Friday night court evangelical roundup

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What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel-Chino Hills doesn’t like masks:

On his FB page, Jim Garlow is pushing Hydroxychloroquine and his love for Brazilian president Boldonaro:

Brazilian President Bolsonaro is healing from Covid-19 with Hydroxychloroquine. We spent time with him in Brazil in Dec 2018. He is an exceptional leader. (IMPORTANT: Dr. Vladimir Zelenko has treated 2,400 Covid-positive patients in New York City, and has only lost one – with a protocol of Hydroxychloroquine with over-the-counter Zinc, and Azithromycin if…if…if begun in the first five days. After that, it does not help.)

At least Tony Perkins admits it is an “angry fringe.” From FB:

If we want our leaders to stop giving in to the angry fringe that wants to erase our history and destroy our freedom, we need to stop being complacent. The church has to pray, as the disciples did, for the courage and boldness to face the cancel culture of our day and proclaim the gospel truth. The future of our country depends on it.

Robert Jeffress is still mad at CNN’s Don Lemon. (I wrote about this yesterday). The court evangelicals are getting a lot of mileage out of this one:

Richard Land, the leader of an evangelical theological seminary, tweets about “civil religion” as if it is a good thing for the church:

Jerry Falwell Jr. supports an effort to rename the town of Lynchburg, Virginia. No word yet whether or not he wants to rename it “Liberty.” 🙂

He claims that the reason his father changed the name of “Lynchburg Baptist College” to “Liberty Baptist College” in 1976 was because the name of the town was an “embarrassment” because the word “lynch” was in the name.

This all sounds like Falwell Jr.’s effort to do damage control after Black faculty and student athletes left Liberty University after his blackface tweet.

By the way, according to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s mother Macel Falwell in her book Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy, the name was changed because Jerry Falwell was concerned that a large monetary gift for his college was inadvertently sent to Lynchburg College, the liberal arts college down the road. Althought I am also pretty sure the Bicentennial (1976) had something to do with the name change. When the name was changed before the 1975-76 school year, Liberty changed its school colors from green and gold to red, white and blue.

Until next time.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

COurt evangelicals

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

They are still coming for Jesus:

Graham is responding to this tweet by Mike Huckabee:

I was listening to CNN when Lemon said that Jesus “wasn’t perfect.” I think this was more of a simple theological misunderstanding by Lemon, or perhaps he really doesn’t believe Jesus was perfect. We live in a religious diverse country after all. Don Lemon is free to believe that Jesus was not perfect. (By the way, do Jewish conservatives on Fox News believe Jesus was perfect?) In other words, I did not see this as an attempt to attack Christianity. Lemon was trying to show that our founding fathers were not perfect. He was even calling out liberals. Watch for yourself:

Apparently Robert Jeffress is not happy about this either. But this should not surprise us. He has long believed that we live in a Christian nation, not a pluralistic democracy.

According to Jeffress, anyone who does not believe Jesus was perfect is peddling “fake news.”

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network agrees:

Again, the point here is not to argue whether or not Jesus was perfect. That is a theological discussion. 3 points:

  1. The court evangelicals do not care about the larger context of Lemon’s statement because the context does not suit their political agenda.
  2. It is fine to tweet that Lemon does not understand the beliefs of Christianity. I am criticizing how his views (or his mistake) were turned into culture war tweets.
  3. The court evangelicals do not believe in a pluralistic society. The idea that Jesus was imperfect may be a “lie” to all serious Christians, but this is not an exclusively Christian nation. Jews, Muslims, atheists, and people of all kinds of religions watch CNN. Non-Christians work at Fox News (I think). The belief that “Jesus was perfect” is an article of faith and it is perfectly fine in a democracy for people to disagree with this claim. As a Christian, I believe in the incarnation, but I am not offended that Don Lemon may not. These kinds of tweets just make Christians look foolish.

Gary Bauer is using his Facebook page to share an article on the American Revolution that appeared yesterday at The Federalist. Jane Hampton Cook’s essay is a historical and theological mess. It blurs African slavery, political slavery, and the biblical idea of liberty from sin. But at least she was able to take a shot at the 1619 Project! That’s all that really matters. Bauer writes:”>Rather than teaching our children a lie — that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery as the 1619 Project falsely claims — this is what our children should be learning in school.”

Hey Ralph, all you need to do is say “Happy Anniversary.” That’s it:

Eric Metaxas is trying to get his book If You Can Keep It in the hands of “every high school history teacher in the country. Before your school adopts Eric Metaxas’s book, please read this article and this series of posts.

Tonight David Barton will be making a case for why Washington D.C. should not be a state. I don’t have time to watch it, but I am guessing it has something to do with Christian nationalism.

Seven Mountain Dominion advocate Lance Wallnau is at it again. He also wants to destroy public education.

Is it really true that Democrats don’t care about law and order or the Constitution? Jenna Ellis of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center thinks so:

Three Sundays in April (Part Two)

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If you had thirty minutes to say something to the most powerful man in the world, what would you say?

This is how I started our short series titled “Three Sundays in April.”

On April 5, 2020, Donald Trump announced that he would be watching the Palm Sunday service at Greg Laurie‘s Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. What did he hear?

Laurie is 67-years old, but he still exudes California cool. He is always tan and he usually makes appearances in blue jeans, denim or leather jackets, sun glasses, and sneakers. (Imagine a member of Beach Boys getting “saved” and forming a megachurch!) In my early days as an evangelical Christian, I used to listen to Laurie on the radio. If I remember correctly, my local Christian station scheduled his program between John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” and James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family.” I liked Laurie because he seasoned his sermons with jokes and popular culture references. (He has written inspirational books about Johnny Cash and Steve McQueen). Over the years, Laurie has successfully cultivated his brand. According to one website, he has a net worth of $20 million. Preaching the Gospel has been good to him.

Laurie’s biography and spiritual journey is also a part of his appeal. He was born in Long Beach, California. As he wrote in his memoir, Lost Boy, he came from a very dysfunctional home. He was raised by a single mother who was married seven times. Laurie has described her as a “raging alcoholic” who looked like Marilyn Monroe. In high school, Laurie tried to satisfy his search for meaning with drugs until, at the age of 17, he found God through the controversial ministry of charismatic “hippie” preacher Lonnie Frisbee. This led Laurie into the Jesus People Movement and he quickly came under the influence of Calvary Chapel’s Chuck Smith, the balding middle-aged pastor often considered the leader of the movement in Southern California. Laurie led a Bible study at a local Episcopalian church that eventually grew into Harvest Christian Fellowship. Today the church reaches more than 15,000 people at four different campuses, including one in Maui, Hawaii.

Laurie speaks often of the religious revival he witnessed during the early years of Southern California’s Jesus People Movement. He wrote about it in his 2008 co-authored book Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today. Led by Smith and Frisbee, California hippies were turning away from acid and sex and becoming followers of Jesus Christ. People were getting “saved” and Smith, Frisbee and others were holding massive baptisms in the Pacific Ocean. Influenced deeply by what he saw and experienced, Laurie would pursue a dual, but closely related, calling as a pastor and an evangelist.

With Smith’s guidance, Laurie began leading mass evangelistic events–Billy Graham-style crusades– in Anaheim Stadium. He called them “Harvest Crusades.” In 2016, The Los Angeles Times reported that over 500,000 people had made professions of faith during these events. These crusades also reveal the close connection between evangelical culture, spectacle, and consumerism. Laurie is a master marketer. In their book, Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation, scholars Richard Flory and Donald Miller visited a Harvest crusade and noted the sale of Harvest-themed clothing, books, CDs, stickers, and pins, including a T-shirt modeled after the movie Napoleon Dynamite that said “Jesus Died for Pedro.” In 2018, the event included a freestyle motocross show.

Like most evangelical megachurches, Harvest Christian Fellowship is holding online services during the coronavirus pandemic. Laurie calls these services “Harvest at Home.”

On Palm Sunday, Laurie and his team appear on a carefully constructed set that includes a fake-brick facade covered with Laurie family photos and the revolutionary-era Pine Tree Flag inscribed with the words “An Appeal to Heaven.” (More on this below). Laurie sits front and center behind a fancy music stand. His worship band sits around him on couches and comfortable chairs. Everyone is social distancing in an appropriate fashion. On the couch to Laurie’s immediate right sits his wife Cathee and his son Jonathan. Those who designed Laurie’s set seem to be going for a look somewhere in-between a comfortable white suburban, middle-class living room and a hip urban coffeehouse. At one point Laurie refers to the set as the “front room.”

This is what Donald Trump saw when he live-streamed Laurie’s Palm Sunday service on April 5, 2020. Before the service began, Laurie welcomed Trump:

I want to welcome a very special guest to our service today and he happens to be the President of the United States. Mr. President, thank you for joining us. And thank you for talking about the importance of the church in your press conferences. I know had mentioned earlier [that] it was your hope that maybe we would be meeting in person on Easter and unfortunately that has not worked out. But the amazing thing is that we are able to reach a lot of people now online. Since we started this online experience we’ve seen our numbers explode and in the last few weeks we’ve had over a million people watch us. And I think that’s because Americans are looking for hope, they’re looking for answers, and their looking for truth. And I am so glad that you know how important that the church is. President Trump I want you to know that we are praying for you and for the Vice President as he heads up this COVID-19 Task Force. We’re praying that this coronavirus comes to an end and we’re able to get out again to our churches, and to our businesses, and into the wonderful life we all enjoy as Americans.

Laurie is right. People are looking for hope, answers, and truth during this pandemic. Indeed, the Gospel can provide hope, answers, and truth. But why did Laurie talk about how God can meet these needs in the context of a welcome message to a president who offers little hope, few answers, and endless lies? Why compromise the Gospel message on Palm Sunday in this way? I wonder how many people immediately checked-out at this point.

The service begins with Christian artist Phil Wickham leading an acoustic performance of the praise song “Hosanna.” This song, of course, points the audience to Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The Gospel of John describes Jesus riding into the city on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. The “great crowd” that gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover festival waved palms and sang, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

After a prayer and several more songs, Laurie delivers his sermon. He begins by complaining about those who are not properly social distancing and others who are hoarding toilet paper. He encourages his online flock to be “selfless, not selfish.” We are off to a good start.

For Laurie, and for nearly all Christians, the story of Palm Sunday points us to Jesus’s death on the cross on Good Friday. This understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, according to the dominant evangelical view of the atonement, teaches that Jesus’s death satisfied the wrath of God. Someone needed to be punished for the sins of the world and God chose his own son to die in our place. It is now up to individual men and women to repent of their sin and accept God’s gift of salvation accomplished through Jesus’s death. When people accept Christ as Savior, and truly believe it, they will receive eternal life in heaven. It is this gospel message that drives Laurie’s entire ministry–both as a pastor and an evangelist.

It also drives Laurie’s eschatology, or his view of the “end times.” Like his mentor Chuck Smith, and like most of the Jesus Movement that surrounded Calvary Chapel in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Laurie believes that true Christians–those who have accepted Jesus as Savior–will one day be removed from the earth through an event known as the rapture. In this view, Palm Sunday points us to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Those who believe in the atoning death of Jesus Christ and his bodily resurrection from the dead will one day be raptured and join God in heaven. Those left on earth still have an opportunity to accept Jesus as Savior, but they will need to endure seven years of “tribulation.” This will be a time when Satan will rule the earth through the Antichrist until Jesus comes back again (the so-called “Second Coming) with all those who were raptured earlier. Jesus will defeat the forces of evil and will reign on the earth for 1000 years before all true believers finally go to heaven where they will spend eternity with God. Theologians call this eschatological scheme dispensational premillennialism. According to American historian Larry Eskridge, our best interpreter of the Jesus People Movement,  Laurie’s generation was exposed to this teaching by reading Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book The Late Great Planet Earth.

Laurie’s view of the cross and eschatology explains the rhetorical move he makes six minutes into his Palm Sunday online sermon. He stops and invites those listening at home to accept Jesus as Savior:

Now I’m going to do something I don’t normally do. Usually, if you listen to me you know that at the end of my message I will extend an invitation for people to believe in Jesus. And I am going to do that at the end of the message, but I am gonna do it right now, and I’ll tell you why: cause I’m talking to somebody right now that is scared, somebody that is afraid of the afterlife, somebody who is not sure that their life is right with God. And I’m gonna tell you right now, if you want God to forgive you of your sin, if you want to know that you’ll go to heaven when you die, if you want to be sure Jesus is living inside of you, right now I’m gonna lead you in a prayer, and I’ll do it again at the end of the message because sometimes people tune out early and they tune in late….

Laurie knows Trump is watching. He knows that Trump has a short attention span. He also realizes that Trump’s announcement that he would be “attending” Laurie’s service on this day has put him and his message in front of more viewers than usual. Laurie wants to make sure those viewers, including Trump, are right with God. This, he believes, is the best message he could ever deliver to a President of the United States.

It is at this point in the sermon that Laurie merges his passion for evangelism and spiritual revival (forged during his “Jesus Revolution” days) with his Christian nationalism. He makes a few references to the “Kingdom of God.” For Laurie, the Kingdom of God is spiritual in nature. One day, sometime after the Great Tribulation, God will establish an earthly kingdom, but for now the Kingdom of God rests in the “hearts of men and women” who believe Jesus has died for them on the cross. This view of the Kingdom allows Laurie to move freely into a version of Christian nationalism. If the Kingdom of God is solely spiritual, then it is not the kind of kingdom that earthly powers should worry about. Its citizens, in other words, are tasked with preaching the Gospel and getting people into heaven. Christians, as members of God’s Kingdom, are not tasked with speaking truth to power. In this sense, Laurie’s Kingdom is not really a kingdom at all. It is not a rival or an alternative to the other kingdoms of the world, in this case, the United States of America.

Laurie says, “when God wants to send a spiritual awakening to a nation it starts first with his people.” He quotes 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people which are called by name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins, and heal their land.” There is nothing inherently wrong with preaching this verse, but for the past couple of decades the Christian Right has been applying it to the United States of America. Mike Pence has been making subtle references to this verse during the White House coronavirus press briefings when he ends his prepared remarks with the phrase “heal our land.” In 2016, Southern Baptist theologian Russell Moore addressed the Christian nationalist’s misuse of this verse. (It is worth noting here that Laurie’s church recently became a member of the Southern Baptist Convention).

Laurie connects his use of 2 Chronicles 7:14 with his desire for another Great Awakening. Evangelicals, of course, should all be praying for spiritual revival in the life of the churches. But when one tries to connect prayers for revival to American exceptionalism, or the idea that one day God will restore or reclaim America’s Christian roots and “heal” the country through such a revival, he is on shaky historical and theological ground. Laurie is already on record, in a talk at The White House, trying to connect the First Great Awakening of the 18th century to American nationalism, a lesson he seems to have learned straight from the Eric Metaxas playbook. (He also does it here). And now, in his Palm Sunday sermon, he links spiritual revival and American nationalism to the “Appeal to Heaven” flag hanging on the wall behind him. He says that George Washington, who commissioned the flag, understood that our only hope to become a nation was by the intervention of God.” Historically, as I have written about before, the relationship between Christianity and the American founding was a very complicated one. For Laurie, “heal our land” connects spiritual revival with a movement to return to some kind of Christian golden age in American history. But I am not sure such an age ever existed. Laurie’s use of “heal our land” is the evangelical version of “Make America Great Again.”

Should Laurie call for a spiritual revival in this time of anxiety? Yes. Should he use American history to do it? No.

Here is a thought: what if a spiritual awakening led Christians to take-up their Kingdom of God duties as related to justice and sacrificial love? What if such a revival called immoral political leaders to task? What if such a revival resulted in mass baptisms in the Pacific Ocean and a call to fight for the least of these (yes, this would include the unborn as well as the poor, the immigrant, and the suffering)? What if such an awakening resulted in persecution?

Laurie continues to move through the story of Holy Week by referencing Jesus overturning the tables of the money-changers in the Jewish temple. During this scene, we learn about God’s “righteous indignation” against the religious leaders who are using the temple for immoral and materialistic purposes. Laurie also takes this opportunity to teach us that Jesus was a “man’s man” who was strong enough to overturn tables. If the Kingdom of God is merely in our hearts, then the lesson we learn from Jesus clearing the temple has something to do with righteous anger and masculinity. But if Jesus was really inaugurating his Kingdom on Palm Sunday, then he must, in a now-but-not-yet sense, already be King. And we, as members of the kingdom by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit–followers of Jesus–should be carrying-out that kingdom through lives defined by love, mercy, and justice. Again, a kingdom is a political community.  Though Jesus’ Kingdom will not reach its fullness until His return, Christians, as citizens of this Kingdom, still have responsibilities to contribute to its advancement by living in accordance with Christian ethics (the Sermon on the Mount comes to mind) and speaking truth to the existing kingdoms of this world.

When Jesus entered the Temple during what today we call Holy Week he was challenging both the religious and political authorities of Israel. When he stood before Pilate in John 18-19 he told this imperial official that the Roman Empire is no longer in control. It has been defeated. Yes, God in his sovereignty will allow this empire to run its course (just like he will allow future empires to run their courses), but all man-made empires will one day be replaced by the Messiah’s Kingdom of justice, peace, and love. (This is the essence of Christian hope). Until then, it is the responsibility of citizens of this Kingdom to remind the leaders of the world that God is in control, not them. When the leaders of the world fail to advance policies that care for sick, help the poor, and alleviate suffering, citizens of the Kingdom must speak.

What if Laurie added this interpretation of Holy Week to his Palm Sunday message? What kind of message would such a sermon send to the most powerful man in the world and the millions listening online?

As a historian, when I listen to Laurie I am reminded of just how much the Jesus People Movement broke with the larger youth counterculture of the 1960s. Yes, the kids who flocked to Chuck Smith dressed like hippies and had long hair, but that seems to be where the comparison ends. None of the social commitments of the secular counterculture–the rejection of materialism, the opposition to war, the concern for justice–seem to have translated to this wing of the Jesus People Movement. Laurie’s “Jesus Revolution” was only revolutionary in a spiritual sense. Yes, the Gospel’s capacity to change and transform lives can be revolutionary, as it was for Laurie himself as a “lost” Southern California kid and as it was for me in the 1980s. Jesus died for our sins and we wait in expectant hope for what Revelation 20 and 21 describes as a “new heaven” and a “new earth.” But when we embrace Jesus’s saving work on the cross we are also signing-up as citizens of His Kingdom–a Kingdom that requires a sense of social and political responsibility that extends well beyond the fight for religious liberty and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. It requires us to speak truth to power in all its forms.

Lurie only got it half right on Palm Sunday. And because he only got it half right, our corrupt president, assuming he watched the entire service, never gained a full understanding of what Jesus was proclaiming during Holy Week and why such a message might cause him to tremble.

Blame China? Jesus Doesn’t Play That Game

Luke 4

Luke 4: 21-30 (image from a 12th c. French ms., depicting the event).

Earlier today I wrote a post about how the court evangelicals were pushing Trump to exact revenge against China for its role in the spread of coronavirus to U.S. shores. Read it here.

Christian historian John Haas recently published his own thoughts about this on his Facebook page and he was kind enough to let me share.  He offers a good Holy Week reminder for followers of Jesus:

In the US a consensus is forming that the best response to Coronavirus is to blame China (either for inaction or for deliberately deploying it as a biological weapon), and to exact some kind of revenge (economic disengagement, reparations, etc.). China is returning the favor with heightened anti-Americanism.

In India, a consensus is forming that the best response to Cornavirus is to blame Muslims, and to exact some kind of revenge. I suspect when we get a chance to drill down into other nations and societies, we’ll find similar responses that involve targeting traditional enemies and minorities.

This is the typical human reaction: It’s actually immensely comforting. It tells us that our anxieties and fears regarding whoever have been correct all along, that they’re more dangerous than we thought, that the problems afflicting us aren’t anything to do with “us” but come from outsiders and others, and it paints a route forward towards safety and regeneration: The containment, weakening, or even elimination of the outsider or other.

Much of what’s most radical about Jesus’s life is his refusal to play along with these games. It’s what the people–at that time, and at this–want from him, however. They want Jesus to put his imprimatur on their fear, their xenophobia, their prejudices, and their yearning to hate. Instead, Jesus reminds them that God helps Syrian generals and pagan widows as much or more than the children of Israel.

His counsel runs against every natural instinct, against human nature itself; then and now, it provokes outrage. A good way to tell if someone is preaching Jesus is whether it feels unfair, unwise, and unsafe. A good way to tell that they aren’t is if it feels satisfying and exciting, because it fingers familiar enemies and encourages us to gear up for battle against them. This will invariably involve a demand that we unite around some leader and demonstrate our loyalty to them in some way. We will be asked to stay silent about any failures of the leader, or to redirect our energies to the fight against the designated enemy. A speaking Jesus will become a clear and present danger; he must be dispensed with, usually to be replaced with a “God” imagined after our own current image, prejudices and all.

I’ll End This Debate Right Here: Jesus Was Not a Socialist

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It looks like Liberty University’s Falkirk Center wants to stage a debate between Charlie Kirk and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove over whether Jesus was a socialist.  Here is a taste of Jack Jenkins’s piece at Religion News Service:

Charlie Kirk says no. But the Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove says Jesus is more complicated than that.

Kirk and Wilson-Hartgrove may square off soon at a proposed debate to be hosted by the new Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty at Liberty University. 

On Thursday (Dec. 12), the Twitter account of the newly created conservative think tank posted a challenge to Wilson-Hartgrove, a progressive faith leader in North Carolina, offering to host a debate over whether Jesus was a socialist.

The tweet stipulated that the debate would be conducted between Wilson-Hartgrove and Kirk, the 26-year-old co-founder of the Falkirk Center and head of the conservative group Turning Point USA.

The tweet said both parties would also include one other participant of their choosing.

Wilson-Hartgrove, a pastor and author of “Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good,” responded by accepting the challenge and offering up prominent progressive activist the Rev. William Barber II as his partner.

However, he also appeared to reject the premise of the debate.

“Socialism emerged in the 19th (century) as a critique of capitalism, which didn’t exist in 1st century Palestine,” he tweeted. “But if (Charlie Kirk) & Falwell are up for a public conversation about what the Lord requires of us in public life, (the Rev. William Barber) & I are ready.”

Read the entire piece here.

Was Jesus a socialist?  No. Socialism did not exist until the 19th century.  I thus agree with Wilson-Hartgrove.  The entire premise of the debate is flawed.  It looks like the Falkirk’s Center’s attempt to re-educate Americans about United States history is off to a good start.

An Australian Christian Reflects on Religion and Politics in the United States

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A recent Washington Post op-ed by an Australian observer of the American religious scene should serve as a wake-up call to United States Christians. Michael Bird is a professing Christian and New Testament scholar at Ridley College in Parkville.   Here is a taste of his piece “Jesus isn’t interested in America’s two-party division“:

As a scholar of the New Testament and a professing Christian, I simply do not recognize the plethora of American “Jesuses” spawned by the political left and right. What I see is neither the Jesus of Nazareth I know from history nor the Christ of faith that I know from my church.

To begin with, I am not remotely convinced by the Jesus of American conservative culture. A Jesus who sounds like a deified version of Ronald Reagan. A Jesus who believes that God helps those who help themselves. A Jesus who rejects biological evolution but ostensibly believes in an economic contest of survival of the fittest.

Then, among progressives, their Jesus is often described in ways that would probably best fit the long-lost love child of Lenin and Lady Gaga who grew up to become an Antifa activist. The industry of progressive politics trades in a secular Jesus sanitized of anything that sounds too religious.

I understand that everyone wants Jesus on their political side. In fact, I find it heartening that Jesus is still the endorsement that everyone wants! But there are immense costs being paid when politicians and pundits claim Jesus for their own side.

The primary problem is, of course, the absurd anachronisms.

Read the entire piece here.

Steve King Compares His Suffering to Jesus on the Cross

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Trump stumping for King

Back in November, I noted that Rep. Steve King of Iowa’s 4th Congressional District is a white nationalist, favors a concrete border wall, compared immigrants to dogs, retweets Nazi sympathizers, said that only white people contribute to “civilization,” said that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” and has a Confederate flag on his desk.  Read my post, with complete references, here.

Earlier this year, King lost his spot on the House Judiciary and Agriculture committees when he said in an interview that he did not think the phrases “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” were offensive.

You would think that King has learned to keep his mouth shut.  He has not.

Here is a taste of Alex Kirkpatrick’s piece at KCCI-Des Moines:

Rep. Steve King told constituents Tuesday that he has “better insight into what (Jesus) went through for us,” likening criticism from “accusers” in the U.S. House after fellow GOP colleagues stripped him of committee assignments.

King made the comments at a town hall meeting in Cherokee, a couple of days after Easter Sunday in which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“For all that I’ve been through — and it seems strange for me to say it — but I am at a certain peace, and it is because of a lot of prayers for me,” King said, according to a Facebook live video posted on his page.

“When I have to step down to the floor of the House of Representatives and look up at those 400-and-some accusers, you know we just passed through Easter and Christ’s passion, and I have better insight into what he went through for us, partly because of that experience,” the Kiron Republican, who is a member of the Roman Catholic Church, continued.

Read the entire piece here.

How Do We “Render Unto Caesar” in a Democracy?

CaesarThe following exchange takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22: 16-22.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[b] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Several Trump evangelicals are using this verse to justify their support for the POTUS.

Over at the Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz asks a question about coins:

So how might we hear Matthew 22:21 differently if we’re looking at the metallic relief of a long-dead president who held limited power for a relatively short period of time, rather than that of a living emperor with the hubris to believe himself a figure of unimpeachable power?

Great question.

Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University, adds:

Perhaps we’d then hear “render unto Caesar” as a reminder that, if American Christians owe limited allegiance to any secular authority, they owe it to no one person, but to the American people, who govern themselves through elected representatives sworn to protect the Constitution. The same Constitution that keeps even presidents from benefiting financially from their position, from obstructing the work of those who investigate lawbreaking, or from inventing fake national emergencies in order to subvert the work of those who make laws.

So render to God what is God’s: your image-bearing self commanded to love other image-bearers. And render to Trump what is Trump’s: your responsibilities as an American citizen to dissent from unwise and unjust uses of American power and to hold American demagogues accountable for their attempts to play Caesar.

Read Gehrz’s entire piece here.  It deserves a wide readership, especially for his thoughts on court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s use of this verse.

What is the Great Commission?

Great Commission

Yesterday I did a post on John Allen Chau, the missionary killed at the hands of an indigenous tribe on the island of New Sentinel off the coast of India.  You can read it here.

It is hard to gauge exactly how the post was received based on “likes,” retweets, and Facebook comments, but I think its fair to say that about half of the readers (or at least those who responded in some way) liked the piece and half of the readers hated it.  Most of my academic historian friends disagreed (some stronger than others).  Most of my evangelical friends seemed to like it.  This doesn’t surprise me.

I have received comments on almost every point in the post, but I was particularly struck by the criticism of something I wrote under point #1:

The Great Commission is one of the reasons I remain an evangelical. If you are a Christian and do not believe in evangelism, missions, or “making disciples” in the world then you need to explain to me why you take Jesus’s words seriously in some places of the Gospels (love your neighbor, caring for the poor, etc.) and not in Matthew 28:16-20.  It seems to me that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 is something more than simply, “go into the world and do acts of social justice.”  If this is what the Great Commission means, then I am not sure how Christianity is any different than the Peace Corps or some other non-religious agency.  It seems to me that the requirement to “make disciples” and “baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit” requires something more….

Here is one tweet that is representative of the criticism I received:

Several folks like Mr. Bailey have suggested that I don’t believe in social justice.  Not true.  Anyone who has read this blog or read Believe Me would know that this is not the case.  Here was my response to Mr. Bailey:

So I ask the question again?  What does the Great Commission mean to Christians?  Not just evangelical Christians, but Christians of all stripes?  Here is the passage from Matthew 28:16-20:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

As I noted above in the excerpt from my Chau post, I am specifically curious to hear how Christians interpret the phrases “make disciples” and “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Is the Great Commission just about caring for the sick and feeding the poor?  Or is it something more? What does “baptize” mean here?  And if it does not mean literal water baptism (or baptism with the Holy Spirit?), then how do we distinguish what is a literal exhortation in the Gospels from a symbolic or metaphorical passage? It seems that progressive Christians take the words and message of Jesus very literally when it comes to his comments about the poor, the rich, or the stranger.  I take them literally too.  But is there something I should know about biblical scholarship on Matthew 28 that would lead me to conclude that I should not take literally Jesus’s words about “making disciples” and “baptizing” them in the name of the Trinity?

And if the Great Commission is just related to acts of social justice, then how is Christianity any different than a non-religious group that does these things?

I am not necessarily interested in hearing from conservative evangelicals.  I already know how you are going to answer this question.  I want to hear from progressive Christians (evangelical or mainline Protestant) or Catholics or even Mormons.  What does the Great Commission mean in your understanding of Christian faith?  How do your churches interpret it?

Maybe I need to go to the library and take out a few biblical commentaries.

I apologize in advance to readers who are not interested in this conversation.  Thanks for indulging me as I work out some of these questions in such a public forum.

Paula White Responds to Critics of Her Recent Comments on Immigration

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

Last week we did a post on Paula White’s defense of Donald Trump’s immigration policy.  Get up to speed here.

Now White has turned to the Christian Post to take on her critics.

Here is a taste:

During the interview I made an off-handed comment that although Jesus was a refugee as a baby, he didn’t break the immigration laws of his time, or else he wouldn’t be sinless or our messiah. Within a few days I was surprised to see my name all over the media as they excoriated a comment made by “Trump’s spiritual advisor.” On CNN’s Anderson 360, a Catholic priest said my comments were “appalling” and “reprehensible” and that he didn’t know what Gospel I was reading.

I don’t mean to impugn anyone’s character, but it certainly seemed like those reporting on the story were less offended by what I said as they were excited to criticize someone associated with the Trump administration. They weren’t just inferring I lacked compassion, they were calling me dumb, and by extension, all evangelicals who support the president.

As a blonde female, and as a pastor, this isn’t the first time someone has called me stupid. Sadly, it comes with the territory. And while the Bible may say turn the other cheek, it does not say allow bullies to treat you like a punching bag. The truth matters too much and, in this instance, the lives of thousands of immigrant children and their families are impacted by what our nation decides to do regarding our immigration policy.

Read the rest here.   White thinks that the only reason people criticized her is because they want to attack a supporter of Donald Trump.  In other words, she thinks this is all about politics.  Maybe she is right.  But many of us criticize Trump-loving court evangelicals because they use really bad theology to prop-up the president.

Court Evangelical Paula White is the Latest to Use the Bible to Defend Trump’s Immigration Policies

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

Court evangelical Paula White, the prosperity preacher who claims to have led Donald Trump to Christ, is now using the Bible to defend the separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border.

Tara Isabella Burton is all over this story.  Here is a taste of her piece at VOX:

In recent weeks and months, a number of prominent evangelical leaders associated with President Donald Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisory council, as well as members of Trump’s administration, have used Biblical precedent to defend Trump’s policy of family separation at the US-Mexico border.

Few, however, have been as brazen as Paula White, the prosperity gospel preacher (and Trump’s right-hand woman) who told the right-leaning faith-based Christian Broadcasting Network that Jesus could not have broken any immigration laws during his family’s flight to Egypt because Jesus, who was without sin, could not therefore have broken the law.

White spent the interview defending Trump on his policy of family separation, calling the camps in which migrant children are being detained “amazing.” She argued for the Biblical precedent of family separation. “I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, ‘Well, Jesus was a refugee,’” White told the network. She added, “Yes, [Jesus] did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years. But it was not illegal. If He had broken the law then He would have been sinful and He would not have been our Messiah.”

White is referring to a part of the Biblical narrative recounted in the gospel of Matthew, as well as some books of Biblical Apocrypha. According to tradition, the King of Judea at the time of Jesus’s birth, Herod — fearful of a premonition that another “king of the Jews” has been born — slaughters all new infant boys in the area. Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus find refuge from Herod’s wrath in Egypt, returning only after Herod’s death.

Read the entire piece here.

Two quick thoughts:

First, as Burton notes, Jesus was crucified for political insurrection.  Last time I checked that involves breaking the law.

Second, White says that the detention centers are “amazing.”  She also said that the kids get “three square meals, psychiatric care, clinician, medical care, chapel, events, schooling, language, and love.”  I know the comparison is not exact or perfect, but when I read these words I thought about what Southern evangelical slaveholders in the early 19th century said about their slaves when slavery met with criticism from Northern abolitionists.   Here is a passage from George Fitzhugh‘s 1857 defense of slavery:

The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care or labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, no more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. Besides, they have their Sabbaths and holidays. White men, with som muh of license and abandon, would die of ennui; but negroes luxuriate in corporeal and mental repose. With their faces upturned to the sun, they can sleep at any hour; and quiet sleep is the greatest of human enjoyments.

I will stop there and let someone else dissect the rest of these absurd Paula White remarks.  Want to learn more about White?  Check out chapter 4 of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

You Are Never Going to Believe Which Verse Was Most Quoted in American Newspapers Between 1840 and 1920. (And It Wasn’t Romans 13)

luke-18-16

With all this talk of Romans 13, it is worth noting that the most cited verse in American newspapers between 1840 and 1920 was Luke 18:16:

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

This verse, which seems to have some relevance to our current immigration mess, was:

  • The third most quoted Bible verse in the 1840
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1850s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1860s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1870s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1880s
  • The second most quoted Bible verse in the 1890s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1900s
  • The third most quoted Bible verse in the 1910s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1920s

Thanks to Lincoln Mullen for creating the tool that enabled me to write this post and make this point.

A Baptist Church Removes Jesus Statue Because It’s Too Catholic

Baptist JesusThe Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina is removing a statue of Jesus because it is “too Catholic in nature.”

Here is a taste of Mary Rezac’s article at Catholic News Agency:

The white, hand-carved statue in question shows Christ with his outstretched and stepping out of the wall, while the reliefs depict images from Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Red Bank Baptist Church leaders sent a letter to the artist, Bert Baker Jr., earlier this month, informing him that the congregation had voted to remove the statue because it was being perceived as a Catholic icon and was causing confusion among churchgoers.

“We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms. As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church,” church leaders Jeff Wright and Mike Dennis said in the letter.

Baker, a former member of the church’s congregation himself, was commissioned to make the statue for Red Bank in 2007.

Read the rest here.

This Explains a Lot

Great Commission

According to Barna, 51% of churchgoers have never heard of the Great Commission.

Here is a taste of Barna’s research:

In partnership with Seed Company, Barna conducted a study of the U.S. Church’s ideas about missions, social justice, Bible translation and other aspects of spreading the gospel around the world, available now in the new report Translating the Great Commission. When asked if they had previously “heard of the Great Commission,” half of U.S. churchgoers (51%) say they do not know this term. It would be reassuring to assume that the other half who know the term are also actually familiar with the passage known by this name, but that proportion is low (17%). Meanwhile, “the Great Commission” does ring a bell for one in four (25%), though they can’t remember what it is. Six percent of churchgoers are simply not sure whether they have heard this term “the Great Commission” before.

The Author’s Corner with John Turner

image001John Turner is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University. This interview is based on his new book, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Harvard University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Mormon Jesus?

JT: For years, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that many Christians insist that Mormons are not Christians even though Latter-day Saints so consistently and fervently demonstrate their devotion to Jesus Christ.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Mormon Jesus?

JT: Rather than a “new religion,” Mormonism is a vibrant new branch of Christianity. In visions, revelations, scriptures, hymns, doctrine, rituals, and artwork, Latter-day Saints have imagined and encountered a Savior who is both distinctly Mormon and utterly Christian.

JF: Why do we need to read The Mormon Jesus?

JT: I try hard — albeit without much success — to teach my daughter the differences between “needs” and “wants.” You don’t need to read this book, but you should want to because in its pages you’ll find men and women seeing Jesus Christ in visions, listening to their Savior’s words, wondering if they are his biological descendants, and creating beautiful paintings and statues of him.

One also has to consider the reasons for the LDS Church’s survival and growth. In part, it’s because Joseph Smith and his successors addressed questions of longstanding concern to many Christians: which is Christ’s true church? Does Jesus Christ, or does God, still speak to his church? How? What did Jesus look like? When will Jesus return?

Certainly, the Latter-day Saints introduced beliefs and practices that set them apart from their surrounding Protestant religious culture. Still, thinking about Mormonism as a new chapter within the longer story of Christianity opens up new ways to understand the LDS Church’s past and present.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JT: Due to deficiencies in talent and height, professional tennis did not pan out.

I fell in love with history gradually. Thinking back, my attraction to history began through the narratives of the Bible, which were far more interesting than the sermons I heard in church. I also had great history teachers in both high school and college, and they introduced me to books — such as Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand and Peter Brown’s The Cult of the Saints — that in turn stoked my imagination. In terms of my focus on U.S. History, I had great professors who wove together literature, history, and theology in their own study of the American past.  

JF: What is your next project?

JT: I’m working on a history of Plymouth colony. Having started my career with a study of post-WWII American evangelicalism, I’m hoping to get to late antiquity or so by the time I retire.

JF: Thanks, John!  Great stuff.

 

Carson and Jesus and Trump

Perhaps some of you have seen this picture.  It is apparently hanging in former presidential candidate Ben Carson’s house:

Carson and Jesus

Apparently a new picture has surfaced in the last twenty-four hours:

Trump and Carson