Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court evangelicals prayer

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

John Hagee invited Fox News commentator, conspiracy theorist, disgraced Christian college president, and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza to speak at the Sunday evening service at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Watch:

D’Souza tells the audience that American exceptionalism is ordained by God and it is under attack. He then moves into his usual critique of socialism. This then devolves into a rejection of systemic racism. If the camera shots of the audience members nodding their heads and cheering is any indication, D’Souza seems to be getting through to them. This is what pro-Trump megachurches have become. It’s pure fearmongering.

The Supreme Court made an important religious liberty decision today, but some court evangelicals and other Trump evangelicals are still fighting. They continue to stoke fear about threats to religious liberty.

“Christian” politico Ralph Reed turns a SCOTUS victory into a chance to get revenge against his enemy.

Johnnie Moore, the self-professed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” responds to the SCOTUS decision in a way Bonhoeffer would not have recognized as Christian. Perhaps Johnnie needs to read The Cost of Discipleship.

This is what blind court evangelicalism looks like:

And this (notice “ALL” in all caps):

When you think David French is an “irrational woke liberal” and mock someone’s military service it speaks volumes about you and the institution you work for. In Jenna Ellis’s case it is Liberty University. Remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Jenna Ellis was on the Eric Metaxas Show today talking about Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech. Metaxas, who is also a spokesperson at the Falkirk Center, says anyone who criticized the speech is “loony.” He mocks the Sioux leaders who pointed out that Mount Rushmore was on Lakota land: “They have benefited from this country.” Ellis thinks that Trump gave the nation an “honest history lesson” during the speech. Again, this should be offensive to any serious classroom teacher who is working to give American young people honest history lessons. In one of the more comical moments of the interview, Ellis praises Trump for his love of the nuclear family and commitment to the institution of marriage.

Wait a minute, I thought Biden was working with Black Lives Matter to undermine America?:

Richard Land is spewing Christian nationalism:

There is a lot that is wrong with this thread. I don’t have time to respond directly right now, but if you want to dig deeper:

  1. Read this blog. It has subject tags, category tags, and a search engine. I’ve been addressing this stuff for years.
  2. Read Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
  3. Read my post on Os Guinness’s similar claims about the American and the French Revolution.
  4. Read two books on American exceptionalism: John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea and Abram Van Engen’s City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism.

Jack Graham issues a warning:

Graham’s words remind me what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump about the Election of 1800 and the evangelical response to the threat of the Deep State Illuminati in the early republic.

Until next time.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Report on Racism and Slavery is Well-Done and It is a Big Step in the Right Direction


In case you haven’t heard, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville recently issued a 66-page historical report on its long history of supporting slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, racial inequality, Lost Cause mythology, and white supremacy.  The scholars who composed the report produced an excellent work of institutional history.  I have known professors Gregory Wills, Matthew Hall, and John Wilsey to be first-rate historians and honest scholars.

A wise friend once told me that when it comes to dealing with race and racial reconciliation in America all of us (especially white people) are on a journey.  When we engage the darkness of race relations in the United States we are always going to encounter people who are at various stages on that journey.  What I have learned in recent years is that we must walk beside one another on this journey and help each other along the way.  As I see it, it is the only way forward.

I say this because I have been disappointed by the response the SBTS statement has received by those who seem to believe that they are further down the road on the question of race relations in America.  Rather than seeing this statement as a MAJOR step in the right direction for SBTS–a step that should be commended by all those concerned with racism in the Christian community–most of the coverage has attacked the statement as not going far enough.

For example, I think Rod Dreher, bombast aside, is generally correct in his criticism of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s piece in the Washington Post.  Here is a taste of Dreher:

The gist of his column is that because the leaders of SBTS are theologically conservative, and because many white Southern Baptists are politically conservative, they are not much different from their slaveholding and white supremacist ancestors. If they were really sorry for slavery and white supremacy, Wilson-Hartgrove’s column says, then the Southern Baptists would become Social Justice Warriors like — golly! — Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

It’s an extraordinarily graceless piece of work. It’s important for this reason. Today I blogged about the Fairness For All proposal, an attempt by some Evangelical leaders — conservatives among them — to find middle ground on the struggle between LGBT rights and religious liberty. Already some conservative Evangelicals are calling it a sellout of principle that will in any case not be respected by liberals and progressives. Part of their argument is that progressives do not negotiate in good faith, that if you yield even a bit, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to smash you.

A column like Wilson-Hartgrove’s gives ammunition to the “no compromise” side. To be clear, I don’t believe for a second that SBTS president Albert Mohler ordered the appraisal because he sought any kind of political advantage, whatever that might look like. I believe he did it because it was, and remains, the right thing to do. But those on the religious right who oppose initiatives like this on grounds that it will allow progressives to weaponize confession and repentance will cite Wilson-Hartgrove’s column as evidence that the Evangelical left is interested only in scoring points against their enemies.

Read Dreher’s entire post here.  I wonder if Wilson-Hartgtove, whose work I admire, just missed an opportunity to walk alongside SBTS as they embark on this journey.

And here is historian Alison Collis Greene, a historian I know and respect, at National Public Radio:

Notwithstanding the seminary’s new openness about its pro-slavery past, the detailed chronology ends in 1964. “In the decades following the civil rights movement, the seminary continued to struggle with the legacy of slavery and racism,” the report concludes, but without further elaboration.

“Making a statement about Confederate monuments might be a next step,” says Alison Greene, a historian of U.S. religion at Emory University in Atlanta, “or taking a stand on questions of voting rights in the 21st century. That would be really significant.”

Greene, who was raised as a Southern Baptist, found the seminary report lacking in its failure to acknowledge any consequence of the denomination’s recent association with conservative politicians and the policies they have promoted.

“It papers over a generation of hand-in-glove cooperation with efforts to roll back every single social program that served African-Americans or promised to rectify, even in the smallest ways, the gross economic and social effects of enslavement and segregation and inequality on black communities,” Greene says.

Greene’s criticism here is fair.  But rather than see the statement for what it doesn’t do, I prefer to see it for what it does do.

I know Greene has not been at Emory University very long.  Perhaps she will be able to help Emory add to its own statement about the school’s connection to slavery.  It is nowhere near as thorough as SBTS’s statement and it stops at 1962.

NBC’s coverage quotes my friend, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs professor Paul Harvey: “The Southern Baptist Seminary, and by extension the denomination leaders…did a very good job of reckoning with the past, and a not-so-good job of reckoning with the present.”  Again, this is a fair criticism.  SBTS has a long way to go on this issue.  Perhaps a model for moving forward might be what is happening at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”  (Listen to episode 43 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).  But in the meantime, I am glad to see that SBTS has begun the journey.  As someone on my Facebook page noted, “Let’s hope they keep walking.” Yes!  We will be watching.

I hope future coverage of this statement will be more balanced.  For example, why hasn’t The Washington Post, NPR, or NBC talked with African-American leaders within the Southern Baptist Church?  Where are the interviews with Fred Luter, Thabiti Anyabwile, Byron Day or anyone in the National African Fellowship or the Black SBC Denominational Servants Network?

I also hope other southern schools–seminaries, colleges, and universities–will do the kind of historical work SBTS has done as a necessary starting point to address their own racist pasts.  I am thrilled to see the way these SBTS professors are using the study of history to work toward justice.

What Would Tocqueville Say About Trump?

TocquevilleCheck out John Wilsey’s essay at The American Conservative comparing Donald Trump’s politics with the political thought of Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America.

Here is a taste:

Still, if Tocqueville was right about manners and their significance to American democratic institutions—and full disclosure, I believe that he is—then we are surely living in interesting times. The phenomenon of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump becomes an interesting case study in Tocqueville’s writings about manners. It is hard to be neutral about Trump. Ezra Klein recently expressed what many worried Republicans are thinking—namely, Trump is fun, but are we really prepared to have him represent the United States to the world? And what attracts voters to Trump? Seventy-eight percent of Republican primary voters in South Carolina liked him because he “tells it like it is.”

And how does he do that? He insults. He uses profanity. He bombasts. If you’re really interested, check out this catalogue of Trump insults on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. (Spare yourself. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.) This kind of behavior reveals what he thinks about human dignity. Forget about his pro-choice stances, if you can. Forget about his racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant policy positions, if you must. Just note what comes out of his mouth.

Trump’s statements shock many. I hear a lot of my evangelical Christian friends express their befuddlement, asking things like “Who is supporting him?” and “I don’t know anyone who backs him.” Clearly, a lot of people are. And instead of being shocked by Trump and his buffoonery, we should be shocked at ourselves.

After all, Trump is not an anomaly. He is a reflection of American culture. He is the image of the coarseness and incivility in American culture that has grown more and more pronounced until today, when it is acceptable for a major presidential candidate to refer to one of his opponents as a p***y. He ought to have his mouth washed out with soap. (That was my grandmother’s form of waterboarding.)

When we see Trump, we see ourselves. Trump is a credible candidate today, and he would not have been credible in the past. Trump has always been a boor, but American manners have not always been boorish enough for Trump to find a place in public discourse. Now they are. We have no one to blame but ourselves, we who have become narcissistic, uncivil, civically lazy, obdurate, gullible, uncouth, easily offended, and in the prophet Jeremiah’s words, we are so implacable, we do “not know how to blush.”

Read the entire essay here.

Some Quick Thoughts on Trump and Evangelicals

Trump and BIbleIn 1620, the Puritan John Winthrop said that Massachusetts Bay Colony was a “City on a Hill.”  The Puritans who came to New England believed that they were a new Israel–God’s chosen people.  This sense of Christian exceptionalism, as my friend John Wilsey has recently shown, has been around for a long time.  The so-called “greatness” of America has been inextricably linked in the minds of many Christians to the blessing of God.

In 1776, John Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, preached a sermon entitled The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men.  In this sermon the Presbyterian minister and president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton argued that the American Revolution was a just cause because God is always on the side of liberty.  The British colonies were fighting for liberty. The King and Parliament were acting in a tyrannical fashion.  Based on this logic, Witherspoon believed God was on the side of the American Revolution.

In the early nineteenth century evangelical Christians, the products of the so-called “Second Great Awakening,” formed dozens of reform movements to Christianize the nation.  These evangelical reformers believed that God had a special destiny for the United States.  If they could Christianize the culture they might even usher in the second coming of Jesus Christ.  The fate of the gospel and the fate of the nation were tightly bound.

During the Civil War both the North and South connected their visions for America with divine Providence.  At the turn of the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson tried to make the world safe for democracy and did so with a sense of Christian zeal.  During the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower baptized American prosperity and the free-market with a dose of Christian nationalism.  “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” was placed on paper money during this decade because Americans wanted to distinguish the “greatness” of their country from the so-called “godless Communists.”   And in the 1970s and 1980s these historic efforts to link God and country were enhanced by the evangelicals and fundamentalists who founded the Christian Right.

This quick and dirty sketch reveals that “God and country” idealism has been around, in one form or another, since the 17th century.  When Christianity is not protected, celebrated, and even privileged America ceases to be great.  When people believe that the American economy is not strong, or when newcomers do not seem to assimilate as quickly as natives would like to see them assimilate, then it is a sign that God is disciplining the nation.  When this happens, a revival of Christianity and patriotism (which have often been code words for nativism) is necessary to “make America great again.” 

Over the last several months I have spent a lot of time talking with evangelicals who support Donald Trump or are leaning toward Trump.  I do not question their religious faith.  They are people who read their Bibles and pray.  Some go to church and some do not, but they do take their relationship with God seriously.

They also take their identity as patriots seriously.  If we understand American religious history and the longstanding connection between Christianity and nationalism, the fact that so many evangelicals are supporting Trump should not surprise us.

Trump may be crude and offer very little in terms of policy, but by trying to “make America great again” he has embarked, in the minds of many evangelicals, on a divine mission.

A Very Nice Review of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast

podcast-icon1Over at his blog To Breathe Your Free Air (that is quote from James Madison, by the way), John Wilsey has written a very glowing review of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.

Thanks John!

Here is a taste:

Fea brings his expertise and engaging personality to the forefront in his new podcast. He is joined by producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling, who was one of Fea’s students at Messiah College and is now working on his dissertation. (Hermeling’s presence on the podcast is a testament to Fea’s effectiveness as a teacher and advisor to students). During the first segment of each episode, Fea and Hermeling have conversation together about their teaching, research, and small personal details. They are obviously good friends, and enjoy a fine rapport as two historians interested in engaging the public with important historical issues. In the second segment of each episode, Fea interviews a featured historian on his/her work.

Fea and Hermeling have produced four episodes to date. In Episode 1, James Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association, talked with Fea on #EverythingHasAHistory. Episode 2 featured Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn: the Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade. Fea and Williams discussed the history of the culture wars since the latter half of the 20th century. In Episode 3, Fea engages Yoni Applebaum in a fascinating conversation about history and politics. Episode 4 came out on February 28–Fea and Hermeling welcomed Sam Wineburg to discuss teaching history in a STEM dominated context.

As Fea explained in Episode 1, his boyhood dream was to become an investigative journalist. He became a historian after graduating from seminary because, as he said, he loves telling stories about the past. What makes Fea’s podcast engaging is that he combines elements of these two vocations as he discusses issues with Hermeling and with his guests. Every episode has featured famous historians who have done important work–but Fea’s questions are not only about their work and interests. His questions bring history out into the open, so to speak. He brings the importance of history to bear on issues of interest to society as a whole, as well as to specialists, through his conversations with his guests.

In this way, Fea’s podcast serves a distinct public function. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote extensively about what he termed “interest rightly understood” in his Democracy in America. Tocqueville did not think Americans were all that virtuous, but they were pragmatic enough to make a number of small sacrifices of their personal interests to help advance those of their communities. Fea acknowledges that many people don’t particularly like history, and he often addresses the objection from students and parents that a history major is not useful in our technology laden society. But people are interested in politics, sports, religion, movies, etc. And if the public can adopt a historical perspective on what interests them by thinking historically, then everyone benefits.

In Chapter XVIII of Volume I of Democracy, Tocqueville wrote,

The majority of [Americans] believe that a man, by following his own interest rightly understood, will be led to do what is just and good. . . . they judge that the diffusion of knowledge must necessarily be advantageous, and the consequences of ignorance fatal; they all consider society as a body in a state of improvement, humanity as a changing scene, in which nothing is, or ought to be, permanent; and they admit that what appears to them to-day to be good, may be superseded by something better to-morrow.

While I take issue with certain features of Tocqueville’s anthropology here (as I suspect Fea might as well), I think Fea would agree that the “diffusion of knowledge”–specifically, historical knowledge, and methods of historical thinking that attend that knowledge–is a good thing for our society, that it leads to civility in discourse among other benefits. Furthermore, Fea clearly believes that historical knowledge helps lead society toward “a state of improvement,” as Tocqueville wrote. That makes Fea’s blog and podcast very aptly named indeed.

Read the entire review here.

John Wilsey on the Amercian Exceptionalism of John Foster Dulles

4ba2a-wilseyJohn Wilsey teaches history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary–Houston campus and is the author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea.  This is a must-read if you are a Christian who is trying to make sense of the relationship between your faith and American identity.  But Wilsey’s book will also be useful for anyone–Christian or not–who is interested in the history of the idea of American exceptionalism.  See our Author’s Corner interview with Wilsey here.

John has been thinking about writing a religious biography of Cold War intellectual John Foster Dulles.  I hope he decides to do it.

In the meantime, John has written a piece at History News Network that bridges his current book with his possible future project and applies his findings to the 2016 Election. Here is a taste of “The Legacy of John Foster Dulles That Remains With Us to this Day.

How do we see the continuation of Dulles’s legacy in contemporary times? Certainly we can see it in manifold ways, but let us consider that legacy through the lens of the presidential candidacy of GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio has made American exceptionalism the centerpiece of his personal narrative, and by extension, his entire campaign.

This past July, Rubio sat for a question and answer session hosted by Americans for Peace, Prosperity, and Security at Furman University in Greenville, SC. What he said about American exceptionalism in general, and America’s role in the world in particular, was strikingly similar to Dulles’s vision of America’s global responsibility. “For reasons we don’t fully understand, “ he said, “America has been charged with this task of being the most influential nation on the earth.” One may wonder, who gave this charge to America? Rubio implied that the charge is God-given.

In contrast to America, which is committed to righteousness, China threatens the world with moral darkness for Rubio. He said that China “does not respect human rights,” “does not respect religious liberties,” “does not allow its people unfettered access to the internet and information.” And what happens if America were to step aside from its divine charge to lead the world? Rubio’s answer is “chaos, violence, war, radical jihadism.” Without American leadership, Rubio said that “the world will return to an age of darkness, of violence, of lack of freedoms.”

Rubio clearly believes in the moral imperative of American power and leadership, just as Dulles did in the 1950s. He divides the world into the forces of good and the forces of evil, just as Dulles did. The vision of an exceptional, indispensable America on a God-given mission is not new to Americans. But Dulles’s vision of a global mission in a Manichaean universe has become an article of faith to many Americans. It does not seem to be going away anytime soon.

Read the entire piece here.


David Barton as "Christian Illusionist"

John Wilsey teaches history and theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Houston.  He is the author of One Nation Under God? An Evangelical Critique of Christian America, a book that I have reviewed here at the blog and continue to recommend.

On Saturday night, John had a front row seat for a David Barton presentation at the First Baptist Church of Brazoria, TX.  When I heard that John was attending the session, I asked him to report on the event for our readers here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Enjoy!

Last night, David Barton appeared at the First Baptist Church of Brazoria, TX (south of Houston) to make his presentation on America’s Christian heritage.

My interest in Barton comes from my having critiqued his, and other works on the Christian America thesis, so I was definitely anxious to hear him. I knew the church would be packed out, so I made sure I got there early. Of course, no self-respecting Baptist ever sits on the front row no matter how crammed the place is, so the best seats in the house smoothly beckoned me.

Right at 7 p.m. the MC representing the local Baptist association hosting the event stood up to the pulpit and led us in the recitation of the pledge to the US flag. (Don’t get me started on pledging the flag in church). Then he gave the introduction of Barton, “America’s Historian” according to “a major media news outlet” and “one of Time’s 25 Most Influential Evangelicals.” Barton ascended the dais, and immediately he was off.

Say what you want about Barton, he is a walking encyclopedia. He can rattle off names, places, dates, and block quotes with the best of them. He also had in his repertoire a host of obscure anecdotes that delighted his audience. He was certainly an engaging speaker. I could not help but hang on to every word. He was both witty and deadly earnest. He had the 300 or so people present in the palm of his hand throughout the two hour lecture. As a teacher and a preacher, I must say he has a gift that I lack.

But being there was less like listening to a historian present on some topic on the early republic and more like being at a magic show. Barton is really more like a Christian illusionist than a historical thinker and teacher. When you go to a magic show, you see the illusionist manipulate the props in order to dazzle you with effects that at face value, look impossible but are undeniable. Barton is like that. His props were a collection of raw historical data that he artfully and eloquently presented to the audience. Then, just like an illusionist does, he manipulated that data, compelling the audience to intuitively come to the conclusion that America was and is specially chosen by God to be a Christian nation.

Barton’s use of the raw data was ironically, but predictably, shoddy. He got a lot right. But there were several annoying, bugaboo errors throughout his presentation. Not one of them was fatal to his credibility, but taken together, they undermined him considerably. Black preacher Rev. Richard Allen did not, in fact, serve as the lone pastor of a 2000 member white church in Philadelphia. Woodrow Wilson was not the first writer of history to present American society as divided along racial lines based on fear, hate, and social Darwinism. The first Bible printed in America was not produced by the US Congress. The United States had not consistently stood up for the religiously oppressed of the world until fifty or so years ago. Frederick Douglass was not a promoter of American exceptionalism. The Constitution does not find its source in Scripture. The Second Great Awakening was not an eighty year period of pure Christian awakening resulting in a general state of godliness. America has never, before or after Abington v Schempp (1963), been a paragon of biblical righteousness. But these kinds of errors are common in Barton’s writings, and are to be expected.

The really disturbing aspect of the presentation is that Barton is a manipulator of Christian folks who sincerely love their country. He goes in front of Bible believing people who, for the most part, do not spend all their time thinking about the American founding but who do want to believe that America’s heritage is exclusively Protestant. He goes with data mined from the historical record that will suit his particular cultural agenda. He presents that data with no explanation of context. He gives no credit to any other sources that are not explicitly evangelical.

And he implies that anyone who might arrive at a different conclusion than his falls into one of two categories—either she is one of those who believe that “all the founders were deists” or she is of the group that thinks that “the founders were enemies of Christ.”

Barton has a smugness about him that is strange and off-putting in a church setting. In Barton’s world, there are three types of people: first, there are those who think they know the founders better than they knew themselves. These are the scholars, the PhDs who reject Barton’s thesis. He is sarcastically disdainful of them. Second are those plain people who, by Barton’s lights, have not a clue about the source of our founding ideas. And he pities these. But for Barton, the common factor that joins these groups together is that, “they just don’t know their history” or “their Bibles.”

Then, there’s Barton. He knows everything. And he just comes to the simple conclusion, from the founders’ own words, that America is a chosen nation of God in Christ. But Barton is the one who doesn’t know his history, or his Bible. If he were a student presenter in one of my classes, I would dock him severely based on his historical and theological errors alone. He said that “revival cannot happen in a climate hostile to God” but he must not know that the salient periods of Christian growth have always come through persecution. He irrationally denies that his conclusion leads him where he cannot go—to the establishment of Christianity in America. He doesn’t seem to appreciate the difference between special grace and common grace—special grace being limited to things pertaining to salvation, and common grace being bestowed on the “just and the unjust alike.” This leads him to dangerously conflate America with salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

Sure, he has a host of facts from the Bible and from the past at his fingertips. He can sure dazzle an audience with his effortless use of them. But he forces those facts, errors and all, into what becomes a bulging, bulky, gawdy package labeled, “Christian America.” 

And the audience loved it.