump administration is separating children from parents at the Mexican border.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that Romans 13 justifies the policy, but court evangelical Franklin Graham calls the policy “disgraceful.”  Another court evangelical, Samuel Rodriguez, also opposes the policy.  Learn more from this piece at CBN news.

I am now waiting for the following evangelical leaders to stand-up to Donald Trump’s immigration policy:

Robert Jeffress has said nothing.  Yet he has wished Trump a Happy Birthday and thanked him for being such a great POTUS:

Jerry Falwell Jr. has said nothing.  If he tweeted something today I can’t see it.  He blocked me a long time ago.

Paula White has said nothing.  But she is tweeting:

Eric Metaxas:  I don’t know what he is saying on this issue.  I am blocked.

Johnnie Moore:  He seems more focused on Trump’s meeting with North Korea”

Mark Burns is being a good court evangelical:

James Dobson, the champion of “family values” has an interesting tweet today:

Ronnie Floyd seems to be running a prayer sweepstakes:

Richard Land: Silent

Greg Laurie is focused on a big rally in Dallas and Trump’s meeting with the North Koreans:

Tony Perkins, another champion of family values, has said nothing about the fact that Trump is ripping families apart at the border. Do “family values” only apply to white families? Middle-class families?

But he does love Trump:

 

What Franklin Graham Said About the “Private Sins” of Bill Clinton in 1998

graham_c0-220-4869-3058_s885x516

Earlier today we did a post on Franklin Graham’s statement that Donald Trump’s adulterous affair with Stormy Daniels was “nobody’s business.”  His views on these things have apparently changed.  This 1998 piece is really revealing:

From the Wall Street JournalAugust 27, 1998:

Few people have lived a more public life over the past 50 years than has my father, Billy Graham. I can assure you that the Billy Graham you see in public is the same one we children have seen at home. He has spent a lifetime making sure that his public ministry is confirmed in his private behavior.

The topic of private vs. public behavior has emerged as perhaps the central moral issue raised by Bill Clinton’s “improper relationship” with Monica Lewinsky. Much of America seems to have succumbed to the notion that what a person does in private has little bearing on his public actions or job performance, even if he is the president of the United States.

Last week Mr. Clinton told 70 million Americans that his adulterous actions with Ms. Lewinsky were a “private” matter “between me, the two people I love the most–my wife and our daughter–and our God.”

But the God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter. Mr. Clinton’s months-long extramarital sexual behavior in the Oval Office now concerns him and the rest of the world, not just his immediate family. If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?

Private conduct does have public consequences. Some of Mr. Clinton’s defenders present King David of the Bible, one of history’s great leaders, as an example as they call on us to forgive and forget the president’s moral failings. Since God pardoned David’s adulterous act with Bathsheba, the reasoning goes, we should similarly forgive Mr. Clinton.

But forgiveness is not the end of David’s story. Huge consequences followed immediately. The prophet Nathan confronted David with the news that while his life would be spared, the life of his child would be extinguished after just seven days on earth. Bathsheba’s husband and others were killed in an attempt to cover up the illicit affair. David, who confessed his sin when confronted by Nathan (perhaps God’s special prosecutor), also witnessed a bloody coup attempt by his own son, Absalom. He was never the same king.

The private acts of any person are never done in secret. God sees and judges all sin, and while He seeks to restore the offender with love and grace, He does not necessarily remove all the consequences of our sin. As a boy I remember my mother telling me of the consequences of sin. Like a boat, whose wake can capsize other boats, sin leaves a wake. Just look at how many have already been pulled under by the wake of the president’s sin: Mr. Clinton’s wife and daughter, Ms. Lewinsky, her parents, White House staff members, friends and supporters, public officials and an unwitting American public.

Mr. Clinton’s sin can be forgiven, but he must start by admitting to it and refraining from legalistic doublespeak. According to the Scripture, the president did not have an “inappropriate relationship” with Monica Lewinsky–he committed adultery. He didn’t “mislead” his wife and us–he lied.

Acknowledgment must be coupled with genuine remorse. A repentant spirit that says, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I won’t do it again. I ask for your forgiveness,” would go a long way toward personal and national healing.\

The scandal of Mr. Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky has forced us to examine the morality of public and private behavior with new intellectual and spiritual vigor. There needs to be no clash between personal conduct and public appearance. Throughout my life, I have seen consistency of the two in the Graham house. I pray this will also be true in the White House.

Thanks to Kyle Mantyla for sending this my way.

Franklin Graham is not the first court evangelical to forget about what he said in 1998.

Click here for James Dobson

Click here for Gary Bauer

 

My Piece on Trump and Pornography at Today’s *Washington Post*

Trump and Stormy

Here is a taste:

When I was a kid, the 7 p.m. hour on Sunday night was reserved for either “Mutual Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” or “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

Last night we all gathered around our television sets to watch a porn star talk about an adulterous affair she had with a man who would soon become the president of the United States. Times have changed.

Not since the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998 has the sex life of a president been on display in such a public manner. On Sunday it was Stormy Daniels. Last week it was former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal telling the nation, among other things, that she had unprotected sex with Donald Trump.

Walt Disney and Marlin Perkins would have blushed. Trump’s evangelical supports give him a “mulligan.”

When the country learned that Clinton had sex in the West Wing, evangelical Christian leaders responded with heavy doses of moral condemnation. In a letter to his followers, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson argued that Clinton’s escapades with Lewinsky made him unfit for office. But he also told his readers that they should have seen this coming:

“How did our beloved nation find itself in this sorry mess? I believe it began not with the Lewinsky affair, but many years earlier. There was plenty of evidence during the first Presidential election that Bill Clinton had a moral problem. His affair with Gennifer Flowers, which he now admits to having lied about, was rationalized by the American people.”

Read the rest here.