Why Robert Jeffress Needs Socialism

This Fox News segment got some traction yesterday:

Comments:

1. Robert Jeffress claims that Democrats are on the wrong side of every major faith issue, especially abortion.  He always pivots to abortion because he believes it is the most important faith issue on the table.  Fair enough. But he also pivots to abortion because he wants to rally his Christian Right base to vote for Donald Trump. Jeffress is a surrogate for Trump and a spokesperson for the American political movement known as the Christian Right. He has credentials for serving in these roles because he is a minister of a Dallas megachurch.  Jeffress’s constant call to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” is disingenuous. He pulls out this verse whenever he wants to dismiss an approach to Christian politics that does not fit comfortably within his Christian Right playbook. Jeffress can say that the Democrats are on the “wrong side” of “every major faith issue” in America because he believes that there are only three such issues: abortion, religious liberty, and support for Israel.

2. Jonathan Morris is correct. The Democratic Party is not going to attract evangelicals until it moderates some of its positions on social and moral issues. I made roughly the same case here.

3. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, a black pastor and politician, says that the black church is committed to acts of mercy and justice that today we might call “socialism.” While I appreciate Dawkins-Haigler’s counter to Jeffress, we need to be careful about pinning a modern political ideology on Jesus.  Jesus was not a socialist.  There was no such thing as socialism at the time Jesus lived.

4. Jeffress, of course, is not going let Dawkins Haigler’s reference to socialism slide.  The very utterance of the word raises the hair on the back of his neck. Culture warriors and fundamentalists like Jeffress are incapable of taking nuanced approaches to these kind of issues. Instead of suggesting that socialist concerns about the plight of workers might have some overlap with Christian views of social justice, Jeffress claims that socialism is “absolutely antithetical to Christianity.” (Of course there are millions of Christians around the world and many in the United States who disagree with him here.  I guess they’re not real Christians).  Jeffress needs socialism.  It is vital to the survival of his fear-based approach to Christian politics.  Without the constant “threat” of socialism he loses his political brand. His statement equating socialism to “communism lite” reminds me of historian Richard Hofstadter‘s words about McCarthyism in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:

The [McCarthyite] inquisitors were trying to give satisfaction against liberals, New Dealers, reformers, internationalists, intellectuals, and finally even against a Republican [Eisenhower] administration that failed to reverse liberal policies.  What was involved, above all, was a set of political hostilities in which the New Deal was linked to the welfare state, the welfare state to socialism, and socialism to Communism. 

For Hofstadter, McCarthy’s attack on communism was part of a deeper fear-based politics, something he would later call the “paranoid style“:

The deeper historical sources of the Great Inquisition are best revealed by the other enthusiasms of its devotees: hatred of Franklin D. Roosevelt, implacable opposition to New Deal reforms, desire to banish or destroy the United Nations, anti-Semitism, Negrophobia, isolationism, a passion for the repeal of the income tax, fear of poisoning by fluoridation of the water system, opposition to modernism in the churches.

Is the *Christianity Today* Editorial a Joseph Welch Moment?

A good friend recently suggested that Mark Galli’s editorial may be an evangelical “Joseph Welch” moment in the Trump presidency.

Joseph Welch was the lawyer for the U.S. Army during the McCarthy hearings. Get some more context here.

Now watch:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir!”

Here is conservative writer Andrew Sullivan at New York Magazine:

The two core lessons of the past few years are therefore: (1) Trumpism has a real base of support in the country with needs that must be addressed, and (2) Donald Trump is incapable of doing it and is such an unstable, malignant, destructive narcissist that he threatens our entire system of government. The reason this impeachment feels so awful is that it requires removing a figure to whom so many are so deeply bonded because he was the first politician to hear them in decades. It feels to them like impeachment is another insult from the political elite, added to the injury of the 21st century. They take it personally, which is why their emotions have flooded their brains. And this is understandable.

But when you think of what might have been and reflect on what has happened, it is crystal clear that this impeachment is not about the Trump agenda or a more coherent version of it. It is about the character of one man: his decision to forgo any outreach, poison domestic politics, marinate it in deranged invective, betray his followers by enriching the plutocracy, destroy the dignity of the office of president, and turn his position into a means of self-enrichment. It’s about the personal abuse of public office: using the presidency’s powers to blackmail a foreign entity into interfering in a domestic election on his behalf, turning the Department of Justice into an instrument of personal vengeance and political defense, openly obstructing investigations into his own campaign, and treating the grave matter of impeachment as a “hoax” while barring any testimony from his own people.

Character matters. This has always been a conservative principle but one that, like so many others, has been tossed aside in the convulsions of a cult. And it is Trump’s character alone that has brought us to this point. That’s why the editorial in the Evangelical journal Christianity Today is so clarifying. Finally — finally — an Evangelical outlet telling the truth in simple language:

[President Trump] has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused … To the many Evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve.

It is this profound immorality that made this week inevitable. Yes, inevitable. Put a man of this sort — utterly unprepared, utterly corrupt, and with no political or governing experience at all — into the Oval Office, and impeachment, if there is any life left in our democracy, is inevitable.

Read the rest here.

Politicians Have Claimed to Be Victims of Lynching for a Long Time

joseph-mcccarthy-1954

Joseph McCarthy described Senate hearings to censure him as a “lynch  party.”

Earlier this week, Donald Trump compared the impeachment inquiry against him to a lynching.  Both Republicans and Democrats reminded Trump about the history of lynching in the United States.  Over at The Washington Post, Lawrence Glickman, the Stephaen and Evalyn Milman professor of American Studies at Cornell University, provides some additional context.

Here is a taste of his piece:

Notwithstanding the shocked reaction to the outrageous comparison, Trump’s comments were in keeping with a long-standing strand of conservative rhetoric that might best be dubbed “elite victimization.” This is a mode of speech typically used by wealthy, powerful white men in which they employ the language of enslavement and Jim Crow to describe their plight and claim to be victims of everything from government programs to social movements they dislike to investigations into wrongdoing.

This language marks a double appropriation. First, it is a reaction to the increasing power of claiming rights by minority populations. In the 20th century, African Americans and other oppressed groups forced the country to confront its violent, racist history and demanded full rights and citizenship. By casting themselves as victims, elites frame their individual sense of being wronged as a violation of their rights, even though those rights are well-secured. Second, it is to demand sympathy for a kind of physical and spiritual suffering akin to that experienced by racial minorities that elites claim to endure when they feel under attack.

But the language may also feel true to them. Given that wealthy white men do not face discrimination on the basis of race, the slightest feeling of vulnerability or threat might feel like oppression, however distinct it is from the lived experience of oppressed groups. In 1946, for example, J. Howard Pew, the conservative oil man, condemned what he called “continued unfair and discriminatory legislation granting special privileges for favored minorities at the expense of the general welfare.”

But this language perversely minimizes the plight of African Americans for much of American history and compares systemic wrongs with hideous consequences to legal actions or social movements that conservative white men happen to dislike.

Read the entire piece here.  Then head over to Episode 55 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and listen to Glickman talk about his new book Free Enterprise: An American History.

National Cathedral: “Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous”

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The spiritual leaders of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. have had enough.  Here is their recent press release titled “Have We No Decency?:  A Response to President Trump:

The escalation of racialized rhetoric from the President of the United States has evoked responses from all sides of the political spectrum. On one side, African American leaders have led the way in rightfully expressing outrage. On the other, those aligned with the President seek to downplay the racial overtones of his attacks, or remain silent.

As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral ¬– the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?

As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

That was U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, when he confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy before a live television audience, effectively ending McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation. Until then, under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration, McCarthy had free rein to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.

In retrospect, it’s clear that Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?

We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.

This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?

Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.

These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.

When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.

As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.

There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

That remains our prayer today for us all.

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar BuddeBishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean of Washington National Cathedral
The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas
Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral.

Philip Jenkins on "Witch Hunts" and Joe McCarthy

Philip Jenkins wants us to stop using the phrase “witch hunt” to describe American investigations into communism during the Cold War.  The phrase, he argues, should be removed from political discourse.  Here is a taste of his piece at Real Clear Religion:

To speak of a witch-hunt evokes a whole mythological system. In the original witch-hunts of sixteenth or seventeenth century Europe, thousands of innocent people were tried and punished for crimes of which they were not just innocent, but which were actively impossible, such as riding on the back of a goat to a personal meeting with Satan. Witch panics served to focus fears and anxieties within hungry and war-torn communities in desperate need of scapegoats.

Real witches, by definition, did not exist. 

And that is the implication of the phrase when applied to the twentieth century. When Congressional committees dragooned left-wing activists before them to answer humiliating questions, they were (we think) investigating imaginary crimes by non-existent witches. This picture is consecrated in American culture by Arthur Miller’s heavy-handed allegory, The Crucible. Once you accept the witch-hunt idea, you have a ready-made system of near-diabolic villains, and a heroic martyrology of saints and innocent sufferers.

In the Communist case, though, the “witches” really did exist, and genuinely posed a threat. For some thirty years now, we have had excellent historical studies by such scholars as Ronald Radosh, Allen Weinstein, John Earl Haynes and Hervey Klehr, and they demonstrate a picture of American Communism absolutely at variance with the myth. At its height in the 1930s, the US Communist Party had at least 75,000 open members, including many well placed in key strategic industries. There was also a penumbra of clandestine members, of unknown scale.