Dean of the Washington National Cathedral apologizes for inviting Max Lucado to preach. Lucado responds.

Yesterday I wrote about Dean Randolph Hollerith’s decision to invite evangelical writer and speaker Max Lucado to preach “at” the Washington National Cathedral. LGBTQ Episcopalians were not happy about the invitation because Lucado holds traditional views on marriage and said some harsh things about homosexuality in the past.

As I said yesterday, Hollerith and the Washington National Cathedral can decide who preaches as part of its ministry and who does not. The Washington National Cathedral is not an agency of the the United States government. We are a nation founded on the separation of church and state.

Hollerith originally defended his decision to invite Lucado:

Let me share why we invited Max to preach. We have to come out of our corners, find common ground where we can, and find ways to live with and see each other as the beloved children of God that we are. We have all grown too accustomed in our silos and echo chambers. In order to start the process of rebuilding, we need to hear from each other.

That does not mean we will always agree. In fact, I don’t agree with Max’s views on LGBTQ issues. We can still hold our convictions and cling to our values in the midst of disagreement. But the work that we cannot ignore is the vitally important task of what Isaiah called “repairing the breach.” That starts, first and foremost, with those with whom we disagree. When we only engage with those with whom we agree on every issue, we find ourselves in a dangerous (and lonely) place. My hope is that all churches and faith communities will find ways to open their doors to perspectives different from their own. 

This Cathedral is a house of prayer for all people, proudly so. That means this Cathedral, and this pulpit, are big enough and strong enough to welcome pastors, rabbis, imams, clergy of every faith. It does not mean we agree with everything they might believe, but it does mean that we exhibit and inhabit a sense of open handed welcome.

But today I learned that he changed his mind. Here is his February 10, 2021 letter to his congregation:

Dear friends,

In my 31 years of ordained ministry, I have had the honor of walking with people through the range of human emotions: joy at the birth of a child, the excitement of a new marriage, the painful sting of death, the tragedy of a failed relationship. 

As a priest, it is easy to sojourn with people through the good times. The painful times — those are much harder. They are harder still when, however well-intentioned, you have done something to contribute to that pain. 

This past Sunday, I invited the Rev. Max Lucado to preach at Washington National Cathedral. He and I disagree on many things, but I invited him because I believed him to be a man of deep faith. Moreover, I hoped his presence would be a step toward building new bridges to the evangelical community. What I did not know was that he also had written and said some horrific things about LGBTQ people. However, that is no excuse.

Later, when people pointed out those writings to me, when they tried to tell me they were hurting because of this invitation, I didn’t listen. In my straight privilege I failed to see and fully understand the pain he has caused. I failed to appreciate the depth of injury his words have had on many in the LGBTQ community. I failed to see the pain I was continuing. I was wrong and I am sorry. 

In my attempt to build new relationships with others, I didn’t see how my actions were damaging already cherished relationships with those who have been hurt by words and teachings of religious leaders like Reverend Lucado. And for that I apologize.

Was it a mistake to invite Max Lucado to preach at the Cathedral? Seeing all too clearly now the pain that it caused and the trauma it resurrected for so many, I know that  it was. I made a mistake and I am sorry. 

In my first sermon at the Cathedral in 2016, I preached on Isaiah’s call to be repairers of the breach. That mandate has been the guiding principle of my tenure as dean and remains so.

I am committed to that work, but I regret the pain, hurt and disappointment I have caused during this misguided attempt to do that work. It is important that  we seek reconciliation and relationship with those with whom we disagree, but not at the expense of the sacred dignity and worth of our LGBTQ friends and families. 

Bishop Budde and I have heard from so many people who were hurt by our decisions; we are still listening. We invite you to join us for an online public discussion on Sunday Feb. 21 at 7 pm ET as we seek to move together to become the people God calls us to be. I hope to see you there. 

With every blessing,

The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean, Washington National Cathedral 

Max Lucado has responded with humility and contrition. Yesterday he sent this letter to the Washington National Cathedral:

Dear Cathedral Community,

It was a high honor to serve as your guest preacher on February 7, 2021. It has come to my understanding that my presence in the Cathedral is a cause of consternation for many of your members.

I was invited to Washington National Cathedral to preach on the topic of the Holy Spirit. My desire was to highlight the power of the Spirit to bring comfort in these chaotic times. However, instead of that sermon, many only heard my words from many years ago.

In 2004 I preached a sermon on the topic of same-sex marriage. I now see that, in that sermon, I was disrespectful. I was hurtful. I wounded people in ways that were devastating. I should have done better. It grieves me that my words have hurt or been used to hurt the LGBTQ community. I apologize to you and I ask forgiveness of Christ.

Faithful people may disagree about what the Bible says about homosexuality, but we agree that God’s holy Word must never be used as a weapon to wound others. To be clear, I believe in the traditional biblical understanding of marriage, but I also believe in a God of unbounded grace and love. LGBTQ individuals and LGBTQ families must be respected and treated with love. They are beloved children of God because, they are made in the image and likeness of God.

Over centuries, the church has harmed LGBTQ people and their families, just as the church has harmed people on issues of race, gender, divorce, addiction, and so many other things. We must do better to serve and love one another.

I share the Cathedral’s commitment to building bridges and learning how to listen — to really listen — to those with whom we disagree. That work is difficult, it is hard, it is messy, and it can be uncomfortable. But we need it now more than ever.

Respectfully,

Max Lucado

I understand both sides of this issue. I am sympathetic to Hollerith’s letter and I appreciate Lucado’s apology.

I am now left with questions: Does this controversy mean that the Washington Cathedral will no longer invite preachers who believe in traditional marriage? Or was this just a matter of Lucado’s derogatory comments from 2004? In other words, have sexual ethics become a litmus test for guest preachers at the Washington National Cathedral? Or does Lucado’s apology means that he might be invited back?

And what about memorial services for American leaders and other dignitaries? Twenty years ago George W. Bush gave a speech in the Cathedral three days after September 11, 2001. Bush holds traditional views on marriage and homosexuality. Would another president who holds such views be permitted to speak?

In February 2019 Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson preached at the National Cathedral. I think Gerson still identifies as an evangelical Christian, but I don’t know the Wheaton College graduate and former Bush speechwriter’s position on gay marriage. But what if he does believe in traditional marriage? Will the Cathedral invite him back to preach?

What about pro-life evangelical Richard Cizik, former VP at the National Association of Evangelicals? I don’t know Cizik’s current position on gay marriage, but in 2008 he said that he did not “officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition.” Cizik preached at the National Cathedral in April 2016.

Again, I support the Cathedral’s decision to uphold any litmus test they think is appropriate. I am just curious about how they understand that litmus test.

Civic Barbarism

Here is Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson on the current state of the GOP:

One of the most important strands of our founding ideology is civic republicanism. In this tradition, the common good is not automatically produced by a clash of competing interests. A just society must be consciously constructed by citizens possessing certain virtues. A democracy in particular depends on people who take responsibility for their communities, show an active concern for the welfare of their neighbors, demand integrity from public officials, defend the rule of law, and respect the rights and dignity of others. Without these moral commitments, a majority is merely a mob.

What type of citizen has Trump — and his supportive partisan media — produced? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) still holds her job in Congress because she is representative of ascendant MAGA radicalism. Those who reflect her overt racism, her unhinged conspiracy thinking and her endorsement of violence against public figures are now treated as a serious political constituency within the Republican Party. Trump has come down firmly on Greene’s side. One participant in the Jan. 6 attack sent a video to her children saying: “We broke into the Capitol. . . . We got inside, we did our part. We were looking for Nancy [Pelosi] to shoot her in the friggin’ brain, but we didn’t find her.” The detail that gets to me? She sent this to her children. She was living in a mental world where vile, shameful things are a parent’s boast. And she saw her actions as the expression of a public duty — an example of doing her part.

Call this civic barbarism. Instead of promoting the values of responsible citizenship, Trump and his media enablers are elevating and blessing the very worst among us. They are making many Americans less suited for self-government and more dangerous to their neighbors. And they are doing so for the reason some of the Founders most feared: To lead the mob against true democracy.

How can anyone view the trashing of our founding tradition as evidence of patriotism? Because some have adopted a very different political philosophy than the Founders held. This approach to government promises the recovery of a mythical past. It feeds a sense of White victimhood. It emphasizes emotion over reason. It denigrates experts and expertise. It slanders outsiders and blames them for social and economic ills. It warns of global plots by Jews and shadowy elites. It accepts the lies of a leader as a deeper form of political truth. It revels in anger and dehumanization. It praises law and order while reserving the right to disobey the law and overturn the political order through violence.

Read the rest here.

The GOP and collective amnesia

National healing and unity requires memory. It demands that the members of a society come to grips with the historical events that make such calls for healing and unity necessary. This is why I support the impeachment of Donald Trump.

I think Michael Gerson agrees. Here is a taste of his recent Washington Post column:

As we move away from the events of Jan. 6, many elected Republicans seem to be settling on a strategy of collective amnesia. Some propose to forget the unpleasant past in the cause of national “healing.” Others adduce a thin constitutional argument against the impeachment of a former president (a position that would effectively grant immunity from impeachment to every president during his last few months in office, when the opportunity to subvert an election is greatest).

This party-wide retreat from memory and accountability has been symbolized by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s ritual renunciation of his initial moral sanity. When the violence was fresh, he affirmed that President Donald Trump “bears responsibility for [the] attack on Congress by mob rioters.” More recently, under political pressure, McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed: “I don’t believe he provoked it.” In the process, a whole generation of idealistic young people has been given a reliable guide to public character: Don’t be like this man.

The desire to erase the memory of unpleasant events is psychologically natural. But it would be disastrous in a democracy under continuing threat. The Capitol insurrection — and the broader attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election — lies like an undigested lump in the gut of our political system. How can we be asked to forget events that we haven’t fully processed? The president of the United States, with the broad approval of GOP leaders, systematically attempted to invalidate millions of votes from disproportionately minority voters. When that effort failed, Trump invited a mob to Washington, whipped up its resentments, directed it toward Capitol Hill, urged it to intimidate legislators and disrupt a constitutional process, challenged it to “fight,” and then refused to intervene while domestic terrorists hunted for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the hallways of the Capitol.

Read the rest here.

Will the GOP abandon populism?

Michael Gerson, the evangelical columnist at The Washington Post, hopes so. Here is a taste of his most recent column:

In the United States, our core political commitment is to a system of self-government based on the rule of law and the protection of the rights of political minorities. This is a different view of politics than many Americans now hold. They think the main purpose of politics is to vanquish some grave evil or defeat ruthless enemies. This is a temptation on left and right, but it has metastasized on the right. Many right-wing populists believe that they are fighting conspiratorial globalists, or child molesters, or oppressive secularists, or “woke” elitists, or the “deep state.” If this is their defining purpose, then constitutional processes are actually obstacles to effective action. A strongman would be more efficient.

This conception of politics is badly and dangerously mistaken. The primary purpose of the American form of government is not to defeat evil; it is to allow people of diverse views and backgrounds to live in peace with one another and find common purpose. That practical arrangement is also a moral commitment. We have a patriotic passion for constitutional procedure — to honor the principle of equal rights and to prevent the exercise of abusive power.

Too many political leaders — most notably in the Republican Party — have allowed these ideals to rust and rot. They have accommodated illiberalism out of selfish interest or abject fear. And this failure has associated people and causes they care about with some of the worst human beings in America. The refusal to defend procedural democracy has put economic conservatives in the same political movement as neo-Confederate thugs. It has placed pro-life Catholics and evangelicals under the same political banner as QAnon and the Proud Boys. Can traditional conservatives not see the massive reputational damage to their deepest beliefs?

For the sake of their party, their ideology and their country, it is essential for elected Republicans to publicly and dramatically distance themselves from authoritarian populism. This means repudiating the lie of a stolen election. This means supporting the Senate conviction of a justly impeached president and ensuring he can never run for office again. This means giving our new president room to govern in the midst of a deadly health crisis.

Read the entire piece here.

Everyone is discovering the court evangelicals!

The conservative pundits are outraged at what happened at Saturday’s Jericho March!

David French is worried that too many evangelicals have fallen for conspiracy theories.

Rod Dreher says we would be wrong to “blow off” the influence of these evangelicals who still believe Trump won the election.

Andrew Sullivan is concerned about the fusion of religion and politics.

Matt Lewis asks: “Is nothing sacred?”

Beth Moore is not really a conservative pundit, but she is still fired-up.

And we already discussed Michael Gerson.

And those who regularly question my decision to cover the court evangelical phenomenon seem to be taking it seriously now. Yes, even John Wilson ;-):

I’ve been writing about this for the last four years. At this point I am more interested in who was NOT at the Jericho March on Saturday:

Franklin Graham

James Robison

James Dobson

Jentezen Franklin,

Jack Graham

Paula White

Tony Perkins

Johnnie Moore

Ralph Reed

Greg Laurie

Robert Jeffress

The more traditional court evangelicals–most of whom are not connected with the Independent Network Charismatics and similar groups– seem to be focused on the Georgia Senate race and COVID restrictions. Would they like the election results to be overturned? Sure. Do they believe that there may have been election fraud? Of course they do. But they did not want to join the folks who were on the Mall on Saturday. This branch of court evangelicalism seems to only show-up when Trump is in the house or when one of his surrogates is present. They prefer power over prophecy.

And maybe some of them really believe Biden won.

We will see what happens after the Electoral College votes later today, but right now the evangelical voter fraud movement is led by Eric Metaxas (who showed his Charismatic side on Saturday), the gang at Liberty University’s Falkirk Center (Metaxas, Charlie Kirk, Jenna Ellis, Sebastian Gorka, etc.), and the My Pillow Guy.

UPDATE (December 15, 2020, 12:41am):

Some folks on Twitter were not happy with this post. Here are a few:

These tweeters made fair points, which prompted me to explain things further. It’s never a good idea to try to “explain further” on Twitter, but I am a glutton for punishment! 🙂

Michael Gerson on Eric Metaxas: He has “publicly committed his life to Donald Trump”

Here is evangelical commentator Michael Gerson at The Washington Post on court evangelical Eric Metaxas:

“I’d be happy to die in this fight,” radio talk-show host Eric Metaxas assured Trump during a recent interview. “This is a fight for everything. God is with us. Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty.”

Elsewhere Metaxas predicted, “Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of ‘a new birth of freedom’ will be fulfilled. Pray.”

Just to be clear, Metaxas has publicly committed his life to Donald Trump, claimed that at least two members of the Trinity favor a coup against the constitutional order, endorsed the widespread jailing of Trump’s political enemies for imaginary crimes, claimed Abraham Lincoln’s blessing for the advance of authoritarianism and urged Christians to pray to God for the effective death of American democracy. This is seditious and sacrilegious in equal measure.

There is something pathetic about Metaxas’s panting desire to be cruise director on Trump’s sinking ship. But I don’t think his attitude is merely the result of ambition or hero worship. Metaxas seems to be a man in the grip of a powerful delusion. And this ends up feeding doubts about religion itself.

Read the entire piece here.

“When the pandemic came and hundreds of thousands of Americans died, he didn’t give a damn”

As many of you know, Michael Gerson is a conservative columnist, former George W. Bush speechwriter, and Wheaton College graduate. Here is a taste of his latest Washington Post column, “Trump is engaging in U.S. history’s deadliest-ever sulk.”

President Trump will be remembered for many things. For the audacity of his mendacity. For his ready recourse to prejudice. For his savant’s ability to rile and ride social resentment. For his welcoming of right-wing crackpots into the Republican coalition. For his elevation of self-love into a populist cause. For his brutal but bumbling use of force against protesters. For his routinization of self-dealing and political corruption. For his utter lack of public spirit and graciousness, even to the very end. And, to be fair, for the remarkable achievement of winning more than 73 million votes without an appealing message, without significant achievements and without a discernible agenda for the future.

But though Trump will be remembered for all these things, he will be judged for one thing above all: When the pandemic came and hundreds of thousands of Americans died, he didn’t give a damn.

How do we know this? It is not easy to read a man’s heart. But it is easier to detect that organ’s absence. Trump is not only refusing to provide leadership during a rapidly mounting health crisis; he is also sabotaging the ability of the incoming Biden administration to cooperate with leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. By disrupting the presidential transition during an unfolding covid-19 disaster, Trump is engaging in American history’s most deadly sulk.

Read the rest here.

Was Jesus White? Michael Gerson on Eric Metaxas’s recent claim

Metaxas

Former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson sets the record straight on a recent claim by court evangelical Eric Metaxas. Here is a taste:

Evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas is one of those figures on the right who has been miniaturized by his association with President Trump. The author of a flawed but serious biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is more recently the co-author of the children’s book “Donald Builds the Wall!” From Dietrich to Donald is a fall of biblical proportions.

Now Metaxas has stirred controversy with a tweet contending (or assuming) that Jesus was White. His claim was made in reaction to news that the United Methodist Church is partnering with Robin DiAngelo, the author of “White Fragility,” to produce a video series on “Deconstructing White Privilege.” Metaxas’s response read in full: “Jesus was white. Did he have ‘white privilege’ even though he was entirely without sin? Is the United Methodist Church covering that? I think it could be important.”

Metaxas has subsequently attempted to place his claim about Jesus’ ethnicity into context. But there is no context in which this statement makes historical or theological sense. In attempting to debunk the idea of white privilege, Metaxas employed a traditional affirmation of white supremacy.

Read the rest here.

If you are interested in exploring how we got to this place I recommend Edmund J. Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Sage of Race in America

Thoughts on Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech

Trump Mount Rush

In case you missed it, Trump gave a speech at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota on the night of July 3, 2020.

Read the text here.

Watch the entire event here:

Thoughts:

1. Mary Hart

2. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem introduced Trump by appealing to America’s founding ideals. She said, “Let’s not destroy history.” This is in interesting exhortation from the governor of South Dakota. What is Noem doing to fund the teaching of history in South Dakota schools? In 2015, the state dumped early American history. I am not sure if things have changed since 2015, but back then I wrote this piece.

3. Noem said that her state prides itself “on the close-knit nature of our community.” She praised all the South Dakotans for showing-up and then said that the crowd included people “from across the nation.” The crowd was packed like sardines into what looked like a small space. I saw very few masks.

4. Noem and Trump did not mention anything about the tearing-down, removal, and defacing of Confederate monuments. The focus was entirely on the monuments to the “founding fathers.” Does anyone know how many non-Confederate monuments were defaced or torn down in the last month?

5. If we want to talk about American history, let’s remember that this entire event occurred on Lakota land. And yes, Trump talked about “manifest destiny” in his speech.

6. Historian Seth Cotlar tweeted this: “I can’t stress enough how angry and reactionary this speech is, on a day that celebrates the violent, statue-destroying revolution that birthed America.” Is Cotlar right? Let’s start here. You may also want to read this book.

7. Trump tried to make the case that Democrats and protesters are trying to “erase American history.” Meanwhile, millions of Americans were ignoring his speech because they were watching a movie about the American founding on Disney+.

8. At one point Trump said, “George Washington will never be removed, abolished, or forgotten.” I am sure the good folks at Mount Vernon are on it.

9. At another point of the speech, Trump threw thousands of history teachers under the bus when he said, “Our children are taught in school to hate their own country.” The only people who would believe this are Fox News viewers or people who have never set foot in a real history classroom.

10. As I watched the speech, I could not help but wonder what Frederick Douglass would have thought about Trump invoking his name. The same goes for Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali, not to mention Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt.

11. It sounds like white supremacist Steven Miller wrote this speech. There is a reason why he is one of the few people who have been with the administration since the beginning.

Here is Ron Brownstein of The Atlantic:

It sounds like Trump was at it again earlier this evening:

When it comes to American history, Trump is the one who has “absolutely no clue.” He doesn’t even read the teleprompter in an inspiring way.  And then he has the nerve to attack history teachers.

Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

…the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them. His approach to history also reveals his narcissism. When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of nonviolent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American history he is about to enter.” Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.” The columnist is right: Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself. Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office. Our best presidents thought about their four or eight  years in power with historical continuity in mind. This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it. Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity. This isn’t conservatism; it is progressive thinking at its worst. Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “Not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is forever thrown back on himself alone, and there is a danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.”

 

What can John Wesley teach us about racism?

ef580-wesley

Here is a taste of Michael Gerson’s recent Washington Post column:

By instinct and conviction, Wesley was a Tory — the God-and-country, law-and-order party of his day. He was a firm believer in benevolent monarchy and would entertain no nonsense about power originating in the people. After some initial sympathy with the complaints of the American colonists, Wesley became a vigorous, public opponent of the revolution.

According to modern political categories, Wesley would be an unlikely recruit to social justice agitation. But the founder of Methodism became one of the first major public figures in Britain to call for the abolition of slavery for a particular reason: The evangelical conception of salvation dictated a high view of human worth. In Wesley’s view, human beings were created in God’s image, fell into sin and rebellion, but remain universally capable of accepting God’s offer of saving grace. And no human being capable of making such a choice should be treated as less than human.

Wesley’s 1774 pamphlet, “Thoughts on Slavery” remains a remarkable document. Promising to set the Bible “out of the question,” Wesley makes his arguments (generally) in nonreligious terms that would appeal to British readers influenced by Enlightenment ideas. All human beings, in his view, have the right to make decisions about their life and spiritual destiny, and no human institution has the right to interfere. “If therefore you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of the mercy, nor the revealed law of GOD) render unto all their due,” Wesley wrote. “Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature.”

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson: “Blessed are the brutal, for they shall dominate the battlespace”

Trump Bible St. Johns

By this point, you all know the story. Former George W. Bush speech-writer, evangelical Christian, and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has weighed-in.

A taste:

The problem with symbols, however, is that they don’t interpret themselves. In other settings, holding up Holy Scripture might have been the president’s way of saying: “BIBLE GOOD!” But the context here is more sinister. Following the brutal clearing of Lafayette Square, Trump seemed to be using the Bible as a symbol of conquest. It was a bit like planting the flag at Iwo Jima — except without the courage, honor or patriotic purpose.

Christian symbols have been used this way before. In 312 A.D., on the night before a decisive battle for control of the Western Roman Empire, Constantine claimed to have the vision of a cross of light in the sky bearing the command, “In this sign, you will conquer.” Few seemed to notice the irony of using a symbol of sacrificial love as a battle standard. And a dangerous precedent was set of applying religion as a tool of tribal conquest.”

Trump is our cut-rate Constantine. He seeks to employ the sacred as a means of political influence. And more than that, he is now using the Bible to sanctify the physical abuse of peaceful protesters. It is a strategy that doubles as blasphemy. Trump is, in effect, proposing his own bent Beatitude: Blessed are the brutal, for they shall dominate the battlespace.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson Rips Trump and the National Prayer Breakfast: It Was “Unholy”

Trump USA Today

I just offered my opinion on Trump’s National Prayer Breakfast speech at USA TODAY.  Michael Gerson weighed-in today at Washington Post.  Here is a taste of his piece, “Trump’s politicization of the National Prayer Breakfast is unholy and immoral“:

…Trump has again shown a talent for exposing the sad moral compromises of his followers, especially his evangelical Christian followers. Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress and Eric Metaxas don’t have it easy after an event such as this one. Not only do they need to defend Trump’s use of a prayer breakfast as a campaign rally. Not only are they required to defend his offensive questioning of religious motivations. They must also somehow justify his discomfort with a central teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and his use of a prayer meeting to attack and defame his enemies. These evangelical Christian leaders will, of course, find some way to bless Trump’s sacrilege. But he makes their job ever harder and their moral surrender ever more obvious.

…Trump’s unholy outburst (and the White House event that followed) shows we are reaching a very dangerous moment in our national life. The president is seized by rage and resentment — not heard on some scratchy Watergate tape, but in public, for all to see and hear. He now feels unchecked and uncheckable. And he has a position of tremendous power. This is what happens when a sociopath gets away with something. He or she is not sobered but emboldened. It took mere hours for Republican senators who predicted a wiser, chastened president to eat their words. The senators are, in part, responsible for the abuses of power to come.

Read the entire piece here.

Thank You Mitt Romney!

40a3c-romney

I tweeted this last night:

I think it’s fair to say that Michael Gerson agrees with me. (Or maybe I agree with him).  Here is a taste of his recent Washington Post column:

Romney’s response on the Senate floor was brief and direct. He stood up for institutionalism. The Constitution, he argued, grants an essential role to voters. But removing a president for high crimes and misdemeanors is a power specifically delegated to the U.S. Senate. The punishment of presidential corruption and abuse of power is not entrusted to a plebiscite. It is the responsibility of senators, who are not serving the constitutional order by surrendering their proper role within it.

Romney stood up for the role of facts in our public life. The truth, he argued, does not depend on the needs and demands of our political tribe. At the center of impeachment was a factual question: Did the president commit an act so serious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor? “Yes,” said Romney, “he did.”

And Romney stood up for the role of individual conscience in our political life. “Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented,” he said, “and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Read the entire piece here.

Gerson: “This is a world where ethical rules count for nothing. A world where character is for chumps.”

Mitch and Trump

Here is the latest from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:

With the impeachment trial of President Trump beginning in earnest, right-wing populism has come full circle. Trump was elected on the theory that American politics had become corrupt and broken. Now he is calling upon his party and his followers to normalize corruption and brokenness as essential features of our political order. It is a bold maneuver by a skilled demagogue. Trump has cultivated disrespect for politics as a dirty business and now seeks to benefit from dramatically lowered public standards.

The question at stake in the Senate trial is plain: Is the use of public funds as leverage to gain private, political benefits from a foreign government an impeachable abuse of presidential power? The matter is so simple that Trump’s Republican defenders are reduced to babbling incoherence in trying to avoid it. When asked whether Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election was proper, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) responded, “Well, those are just statements, political. They make them all the time. . . . People do things. Things happen.”

“Things happen.” This is a revealingly ludicrous response to a charge of public corruption. No, trying to cheat in a presidential election is not like losing your keys or getting caught in the rain without your umbrella. Those are the kinds of “things” that just happen. The evidence that Trump cut off military aid to a friendly government in the middle of an armed conflict to compel that government to announce the investigation of a political rival is overwhelming. Several administration officials found this action so unethical, dangerous and disturbing that they expressed their alarm to relevant authorities. Those who dismiss such accusations as a political vendetta or a coup attempt are engaged in willful deception.

And because Trump denies any wrongdoing — pronouncing his own actions “perfect” — senators who vote for his vindication are effectively blessing such abuses in the future. Their action would set an expectation of corruption at the highest levels of our government.

Read the rest here.

Gerson’s words take on added significance in the wake of the release of Midnight Mitch’s rules for the Senate impeachment trial.

Trump’s Narcissism is Again Revealed as the House Announces Articles of Impeachment

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This morning the leaders of the House of Representatives stood in front of a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 “Lansdowne portrait” of George Washington and announced, for only the fourth time in United States history, articles of impeachment against the President of the United States.

The President, of course, is tweeting about it:

 

These are the desperate cries of a man who has committed high crimes and misdemeanors against his country.  He has abused his power and obstructed the House impeachment investigation.  Trump’s tweets remind me of this scene from November 17, 1973:

Nixon understood the gravity of his impeachment in the larger context of American history.  So, it seems, does Bill Clinton.  They both admitted (eventually) that they had done something wrong.  Clinton even described his behavior as “sin.”

Trump, on the other hand, thinks he has done nothing wrong.   Some people believe that Trump knows he is guilty, but continues to tell the American people that he is innocent because he wants to remain in power and preserve his legacy.  There is a lot of evidence to support this theory.

But what if Trump believes he is innocent because he has absolutely no understanding of American history, the U.S. Constitution, or the meaning of impeachment?  Here, again, is what I wrote about the relationship between narcissism and American history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

But the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them.  His approach to history also reveals his narcissism.  When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story.  As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of non-violent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”  Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.”  The columnist is right:  Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself.  Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office.  Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind.  This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it.  Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity….

Is Trump capable of understanding the gravity of what is happening to his presidency right now?

Michael Gerson on Fear, Hope, and Advent

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In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I wrote:

Fear has been a staple of American politics since the founding of the republic.  In 1800, the Connecticut Courtant, a Federalist newspaper that supported President John Adams in his reelection campaign against Thomas Jefferson, suggested that, if the Electoral College chose Jefferson, the founding father and religious skeptic from Virginia, the country would have to deal with a wave of murder, atheism, rape, adultery, and robbery.  In the 1850s, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant American Party, commonly known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” was infamous for its American-flag banner emblazoned with the words “Native Americans: Beware of Foreign Influence.”

In modern America, campaign ads keep us in a constant state of fear–and not always from right-wing sources either.  I still get a shiver up my spine when I watch “Daisy Girl,” the 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign advertisement that opens with a little girl standing in a quiet meadow picking the petals off a daisy.  Midway through the ad, an ominous countdown begins, and the camera zooms into the girl’s eye, where we the viewers see the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion.  As the ad closes, we hear the voices of sportscaster Chris Schenkel reading the following words on the screen: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd…The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”  This ad played an important role in Johnson’s landslide victory over his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, the conservative Arizona senator who made reckless statements about the use of nuclear weapons.  Fear is a powerful political tool.

Political fear is so dangerous because it usually stems from legitimate concerns shared by a significant portion of the voting population.  Thomas Jefferson did question many supernatural elements in the Bible.  Barry Goldwater did support the use of atomic weapons in Vietnam.  Today the growing number of Muslims living in the United States does raise important questions about how religious identity intersects with American values, or how we should defend the religious liberty of the millions of peaceful Muslims while still protecting Americans fro, the threat of murderous Islamic terror groups.  The United States States does have a problem with undocumented immigrants entering the country illegally.  And it is clear that television and social media make it easier for politicians to define our fears for us.  They take these legitimate concerns, as political theorist Corey Robin puts it, and transform them “into imminent threats.” 

And here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump about hope:

Can evangelicals recover [a] confidence in God’s power–not just in his wrath against their enemies but in his ability ability to work our his purposes for good?  Can they recover this hope? The historian Christopher Lasch once wrote this: “Hope does  not demand a belief in progress. It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity.  Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to most who lack it.”  I saw this kind of hope in every place we visited on our [history of the Civil Rights bus tour].  It was not mere optimism that things would get better if only we could elect the right candidates.  Rather, it was a view of the world, together with an understanding of the world to come, forged amid suffering and pain.  Not everyone would make it to the mountaintop on this side of eternity, but God’s purposes would be worked out, and eventually they would be able to understand those purposes–if not in this life, surely in the world to come….

But too often fear leads to hopelessness, a state of  mind that Glenn Tinder has described as a “kind of death.”  Hopelessness causes us to direct our gaze backward toward worlds we c an never recover.  It causes us to imagine a future filled with horror.  Tyrants focus our attention on the desperate nature of our circumstances and the “carnage” of the social and cultural landscape that they claim to have the power to heal.  A kernel of truth, however, always informs such a dark view of life.  Poverty is a problem.  Rusted-out factories often do appear like “tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  Crime is real.  But demagogues want us to dwell on the carnage and, to quote Bruce Springsteen, “waste our summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.”  Hope, on the other hand, “draws us into the future,” and in this way it “engages us in life.”

If I ever met Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, I think we would have a lot to talk about.  Here is a taste of his recent column on hope, fear, and the Advent season:

This is the time of the Christian year dedicated to expectant longing. God, we are assured, is at mysterious work in the world. Evil and conflict are real but not ultimate. Grace and deliverance are unrealized but certain. Patient waiting is rewarded because the trajectory of history is tilted upward by a powerful hand.

None of this is to deny the high stakes of politics and elections. But the assurance at the heart of Advent is the antidote to fear. No matter how desperate the moment, we are told, time is on the side of hope.

Such hope does not come naturally to human beings. On the evidence of our senses, despair is perfectly rational. Entropy is built into nature. Decay is knit into our flesh. By all appearances, the universe is cold, empty and indifferent. There is a certain bleak dignity in accepting the challenge of a hopeless cause.

But most of us can’t be content in this state. We fill the void with cries of protest, or hymns of thanksgiving, or demands for justice. This search for answers seems essential to our humanity. It is possible, of course, that our deepest longings are actually cruel jokes of nature. But it is also possible and rational that our longings are hints of a reality beyond nature. Perhaps our desires exist because they are meant to be fulfilled.

Read the entire piece here.

Fear not.

H.L. Mencken and Michael Gerson?

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I never thought of putting these two writers together, and I am not sure they belong together, but Martin Longman tries to make some connections between Mencken’s response to William Jennings Bryan and Gerson’s response to Trump.  Here is a taste of his piece at Washington Monthly:

The main difference between Gerson and Mencken’s takes is that Gerson blames the evangelicals for following Trump while Mencken emphasized Bryan’s efforts to lead them. But, in both cases, the evangelicals were easy to lead.

Mencken remarked of Dayton’s citizenry that “this is a strictly Christian community, and such is its notion of fairness, justice and due process of law” and “what Bryan says [against the theory of evolution] doesn’t seem to these congenial Baptists and Methodists to be argument; it seems to be a mere graceful statement to the obvious….”  It’s hard not to hear the echo in Gerson’s words: “American evangelicals are significantly crueler…than the national norm…they have become involved in a political throuple with Trump and Fox News, in which each feeds the grievances and conspiracy thinking of the others. The result has properly been called cultlike. For many followers, Trump has defined an alternative, insular universe of facts and values that only marginally resembles our own.”

Mencken believed that the leading citizens of Dayton hoped that the trial would revitalize their town which had been losing population over the preceding couple of decades; “It is believed that settlers will be attracted to the town as to some refuge from the atheism of the great urban Sodoms and Gomorrah.” But what is Fox News but this exact kind of refuge?

Nearly a century has passed since the Scopes Trial and most things have changed in dramatic ways. For one, towns like Dayton, Tennessee are less likely to be as idyllic as Mencken described:

It would be hard to imagine a more moral town than Dayton. If it has any bootleggers, no visitor has heard of them. Ten minutes after I arrived a leading citizen offered me a drink made up half of white mule and half of coca cola, but he seems to have been simply indulging himself in a naughty gesture. No fancy woman has been seen in the town since the end of the McKinley administration. There is no gambling. There is no place to dance. The relatively wicked, when they would indulge themselves, go to Robinson’s drug store and debate theology….

Today, these towns are shells of their former selves, with opioid addiction more the norm than debates about theology.  In this limited sense, Gerson may be onto something when he argues that there has been a lowering of standards and moral leadership within the evangelical community. But the grievances and conspiracy thinking remain largely the same. The contempt for “fairness, justice and due process of law” is the same. The desire to be free of “the atheism of the great urban Sodoms and Gomorrah” is unchanged. The  “alternative, insular universe of facts and values that only marginally resembles our own” is only enhanced and weaponized by conservative media and a Republican Party that feed and rely upon it.

Read the entire piece here.

Gerson:”Evangelicals have been reshaped into the image of Trump himself”

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Have evangelicals been reshaped by Trump?  Or has this dark side of evangelicalism always been present?  I made the latter argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is Gerson:

Consider the matter of immigration. Republicans who are WEPs are the most likely group to say that immigrants are invading America and changing its culture. More than 90 percent of WEPs favor more restrictive immigration policies. They support the policy of family separation at the border more strongly than other religious groups and more strongly than Americans as a whole.

How have we come to the point that American evangelicals are significantly crueler in their attitude toward migrant children than the national norm? The answer is simple enough. Rather than shaping President Trump’s agenda in Christian ways, they have been reshaped into the image of Trump himself. Or, more accurately, they have become involved in a political throuple with Trump and Fox News, in which each feeds the grievances and conspiracy thinking of the others.

The result has properly been called cultlike. For many followers, Trump has defined an alternative, insular universe of facts and values that only marginally resembles our own. According to the PRRI poll, nearly two-thirds of WEPs deny that Trump has damaged the dignity of his office. Ponder that a moment. Well over half of this group is willing to deny a blindingly obvious, entirely irrefutable, manifestly clear reality because it is perceived as being critical of their leader. Forty-seven percent of WEPs say that Trump’s behavior makes no difference to their support. Thirty-one percent say there is almost nothing that Trump could do to forfeit their approval. This is preemptive permission for any violation of the moral law or the constitutional order. It is not support; it is obeisance.

An extraordinary 99 percent of WEPs oppose the impeachment and removal of the president — which probably puts me in the smallest political minority I have ever had the honor of occupying.

Read the rest here.

Michael Gerson: Conservative reaction to the “1619 Project” is “disappointing”

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If you want to get conservatives riled-up these days, just mention the “1619 Project.”  Last week I published an op-ed about the The New York Times  project designed to commemorate 400 years of slavery in America and all hell broke loose.  You can read my piece in the Harrisburg Patriot-News here. (Read some of the 155 comments).

Since the appearance of this piece I have received multiple negative voicemail messages on my office phone.  It took one guy three messages to tell me that I was wrong.  His rant was cut off by the “beep” and then he continued mid-sentence in the next message.  Another caller insisted that I call him back and defend myself against his criticisms. Apparently the piece was republished in a Grand Rapids, Michigan newspaper.  How do I know this?  Because somebody approached me at my daughter’s volleyball game  (she goes to college in Grand Rapids) and wanted to politely debate me.  My posts on the 1619 Project here at the blog drew some intense push-back from commentators.  Some of the comments were so ugly I refused to post them.  Eventually I just decided to close down the comments section.

Not all conservatives are opposed to the way the 1619 project frames American history.  One of them is Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.  Here is a taste of his recent piece:

I am thinking instead of conservative writers who argue that the 1619 Project is a prime example of leftist ideological overreach — that its (mainly African American) authors see the country entirely through the prism of its sins and intend to “delegitimize” the American experiment. In making this case, some conservatives have offered excuses — or at least mitigations — for the moral failures of the Founders on matters of race. The institution of slavery, we are assured, was historically ubiquitous. The global slave trade, we are reminded, involved not just Americans but Arabs and black Africans. Other countries, we are told, took more slaves than America, treated them worse and liberated them later.

The attempt here is to defend the honor of the American experiment by denying the uniqueness of its hypocrisy on slavery. In one way or another, all these arguments ask us to consider the inadequacies of the Founders within the context of their times.

But to deny the uniqueness of American guilt on slavery is also to deny the uniqueness of its aspirations. Americans are required to have ambiguous feelings about many of the country’s Founders precisely because of the moral ideals the Founders engraved in American life. The height of their ambitions is also the measure of their hypocrisy. It should unsettle us that the author of the Declaration of Independence built a way of life entirely dependent on human bondage.

This leads to an unavoidably complex form of patriotism. We properly venerate not the Founders, but the standards they raised and often failed to meet. This is their primary achievement: They put into place an ideological structure that harshly judged their own practice and drove American democracy to achievements beyond the limits of their vision.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson on Evangelical Anxiety

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Many evangelicals believe that their religious liberty under attack.  Perhaps “attack” is a bit extreme, but there are some legitimate threats to religious liberty.  Michael Gerson of The Washington Post agrees with this assessment.  But he also reminds us that evangelicals face a much greater threat.  Here is a taste of his recent column:

Much white evangelical support for President Trump is based on a bargain or transaction: political loyalty (and political cover for the president’s moral flaws) in return for protection from a hostile culture. Many evangelicals are fearful that courts and government regulators will increasingly treat their moral and religious convictions as varieties of bigotry. And that this will undermine the ability of religious institutions to maintain their identities and do their work. Such alarm is embedded within a larger anxiety about lost social standing that makes Trump’s promise of a return to greatness appealing.

Evangelical concerns may be exaggerated, but they are not imaginary. There is a certain type of political progressive who would grant institutional religious liberty only to churches, synagogues and mosques, not to religious schools, religious hospitals and religious charities. Such a cramped view of pluralism amounts to the establishment of secularism, which would undermine the long-standing cooperation of government and religious institutions in tasks such as treating addiction, placing children in adoptive homes, caring for the sick and educating the young.

But this is not, by any reasonable measure, the largest problem evangelicals face. It is, instead, the massive sell-off of evangelicalism among the young. About 26 percent of Americans 65 and older identify as white evangelical Protestants. Among those ages 18 to 29, the figure is 8 percent. Why this demographic abyss does not cause greater panic — panic concerning the existence of evangelicalism as a major force in the United States — is a mystery and a scandal. With their focus on repeal of the Johnson Amendment and the right to say “Merry Christmas,” some evangelical leaders are tidying up the kitchen while the house burns down around them.

Read the rest here.