Saturday night court evangelical roundup

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

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

Samuel Rodriguez is upset about the prohibition on singing in California churches.

Jim Garlow agrees with Rodriguez:

Here is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer would probably respond to Rodriguez and Garlow.

Meanwhile, court evangelical journalist David Brody loved Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech:

Here is Brody again:

I don’t think you need to be a “far left latte sipper” to be troubled by what happened last night at Mount Rushmore. It was a “big celebration” during a pandemic with no masks or social distancing on a weekend in which the CDC warned people about gathering in large crowds. We already know that Don Trump Jr.’s wife tested positive for COVID-19. And don’t even get me started on Trump’s use of the American past to divide the country on Independence Day. I wonder what Frederick Douglass would have thought about Trump’s speech. By the way, I am not “far left” and have probably had ten latte’s in my life. I prefer the $1.00 large McDonald’s coffee on my way to campus. 🙂

Charlie Kirk, an evangelical Christian, bids his followers to come and die:

Does anyone want to help Kirk, the co-director of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, reconcile the previous tweet (above) with the one below this paragraph? I am not sure he understands the meaning of “liberty requires responsibility.” As Christian moral philosopher Josef Pieper wrote, “It is the concern of the just man…to give others due rather than to obtain what is due him.” But what does Pieper, one of the great Christian intellectuals of the 20th century, know? He is not, after all, 26-year-old Trump wonder boy Charlie Kirk:

And then there is this:

Lance Wallnau is attacking another so-called “prophet” and, in the process, offers his own prophesy. He says the coronavirus, racial unrest, Christians “taking a knee,” and the tearing down of monuments are all judgments of God on America. If you have time, read the thousands of comments on the right of the video and then come back and let’s talk about my “fear” thesis.

Jenna Ellis, a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, is getting into the “America was founded as a Christian nation” business.

She also liked Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech:

I would like to hear how John Hagee uses the Bible to defend free speech, the right to assemble, the right to petition, the freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, etc.:

Like patriotic ministers have been doing since the time of the American Revolution, Hagee takes New Testament passages about liberty and freedom and applies them to political freedom:

Tony Perkins is engaging in the same type of scriptural manipulation:

Gary Bauer throws thousands and thousands of hard-working American history teachers under the bus by telling them that they don’t love their country:

Robert Jeffress is back on Fox News defending his Lord’s Day morning political rally with a non-social-distanced choir. His defense if whataboutism:

The day before, Jeffress made his weekly visit with Lou Dobbs. Pretty much the same stuff:

Focus on the Family is running an interview with Eric Metaxas about his book If You Can Keep It. I point you to my review of this seriously flawed book. If you want to take a deeper dive into this, here is a link to my longer review. I assume that this was taped a while ago (the book appeared in 2016).  As I listen to Metaxas’s radio show today, and compare it with this interview, it is striking how far Trump and the aftermath of the George Floyd killing  has pushed him even further into a Christian Right brand of Trumpism.

Franklin Graham is quoting the Declaration of Independence. Here is a question: Was Thomas Jefferson right? I think the Christian tradition certainly values life. It certain values spiritual liberty in Christ. But what about political liberty? What about the pursuit of happiness? Perhaps this is something to discuss with your friends and family over the holiday weekend.

Until next time.

Trump’s Profanity

Trump Bible St. Johns

20th-century German Catholic moral philosopher Josef Pieper has been the gift that keeps on giving for me this week as I try to make sense of everything going on. Today, I want to call your attention to Pieper’s 1969 essay “The Sacred and Desacralization.” It provides some theological guidance as we try to make sense of Donald Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church yesterday.

Pieper starts with a story:

Frankfurt, Germany; the end of May 1948. St. Paul’s Church has been restored, in the midst of a city which still lay in ruins, for the centennial celebration of the founding of the German National Assembly. The German Writers’ Association, which had just been founded, was also holding a little festivity inside the bright, mottled sandstone rotunda. People left the radiant morning behind them and strolled into the building, engaged in lively discussions and moderately curious. A number of them, quite unabashed, continued smoking until they had finished their cigarettes, or started to light another. But then they were told, “Please don’t smoke, we’re in church!” The man next to me looked up in surprise: How could this be considered a church? I agreed with him in the sense that the form of a building alone is not enough to make it a church. After a while my neighbor went on: “And even if it were a church, a real church, why, after all, should one not be allowed to smoke?….” One year later in Berlin-Treptow, a district of East Berlin, once again people were instructed to obey the prohibition against smoking, this time when they entered the giant memorial park for the fallen solders of the Red Army…And a short time ago, in Israel–in a discreet but very firm tone–the same injunction was issued, in the restaurant at my hotel, when some Americans guests at a nearby table had finished their dinner and were taking out their cigarettes: “No smoking please!” “But why not?” This time the reason was not the place but the time. It was Friday evening and the Jewish Shabbat had begun.

Some of my evangelical friends might resist the lesson of this story. But though they may not smoke in church, they do indulge in other things during religious services. Most evangelicals do not have a very robust view of sacred space. As a result, they may not have much of a problem with what Trump did yesterday.

Pieper continues:

Clearly in none of these cases is the prohibition of smoking motivated by any practical consideration or obstacle, as it would be in auditorium or an operating room; nor is it motivated by any fear of the danger of fire…Nor does the prohibition imply any condemnation of smoking in general, any intimation that smoking is an activity in which it is really improper for people to engage. Instead it is clearly designed to call people’s attention to a boundary, to the border line separating a particular place or a particular, unusual span of time from all other, ordinary places and times, and to point out the contrast between them. The person who crosses the threshold into this “other” domain, is expected to behave in a way different from his normal behavior.

When Donald Trump used the property at St. John’s Church for his Bible-toting, violence-endorsing, race-baiting photo-op, he was engaging in profanity in the truest sense of the word. He was soiling a sacred space. I think there is a lesson here for all evangelical leaders who want to bring political speech–the language of the profane–into their churches.

Pieper elaborates further:

The purpose of the rules is the expression of reverence and respect. Respect for what? It must be for something which demands and deserves homage and veneration. If the stranger then asks what is the exact nature of this thing which is worthy of veneration, probably the answers he would receive could not so easily be reduced to a single common denominator. In any case, he would inevitably be told that this thing was in some sense “holy” (or ought to be “holy”) to human beings…

Pieper reminds us that the word “sacred” in English means “set apart.” There are certain places that “stand out from that which is everywhere and all the time, and which thus possess a peculiar and exceptional worth.”

Here is Pieper on profanity:

The “profane” is the realm of the commonplace, of that which is not endowed with this [that of sacred space] exceptional character.  By no means is “profane” necessarily synonymous with “unholy,” although of course there is also such a thing as the expressly unholy, which at the same time constitutes something in the highest degree profane.

Pieper one more time:

And regardless of whether the members of a religious congregation regard themselves as parochia (from the Greek paroika), ” a group of strangers or sojourners” (whence our word “parish”), or whether they consider themselves the citizens of the coming Kingdom, they draw a boundary line between themselves and the normal, everyday way of life, as it is lived by the citizens of an ordinary community. They may celebrate their liturgy in a makeshift church in the suburbs; in the dancehall of a village where the Diaspora has driven them into exile; in a cathedral whose costly hall is filled with stained-glass windows symbolizing the Heavenly Jerusalem; or in a concentration camp where, for a few minutes, a living wall of bodies creates a makeshift sanctuary and screens it from the grip of executioners. All these places have one thing in common: They stand out, by their poverty as much as their splendor and prodigality, from the dwelling places of everyday existence, from their death penury as well as from their deceitful luxury and comfort.

And nothing seems more natural to a man, when he is inside such an enclosure, than to behave “differently” than he behaves in other places such as a sports arena or a place of business. Naturally, in this sequestered place one continues to speak a human language, and yet it is “different” language–different in character, in intonation, in vocabulary, in gesture.

When Donald Trump moved from the Rose Garden to St. John’s Church he was moving, at least in terms of the Christian faith (as opposed to, say, American civil religion), from a profane space to a sacred space. When he arrived, he committed an act of profanity at a sacred or holy place.

Tonight in the Rose Garden and at St. John’s Church, Trump Announced His 2020 Re-Election Strategy

Trump St. Johns

It’s hard to know where to start writing about what we all just witnessed earlier this evening.

Donald Trump was scheduled to speak in the Rose Garden at 6:30pm. Shortly before his speech, Attorney General Bill Barr came out to inspect the crowd. Then federal police used tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets to drive-out peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square Park, located across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

Trump’s speech was short. He said that he was an ally of all peaceful protesters. This is another Trump lie. I wrote about that here, but the act of driving these protesters out of the park today was a sign that he does not support peaceful protesters. More on this below.

His speech did not address the racial tensions in America that led to these protests. There was no empathy for the plight of African-Americans in the United States. Trump is incapable of this.

Trump rightly condemned the destruction of property and the outside rabble-rousers who, by all reports, are causing this damage. But rather than trying to bring the country together, he blamed state governors for the riots and destruction in major urban areas.  (He did the same thing on a call with governors this morning). At one point in the speech, Trump said that he wants “healing” not “hatred.” Please look in the mirror Mr. President. You are an agent of hate in this country. There is nothing you have done in your presidency thus far to bring any kind of national healing whatsoever.

When Trump said “America always wins,” he was not referring to a much-needed victory over the evil of racial injustice, but was rather referring to the use of military force and violence to stop the riots. This, for Trump, is the only way he understands a “win” for America. Trump plans to mobilize the U.S. Army in cities around the country through the use of the 1807 Insurrection Act (I will write more on this in another post) to “dominate the streets.” He also sent a dog-whistle to his base by referencing his protection of Second Amendment rights. Some will no doubt see this as the president telling them to take matters into their own hands.

When Trump talked about justice in this speech, he meant quelling the riots through force. He did mention justice for George Floyd, but these words have no meaning until his presidency reverses course on the issue of race. Trump must not only stop the race-baiting, but must support policies that will address systemic racism in America. I don’t see this happening because Trump does not understand the true meaning of justice.

I wrote about justice this morning, with the help of 20th-century German moral philosopher Joseph Pieper: “…the claim implicit in the principle of justice [is that we] must confirm the other person in his otherness and procure for him that which is due.” Justice starts with empathy and understanding, but Trump is a narcissist and he does not read.

Throughout the speech, Trump kept saying that he is a “law and order” president. This is another dog-whistle. Here is what I wrote about this phrase in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

For most Americans, “law and order” is associated with Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. According to historian Michael Flamm, “law and order was the most important domestic issue in the presidential election and arguably the decisive factor in Richard Nixon’s narrow triumph over Hubert Humphrey.” As might be expected, the need to bring law and order to American streets was a response to a significant rise in crime during the 1960s, particularly among African Americans and juveniles in American cities. The high crime rate among black men brought fear to white working-class Americans. Flamm notes that “by the late 1960s, white Americans overwhelmingly associated street crime with African Americans, who were more than seventeen times likely as white men to be arrested for robbery. The worst fears of white Americans materialized in the summer of 1967, when race riots broke out in Detroit and Newark. The violence continued in 1968 following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daly ordered his police officers to shoot looters on sight in the street. In Washington D.C. , race riots, led by black activist Stokely Carmichael, came within blocks of the White House, prompting President Lyndon Johnson to dispatch federal troops armed with machine guns to quell the violence. Later in the year, the Chicago police used tear gas to control protesters at the Democratic National Convention.

The Nixon campaign capitalized on the chaos. Nixon promised that, if elected, he would end the riots–using force if necessary. His campaign blamed the lack of law and order on the Democrats and portrayed his opponent, Hubert Humphrey, as weak on crime. Nixon consistently denied he used the phrase “law and order” to send a message to white voters who feared African American violence, but many of his conservative supporters clearly heard the message. Nixon walked a fine line on matters related to race. He was aware, from watching his independent opponent, George Wallace, that calling attention to racial difference worked very well in presidential campaign, especially in the South. Yet Nixon was not Wallace: he opposed segregation and supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Still, when he was not in front of the cameras, he was not reticent about his disdain for the “damn negroes.” He confided to his counsel, John Ehrlichman, that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs would not help African Americans because “blacks were genetically inferior to whites.” After filming a campaign advertisement calling for law and order in public schools, Nixon said to his aides, “Yet, this hits it right on the nose…it’s all about law and order and the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there.

Like Nixon, Donald Trump claims that his use of the term “law and order” has nothing to do with race. Yet when he combines the phrase with a steady drumbeat of attention to “Muslim terrorists” or illegal Mexican immigrants that he claims were committing violent crimes, he is sending a message to his largely white working-class constituency that he hears, shares, and prioritizes their fears. Trump wants to restore law and order to America much like Nixon promised to do in the 1960s. Is this what he has in mind when he says he wants to make America great again?

After Trump’s speech, he walked out the front door of the White House to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church. It is known as the “Church of the Presidents” because every American president, beginning with James Madison, has attended the church (presidents sit in pew 54). During some of the protests on Sunday night (March 31) a fire started outside the church and spread into the basement of the parish house. It was extinguished quickly and there was no major damage. The words “The Devil is across the street” was sprayed on the church in graffiti and windows were smashed.

Trump walked to St. John’s for a photo-op. The church did not know he was coming and both the Episcopal bishop of Washington D.C. and the rector of the church have condemned the visit.

Trump stood before the church and held-up a Bible. When a reporter asked him if he was holding his Bible, Trump said it was “a Bible.” He then invited several members of his cabinet and staff to join him. (Interestingly enough, Mike Pence was not present).

And that is all he did. He stood there, held-up the Bible at a couple of different angles, and then left. He did not pray. He did not offer words of comfort or healing. He did not pray for the coronavirus victims. The message was clear. Trump’s law and order response–an approach with deep roots in racism and violence–is somehow informed by the Old and New Testament. (Once again, let’s remember that Trump’s favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye”). Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a U.S. president who has used a Bible–a material object representing the word of God–in this way.

Here a good rule of thumb. Whenever a public official uses the Bible to justify law and order during times of unrest, expect the worst. I think history offers some good lessons on this front, from politicians in the antebellum South to Nazi Germany. One should also be concerned when a president uses tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades to remove peaceful protesters in front of a church for the purpose of using this sacred space to fortify such a show of power.

What we witnessed today was the president using this moment of racial strife and social unrest to announce his November 2020 campaign strategy. He will present himself as a strongman who will protect fearful white people. In this sense, he is like the Savage in C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regressa Nietzschian warlord who tells Vertue that “If I am to live in a world of destruction let me be its agent and not its patient.” And he will justify all of this using the Bible–a direct appeal to his fearful white evangelical base who believe Trump is their divinely-appointed champion. It was all staged, not unlike a reality television show.

The court evangelicals, as expected, support what Trump did today. If you believe that America is a Christian nation and needs to be reclaimed as such, then anytime the president lifts a Bible, and especially if it is done at a historic church, it is a great thing.

Here is Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas:

Fox News has Robert Jeffress lined-up for an early morning appearance:

Expect Jeffress to talk about this.

Tony Perkins just retweeted:

Here is Marc Burns:

I am reminded of a quote I added to the Commonplace Book this morning:

All moral laws derive from one law: that of truth” [Goethe]…A person who is incapable of viewing things impartially, uninfluenced by the affirmations or negations of the will, a person who is incapable, for a time, of simply keeping silent and perceiving what is there, and then of converting what he has seen and learned into a decision, is incapable of achieving the good, or in other words is incapable of performing an ethical act in the full sense of the term.  —Joseph Pieper, “The Art of Making Right Decisions,” *Civitas* (1970) in The Weight of Belief: Essays on Faith in a Modern Age, 212.

For the sake of the country, Trump needs to keep silent and start “perceiving what is there.”

What Do We Mean By “Rights” and “Justice”?

Rights

For the last few months, I have been thinking about rights. Protesters at state capitals do not want governors taking away their right to open their businesses during the pandemic. White evangelicals support Donald Trump because he is defending their right to worship and other forms of religious liberty. I recently watched the FX documentary AKA Jane Roe, which brought to light once again the claim that women have the “right” to their own bodies.

And now we are in the midst of racial conflict and social unrest in America. The Trump administration claims that they respect the rights of people to protest peacefully. Black Americans are in the streets demanding their rights as citizens and human beings after decades of white indifference to their concerns.

What are these rights? And how do they relate to justice?

Last night I read a 1973 essay by German moral philosopher Joseph Pieper. I have found his ideas useful in this day and age. Here is a taste of “The Rights of Others” (published in The Weight of Belief: Essays on Faith in the Modern Age:

First of all, when the ancients–naturally I do not mean this term in the sense of “the thinkers of the past,” but rather in the sense of “the great thinkers,” above all those who bore witness in our own tradition–speak about justice, they never think in terms of the man with rights, but rather in terms of the man with obligations. It is the concern of the just man, they say, to give others due rather than to obtain what is due to him. Thus to be cheated out of what is due oneself is an altogether different matter than to withhold, curtail, or take away from someone else what is due to him. In the dialogues of Plato Socrates repeats over and over: To be sure, this statement has been made many times, but it will not do any harm to say it once again: “He who commits an injustice is worse off than he who suffers injustice.”

To repeat my point once again, the ancient doctrine of justice is not primarily an exposition of the rights owed to people, which they can with all propriety demand. Instead it is the exposition and the validation of the obligation to respect rights. On the other hand, the primary focus of the later doctrine, with which we are more familiar–the doctrine of human rights–is not the man with obligations but the man with rights. Naturally this modern theory also involves the idea of obligation and of the person with obligations, just as, conversely, the ancient theory of justice clearly took into account the man with rights. Yet an unmistakable and characteristic shift in emphasis has taken place in modern times, and difficult though it may be to interpret this shift, it is important that we notice that it is there.

Some takeaways from the larger essay:

  1. When the great philosophers of the West–the men who inspired our founding fathers–spoke of rights, they were always referring, to quote Pieper, “exclusively to the ‘rights of the other person.'”
  2. There has always been a delicate balance in Western Civilization between “rights” and “obligations.” But for most of the history of the West, the idea of “obligations” was paramount.
  3. Thomas Jefferson was right when he said in the Declaration of Independence that our rights come from the Creator. Most Americans do not need to be convinced of this. But it is much more difficult to convince people, as Pieper notes, “that there are grounds for their obligations, and to reveal the inalienable nature of what is due others” (interesting use of the word “inalienable” here–isn’t it?).  Pieper adds: “Ultimately, man possesses inalienable rights because behind man there stands an authority who transcends all human debate, because, to state the matter more clearly, God created man as a person. This, and nothing else, is in the end the only valid ground for the unconditional nature of man’s obligation to exercise justice.”
  4. In the context of our current moment of racial strife, Pieper’s words are relevant: “…the claim implicit in the principle of justice [is that we] must confirm the other person in his otherness and procure for him that which is due….”
  5. Pieper’s ideas seem very compatible with the teachings of Jesus and the Christian faith. (He writes out of the Catholic tradition).