What Should We Make of Yesterday’s Exit Polls on Religious Voters?

Vote church

Mark Silk of Religion News Service interprets the exit polls:

  • White evangelicals voted for Republicans.  (Surprise!)
  • Protestants constituted less than half of the electorate for the first time in U.S. history
  • Catholics were split, but they leaned Democratic.  This may be because of the Latino vote.
  • Trump’s support of Israel did not sway Jewish voters.  In fact, their support for Democratic candidates doubled
  • “Nones” voted Democratic

Silk concludes: “The bottom line, as moving parts of the American religious system continue their recent trends, is clear: Republicans beware.”

Read the entire piece here.

Mark Silk: May 2018 Was a “Humiliating Month”

WeinstienOver at his blog at Religion News Service, Trinity College professor Mark Silk reminds us what happened this month as it relates to the #MeToo era:

  • The elders of Willow Creek apologized for casting doubt on women’s allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of departing senior pastor Bill Hybels
  • Paige Patterson, denigrator of women, was relieved of the presidency of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary.
  • “The judgment of God has come,” wrote Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
  • Harvey Weinstein left a New York Police Department precinct in handcuffs.
  • And then there was Morgan Freeman, the Voice of God Himself.

Click here to get the entire list.

Mark Silk on American Evangelicalism

Mark-Silk_avatarMark Silk is a veteran religion journalist who teaches at Trinity College (CT) and runs the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.  He writes a regular column for Religion News Service called Spiritual Politics.

In April, he co-edited (with Candy Gunther Brown) The Future of Evangelicalism in America.  The book includes essays by Michael Hamilton, Chris Armstrong, Roger Olson, Amy Black, and Timothy Tseng.

(This is an interesting collection.  Silk and co-editor Brown, as far as I know, are not evangelicals.  Columbia University Press is not an evangelical publisher.  Yet all of the authors are affiliated in one form or another with evangelicalism.  Do Silk and Brown see this book as a sort of collection of primary sources?  Just a thought.  Maybe Mark can weigh-in).

Over at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College has published an interview (the first of two parts) with Silk about American evangelicalism.  Here is a taste:

Ed: When you look at the numbers in terms of Evangelicalism, are the numbers going up, down, or remaining flat?

Mark: I like the approach that our sociologists and demographers take, which is to ask people to identify themselves rather than giving people a list of things to choose among. This approach is found in the series that we call the American Religious Identification Survey, or ARIS. One of the interesting things that emerged from that is the substantial shift between 1990 and the last ARIS survey, which was, unfortunately, almost a decade ago. Nonetheless, I think it still holds from the decline of people who identify themselves as Protestant and the great increase in the number who identify as just ‘Christian’ (a term for general Evangelical).

One of the interesting things we discovered is that a lot of people, including Catholics, will say they consider themselves Evangelical or born again, which is the political polling question.

Nobody who writes about this stuff really thinks that Catholics are Evangelicals, but the point is that these are pretty plastic terms. So, I’m pretty comfortable with saying Evangelicals are holding their own. You can see some denominational group bodies growing, particularly at the Pentecostal hard edge. It’s certainly true that nondenominational Evangelicalism and megachurches have experienced considerable growth, but if you dig deep, you discover these churches are actually Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, or something else.

You know when you’re walking into one of those churches that that’s an Evangelical church, even if the set of criteria that you want to map everything onto doesn’t quite work.

Read the entire interview here.

Mark Silk on Trump’s “Evangelical Prophets”

micaiah-before-ahab

I love Trinity College professor and journalist Mark Silk‘s short pieces on religion and politics at Religion News Service.  Now if we can only get him to buy into the phrase “court evangelical!”

Here is a taste of Silk’s latest.  It is a reflection on 1 Kings 22.  

If I were one of Trump’s’s house prophets, I’d be pondering whether all the encouragement they’re giving him isn’t actually the work of a deceiving spirit from the Lord, intended to destroy his presidency. Such as, for example, their enticement to ban transgender people from the military, a policy that is opposed by Republican senators, the Pentagon, military families, and the American people generally.

Of course, if one of those prophets stands up like Micaiah, odds are the President won’t listen to him. Which, as in the case of Micaiah and Ahab, would be all to the good.

Read the entire post here.  (HT: Barton Price on FB)

Is Catholicism a “Two-Party System?”

Vatican

One of my favorite religion writers, Mark Silk, thinks so.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at Religion News Service:

Although Crux’s John Allen likes to pretend otherwise, Roman Catholicism is now clearly divided between the Party of Francis and the Party of Benedict. Not since the days of the Jesuits and the Jansenists has the Catholic elite — clerical and lay intellectual — been at daggers drawn as it is now.

Yesterday, the New York Times nicely encapsulated the partisan divide in profiling the two big Irish-American archbishops facing each other across the Hudson — Timothy Dolan of New York and Joseph Tobin of Newark. Can anyone doubt that by making one of the country’s most progressive bishops a cardinal and sending him into its dominant media market Francis wasn’t sending a shot across the bow of Benedictine conservatism?

On the other side, Pope Emeritus Benedict delivered a shot of his own Saturday in the form of a eulogy for the cardinal archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meissner, who retired in 2014.

“We know that it was hard for him, the passionate shepherd and pastor of souls, to leave his office, and this precisely at a time when the Church had a pressing need for shepherds who would oppose the dictatorship of the zeitgeist, fully resolved to act and think from a faith standpoint,” Benedict wrote. “Yet I have been all the more impressed that in this last period of his life he learned to let go, and live increasingly from the conviction that the Lord does not leave his Church, even if at times the ship is almost filled to the point of shipwreck.”

Read the rest here.

Mark Silk: “I get why Michael Tate Reed destroyed the Ten Commandments”

Arkansas

This monument was recently destroyed by a driver in a 2016 Dodge Dart

Earlier this week I wrote a piece on Arkansas’s decision to place a monument commemorating the Ten Commandments at the State Capitol in Little Rock. The day after the monument was erected, a guy named Michael Tate Reed drove his 2016 Dodge Dart into the monument and destroyed it.  Tate, who describes himself as a “pentecostal Christian Jesus Freak,” has a history with these monuments.

Over at his Religion News Service blog Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk writes:

…Be it noted that Reed is no anti-religious bigot bent on destroying the iconic expression of Judeo-Christian faith. He’s an apparently devout evangelical — “a born again Christian whos a pentacostal Jesus Freak,” as he put it on Facebook — albeit one with a history of mental illness.

Before destroying the monument, he wrote:

I’m a firm believer that for our salvation we not only have faith in Jesus Christ, but we also obey the commands of God and that we confess Jesus as Lord But one thing I do not support is the violation of our constitutional right to have the freedom that’s guaranteed to us, that guarantees us the separation of church and state, because no one religion should the government represent.

In other words, Reed harks back to the first era of American evangelicalism, when the likes of Roger Williams and John Leland made themselves obnoxious to the ecclesiastical powers that were in New England by vigorous advocacy of keeping church and state as far apart as possible.

Read the entire piece here.  Silk concludes that somewhere Williams and Leland are smiling.

Mark Silk: GOP is Not the Only Party That Makes Abortion a Litmus Test

Bernie

Over at his blog Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk chides the Democratic Party for get so bothered by the fact that Bernie Sanders backed a pro-life Democratwho is running mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

“Abortion access is not a ‘single issue’ or a ‘social issue,’” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in a statement. “It is a proxy for women to have control over our lives, our family’s lives, our economic well-being, our dignity, and human rights.”

Let’s stop right there.

For many Americans, abortion is no such proxy. They support equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage and a human right to health care and doing away with the death penalty. They believe in climate change and want there to be a serious effort to combat it.

Mello, like a lot of his fellow Catholics, is one of them.

Nevertheless, after NARAL issued its condemnation, the liberal website Daily Kos withdrew its endorsement. The Democratic National Committee began waffling.

But Bernie Sanders, the Independent who is now the Democratic Party’s biggest star, did not hesitate to show up at a rally for Mello in Omaha. And on Face the Nation yesterday, he stuck to his guns:

If you have a rally in which you have the labor movement and the environmentalists and Native Americans and the African-American community and the Latino community coming together, saying, we want this guy to become our next mayor, should I reject going there to Omaha? I don’t think so.

I don’t think so either.

After John Kerry narrowly lost the 2004 election, the new Democratic National Committee chair, Sanders’ fellow Vermonter Howard Dean, decided over the objections of the D.C. Democratic establishment to pursue a 50-state strategy. That involved recruiting candidates who were, yes, pro-life.

In 2006, the Democrats recaptured both houses of Congress.

You can be seriously pro-choice and embrace that approach again. Or you can mirror the Republican base and sacrifice all your other values on the altar of abortion.

Read the entire post here.  Robert David Sullivan, the editor of America, makes a similar argument.

Saturday at #oah2016

OAH-300x200-jan2016Thanks for reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  Today has been a very busy day so I did not do too much blogging. I did, however, wanted to write at least one post on the day’s events.  Here goes:

This morning I attended a session on Kevin Kruse’s book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. I know I promised on Twitter that I would write a more extensive post on this session, but I am just not going to get to it tonight.  I thus want to direct readers to #oah16_208  You can find all of my tweets there.  I still want to try to write a post on this session.

This morning I also chaired a session on teaching religion.  It was great to meet Mark Silk and Diane Moore.  It was a small crowd (about 15 people) but we had a good discussion. After the session I had the privilege of talking religion and politics with Silk, a veteran journalist and scholar whose work as an observer of American religion I have admired for a long time.

I spent most of the afternoon enjoying some intellectually stimulating meetings with new friends and old friends.  I love that the OAH provides tables near the book exhibit where attendees can sit, eat, drink coffee, and chat.  I took full advantage of it.

My day ended with Jon Butler’s presidential address on religion in New York City.  Butler argued, contra Max Weber and William James, that as modernity invaded New York, religion became stronger.  Read the tweets at #oah_butler

Again, I hope I get some time to expand on all of these sessions.  Stay tuned.

I will be attending at least one (maybe two) more session on Sunday morning before driving home.  Follow @johnfea1

Tomorrow: What is the Relationship Between Church and State in the Teaching of Religious History?

Bible in SchoolsIf you are at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Providence and are free during the 10:50-12:20 slot on Saturday morning, please consider attending #oah16_226: “State of the Question: What is the Relationship Between Church and State in the Teaching of Religious History.”

I will be moderating the session.  The panelists will be Mark Silk of Trinity College/Religion News Service and Diane Moore of Harvard Divinity School.  Mark and Diane will discuss teaching religion in the classroom and outside the classroom. It should be a great conversation.

Mark Silk Predicts Victories for Cruz and Sanders in Iowa

Mark-Silk_avatarIf you are interested in religion and politics you should be reading Mark Silk‘s blog Spiritual Politics.  I am looking forward to moderating a session featuring Silk and Diane Moore at the upcoming annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in April. If you happen to be in Providence, Rhode Island on April 9, 2016 come and check out our session:  “State of the Question: What Is the Relationship between Church and State in the Teaching of Religious History?”

Here is why Silk is predicting victories in Iowa for Cruz and Sanders:

On the Republican side, it’s all about white evangelicals, who typically constitute 60 percent of GOP caucus-goers. Since 1988, when they catapulted Pat Robertson into second place, Iowa’s evangelicals have been the most highly mobilized and politically successful religious community in the country. They handed the state’s nomination to Mike Huckabee in 2008 and in 2012 put Rick Santorum over the top.

No, Cruz hasn’t sealed the deal with the evangelical rank and file, who support Donald Trump to a surprising degree. But Cruz has worked the pastors to a fare-thee-well, and they’re the key to getting the troops out. The pastors have no use for Trump at all. Who they like is Ted Cruz.

As for the Democrats, the energy is all with those who are feeling the Bern, and excitement is important for caucus turnout. But beyond that, it’s important to note that the Iowa electorate has become appreciably less religious since Barack Obama won the Democratic caucuses eight years ago.

Read the rest here.

 

Some Quick Thoughts on the Kim Davis Case

In case you haven’t heard, Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it violates her Christian beliefs.

I appreciate Davis’s religious-inspired convictions about marriage.  As long as religious liberty is part of the American ideal, she should be able to promote and practice these views without government persecution.  I understand her moral dilemma and realize that the Obergfell decision on same-sex marriage has caused much anxiety and confusion for the defenders of traditional marriage.  Davis is a woman of faith who is trying to find the best way to honor her deeply-held religious convictions.

But I don’t think Davis has much legal ground to stand on here.  I have no doubt that the Supreme Court will eventually need to hear a case that pits same-sex marriage against religious liberty, but I don’t think this will be that case.  Davis works for the state and thus must enforce the laws of the state.  She does not work for a church or a religious organization. 

As a historian, the Davis case leads me back to a question I have been thinking about for a long time: Is America a Christian Nation?  Even if one argues that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it is very hard to make the case that it still is a Christian nation today.  The United States does not privilege Christianity and thus (in the wake of Obergfell) does not privilege traditional Christian views on marriage.  In this sense, the United States is a secular nation.  Many of my fellow evangelicals will cringe when I use that term.  By secular I do not mean that religion cannot contribute to the public good or should in some way be eradicated from American life.  I am simply saying that religion is not the basis for the laws of the United States.  

Mark Silk has some interesting thoughts on the Davis case at his blog, “Spiritual Politics.”  Here is a taste:

No doubt, Christians have long been faced with a dilemma regarding obedience to civil law. On the one hand, there is Jesus’ oblique response to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” and Paul’s more specific:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
On the other hand, the Early Church valorized its martyrs for defying Roman authority and Protestant theologians found ways to work around the Pauline prescription. Kim Davis is at once a governing authority and a person rebelling against governing authority.
For government employees in America — be they county clerks, public school teachers, or members of the military — religious liberty is conditioned by functioning in a governmental capacity. The longstanding American answer to any conscientious objection they may have was stated straightforwardly by Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, in his famous speech to the Houston Ministerial Association 55 years ago this month:
“But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise.”
More recently, Justice Antonin Scalia took a similar position regarding a judge unable to uphold a law he or she conscientiously opposes.
“[I]n my view the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted, constitutional laws and sabotaging death penalty cases. He has, after all, taken an oath to apply the laws and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own.”

ADDENDUM:  Since I wrote this post earlier this morning, Davis has been found in contempt of the Supreme Court and arrested.  It seems as if she had one of two option.  She could either resign as county clerk or go to jail in an act of civil disobedience.  She has chosen the latter.

ANOTHER ADDENDUM:  Charles Haynes of the Religious Freedom Institute of Newseum Institute offers a  possible compromise.

Ross Douthat and Mark Silk: Differing Opinions on Obama at the Prayer Breakfast, Niebuhr, and Eisenhower

I am in self-imposed exile today–working on my American Bible Society book.  But this whole Obama Prayer Breakfast stuff (see my original piece here) keeps drawing me away from my writing and back to the blog.


Did you see Ross Douthat’s column in Sunday’s New York Times

I like some it.  He acknowledges, for example, that Obama’s “disenchanted view of America’s role in the world contains more wisdom than his Republican critics acknowledge.”

I also think Douthat is correct when he suggests that history is complex:

The first problem is that presidents are not historians or theologians, and in political rhetoric it’s hard to escape from oversimplication. You can introduce the Crusades to complicate a lazy “Islam violent, Christianity peaceful” binary, but then a lot of Christians are going to hear an implied equivalence between the Islamic State’s reign of terror and the incredibly complicated multicentury story of medieval Christendom’s conflict with Islam … and so all you’ve really done is put a pointless fight about Christian history on the table. To be persuasive, a reckoning with history’s complexities has to actually reckon with them, and a tossed-off Godfrey of Bouillon reference just pits a new straw man against the one you think you’re knocking down.

But after his short lesson in complexity, Douthat ignores it in his remarks about Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address:

Here a counterexample is useful: The most Niebuhrian presidential speech in modern American history was probably Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address, in which he warned against the dangers of “the military-industrial complex” and “a scientific-technological elite.” It was powerful precisely because Eisenhower was criticizing his own party’s perennial temptations, acknowledging some of his own policies’ potential downsides (he had just created NASA and Darpa) and drawing on moral authority forged by his own military career.

I think Douthat is probably correct about Obama’s over-simplification of the Islam-Crusades comparison.  (Interesting, everyone is talking about the Crusades–what about Obama’s slavery analogy?)  And I don’t blame Douthat for failing to nuance the Eisenhower material.  As a someone who often writes in short spaces, I realize that the complexity of history rarely conforms to the genres in which it is presented in a digital age. That is why books are still important to the advancement of good history in the world. 

Keeping in mind all of these limitations, I now give you a taste of Mark Silk’s response to Douthat’s op-ed.  Silk is a professor at Trinity College in Connecticut and he blogs at Religion News Service:

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great political theologian of the last century, liked to warn against the failure to see the mote in our own eye — urging that, as Douthat puts it, “Americans in particular need to put aside illusions about our own alleged perfection.” Obama, however, was not really being self-critical when he called attention to Christianity’s less admirable past.
Which leads Douthat to contrast Obama’s remarks unfavorably with what he claims was “probably” the most Niebuhrian presidential speech in modern American history — Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address, which famously warned against “the military-industrial complex” and “a scientific-technological elite.” Writes Douthat, “It was powerful precisely because Eisenhower was criticizing his own party’s perennial temptations, acknowledging some of his own policies’ potential downsides (he had just created NASA and Darpa) and drawing on moral authority forged by his own military career.”
That’s got it exactly wrong. Through the 1960s, the Republican Party’s perennial temptation was not war-making but its opposite. The party’s Whig progenitor opposed the Mexican War of the 1840s, and isolationism had its home in the GOP through the first half of the 20th century. In the just completed presidential campaign, JFK had been the hawk, attacking the Eisenhower Administration for allowing a (bogus) “missile gap” to develop between the U.S. and Soviet Russia and generally spending too little on defense.
Three days after Eisenhower’s farewell, Kennedy famously declared in his inaugural address,”Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Less famously, he went on to say, “We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”
Talk about making the case for the military-industrial complex! Contra Douthat, Eisenhower was not being self-critical in his farewell address but warning against the incoming Democrats.
Read Silk’s entire piece here.  I am not an Eisenhower scholar, but I always understood Eisenhower’s speech to be more dove than it was hawk.

The Battle Over Pope Francis Historicized

I think it is pretty clear by now that many Catholics–mostly conservative Catholics–are not big fans of Pope Francis. Mark Silk, writing at his blog Spiritual Politics, connects the current criticism of Francis to the Neo-Jansenist challenge to papal authority in the 17th century.  I don’t know enough about Catholic history to fully endorse this comparison, but I do find some interesting parallels between the two eras.  Here is a taste of Silk’s piece:

The conservative Catholic intellectuals who are increasingly unhappy with Pope Francis hark back to the Jansenist purists who fought with the Jesuits in 17th-century Europe and were eventually swatted down by the papacy.
They were strict moralists who followed their patron Saint Augustine in embracing predestination, separating the sheep from the goats the way the Calvinists of the time did. They attacked the Jesuits for laxity to sinners, and when the pope proved unsympathetic to their views, they questioned papal authority.
Sound familiar?
Today’s neo-Jansenists are likewise moral sticklers, focused laser-like on the twin evils of abortion and same-sex marriage, They are driven crazy by a Jesuit pope who tells them to stop harping on those issues, whose most famous remark is, “Who am I to judge?

In the rest of the post Silk talks about Ross Douthat’s recent blog post, the way that critics of Francis have embraced the “spirit of capitalism,” and the connection between the Francis critics and the neo-Calvinists who are influential today in American evangelicalism.