The Complicit Court Evangelicals

COurt Evangelicals

I just finished “Collaborators,” Anne Applebaum‘s brilliant essay in the July/August 2020 issue of The Atlantic. It is subtitled: “What causes people to abandon their principles in support of a corrupt regime? And how do they find their way back?”

Applebaum writes about Trump supporters and members of the administration who have abandoned longstanding principles in order to support the corrupt presidency of Donald Trump. Throughout the essay she compares and contrasts people like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and others with similar “collaborators” drawn from her experience covering Eastern Europe under communism.

She writes

Czeslaw Milosz, a Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, wrote about collaboration from personal experience. An active member of the anti-Nazi resistance during the war, he nevertheless wound up after the war as a cultural attache at the Polish embassy in Washington, serving his country’s Communist government. Only in 1951 did he defect, denounce the regime, and dissect his experience. In a famous essay, The Captive Mind, he sketched several lightly disguised portraits of real people, all writers and intellectuals, each of whom had come up with different ways of justifying collaboration with the party. Many were careerists, but Milosz understood that careerism could not provide a complete explanation. To be part of a mass movement was for many a chance to end their alienation, to feel close to the “masses,” to be united in a single community with workers and shopkeepers. For tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace: It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil. Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Milosz wrote, ‘he eats with relish, his movement take on vigor, his color returns. He sits down and writes a ‘positive’ article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it.’ Milosz is one of the few writers to acknowledge the pleasure of conformity, the lightness of heart that it grants, the way that is solves so many perceived and professional dilemmas.

And this:

20 months into the Trump administration, senators and other serious-minded Republicans in public life who should have known better began to tell themselves stories that sound very much like those in Milosz’s The Captive Mind. Some of these stories overlap with one another; some of them are just thin cloaks to cover self-interest. But all of them are familiar justifications of collaboration, recognizable from the past. 

Applebaum then lists the “most popular” forms of collaboration or complicity:

  1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.”
  2. “We can protect the country from the president.”
  3. “I personally, will benefit.”
  4. “I remain close to power.”
  5. “LOL nothing matters.”
  6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.”
  7. “I am afraid to speak out.”

I could not help but think about Applebaums’s seven forms of collaboration in light of my own work on Trump’s court evangelicals. (She does mention a few of them in the essay).  It seems like most of these forms of complicity, to one degree or another, explain why so many conservative evangelicals stand with this immoral president.

1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.” When most conservative evangelicals talk about “great things” they have abortion, traditional marriage, and religious liberty in mind. They are thus willing to collaborate with Trump in order to accomplish these things. Applebaum tells the story of a man named Mark, a Trump administration official. Mark works for the administration, he claims, because he believes Trump is going to help the Uighurs.

She writes:

I thought I had misheard. The Uighurs? Why the Uighurs? I was unaware of anything that the administration had done to aid the oppressed Muslim minority in Xinjiang, China. Mark assured me that letters had been written, statements had been made, the president himself had been persuaded to say something at the United Nations. I doubted very much that the Uiguhrs had benefited from these empty words: China hadn’t altered its behavior, and the concentration camps built for the Uighurs were still standing. Nevertheless, Mark’s conscience was clear. Yes, Trump was destroying America’s reputation in the world, and yes, Trump was ruining America’s alliances, but Mark was so important to the cause of the Uiguhrs that people like him, in good conscience, keep working for the administration.

(Since Applebaum published this essay, John Bolton has written that Trump endorsed the mass detention of Uighur Muslims).

Many court evangelicals justify their support of Trump because they believe he will act on the policy issues they care about. They can use Trump to accomplish “great’ things and make the world a better place.

2. “We can protect the country from the president.” I am not sure many court evangelicals are making this argument. Why would they want to protect the country from a president who derives his power from almighty God?

3. “I, personally, will benefit.” On this one Applebaum writes:

These, of course, are words that few people every say out loud. Perhaps some do quietly acknowledge to themselves that they have not resigned or protested because it would cost them money or status. But no one wants a reputation as a careerist or a turncoat.

Of course no court evangelical will ever say that she or he supports Trump to gain a greater following or to become a Christian “leader” or to get rich. But we would be kidding ourselves if we think that this has nothing to do with it. Much of the court evangelical phenomenon can be explained by ambition and money and branding. They know where their bread is buttered. Just listen to Greg Thornbury talk about Eric Metaxas. Or head to Google and type in your favorite court evangelical’s name followed by the words “net worth.”

4. “I must remain close to power.”  I wrote extensively about the court evangelical pursuit of power in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Virtually every Christian Right operative who has left the movement or criticized it has said something similar to former Moral Majority leaders Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me:

…in 1999, Dobson and Thomas reflected soberly on their experience with Falwell and the Moral Majority in their book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? They concluded that the answer to the subtitle’s question was a definitive “no.” Neither Dobson nor Thomas left evangelicalism or ceased their commitment to conservative causes; but they were forced to admit that the political strategy they helped to forge in the 1980s had failed. Despite their efforts, Roe v. Wade had not been overturned. The Internet had made pornography more accessible than ever. Drug use had not subsided and crime had not dissipated in any significant way. In the process, the prophetic witness of the evangelical church was subordinated to political power and all its trappings. As Cal Thomas put it, in a reference to Palm Sunday, “Who wanted to ride into the capital on the back of an ass when one could go first class in a private jet and be picked up and driven around in a chauffeured limousine?

Thomas, who parlayed his Moral Majority fame into a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did not mince words when he disparaged the evangelical pursuit of political power. “Christian faith is about truth,” he tells his readers, and “wherever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Through his years with Falwell, Thomas learned how power is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” It is not only seductive, but all affects the judgment of the one who “takes it.” Thomas warned his evangelical readers who the case for political power threatens the spread of the gospel. He quoted the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.” Thomas pointed to the myriad ways in which the Moral Majority–and the Christian Right agenda that it spawned–played to the fears of white evangelicals. 

5. “LOL nothing matters.” I don’t think any court evangelical would embrace the kind of nihilism Applebaum writes about under this category, but I wonder if the rapture beliefs of some conservative evangelical Trump supporters might be relevant here. If the world will end at any moment, and true believers will be lifted from this earth to be with Jesus in heaven, then why not take a risk on a chaos candidate? If he defends the rights of churches, there will be more opportunities to preach the Gospel and get people to heaven.

6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.” On this point, Applebaum addresses court evangelicalism. She writes:

The Republican senators who are willing to express their disgust with Trump off the record but voted in February for him to remain in office all indulge a variation of this sentiment. (Trump enables them to get the judges they want, and those judges will help create the America they want.) So do the evangelical pastors who ought to be disgusted by Trump’s personal behavior but argue, instead, that the current situation has scriptural precedents. Like King David in the Bible, the president is a sinner, a flawed vessel, but he nevertheless offers a path to salvation for a fallen nation.

The three most important members of Trump’s Cabinet–Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Willial Barr–are all profoundly shaped by Vichyite apocalyptic thinking. All three are clever enough to understand what Trumpism really means, that is has nothing to do with God or faith, that it is self-serving, greedy, and unpatriotic. Nevertheless, a former member of the administration (one of the few who did decide to resign) told me that Pence and Pompeo “have convinced themselves that they are in a biblical moment.” All of the things they care about–outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage, and (though this is never said out loud) maintaining a white majority in America–are under threat. Time is growing short. They believe that “we are approaching the rapture, and this is a moment of deep religious significance.”

If one’s political philosophy is shaped by this sense of apocalyptic urgency, it makes sense the Hillary Clinton (and now Joe Biden) may be the Antichrist. It would also make perfect sense to instill fear in followers about what might happen if Trump is defeated in 2020.

7. “I am afraid to speak out.”  Applebaum writes:

In the United Sates of America, it is hard to imagine how fear could be a motivation for anybody. There are no mass murders of the regime’s political enemies, and there never have been. Political opposition is legal, free press and free speech are guaranteed in the Constitution. And yet even in one of the world’s oldest and most stable democracies, fear is a motive. The same former administration official who observed the importance of apocalyptic Christianity in Trump’s Washington told me, with grim disgust, that “they are all scared.”

They are scared not of prison, the official said, but of being attacked by Trump on Twitter. They are scared he will make up a nickname for them. They are scared that they will be mocked, or embarrassed, like Mitt Romney has been. They are scared of losing their social circles, of being disinvited to parties. They are scared that their friends and supporters, and especially their donors, will desert them…They are scared, and yet they don’t seem to know that this fear has precedents, or that it could have consequences. They don’t know that similar waves of fear have helped transform other democracies into dictatorships….

To what extent are court evangelical leaders and pastors scared to stand-up to Trump’s immorality because they might lose their congregations or donations for their evangelical media empires? Sometimes this kind of fear is covered-up by pious rhetoric about “civility” and “unity in the body of Christ.” Christian leaders of all stripes don’t want to rock the boat because they might offend Trump supporters.

You can read Applebaum’s entire piece here.

Monday night court evangelical roundup

Court evangelical prayer in Miami

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

A spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center thinks someone is trying to cancel Christianity. Not sure how that is possible. It’s kind of like “removing God” from public schools.

Al Mohler will vote for Trump“because the alternative is increasingly unthinkable.”

Eric Metaxas had English conservative journalist Peter Hitchens on the show to condemn England’s response to the coronavirus, but Metaxas just wanted to talk about Black Lives Matter. He tried to put words in Hitchens’s mouth, but Hitchens wouldn’t let him do it. Hitchens said he is opposed to Brexit and rejects the populism of Trump’s friend Boris Johnson. Metaxas got on his hobby-horse about how the American Left is influenced by “cultural Marxism,” but Hitchens, a true conservative, rebuked him for his use of this phrase and essentially told Metaxas that  he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Metaxas squirmed. Finally, Hitchens said that Trump is “ludicrous” and mentioned how John Bolton’s book will expose Trump’s incompetence. At one point, Metaxas compared Trump to Winston Churchill and Hitchens came just short of laughing at the suggestion. Metaxas didn’t seem to know what to do with all of this and was probably wondering why he booked Hitchens, a writer who does not fit very well with the pro-Trump propaganda machine that is the Eric Metaxas Show.

Here is Trump wonder-boy, evangelical Charlie Kirk:

Wait, now I’m confused. I thought Trump WANTED us to talk more about his rally:

Gary Bauer had some things to say about Trump’s Tulsa rally on Saturday night:

Here is Bauer at his Facebook page:

The left tried everything it could to prevent Americans from gathering together to hear a speech from our president. The protesters pulling down statues and marching in four-lane highways say they are protected by the Constitution. Yet those same people tried to prevent the president from giving a speech.

We were told that Trump walking to a church represented a threat to the Constitution because protesters were blocking the way. Those same people went into the courts to block the president’s speech. They also blocked entrances to the stadium where he spoke. They harassed attendees when they left.

The Constitution is under siege, my friends, but from the radical left, not President Trump.

David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network interviewed Trump. It will air tomorrow (Tuesday) at 11:00am. Here is a taste:

David Brody: I want to ask you, on the evangelical front. I’ve asked Sarah Sanders, Mike Pompeo, they all give me the same answer I say, was President Trump put in office for such a time as this. Did God put President Trump in office for such a time as this? I never asked you that question. What do you think?

President Trump: Well, I don’t know what they said. 

David Brody: They said yes. 

President Trump: Okay. Because I have, Ben Carson said the same thing. You know, Ben Carson came to me because he ran a very effective campaign. And he did a good job. He really did. You know, he came in one of the top people. And he said to me, you know, you’re gonna win. I said, Ben, I’m running against you. What are you telling me? He said you’re going to win because God put you here for this occasion. I said, What a lovely thing to say. That was the first one that I heard from Ben Carson. And it was during the campaign, I was running against him, and he was saying, I’m gonna win. He’s a very high-quality guy. He’s done a great job in the administration.

David Brody: Do you buy that?

President Trump: I almost don’t even want to think about it. Because you know what, all I’m gonna do is, I hope it’s true. All I’m going to do is I’m going to do my best. And part of what I’m doing my best one is for the religious community beyond evangelical, evangelicals a very big part is very important to me. You know, we have great support. I was so honored when Franklin Graham said that his father voted for me. And that was something that Billy Graham has never announced, who he was voting for. But Franklin Graham said his father voted for me. He went public with it. As you know, to me that was a big moment because I have such respect for Franklin and for the family and Billy Graham is really great. Like when he said that his father, his last vote was for me and his father never announced who was voting for, would never talk about it. Now I think I have great I think I have great support. There’s a lot of hidden support. People in our country that don’t riot, don’t protest, that don’t you know, they work hard. They never had a voice into like, meaning over the last long period of time. We call them the Forgotten men and women, they would have forgotten. They were very successful. They were, they do a great job. They’re smart, they have everything, but they were forgotten by the politicians. They showed up in 16. I think they’re going to show up in larger numbers in 20. 

Is this true for First Baptist-Dallas?:

Or in other words, vote for Trump:

Until next time.

The court evangelicals do not appear in the John Bolton book

Room Where I happend

I skimmed through John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened this weekend. I also read every word in the index. I thought Bolton might have something to say about Trump’s evangelical advisers, the folks I call the court evangelicals.

What did I find?

Nothing.

What does this mean? Here are some quick thoughts:

  1. Based on the book, one could argue that Bolton just doesn’t care about Trump’s relationship with evangelicals. He does not talk about them when he writes about Israel. Nor does he mention anything about how Mike Pompeo’s Christian faith informs his foreign policy decisions. He says nothing about the faith of Mike Pence. The court evangelical narrative is not even on his radar screen.
  2. Bolton may have left evangelicals, and evangelicalism generally, out of the book because they really do not have much of an impact on foreign policy and other matters.
  3. Bolton’s book is extremely detailed. If evangelicals played a role on Israel, global religious liberty, or anything else, one would think Bolton might mention them.

I gave the book a good skim. But if closer readers find something on evangelicals, please let me know.

John Bolton’s book will confirm everything we already knew about Trump’s character

Bolton

There will be a lot of bombshells in John Bolton’s book, but it will tell us nothing new about Trump’s narcissism. It will only confirm what we already know.

Nevertheless, Stephen Collinson’s piece at CNN on the former National Security Adviser’s forthcoming book is worth reading.

Here is a taste:

So the President’s decision to risk exposing his supporters to coronavirus — and anyone they might later meet — at an indoor rally on Saturday and extraordinary revelations from former national security adviser John Bolton might be shocking. But they merely add to a bulging file of evidence about Trump’s incessant preoccupation with his own interests and image.

Read the rest here.

And I will also join the chorus of those calling Bolton a coward for failing to testify before the House during the impeachment trial.

John Bolton’s Book is Coming

Bolton

Get ready. June 23, 2020.

Here‘s The Washington Post:

John Bolton is forging ahead with plans to publish a scathing memoir about his time in President Trump’s White House and is in negotiations with network television channels to promote the book, according to people familiar with the talks.

Bolton, who served as national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019, plans to publish “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir” on June 23, after embarking on a media tour to promote the book the weekend before, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

The White House has not formally signed off on the tome, and officials in the Trump administration have delayed the book for months due to a classification review process led by the National Security Council.

Read the rest here.

Muscular Jesus and His Tough-Guy Followers

Muscular JesusRodney Howard-Browne is the co-founder (with his wife Adonica) of Revival Ministries International, a Tampa-based Christian organization committed to revivals of “signs and wonders and miracles.”  He is a court evangelical who includes his meeting with Donald Trump as an important part of his biography.  Here is a taste of his bio:

On July 10, 2017, the last day of the meetings at the DAR, Drs. Rodney and Adonica were given the opportunity to spend the day at the White House. With a group of twenty-five others, they were invited into the Oval Office to visit President Trump. It was a surreal and humbling moment. They saw Protestant, Evangelical, and Pentecostal leaders coming together with the common purpose to pray for the President of the United States of America. President Trump was open to and sincerely welcomed their prayers.

While standing in the Oval Office, Dr. Rodney was asked to pray for President Trump. He prayed for his protection, for godly wisdom to be his portion, and that the wicked would be cut off and rooted out. It wasn’t a long prayer; it was a fervent and heartfelt one. Once Dr. Rodney left the Oval Office, he successfully launched a 24/7 prayer initiative for President Trump.

Pastor Howard-Browne is apparently very upset about John Bolton’s book manuscript.  He is so upset that he decided to tweet about it:

Howard-Browne is a real tough guy.  Don’t mess with him:

We are seeing a lot of this kind of macho Christianity lately.  I am guessing seminary professor Owen Strachan, the defender of Christian complementarianism, might have some theological differences with Pastor Howard-Browne. But Strachan seems to be playing in the same general arena when it comes to muscular Christianity.  Here is one of his recent tweets:

Strachan’s tweet reminds me of a recent tweet from conservative pundit Michelle Malkin:

“You Don’t Have the Votes”

In case you’ve missed it, Mitch McConnell does not have the votes to block impeachment witnesses.

Here is Fox News:

The White House’s plans for a speedy impeachment trial were thrown into doubt Tuesday with Senate Republicans floating competing proposals on how to deal with new explosive revelations from ex-national security adviser John Bolton — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling Republicans he doesn’t yet have enough votes to block the calling of impeachment witnesses.

GOP senators were all over the map on Tuesday as President Trump’s defense team called Bolton’s manuscript “inadmissible” and warned against opening the door to new wild-card information in the ongoing trial. Democrats have repeatedly called for Bolton to testify.

A source with knowledge of McConnell’s comments confirmed to Fox Business that the Kentucky Republican told people in a private meeting Tuesday that the GOP did not have the votes to block impeachment witnesses. A second source stressed that McConnell said he didn’t yet have the votes, with other sources saying Senate GOP leadership didn’t think the fight was over, and conversations were ongoing. The Wall Street Journal first reported McConnell’s comments.

Read the rest here.

No Fire Department Says “that [fire] started on the night shift, we are not going to put it out”

Bolton

Will there be witnesses in the Donald Trump impeachment trial?  Utah Senator Mitt Romney and Maine Senator Susan Collins want to hear from John Bolton.  According to The New York Times, John Bolton’s forthcoming book reveals that Donald Trump told Bolton he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until the country’s officials investigated the Biden family.  I am guessing that other Senators will want to hear from Bolton as well. Stay tuned.

Up until this point, Trump and his defenders have said that witness are not necessary.  If the House impeachment managers want witnesses, the GOP Senators argue, they should have called them during the House impeachment proceedings.  Whatever you think about this argument, it is no longer relevant.   We now have a first-hand witness who was not available to the House during the impeachment proceedings.  He has relevant information.  He must be heard.

John King of CNN put it best. No fire department tasked with fighting a big fire says, “that [fire] started on the night shift, we are not going to put it out.”

A Bolton Bomb Drops on the Eve of the First Full Day of Trump’s Impeachment Defense

Bolton

I wonder if this will move any GOP Senators to vote for witnesses.  It should.

Here is Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt at The New York Times:

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was in office.

Mr. Bolton’s explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates. He also sent a draft to the White House for a standard review process for some current and former administration officials who write books.

Multiple people described Mr. Bolton’s account of the Ukraine affair.

The book presents an outline of what Mr. Bolton might testify to if he is called as a witness in the Senate impeachment trial, the people said. The White House could use the pre-publication review process, which has no set time frame, to delay or even kill the book’s publication or omit key passages.

Read the rest here.