Where is Jeh Johnson’s speech on the Liberty University website?

On Friday, former Obama cabinet member Jeh Johnson spoke at Liberty University. Though he did not mention Donald Trump, his speech on leadership could only be interpreted as a criticism of the president. If you want a sense of what Johnson said, you can read my blog post here.

Today, the video of Johnson’s speech is no longer on the Liberty University website or YouTube page. The Liberty University News Service article on Johnson’s visit is gone. It’s as if this speech never happened. But it did.

UPDATE: The article about Jeh Johnson’s visit can be viewed on the Wayback Machine Internet Archive.

I have no idea why this is the only Liberty University convocation of the 2020-2021 academic year that has been removed. Maybe Jeh Johnson did not want it shared.

Or maybe some things at Liberty never change.

Let’s remember that interim president Jerry Prevo is a Jerry Falwell Sr. loyalist and was the honorary co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Alaska. Perhaps the Falkirk Center does indeed represent the spirit of Liberty University as it moves into the post-Falwell era.

Slacktivist is on fire today!

Thurston Howell III

Fred Clark, aka Slacktivist, packed a lot of stuff in a post today titled “Some say he was an outlaw.” Here are some highlights:

On the difference between Jerry Falwell Sr. and Jerry Falwell Jr.: “But look a little deeper and you’ll find only differences in degree, not in kind.” I made the same argument today at Religion News Service.

On today’s story about disgraced Southern Baptist minister and seminary president Paige Patterson: “But this long-time general in the culture wars also seems to be just another white-collar grifter fighting the class wars on the side of the 1 percent.”

On Eric Metaxas’s punch: “Metaxas, for some reason dressed like a cross between Thurston Howell and James Spader in Pretty in Pink….” Correction, Fred. That should be Thurston Howell III! 🙂

Read the entire post here.

Reforming Liberty University in the post-Falwell era should begin with the Falkirk Center

Here is a taste of my piece today at Religion News Service:

On Aug. 26, hundreds of students, wearing masks and properly distanced, gathered in Liberty University’s Williams Stadium for Campus Community, a weekly event that campus pastor David Nasser calls “one of the largest Bible studies in the world.”

It was the first Campus Community of the new academic year and Nasser did not avoid the elephant in the room (or, in this case, on the field). He directly addressed the resignation of former Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. after allegations that Falwell and his wife, Becki, had initiated a multiyear sexual affair with a Miami pool boy named Giancarlo Granda.

This moment that we’re in is a mess,” Nasser said, and “I am sorry.” He added, “Liberty is more than a college. … We are God’s college and as our founder (Jerry Falwell Sr.) always said, ‘If it’s Christian it ought to be better,’ certainly better than this.”

These were powerful, heartfelt words. It’s obvious that Nasser is a good man who wants to bring healing to the university he loves. Such healing starts with acknowledging Falwell Jr.’s sin and affirming a commitment to make Liberty, in Nasser’s words, a more “God-glorifying place.”

But for many onlookers, the problems at Liberty run much deeper than a sex scandal. If the university is serious about cleaning up the mess, it will need to take a hard look at the approach to Christianity and public life that the university’s leadership has championed for more than four decades. With Falwell Jr. gone, Liberty does indeed have a chance to be a “better,” more “God-glorifying place,” but it will require serious reforms. The first step should be to close its culture war “think tank,” the Falkirk Center.

Read the rest here.

I should also add that the Falkirk Center is having a big “Faith Summit” tomorrow called “Get Louder: Fighting for the Soul of America.” Speakers include Mike Huckabee, Eric Metaxas, Charlie Kirk, John MacArthur, and Jenna Ellis.

The last fundamentalist empire died yesterday in Lynchburg, Virginia

Falwell and Falwell

Male authoritarian figures presiding over regional empires were an important part of 20th-century Protestant fundamentalism. I began to think historically about these empires during divinity school when I first read William Trollinger’s book God’s Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism.

For a long time I thought I would write a similar book about Carl McIntire, a South Jersey fundamentalist who was able to expand his empire across the nation through radio. (See Paul Matzko’s book The Radio Right). In 2001, while I was doing a post-doctoral fellowship at Valparaiso University, I drove to Trollinger’s house in Bluffton, Ohio to talk with him about fundamentalist empires and learn more about how he used questionnaires in his research. (Do you remember this, Bill?). I also used questionnaires (and oral history interviews) as I started work on a potential McIntire biography, but Philip Vickers Fithian kept calling me back to the eighteenth-century. I have a few boxes of research on my McIntire project sitting under a table in my home office. Some day I may open the boxes and get back to work.

Who were these fundamentalist emperors? The Bob Jones (and Bob Jones Jr.) empire was based at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina and it was sustained through a host of fundamentalist Christian schools. John R. Rice started out in Wheaton, Illinois and eventually moved to Murfressboro, Tennessee. His empire revolved around evangelism and The Sword of Lord, the most widely-read fundamentalist periodical of the age. McIntire’s empire was complex. It included radio, colleges and seminaries, hotel conference centers, and a popular newspaper called The Christian Beacon. Earlier fundamentalist emperors included Riley,  J. Frank Norris, and Mark Matthews.

Most of these fundamentalists taught the doctrine of biblical separation. Drawing upon 2 Corinthians 6:17 (“come our from them and be ye separate, says the Lord”), they preached personal holiness and the rejection of “worldly” activities such as movie-going, dancing, card-playing, alcohol use, and smoking cigarettes. They guarded their understanding of biblical orthodoxy like 17th-century Massachusetts Puritans. They were especially concerned with defending the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, and a dispensational view of the “last days.” Historian George Marsden has described them as “militant” in their defense of these doctrines.

When mainline Protestant denominations strayed from fundamentalist orthodoxy, these leaders led their followers out of the denominations. Some of them created their own sectarian denominations–many of them personality driven. Others started independent congregations. In both cases, these emperors presided over their empires with little accountability. They were their own religious authorities or, as they might have put it, their authority came directly from God.

Separation was one of the ways these leaders kept their empires under control.  Sometimes they even separated from other fundamentalist or evangelical Christians who did not separate from liberal theologians. This was often referred to as “second-degree separation.” (Many of these fundamentalist emperors broke with Billy Graham when they learned the evangelist was working with Protestant mainline churches and pastors during his mass crusades).

Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, came of age in this era of independent empire builders. He started his ministry as a young pastor connected to John R. Rice’s empire. Falwell once described Rice as a father figure and mentor. Rice provided Falwell with networking opportunities and the young pastor used these connections to build his fiefdom in Lynchburg, Virginia. When Falwell was trying to get Liberty Baptist College (later Liberty University) on the map, he asked Rice for the names and addresses of those on his massive Sword of the Lord mailing list.

By the mid-1980s, Falwell ruled over one of the nation’s most recognizable fundamentalist empires. He continued to serve as the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church. Liberty University was growing. And he was leading the Moral Majority in a fight to restore America to it supposedly Christian roots. Falwell Sr. was the king of Lynchburg, Virginia and America’s most well-known culture warrior. And, unlike many other fundamentalist emperors, he became a fixture on the national scene. When older fundamentalist leaders like the Bob Jones Jr. and McIntire criticized Falwell for working with non-fundamentalists–Catholics, Mormons, and others–who shared his moral concerns, Falwell ignored them.

The older fundamentalists eventually died off. Rice’s empire had no clear successor. A member of the Jones family no longer serves as president of Bob Jones University. At the end of his life Carl McIntire was preaching to a few people in his living room in Collingswood, New Jersey.  Even Falwell, the author of a 1981 book titled The Fundamentalist Phenomenon, abandoned the label “fundamentalism.”

But Jerry Falwell had two sons. After his death in 2007, Jonathan Falwell took over his father’s post at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Jerry Falwell Jr. became the president of Liberty University.

Jerry Falwell Jr. did not posses his father’s gift for communication. That gift seems to have gone to Jonathan. But Jonathan was not a culture warrior. Nor did Jerry Jr. seem drawn to his father’s moral crusades. He was a lawyer and a businessman. He would use these skills to lift Liberty out of financial debt and turn it into the largest and wealthiest Christian university in the world.

In the end, a successful fundamentalist empire requires a leader who can do four things:

  1. Defend doctrinal orthodoxy.
  2. Cultivate a culture of personal holiness bordering on legalism.
  3. Rule with a strong authoritarian personality.
  4. Go on the attack against outside threats from theological and political liberals, communists, socialists, and other forces of secularization.

In the case of Jerry Falwell Jr., it seems as if the limits of his skill set clashed with profound changes in American culture that made the world a very different place from the one in which his father ruled. Let’s take these one-by-one:

By all accounts, Falwell was not interested in theology, the defense of evangelical doctrine, or even the meaning of Christian higher education. Unlike his father, he did not have to stand behind a pulpit every Sunday morning and deliver a sermon. He did not have to shepherd a flock. He left the spiritual life of Liberty University to others. Falwell Jr. ran Liberty University like a business. He seemed unconcerned with integrating faith and leadership and never engaged with what has become over the last couple of decades a robust and vibrant conversation about the purpose of church-related higher education. He never considered bringing Liberty into the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), a clear sign that separatism and the independent spirit of fundamentalism are hard to shake once they have been embedded in an institution.

Almost every person I know who left Liberty University after a semester or two has complained about the strict rules. The rules are also a remnant of Liberty’s fundamentalist past. We can criticize the legalism of American fundamentalism, but this call to personal holiness generally served as a moral check on fundamentalist emperors. As conservative evangelical leaders became more “culturally engaged,” and began to loosen their moral grip on their students and congregations, they were faced with new temptations. In the last several years, it became clear that Liberty’s rules did not apply to Jerry Falwell Jr. But as we learned this week, his libertine spirit could not escape the ghosts of fundamentalism, particularly the movement’s longstanding commitment to personal holiness and codes of behavior.

If Falwell Jr. inherited anything from his father, it was the old fundamentalist propensity for authoritarian leadership. From most reports he tolerated no dissent. But we live in different times. 20th-century fundamentalist authoritarianism is no longer acceptable in an age of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, corrupt CEOs, and shared governance in higher education.

Finally, Falwell Jr. tried to be a good culture warrior. His efforts at living up to his father’s legacy on this front partly explains his support for Trump. But Jerry Jr. couldn’t pull it off like his father did. Again, he just didn’t have the skill set. Moreover, he could no longer get away with saying the kinds of things about race, social justice movements, sexual ethics, and the LGBTQ community thae Falwell Sr. always ranted about while seated on his Lynchburg throne.

Perhaps Jerry Falwell Jr. was the last fundamentalist emperor.

Why Liberty University should close the Falkirk Center, and why it probably won’t happen

Liberty_University_LaHaye_Student_Union_IMG_4121 (1)

If you want to understand what a university values, consider the kinds of centers and institutes they have on campus. Most centers and institutes are extra-curricular in nature and are designed to bolster the ideas and values that define the mission of the school that sponsors them.

I wrote a bit about this in an earlier post comparing Liberty University to my own institution, Messiah University.  For example, Messiah University was founded by a small Protestant denomination called the Brethren in Christ Church (BIC). The BIC draws from three Christian traditions–Anabaptism, Pietism, and Wesleyanism. These traditions have a long history of promoting peace, social justice, women’s ordination, personal holiness, and service. Because of these commitments:

  • Messiah University has a center for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan studies that promotes issues related to peace, reconciliation, heart-felt conversion, and personal and social holiness.”
  • Messiah University has a Center for Public Humanities with a mission to promote the study of the humanities and “partner with our broader community in meaningful inquiry, conversation, and action.”
  • Messiah University has a center devoted to the work and legacy of former U.S. Commissioner of Education and Messiah graduate Ernest L. Boyer. The Boyer Center “advances educational renewal for the common good.”
  • Messiah University has a center called The Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.  This center has a mission to “foster justice, empower the poor, promote peace and care for the earth through applications of our academic and professional disciplines.”

Liberty University, on other hand, was founded by cultural warriors. The school came of age with the rise of the Christian Right. Evangelical students started attending Liberty because they or their parents were enamored by Jerry Falwell Sr.’s vision of a school that would serve as an extension of his Moral Majority.

Today, in the wake of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s temporary removal from the presidency of Liberty, a narrative has emerged suggesting that Falwell Jr. somehow took the school in a direction that was different from the good old days of Falwell Sr. There may be some truth to this, but the narrative as a whole is false.

Jerry Falwell Sr. may have been more pious than his son, but his public statements and positions were just as scandalous. During apartheid, Falwell Sr. thought that Desmond Tutu was a “phony” and those fighting racism in South Africa were communists. He distributed The Clinton Chronicles, a documentary claiming that Bill Clinton was connected to the supposed murder of Vince Foster. Falwell Sr. blamed the September 11 attacks on abortionists, “pagans,” feminists, and “the gays and the lesbians.” And we could go on.

The Falwell legacy was in good hands with Jerry Jr. Little about the Falwell family approach to “Christian” politics has changed over the years. Just compare Jerry Sr.’s “greatest” hits with those of his son.

American culture, however, has changed. Add social media and the Internet to the mix and it becomes more difficult for Falwell Jr. to get away with the stuff his father did. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried.

So let’s get back to the Falkirk Center, the place that seems to most reflect the Liberty brand.

According to its website the Falkirk Center is

Rooted in compelling, enduring, absolute truths, our principles transcend generational divides and withstand cultural trends. As the creeds of secularism are proving tenuous and unsatisfying to millions of Americans, there has never been a better time to fill this void and amplify these truths.

Upcoming generations are falling victim to the teachings of secularism, primarily because they’re not learning America’s exceptional foundational ideals within the public education system. Further, attacks on religious freedom have caused them to abandon their Christian roots in droves. So, it’s no coincidence that as young people’s acceptance of traditional values declines, depression and anxiety are reaching record highs. Young people are hungry for fulfillment and truth like never before. And, right now, the only option for them is the siren song of secularism promoted by the far left.

Today we have a tremendous opportunity to provide our youth—and all Americans—an alternative to the left’s unfulfilling and outright dishonest attempt to provide a purposeful life. We also have an opportunity to provide clarity to a passionate, yet confused, generation of believers in Jesus Christ.

Jerry Falwell Sr. would have agreed with every word of this.

And then comes the culture war piece:

The function and the moral mission of the Falkirk Center is to go on the offense in the name of Christian principles and in the name of exceptional, God-given American liberties.

Accomplishing this end requires more than adding noise to the echo chamber. It requires an army of bold ambassadors equipped with Biblical and Constitutional knowledge to speak truth to believers and unbelievers alike in every professional field and public forum. This includes Christian leaders and influencers—of all ages and backgrounds—defending, explaining, and sharing their beliefs on all platforms and sectors of society.

Thankfully, we don’t have to render ourselves powerless as the left misguides our young people. Much like Wallace’s struggle for freedom, we need brave, tenacious, passionate fighters to prevail in our war to save the greatest nation on earth. The Falkirk Center will remain on the front lines of this war. And we believe, like the passionate freedom fighters that courageously charged into the breach before us, we will eventually see victory.

So what does this mission look like in real life? Yesterday, we included several tweets from the Falkirk Center’s “bold ambassadors.” Read them here.

Today we heard more from these “bold ambassadors.”

Here is Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of the Falkirk Center:

Here is Falkirk Center “fellow” Jenna Ellis:

Ellis is also promoting a Kamala Harris birther controversy. (Trump did not deny this in today’s press conference). She retweeted this today:

And what would hateful Christian Right culture war rhetoric be without an occasional biblical quotation:

I guess Ellis does not realize that Malachi 1:11 comes in the midst of a passage in which the prophet Malachi rebukes Israel for dishonoring God and defiling his name.

Here is Falkirk Fellow Darrell B. Harrison:

Eric Metaxas is also a Falkirk Fellow. Today, on his Facebook page, he promoted an article defending Jerry Falwell Jr.  This, I might add, is the first time I have seen any court evangelical come to Falwell’s defense since he was put on indefinite leave.

Meanwhile, Falkirk Fellow Sebastian Gorka is trying to discredit Kamala Harris by claiming that she had slaves in her family history.

I don’t know if this true, but it hardly disqualifies a person from running for Vice President. If it is true, and if these tweets get to the level to which Harris needs to address them, all she needs to do is admit it and reject slavery. This would distinguish her from the Trumpers who want to defend monuments to Confederate generals and deny that systemic racism is a problem.

Gorka and D’Souza are perfect examples of what Christian Right politics has become. Namely, do everything possible to smear and degrade your enemy even if it means digging-up stuff from 200 years ago. I can imagine the conversation in the Falkirk Center ZOOM staff meeting this week: “Let’s do our part to take Harris down, even if we have to peddle in half-truths that besmirch her character.”

Yes, I realize that this “politics as usual,” but is this really the kind of politics Christians should be involved with?

Another Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow, David J. Harris, is also promoting birtherism:

David Brat, a fellow at the Falkirk Center and former Virginia congressman, plays to white evangelical fears:

It is doubtful that the Falkirk Center will disappear because its pronouncements are so deeply embedded in the history of Liberty University. It is worth noting again that the
acting president is an old-school, Falwell Sr loyalist who came of age with the Liberty University founder in the 1980s.

In the end, if the Board of Trustees does decide to end the Falkirk Center, it will represent a major break with the history of Liberty University. It would be the equivalent of  Messiah saying that it no longer thinks a center to promote peace, justice, service, and reconciliation reflects the values of the university and thus must be eliminated.

Liberty University names Jerry Prevo acting president of Liberty University. He’s a Falwell family loyalist.

Prevo

Jerry Prevo is acting president of Liberty University

Here is Sarah Rankin and Elana Schor of the Associated Press:

RICHMOND, Va. — Liberty University in Virginia announced Monday that its board had chosen an interim president to lead the school days after Jerry Falwell Jr. began an indefinite leave of absence after one of his posts on social media created an uproar.

Jerry Prevo, who has served as chairman of the school’s board of trustees since 2003 and recently retired as the senior pastor of a Baptist church in Alaska, will assume the role of acting president immediately, Liberty said in a news release.

Prevo expects to work from the Lynchburg campus starting Aug. 17 and will step aside from his position on the board for the duration of the new role, according to the news release. The board’s executive committee appointed Prevo, Liberty said.

Read the rest here.

Prevo is 74-years old and the former pastor of the Anchorage Baptist Temple in Alaska. He was an honorary co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Alaska. He has a long history of engaging in Christian Right causes and was a friend of the late Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of Liberty.

Prevo took a trip with Falwell Sr. and other Christian Right pastors to South Africa in 1985.  This trip took place after Falwell Sr. called Desmond Tutu “a phony” and blamed “communist agitators” for the anti-apartheid unrest in the country. (Sound familiar?)

Sat, Aug 24, 1985 – Page 33 · The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) · Newspapers.com

Here is an article about a stunt Prevo pulled in 1985 in order to mock an anti-apartheid protest outside his church.

Tue, Oct 8, 1985 – Page 8 · Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska) · Newspapers.com

Prevo apologized:

Wed, Oct 16, 1985 – Page 5 · Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska) · Newspapers.com

And what Christian Right warrior would not have criticized Dr. Ruth?: Wed, Jul 30, 1986 – Page 6 · Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska) · Newspapers.com

Prevo’s approach is straight out of the Falwell Sr. playbook:

Fri, Oct 24, 1980 – Page 19 · Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) · Newspapers.com

Rather than understanding the new leadership at Liberty University in terms of change, we should probably see it in terms of continuity. Prevo is a Falwell loyalist. Don’t expect any reforms.

University of Lynchburg alums: cut ties with Falwell Jr. and Liberty

Westover Hall

Apparently there is a plaque commemorating Jerry Falwell Sr. on a dorm at the University of Lynchburg in Lynchburg, Virginia. Lynchburg, of course, is also the home of Liberty University, the Christian college Falwell founded. Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., is currently president of Liberty University.  If this story is not interesting enough, the dorm, called Westover Hall, was built in part with money donated by Liberty University.

Here is a taste of Richard Chumney’s piece at The Lynchburg News & Advance:

Former University of Lynchburg students are calling on the school to cut ties with Liberty University and to rename part of a campus facility dedicated to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the religious institution’s founder.

In the past two weeks, an online petition demanding the school end its relationship with Liberty has garnered more than 700 signatures. Some former students have appealed directly to school leadership and others have taken to social media as part of a push to distance the two Hill City universities from one another.

Falwell Sr., who briefly attended what was then known as Lynchburg College in the 1950s, was a major figure in conservative politics throughout much of his adult life and a near-constant source for controversy.

His name is now enshrined on a plaque at the rooftop terrace of the new 90,000-square-foot Westover Hall, a $22 million residence hall that opened last fall and was built in part with money donated by Liberty.

In interviews explaining their opposition, former students pointed to what they said was a long history of bigoted remarks by Falwell Sr. aimed at people of color, queer individuals and religious minorities.

“His values do not align with what the University of Lynchburg says they want to be,” said Johnathan Harris, a 2002 graduate who penned a letter to school leadership asking them to remove Falwell’s name from the dorm’s terrace. “His rhetoric represented that of racism, bigotry, placism and sexism until the last day.”

Read the rest here.

Perhaps my recent post on the George Whitefield statue at the University of Pennsylvania might be helpful here.

The fallout of Liberty University’s failure on race

Liberty_University_LaHaye_Student_Union_IMG_4121 (1)

Elana Schor and Sarah Rankin of the Associated Press get us to up to speed on the fallout from Liberty University president Jerry Falwell’s recent racist tweet. Here is a taste of their piece, “Evangelical Liberty U rattled by its own racial reckoning“:

Football players Tayvion Land and Kei’Trel Clark, who are also Black, shared their transfer plans in social media posts with a Black Lives Matter hashtag. Land was among the school’s highest-rated football recruits. Another player, Waylen Cozad, announced his decision without explanation.

Liberty’s provost told local news station WSET that the school had terminated a professor whose behavior contributed to Land and Clark’s transfer decisions.

The athletes aren’t alone among the disappointed.

“It’s a personal regret of mine, getting my degree from here now,” said Liberty senior Janea Berkley, a leader at the school’s Black Christian Student Association. “I would never want to give my money to a place that didn’t support me, that felt like my life mattered.”

Thomas Starchia, who resigned as an associate director in the school’s office of spiritual development, said Liberty students and staff made good-faith efforts to promote diversity but its president’s tweet was a “tipping point.”

Acknowledgment of Liberty’s difficulties engaging on race isn’t limited to staffers and alumni of color. Recent graduate Calum Best said that “there is no serious conversation about it.”

“Many Christians are plenty happy to have hard conversations about issues they care about, like abortion, like homosexuality,” said Best, who is white. “For whatever reason, racism is a thing they don’t want to talk about. It’s a personal heart issue to them, something to be prayed over.”

Read the entire piece here.

Let’s also remember that not all Christian colleges are the same.

How the history of white evangelical racism has led to Donald Trump’s election and continues to shape support for his presidency

Believe Me 3dI begin with a caveat. This post is not implying that all white evangelicals are or have been racist. Many white evangelicals have been anti-racist and have fought hard to curb systemic racism in American life. But, as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, these are not historical forces that led many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. They are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to continue to support Donald Trump. They are not the historical forces that will lead many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  And they are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to reject systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

But here is some history:

1 .After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, which resulted in sixty white deaths in Southampton County, Virginia, fearful white evangelical Christians in the South began to fight harder for the expansion of slavery to the west in the belief that its spread to more open country might reduce the proximity of slaves to one another and thus make insurrections more difficult. White churches responded to Turner’s rebellion with missionary efforts in the hope that the chances of passion-filled revolts might be reduced if slaves could be monitored more closely by white clergy and lay church leaders. Yes, the idea of African Americans rebelling and causing disorder has been around for a long time.

2. The anxieties stemming from slave insurrections led Southern ministers to develop a biblical and theological defense of slavery. These ministers argued that anyone who read the Bible in a literal, word-for-word fashion (as God intended it to be read) would conclude that God had ordained this system of labor. Commonsense interpretations of Bible passages that referred to slavery were often difficult to refute. Old Testament patriarchs such as Abraham owned slaves. Slavery was a legal institution in the New Testament world, and the apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to obey government laws. In the book of Philemon, Paul required the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his owner. Writing in the immediate wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, Thomas Dew, a professor of political science at the College of William and Mary, used the Bible to defend the view that all societies had a fixed and natural social structure. Citing 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, Dew reasoned that Africans should remain slaves because God had created them to fulfill such a role in society. Slaves had been given a divine “calling” and, in Paul’s words, “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” One South Carolina Presbyterians went so far as to say, “If the Scriptures do not justify slavery…I know not what they do justify.” I am reminded here of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler’s remarks about slavery.

3. Evangelicals thought that the South’s social order, and its identity as a Christian culture worthy of God’s blessing, was grounded in a proper reading of the Bible. In other words, the people of the South–and eventually the Confederate States of America–believed that they were living in a Christian society precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.  The abolitionist argument against slavery was not only heretical because it violated the explicit teaching of Scripture; it also threatened the Christian character of the United States. Robert L. Dabney, a Virginia Presbyterian clergyman and one of the strongest defenders of slavery and white supremacy in the South, contended that the notion that slaves–or any Africans for that matter–had “rights” and thus deserved freedom was a modern idea introduced in the eighteenth-century by the progressive thinkers of the Enlightenment, not by the expositors of God-inspired Scripture.  James Henley Thornwell, another powerful theological voice in support of slavery, understood the Civil War as a clash between atheist abolitionists and virtuous slaveholders: “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders–they are atheists, socialists, communist, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. Sound familiar? Watch this or most other episodes of the Eric Metaxas Show. One of Thornwell’s students, New Orleans Presbyterian minister Benjamin Palmer, said that the South had been called “to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as not existing.” It was a duty to “ourselves, to our slaves, to the world, and to almighty God.”

4. Southern evangelicals also feared the mixing of races (even though the races were mixed mainly because of the long history of master raping slaves). Slaveholders believed that their defense of a Christian civilization was directly connected to the purity of the white race. One Presbyterian minister in Kentucky claimed that “no Christian American” would allow the “God-defying depravity of intermarriage between the white and negro races.”  South Carolina governor George McDuffie, who  said that “no human institution…is more manifestly consistent with the will of God, then domestic slavery,” also claimed abolitionists were on a “fiend-like errand of mingling the blood of master and slave.” In the process, McDuffie argued, they were contributing to the “end of the white republic established in 1776.”

5. Longstanding racial fears did not fade away with the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction amendments that ended slavery (Thirteenth) and provided freedmen with citizenship rights (Fourteenth) and voting rights (Fifteenth) only reinforced Southern evangelical racism. A classic example of this was Dabney’s opposition to the ordination of freedmen in the Southern Presbyterian Church. During an 1867 debate over this issue, Dabney said that the ordination of African American minister in the white Presbyterian church would “threaten the very existence of civil society.” It was God, Dabney argued, who created racial difference and, as a result, “it was plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification.” He predicted a theological version of “white flight” by suggesting that black ordination would “bring a mischievous element in our church, at the expense of driving a multitude of valuable members and ministers out.” Dabney would not sit by and watch his denomination permit “amalgamation” to “mix the race of Washington and Lee, and Jackson, with this base herd which they brought from the pens of Africa.”

6. Northern Protestant fundamentalists at the turn of the 20th century were aware of the moral problem of racism, but they did very little to bring it to an end. While they did occasionally speak out against lynching and other acts of racial violence, they failed to see how their literal views of the Bible contributed to systemic racism in American life. White terror groups seemed to understand this better than the fundamentalists did. As historian Matt Sutton has shown, the Ku Klux Klan regularly sought partnerships with fundamentalists. The Klan’s leaders believed Protestant fundamentalist crusades to save Christian America made them a natural ally in the war against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. Some fundamentalist commentaries on race could have been lifted from the collected works of 19th-century pro-slavery theologians such as Lewis Dabney or James Henry Thornwell. A.C. Dixon, the fundamentalist pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, called the Fifteenth Amendment (the amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote) “the blunder of the age” because African Americans were “ignorant” and thus ill-equipped to cast a ballot. Other fundamentalists upheld typical racial stereotypes that portrayed African Americans as rapists, murderers, and threats to white women. In 1923, Moody Monthly, the flagship publication of fundamentalism, published articles defending Klan activity. Fundamentalist fears about the decline of Christian America regularly manifested themselves in racism.

7. In the wake of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event which historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” several evangelical and fundamentalist clergymen were quick to put their white supremacy on display. Edwin D. Mouzon, the bishop of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, said he did not know who was to blame for the massacre. But if you read the front page of the June 6, 1921 edition of the Morning Tulsa Daily World, “black agitators,” including black activist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, were to blame.
Mon, Jun 6, 1921 – Page 1 · The Morning Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com

Mouzon said, “there is one thing…upon which I should like to make myself perfectly clear. That is racial equality. There never has been and there never will be such a thing. It is divine ordained. This is something that negroes should be told very plainly…At the same time, we must have a Christian attitude toward the black man; he is made by the same creator; he is subject to the same Christian laws, he is our brother in Christ.” On the same day, Reverend J.W. Abel of Tulsa’s First Methodist Church said, “What other nation in all human history has done as much [for] a people as the white race has done for the race which but a brief century ago emerged from slavery? A race which even in slavery was a thousand times better off than the black princes who ruled their race in Africa.” Abel continued, “But the sin of this [black] race is that they are all too ready to protect a member of the race in crime, for no other reason that he is a negro…some day the negro will come to know that the white race is his best friend.” Dr. Howard G. Cooke, pastor of Tulsa’s Centennial Methodist Church, noted that “there has been a great deal of loose-mouthed and loose-minded talking about the white people of Tulsa being equally to blame with the blacks. This is not true.” He added, “[The massacre] should be the beginning of a new regime of law and order in this city.” This is is an interesting observation in light of the fact that a self-proclaimed “law and order” president will be holding a rally in Tulsa tomorrow night, only a few weeks after the 99th anniversary of the massacre.  (Thanks to historian Kenny Brown for bringing this material to my attention)

8. In the mid-20th century,  white evangelicals had a mixed track record regarding racial issues facing the country during the civil rights movement. Billy Graham was famous for desegregating his evangelistic crusades, and many evangelical leaders and publications supported the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in public schools, just as they supported the Civil Rights Acts (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). But very few Northern evangelicals actually participated in the movement, and strong pockets of segregationist thought and practice continued to exist in the evangelical South. Most white evangelicals were not particularly interested in the civil rights movement; they were far more concerned about–and opposed to–the way the federal government used its power to enforce desegregation and oppose Jim Crow laws in their local communities. Historian Mark Noll has argued that race and civil rights served as an entry point for the white conservative evangelicals critique of active government.

9. This relationship between race and evangelical opposition to “big government” intervention into state and local affairs is best illustrated in the evangelical response to two Supreme Court cases. Green v. Connally (1972) removed tax-exempt status from private schools and colleges that discriminated against students based on race. At the center of the controversy was Bob Jones University, a school that banned interracial dating and denied admission to unmarried African Americans. In 1975, the IRS moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the university, a case that was eventually decided in favor of the IRS in Bob Jones v. United States.  Green v. Connolly and Bob Jones v. United States also had implications for the hundreds of private Christian academies cropping up (at the rate of two per day) all over the United States. Many of these schools were in the South and had discriminatory admissions policies, which is not surprising given that many such schools were founded in the immediate aftermath of public-school integration. When President Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian,” supported the Green v. Connally decision, he alienated many conservative evangelicals who ran these academies. To be fair, many segregationist academies were already beginning to admit African American students in the early 1970s, but the leaders of these schools, true to their Southern heritage, wanted to deal with the issues of segregation, race, and civil rights on their own terms. They certainly did not want the federal government forcing them to desegregate.

10. Thus, when Jerry Falwell and like minded conservative evangelicals created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, they already had experienced the power of the central government when the Supreme Court intruded on the affairs of their segregated academies. In fact, historian Randall Balmer contends that it was this fear of big-government interference as it related to desegregation of institutions like Bob Jones University and Falwell’s own Liberty Academy that prompted the formation of the Christian Right. Paul Weyrich, one of Falwell’s closest associates and one of the leading organizers of the movement, told Balmer in a 1990 interchange that the Christian Right was originally founded, not on evangelicals’ opposition to abortion, but rather on opposition to the attempts by the IRS to desegregate Christian academies.

11. Many of Trump’s evangelical supports came to Trump’s rescue when, in August 2017, he drew a moral equivalency between white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia and those who came to the city to try to oppose them. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church–Dallas, went on Fox Business Network and said that Trump “did just fine” in his statement(s) about the event. He performed a rhetorical move that court evangelicals and other Trump supporters have perfected: he changed the subject and went from defense to offense. Jeffress warned Fox viewers that an “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, and the “GOP establishment) were plotting to take Trump down. He then reaffirmed America’s Judeo-Christian roots without any sense that many of the Judeo-Christian influences that have shaped United States history were intricately bound up with the kind of racism that the nation had witnessed in Charlottesville. Watch:

It is time that white evangelicals take a hard look at its past and stop trying to “Make America Great Again.” It is time, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.” The operate word is reconciliation, not “renew,” “restore” or “reclaim.”

Why the Recent *Politico” Piece Will Not Hurt Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Standing Among Many Conservative Evangelicals

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Yesterday I posted about Brandon Ambrosino’s Politico piece exposing Jerry Falwell’s lies, shady business deals, sex life, and the tyrannical power he holds over his employees at Liberty University.  One of Falwell’s employees called the president a dictator who propagates a culture of fear at the Lynchburg, Virginia school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Two things are worth noting about this story.

First, anyone who has studied the history of American fundamentalism will be familiar with the kind of power Falwell Jr. wields.  Falwell Jr. inherited Liberty from his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of the school.  Falwell Sr. was the product of the separatist fundamentalist movement, an approach to conservative Protestantism that continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism” long after other mid-twentieth-century conservative Protestants had abandoned it in favor of the term “evangelical.”  Liberty University (originally Lynchburg Baptist College) was born out of this movement.

Falwell Sr.’s brand of fundamentalism not only opposed secular humanism and liberal Protestantism, but it also refused to fellowship or cooperate with conservative Christians willing to participate in religious services and events with liberal Protestants.  This was known as “second-degree separation” and, as I argued in several essays in the 1990s, it was a defining characteristic of the fundamentalist movement in the years following the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s.

When so-called “neo-evangelicals” such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga, and others sought to forge a more irenic brand of conservative Protestantism after World War II known as “neo-evangelicalism,” other alumni of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies such as John R. Rice, Carl McIntire, Robert T. Ketcham, and Bob Jones Jr. continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism.” (Falwell Sr. was a disciple of Rice, a Wheaton, Illinois and later Murfreesboro, Tennessee -based evangelist who parted ways with Graham over the latter’s willingness to allow liberal clergy to pray at his crusades).

These separatist fundamentalists were known for empire building.  Rice built his empire around his newspaper The Sword of the Lord, a weekly publication that had over 100,000 subscribers in the 1950s.  McIntire’s built an empire around his popular radio broadcast, his Collingswood, New Jersey-based weekly newspaper The Christian Beacon, his conference-center properties in Cape May, New Jersey, and Shelton College (first in Ringwood, NJ and later Cape May) and Faith Theological Seminary (Elkins Park, PA).  Ketcham was a leader of the General Association of Regular Baptists, a denomination formed in the wake of the modernist takeover of the Northern Baptist Church.  Bob Jones Jr. presided over Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.  All of these men were autocratic leaders who wielded immense power among their followers.  They spent much of their time railing against their many enemies–modernism, mainline Protestantism, communism, the civil rights movement, feminists, and the counter-culture.  And they became experts at sniffing-out those in their ranks who they believed to be compromising their faith by working with Graham or other neo-evangelicals.

When Jerry Falwell Sr. formed the Moral Majority in 1979, many self-identified fundamentalists rejected him.  Falwell Sr.’s willingness to work with like-minded Catholics and Mormons  on moral issues was just too much for separatists such as Bob Jones Jr.   Yet Falwell Sr. never really joined the neo-evangelical fold.  Since the 1980s, Falwell Sr and the empire he created in Lynchburg has remained in a kind of no-man’s land–situated somewhere between the culturally-engaged evangelicals and the old separatists.

Though Falwell Sr. eventually parted ways with his separatist fundamentalist roots, he never abandoned the empire-building mentality of the religious culture in which he came of age as a minister.  Falwell Sr. ran Liberty University like a dictator.  So does his son.  In this sense, there is more continuity between father and son than Ambrosino allows.

Second, I am afraid that Ambrosino’s Politico article will do little to damage Jerry Falwell Jr.’s reputation among his followers.  Falwell Jr. will just claim that Ambrosino is a disgruntled former student and Politico is part of the mainstream media out to get him because of his support of Donald Trump.  Yes, there may be some evangelical parents and high school students who will take Liberty University off their short list because of this article and others like it, but I imagine that many students and alumni at Liberty will see Falwell Jr. and Liberty as victims of the liberal media and other forces trying to undermine evangelical Christianity, religious freedom, and Christian nationalism in America.  Liberty will remain a safe place for these parents and students.

Falwell Jr. is no dummy.  He knows that his administrative staff and faculty are expendable. In his mind, they are interchangeable parts.  He once said that he has “tamed” them.  Someone, after all, has to teach the classes.  In the end, Falwell Jr. is betting that as long as he takes his cultural war vision for Liberty University directly to the people through social media, conservative political outlets like Fox News (where Liberty advertises), and court evangelical appearances with Trump, and as long he suppressed dissent among his staff and the student body, he will continue to fill seats in the Liberty University classrooms and online venues. Many evangelicals will overlook his indiscretions in the same way they have overlooked Trump’s indiscretions.

*Politico* Exposes Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

“It’s a dictatorship…everyone is scared for their life.  Everybody walks around in fear.”  These are just a few of the things high-level Liberty University employees have said about Jerry Falwell Jr.  Check out Brandon Ambrosino’s longform piece, “‘Somebody’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence.”

In this piece we learn

  • Liberty University is more real estate hedge fund than university.
  • Falwell Jr.’s wife Becki wields a lot of power
  • The employees live in a culture of constant fear
  • Falwell Jr. like to party and talk about his sex life
  • Falwell Jr. has an uneasy relationship with the truth
  • Falwell Jr. has been involved in a lot of shady business deals

Not to mention all the court evangelical stuff with Trump.

Here is a taste:

More than two dozen current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell spoke to me or provided documents for this article, opening up—for the first time at an institution so intimately associated with the Falwell family—about what they’ve experienced and why they don’t think he’s the right man to lead Liberty University or serve as a figurehead in the Christian conservative movement.

In interviews over the past eight months, they depicted how Falwell and his wife, Becki, consolidated power at Liberty University and how Falwell presides over a culture of self-dealing, directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains. Among the previously unreported revelations are Falwell’s decision to hire his son Trey’s company to manage a shopping center owned by the university, Falwell’s advocacy for loans given by the university to his friends, and Falwell’s awarding university contracts to businesses owned by his friends.

“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund,” said a senior university official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances. “We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”

Liberty employees detailed other instances of Falwell’s behavior that they see as falling short of the standard of conduct they expect from conservative Christian leaders, from partying at nightclubs, to graphically discussing his sex life with employees, to electioneering that makes uneasy even those who fondly remember the heyday of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the school’s founder and Falwell Jr.’s father, and his Moral Majority.

Read the entire piece here.

Liberty University Took Some of the Old Southwestern Seminary Stained Glass Windows

Stained glass

Watch this video.

Last month I wrote a post titled “Big Changes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.”  I wrote about the Fort Worth, Texas seminary’s decision to remove stained glass windows devoted to two architects of of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention: Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler.  Both men were accused of sexual misconduct last year and Patterson was ousted as president of the seminary.   Jacob Lupfer wrote about this here.

In addition to Patterson and Pressler, there were also stained-glass windows removed with images of Jerry Falwell Sr. and Jerry Vines, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a member of the conservative resurgence.  Jerry Falwell Jr. now has the Falwell Sr. and Vines windows.  They are on display at Liberty University.

In the video, Falwell Jr. praises the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist convention and mocks the “new regime” at Southwestern Theological Seminary who removed the windows.  He even calls the new administration a Southern Baptist “deep state.”

As Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary tries to move beyond a horrendous year in which multiple cases of sexual harassment were revealed, the authoritarian leadership of Paige Patterson was exposed, and financial difficulties rocked the school, Jerry Falwell Jr. wants to keep that legacy–the darkest parts of the conservative resurgence in the SBC– alive and well at Liberty University.  Is it only a matter of time before the Patterson and Pressler stained glass window make their way to Lynchburg?

Here is a taste of a Liberty University press release:

At Liberty University’s Baccalaureate Service on Friday night, President Jerry Falwell made a bold statement to the Southern Baptist Convention when he displayed two stained-glass windows that were recently removed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel. The windows feature Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and Dr. Jerry Vines, who delivered the Baccalaureate address.

The two windows were part of a larger collection that honored the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches. Installed only a few years ago, the Falwell window was made possible by financial contributions from Liberty University.

 In a SWBTS press release from 2015, the seminary stated: “In order to pass along the story of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, Southwestern has dedicated stained-glass windows in MacGorman Chapel to those who played a major role in turning the convention back to a high view of Scripture.”

But on Friday, just moments before black drapes were removed, revealing the two large windows behind him on the stage, President Falwell said that “unfortunately, a new generation has taken the Convention away from those values in many ways.” He said the windows have been “removed by the new regime.”

Falwell demanded that SWBTS return the money donated for the windows and sent a plane to Fort Worth, Texas, this week to retrieve them. They will go on display in the Jerry Falwell Museum on campus.

Today’s *Washington Post* Piece on Trump and Evangelicals

Trump court evangelicals

If Pew Research is correct, Donald Trump is more popular among white evangelicals who regularly attend church and less popular among those who do not.  I tried to explain this in a piece at today’s Washington Post “Made by History” column.  Here is a taste:

Many white evangelical churchgoers now see the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade as equivalent to their call to share the Gospel with unbelievers. They subscribe to the message that the only way to live out evangelical faith in public is to vote for the candidates who will most effectively execute the 40-year-old Christian right playbook.

The movement’s message is so strong that even when pastors oppose the politicization of their religion, the message is not likely to persuade congregants. Indeed, many white evangelical pastors do not preach politics from their pulpit. Some speak boldly against the idolatrous propensity of their congregations to seek political saviors.

But these pastors cannot control the messaging their flocks imbibe after they leave church on Sunday. And a massive Christian right messaging machine targets these Americans with precision. Ministries and nonprofit organizations, driven by conservative political agendas, bombard the mailboxes, inboxes and social media feeds of ordinary evangelicals. Many of these organizations appeal to long-standing evangelical fears about cultural decline or provide selective historical evidence that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a “Christian nation,” even though this never was true.

Evangelicals filter what they hear during weekly sermons through Fox News and conservative talk radio, producing an approach to political engagement that looks more like the Republican Party than the Kingdom of God.

None of this is new. People in the pews (or in the case of evangelical megachurches, the chairs), have always been selective in how they apply their pastor’s sermons in everyday life. Evangelical Christians, from the Puritans to the present, have always mixed traditional Christian teachings with more non-Christian sources as they cultivate their religious lives. Today, however, cable television and social media expose white evangelicals to ideas that come from outside the church but that claim to be driven by Christianity at an unprecedented rate.

Read the entire piece here.

White Evangelicals: An Unmovable Political Force

39673-falwell-tinky-winky

Over at Roll Call, Nathan L. Gonzalez reminds us that white evangelicals are one of the most reliable voting blocs in America.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Amid all the talk about shifting demographics and political changes over the last decade, one key voting group has remained virtually unchanged: white evangelicals.

According to one evangelical leader, a record number of white evangelicals voted in the 2018 midterms after an inspired turnout effort.

“This is the most ambitious and most effective voter education, get-out-the-vote program directed at the faith-based vote in a midterm election in modern political history,” Faith & Freedom Coalition President Ralph Reed said the day after the November elections.

But since turnout was up across the board, white evangelicals made up the same percentage of the electorate as they always do.

After ticking up from 23 percent of the electorate in 2004 to 24 percent in 2006 and 26 percent in 2008, the share of the white evangelical vote has been unshaken at 25 percent in 2010, 26 percent in 2012, 26 percent in 2014, and 26 percent in 2016. And in last month’s midterms, white evangelicals made up, you guessed it, 26 percent of the electorate, according to the exit polls

Read the rest here.

As I have been saying over and over again on the Believe Me book tour, Jerry Falwell Sr. may be the most important political figure in post-World War II America because he taught millions of white conservative evangelicals how to execute a particular political playbook and they have been executing it faithfully for almost forty years.

 

Did George H.W. Bush Enable the Christian Right?

Bush and Falwell

Yes.

Check out Neil J. Young’s piece at The Washington Post:

Following Wednesday’s state funeral for George H.W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral, the former president’s casket will be flown to Houston where a memorial service will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church the following day.

Unlike his son George W. Bush, the elder Bush, a lifelong Episcopalian, was less known for his religious faith. He was certainly not thought of as a champion of the religious right, the powerful political movement most associated with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Yet it was Bush, the moderate establishment Republican whose family helped found Planned Parenthood, who secured the religious right’s permanent place in American politics. While historians largely credit Reagan’s presidency with helping religious conservatives move from the shadows of American public life into its spotlight, it was the Bush presidency, particularly its disappointments and defeat, that entrenched the religious right as the center of the Republican Party and guaranteed its ongoing influence.

From the moment he entered the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, Bush drew the ire of religious right leaders — so much so that people like Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell objected to Reagan’s selection of Bush as his running mate. Conservative organizations tracked Bush closely throughout the primaries, scrutinizing his conservative credentials, reviewing his record and documenting his every misstep. Bush’s questionable history included having written the foreword to a 1973 book advocating the benefits of family planning in developing countries. As a congressman from 1967 to 1971, Bush’s enthusiastic support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups was so well-known it had garnered him the nickname “Rubbers.”

Read the rest here.

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

I am happy to contribute to this video posted today at The New York Times.

Retro Report spent over an hour interviewing me at Messiah College back in August.  I was apparently not as engaging as Cal Thomas, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Randall Balmer since I only got a quick soundbite.  (They even made me go home and change my shirt because it had too many stripes and did not look good on the camera!)

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece:

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006182547

Remembering John McCain

McCain Falwell

McCain with Jerry Falwell

Here are some things I remember about John McCain (1936-2018).

The “Straight Talk Express” was a breath of fresh-air in 2000.  McCain was strongly critical of the Christian Right approach to politics.  He blasted George W. Bush for visiting Bob Jones University before the South Carolina primary.   During the campaign he said, “I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore.  Unfortunately, Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.”  At one point he called Jerry Falwell and Robertson an “evil influence” on the Republican Party.

In 2008, McCain did a flip-flop on the Christian Right. (I wrote about it here). He knew he needed its support if he was going to defeat Barack Obama.  McCain gave the commencement address at Liberty University on 2006.  He said that the United States Constitution “established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”  (I wrote about this in the introduction to Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?).  He took the endorsement of Christian Zionist John Hagee and then rejected it after Hagee made an anti-Semitic remark.  He started using the phrase “City Upon a Hill.”  And, of course, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

During the 2008 primary season, the sponsors of the “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College invited McCain to come to campus to talk about his faith and its relationship to politics. The event took place several days before the Pennsylvania primary.  CNN covered the event and it was hosted by Jon Meacham and Campbell Brown.  McCain declined the invitation.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accepted the invitation.  I will always be disappointed that McCain did not make this a bipartisan event.  I spent a lot of time that night in the press “spin room” explaining to reporters that McCain was invited, but chose not to attend.  (Later he would attend a similar forum at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church).

I will remember his “thumbs down” on the GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I still watch this video with amazement and study all the reactions of his fellow Senators

I will remember this and I wonder if we will ever see anything like it again.  When civility and respect for the dignity of political rivals is disregarded, the moral fabric of a democratic society is weakened.  What McCain did at that town hall meeting in 2008 was virtuous.

Rest in Peace

“Falwell the Lesser”

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

Conservative pundit and former radio talk-show host Charlie Sykes says that “Trump’s most prominent evangelical supporter displays an incredible mix of historical ignorance mixed with moral vacuity.”

Here is his piece on Falwell Jr. at the conservative Weekly Standard:

One of the inestimable blessings of social media is that one does not have to be a student at Liberty University to have the benefit of the historical or moral insights of the institution’s president.

On a regular basis, Jerry Falwell Jr. dispenses his evangelical wisdom to his tens of thousands of Twitter followers, and provides an invaluable guide to the moral and political shapeshifting among evangelical leaders as they struggle to rationalize their support for Trumpism.

Even in an era of marked by exquisite self-humiliations, Falwell has distinguished himself. Along with his wife, Falwell Jr. famously posed for a thumbs-up picture with Donald Trump in front of a wall of Trump memorabilia—including a cover of Playboy magazine featuring a younger Trump with a provocatively posed model. 

(At the time the picture was taken, the model in the picture was “in prison for participating in a scheme to transport cocaine from Los Angeles to Sydney—by hiding the drug in airplane toilets.”)

Read the rest here.

I have my own thoughts on Falwell Jr. and the rest of the court evangelicals.  I published them in a book titled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Believe Me 3d

My Piece at *Religion Dispatches* on Jimmy Carter’s Visit to Liberty University

Liberty-Ben-Carson-Jimmy-Carter-Jerry-FalwellHere is a taste:

Last year Donald Trump delivered the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of the university, said that Trump’s speech “will go down in history as one of the greatest commencement speeches ever.”

This year’s speaker was Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States. On Saturday the Liberty University community heard a commencement address from an evangelical Christian who disagrees with Trump and Falwell Jr. on almost every major policy issue of the age.

Carter and the Falwell family have had an uneasy relationship over the years. Both Carter and Jerry Falwell Sr. (the founder of Liberty University and the father of the current university president) claim(ed) to be born-again Christians. But during the Carter administration, Falwell Sr. was a staunch critic of the president’s position on a host of social issues. Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment. Falwell Sr. did not. Carter opposed prayer in schools and a constitutional amendment banning abortion (although he opposed abortion personally). Falwell Sr. championed both issues. Carter believed that government had a major role to play in promoting justice. Falwell thought government was an intrusion on individual liberties.

Falwell Sr. also criticized Jimmy Carter for his infamous 1976 interview with Playboy magazine in which the Georgia governor and presidential candidate confessed that he had “committed adultery in my heart many times.” Falwell Sr. said that Carter’s decision to give an interview to Playboy “was lending the credence and the dignity of the highest office in the land to a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day.”

Read the rest at Religion Dispatches.

Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Sr. Aided a Southern Baptist Victim of Abuse

PaigePatterson(2)

Autumn Miles tells her #metoo story at Christianity Today.  Writing in the context of recent remarks by Southwestern Baptist Seminary’s Paige Patterson, Miles credits Robert Jeffress and the late Jerry Falwell Sr. for helping deal with an abusive husband.

Here is a taste of her piece:

When I was in the midst of divorce, my father called our good family friend, Jerry Falwell Sr., founder of Liberty University, to ask his counsel on how to handle the situation. He told my father, “Tell your daughter to get away from that marriage and come to Liberty, where she can meet a young man who will treat her right.”

Years later, when my second husband (whom I did indeed meet at Liberty) and I were speaking with Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, I shared my story with him. He looked me in the eye and said, “What that church did to you was wrong.”

“It is never God’s will for a woman to endure physical abuse to keep a sick marriage alive,” he later told me. “God hates violence. In fact, the reason he gave in Genesis 6 for destroying the world was because of unbridled violence. To abuse another person is to abuse someone God created in his image; it is tantamount to abusing God himself.” (Jeffress has recently commented on the Patterson case.)

I had two Southern Baptist leaders affirm God’s love for me and his desire to use my story for his kingdom. Those two men gave me hope that someday, a change would come to the SBC. That day is today. As I track Patterson’s case and the larger conversation around it, I see the spirit of God working to bring freedom to the hearts of those who’ve been captured by domestic violence. Jesus came to set the captives free, and through these brave men and women, the bondage of domestic violence is being lifted.

Read the entire piece here.  These are the acts of compassion and love that we should expect from our evangelical pastors.