What Matthew 4 REALLY says about Christians and power

Recently an evangelical pastor who was a college of classmate of mine wrote to me praising Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court. He seemed very excited about the nomination and was surprised when I was not as excited as he was.

As I have argued, I think what McConnell did was wrong in 2016 when he refused to give Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing and a vote in the Senate. As many of you recall, McConnell claimed that since it was an election year the American people, through the ballot box, should decide who would replace the late Antonin Scalia on the bench. Trump won in 2016 and he nominated Neil Gorsuch. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him.

2020 is an election year. In fact, the election will take place in about a month. McConnell now seems to have no problem with confirming a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He is hard at work pushing Barrett through the system.

This evangelical pastor friend did not see any problem with McConnell’s blatant hypocrisy. Actually, I don’t even think he understands what McConnell did as a form of hypocrisy. As my old college acquaintance put it in his note to me, we now have a Republican president and a Republican Senate and “elections have consequences.”

Based on other exchanges I have had with this pastor, I highly doubt he would have said “elections have consequences” if the same thing happened with a Democratic president’s nominee and a Democratic-controlled Senate. He would instead be making an appeal to the Constitution or perhaps the scriptures. But I digress.

The GOP is licking its chops to confirm Barrett. Its members thus need some kind of argument to save face and explain that they are not hypocrites. Most of these GOP Senators and pundits believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based upon the original intent of the framers. But they are not consistent in this belief. They only claim original intent when it meets their needs. There is nothing in the Constitution that says a Supreme Court nominee in an election year can only get a Senate hearing if the president making the nomination is of the same political party as the party controlling the Senate. The GOP just made this up.

And if the GOP really believes the original intent of the founders is important, they should be talking about how the founders would be appalled at the rank partisanship driving this whole nomination and confirmation process.

But perhaps most revealing is the way this pastor reconciles 2016 (Obama and Garland) and 2020 (Trump and Barrett) with an appeal to raw power. Again, notice that he did not appeal to the Constitution, the Bible, or some other moral code to defend McConnell’s decision. The exact words he used to justify Barrett’s nomination were “Republicans in power. Elections have consequences.” In a single sentence he confirmed a major part of my argument in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Of course Jesus had a chance to obtain worldly power as well.

I recall that passage in Matthew 4 when Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if he would just bow down and worship him. When Jesus turned down Satan’s offer (“away from me Satan!”) God sent angels to attend to him. Jesus rejected worldly power and God was there to offer comfort and assurance in the form of the angels. The rest of the Gospel story, of course, is God showing how he would carry out his plan in another way–The Way–a way that did not require the kind of earthly power Satan was offering to Jesus.

But most people don’t know that in the 1980s Jerry Falwell Sr., while conducting a Moral Majority Holy Land tour, discovered early manuscripts of the Matthew 4 that show Jesus actually taking Satan’s deal. According to these ancient manuscripts, Jesus drove a hard bargain with Satan. In this manuscript Jesus specifically defined the “kingdoms of the world” as the future United States and demanded that Satan bring “splendor” to this kingdom by one day raising-up a morally bankrupt pagan leader (similar to King Cyrus of old) who would have the opportunity to appoint three Supreme Court justices. Satan agreed to deal, but fitting with his cunning spirit, took over 2000 years to fulfill his promise to Jesus.

What? You’ve never heard this before? It’s all there in the Lynchburg scrolls. The reason people don’t know about these scrolls is because the fake media won’t report on them.

🙂

Why Liberty University should close the Falkirk Center, and why it probably won’t happen

Liberty_University_LaHaye_Student_Union_IMG_4121 (1)

If you want to understand what a university values, consider the kinds of centers and institutes they have on campus. Most centers and institutes are extra-curricular in nature and are designed to bolster the ideas and values that define the mission of the school that sponsors them.

I wrote a bit about this in an earlier post comparing Liberty University to my own institution, Messiah University.  For example, Messiah University was founded by a small Protestant denomination called the Brethren in Christ Church (BIC). The BIC draws from three Christian traditions–Anabaptism, Pietism, and Wesleyanism. These traditions have a long history of promoting peace, social justice, women’s ordination, personal holiness, and service. Because of these commitments:

  • Messiah University has a center for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan studies that promotes issues related to peace, reconciliation, heart-felt conversion, and personal and social holiness.”
  • Messiah University has a Center for Public Humanities with a mission to promote the study of the humanities and “partner with our broader community in meaningful inquiry, conversation, and action.”
  • Messiah University has a center devoted to the work and legacy of former U.S. Commissioner of Education and Messiah graduate Ernest L. Boyer. The Boyer Center “advances educational renewal for the common good.”
  • Messiah University has a center called The Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.  This center has a mission to “foster justice, empower the poor, promote peace and care for the earth through applications of our academic and professional disciplines.”

Liberty University, on other hand, was founded by cultural warriors. The school came of age with the rise of the Christian Right. Evangelical students started attending Liberty because they or their parents were enamored by Jerry Falwell Sr.’s vision of a school that would serve as an extension of his Moral Majority.

Today, in the wake of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s temporary removal from the presidency of Liberty, a narrative has emerged suggesting that Falwell Jr. somehow took the school in a direction that was different from the good old days of Falwell Sr. There may be some truth to this, but the narrative as a whole is false.

Jerry Falwell Sr. may have been more pious than his son, but his public statements and positions were just as scandalous. During apartheid, Falwell Sr. thought that Desmond Tutu was a “phony” and those fighting racism in South Africa were communists. He distributed The Clinton Chronicles, a documentary claiming that Bill Clinton was connected to the supposed murder of Vince Foster. Falwell Sr. blamed the September 11 attacks on abortionists, “pagans,” feminists, and “the gays and the lesbians.” And we could go on.

The Falwell legacy was in good hands with Jerry Jr. Little about the Falwell family approach to “Christian” politics has changed over the years. Just compare Jerry Sr.’s “greatest” hits with those of his son.

American culture, however, has changed. Add social media and the Internet to the mix and it becomes more difficult for Falwell Jr. to get away with the stuff his father did. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried.

So let’s get back to the Falkirk Center, the place that seems to most reflect the Liberty brand.

According to its website the Falkirk Center is

Rooted in compelling, enduring, absolute truths, our principles transcend generational divides and withstand cultural trends. As the creeds of secularism are proving tenuous and unsatisfying to millions of Americans, there has never been a better time to fill this void and amplify these truths.

Upcoming generations are falling victim to the teachings of secularism, primarily because they’re not learning America’s exceptional foundational ideals within the public education system. Further, attacks on religious freedom have caused them to abandon their Christian roots in droves. So, it’s no coincidence that as young people’s acceptance of traditional values declines, depression and anxiety are reaching record highs. Young people are hungry for fulfillment and truth like never before. And, right now, the only option for them is the siren song of secularism promoted by the far left.

Today we have a tremendous opportunity to provide our youth—and all Americans—an alternative to the left’s unfulfilling and outright dishonest attempt to provide a purposeful life. We also have an opportunity to provide clarity to a passionate, yet confused, generation of believers in Jesus Christ.

Jerry Falwell Sr. would have agreed with every word of this.

And then comes the culture war piece:

The function and the moral mission of the Falkirk Center is to go on the offense in the name of Christian principles and in the name of exceptional, God-given American liberties.

Accomplishing this end requires more than adding noise to the echo chamber. It requires an army of bold ambassadors equipped with Biblical and Constitutional knowledge to speak truth to believers and unbelievers alike in every professional field and public forum. This includes Christian leaders and influencers—of all ages and backgrounds—defending, explaining, and sharing their beliefs on all platforms and sectors of society.

Thankfully, we don’t have to render ourselves powerless as the left misguides our young people. Much like Wallace’s struggle for freedom, we need brave, tenacious, passionate fighters to prevail in our war to save the greatest nation on earth. The Falkirk Center will remain on the front lines of this war. And we believe, like the passionate freedom fighters that courageously charged into the breach before us, we will eventually see victory.

So what does this mission look like in real life? Yesterday, we included several tweets from the Falkirk Center’s “bold ambassadors.” Read them here.

Today we heard more from these “bold ambassadors.”

Here is Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of the Falkirk Center:

Here is Falkirk Center “fellow” Jenna Ellis:

Ellis is also promoting a Kamala Harris birther controversy. (Trump did not deny this in today’s press conference). She retweeted this today:

And what would hateful Christian Right culture war rhetoric be without an occasional biblical quotation:

I guess Ellis does not realize that Malachi 1:11 comes in the midst of a passage in which the prophet Malachi rebukes Israel for dishonoring God and defiling his name.

Here is Falkirk Fellow Darrell B. Harrison:

Eric Metaxas is also a Falkirk Fellow. Today, on his Facebook page, he promoted an article defending Jerry Falwell Jr.  This, I might add, is the first time I have seen any court evangelical come to Falwell’s defense since he was put on indefinite leave.

Meanwhile, Falkirk Fellow Sebastian Gorka is trying to discredit Kamala Harris by claiming that she had slaves in her family history.

I don’t know if this true, but it hardly disqualifies a person from running for Vice President. If it is true, and if these tweets get to the level to which Harris needs to address them, all she needs to do is admit it and reject slavery. This would distinguish her from the Trumpers who want to defend monuments to Confederate generals and deny that systemic racism is a problem.

Gorka and D’Souza are perfect examples of what Christian Right politics has become. Namely, do everything possible to smear and degrade your enemy even if it means digging-up stuff from 200 years ago. I can imagine the conversation in the Falkirk Center ZOOM staff meeting this week: “Let’s do our part to take Harris down, even if we have to peddle in half-truths that besmirch her character.”

Yes, I realize that this “politics as usual,” but is this really the kind of politics Christians should be involved with?

Another Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow, David J. Harris, is also promoting birtherism:

David Brat, a fellow at the Falkirk Center and former Virginia congressman, plays to white evangelical fears:

It is doubtful that the Falkirk Center will disappear because its pronouncements are so deeply embedded in the history of Liberty University. It is worth noting again that the
acting president is an old-school, Falwell Sr loyalist who came of age with the Liberty University founder in the 1980s.

In the end, if the Board of Trustees does decide to end the Falkirk Center, it will represent a major break with the history of Liberty University. It would be the equivalent of  Messiah saying that it no longer thinks a center to promote peace, justice, service, and reconciliation reflects the values of the university and thus must be eliminated.

Court evangelical James Dobson invokes the Civil War in a letter to followers on the November elections

Dobson and Trump

Read the entire letter here.

Let’s break it down:

Dobson:

As I write this newsletter, voters across this nation are only a few short months away from the next general election. What an ominous time this is for our 244-year-old republic. Its future hangs in the balance. The choices we make on November 3rd will send this nation down one of two dramatically different paths. The wrong decision will be catastrophic. I agree with former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who said recently that the next election will be “the most important since 1860.” He also warned that if we appease or ignore the violence and anarchy occurring in the streets, it might be the end of civilization as we have known it. Those are sobering words coming from a man who has stood at the pinnacle of national power.

This is standard Christian Right rhetoric. Dobson quotes Gingrich’s claim that this coming election is the most importance election since 1860. Gingrich has been using this line (or something similar) for a long time. He said the exact same thing about the 2016 election (go to the 1:55 mark of this video). And before that he said the exact same thing about the 2012 election. In 2008, he said the outcome of the election “will change the entire rest of our lives.” In 1994, he said that the midterm elections “were the most consequential nonpresidential election of the 20th century.” Every election is consequential. How long are we going to listen to Gingrich before we call this what it is: fear-mongering.

Dobson:

Mr. Gingrich referred to the significance of 1860 because that was the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president. I’m sure the Speaker would agree that the following election of 1864 was also critical to the future of the nation. Lincoln and his opponent, Maj. Gen. George McClellan, were in a hotly contested campaign for the White House that could have gone either way. The “war between the states,” as it was called, had been raging for three ghastly years, and the entire nation was staggered by reports from the bloody battlefield.

Lincoln was running for a second term, and he campaigned on the promise of finishing the war and preserving the Union. These were momentous times for the young nation. During the first week of January 1863, the President signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.

Democrats and their presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. McClellan, initially campaigned on a “peace platform,” pledging to end the war and send soldiers home. As the election approached, he talked more about negotiating to let the South establish a separate government whose cornerstone would be slavery. If McClellan had been elected, there would have been no foreseeable end to the inherent evil of buying and selling human beings and treating them like cattle. Thus, the Civil War was a struggle for the soul of America.

Dobson then mentions why he spent so much time on the Civil War in this newsletter:

Why have I recounted our Civil War history and the election of 1864 at this time in our history? It is for two reasons. The first is to consider some striking similarities between then and now. Our nation is divided like no time since the Civil War. Lawlessness and anarchy stalk the cities as angry mobs riot, burn, loot, rob, and kill innocent bystanders. Cultural monuments are being destroyed. Scores of people have been shot. Our courageous police officers are being brutally attacked by the same people they have vowed to protect. A man and his son stopped to ask for directions, and he was gunned down on the spot. A one-year-old baby was shot in the stomach while he sat in his stroller. The child died at the hospital.

What began as a justified and lawful protest in response to George Floyd’s senseless murder by a rogue police officer has morphed into violence for the sake of violence. Hatred flows in the streets, including vitriol directed at the President of the United States or anyone who dares to support him or his policies. Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religious liberty are being trampled. There is also widespread belief that violence and anarchy are being organized and funded by powerful forces that are maneuvering America toward a socialist dictatorship. There is always a kingmaker behind such lawlessness. Most disturbing is open talk of another civil war. It is troubling to even utter those words. The last time Americans faced off against each other, 600,000 soldiers died. May God forbid it from happening again.

Please don’t tell me that I am wrong about the role fear plays in the Christian Right view of politics.

What is happening in our country right now is disconcerting to many of us. But it pales in comparison with what the country faced during the lead-up to the Civil War and the war itself. There is no chance that an actual civil war will erupt in this country. Dobson is using the past to scare people. But this is what culture warriors do. These kinds of historical analogies are not helpful.

Instead of scaring people by referencing “600,000” lost lives, Dobson should spend more time critiquing the president for his handling of the coronavirus. If he really cares about families he will condemn Trump’s failure of leadership, his ambivalent rhetoric on masks, his treatment of Anthony Fauci, and his appeal to doctors who believe the virus comes from demon sperm. Nearly 155,000 Americans have died of this virus and the number is growing every day. Perhaps these are the deaths Dobson should be worrying about right now.

Dobson goes on:

During the revolution of the 1960s, I recall a ubiquitous bumper sticker that read, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” It was a catchy phrase that made sense to those who opposed the Vietnam War. But my reaction to it then and now is “What if they gave a war and only one side came?” That question keeps me awake at night. There are multiple millions of passive Americans out there today, many of them Christians, who are clueless about what is happening to their homeland. They are losing something precious and irreplaceable. Do they not understand that their children and those who are yet to be born will live in tyranny if we fail them on our watch? Countless young men and women have laid down their lives on battlefields around the world to protect liberty and our way of life. Now, what they purchased for us with their blood is slipping away. Disengaged people won’t lift a finger to preserve this great land. They won’t take even a few minutes to go to their polling places to vote. There are also thousands of pastors who won’t allow voting registration tables in the lobbies of their churches. Don’t they know or care that America is on the ropes? Hordes of angry anarchists are salivating over the next election, hoping to push America over a cliff. If they succeed, as Newt Gingrich said, Western civilization will never recover. Is there anyone left who believes some things are worth dying for? Aren’t there patriots out there such as Patrick Henry who said in defiance of British tyranny, “Give me liberty or give me death!”? That was the spirit during his day. The Declaration of Independence closed with these words endorsed by the signers, “We pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They knew they would be hanged if they lost the war. Why did they do it? Because they loved their country enough to die for it.

Dobson has been watching too much Fox News. The average American family is worried about their jobs, whether to send their kids to school, and keeping themselves and their families safe from COVID-19. They are less concerned about the “hordes of angry anarchists…salivating.” In one speech on July 22, 2020, Biden showed more empathy and concern for American families than Donald Trump has shown in his entire presidency thus far.

By the way, kudos to all those pastors who refuse to bring electoral politics into their churches.

Dobson invokes Patrick Henry. But where is his acknowledgement of men like John Lewis, a man whose entire life was defined by the phrase “give me liberty or give me death?” Lewis loved his country and was willing to die to defend its promise. Perhaps he should watch Barack Obama’s speech yesterday at Lewis’s funeral. (I doubt that will happen).

And now Dobson is calling us to vote for a man–Donald J. Trump– who knows nothing about true patriotism, Christian faith, or the promise of America.  Dobson’s president couldn’t pull himself away from his Twitter feed long enough to pay his respects to Lewis. This Christian Right culture warrior has a lot of nerve dropping this fundraising newsletter during a week that we remember a true American hero.

More Dobson:

How I pray for the emergence of silent, intimidated Americans who will come out of their hiding places to let their voices be heard on Election Day 2020. There must be tens of thousands of ministers in our midst who, like the Black Robed Regiment of the Revolutionary War, will strip off their clerical garb and fight valiantly for religious liberty. If these men and women of faith and conviction don’t come to the rescue of their country, it is doomed.

Dobson doesn’t realize that the violence in the streets propagated by 18th-century patriotic ministers–the so-called “Black Robed Regiment”–makes what is happening in Portland right now look like a county fair.

Dobson closes his letter with “seven critical issues”:

1. The Next Generation

There is a fierce battle being waged now in the nation’s classrooms for the hearts and souls of our children and grandchildren. Those of us who are passionately committed to the Judeo-Christian system of beliefs are losing our kids right before our eyes. They are being force-fed a radical curriculum that is godless, anti-American, and sexually perverse. Make no mistake, the left and secular culture are manipulating the minds of your sons and daughters every day of the year. I urge you to be extremely careful about those whom you set in power over your children. Protect them with your very lives.

Let’s remember that Dobson founded an organization called “Focus on the Family.” What does it say about the state of the white evangelical middle class family if its kids are incapable of navigating our current cultural waters from the perspective of Christian faith? Perhaps Dobson should be asking this question. If white evangelicals and their churches were doing their jobs in educating young people how to engage the spirit of the age, there would be nothing for them to fear in the public schools.

2. The Sanctity of Human Life

All life is sacred and is a gift from Almighty God. But as you know, America has the blood of innocents on its hands. Since 1973, more than 60 million babies have been murdered through abortion and countless lives have ended by euthanasia. This is the most tragic holocaust in the history of the world! Some states have even passed laws allowing wounded and suffering infants to lie alone on porcelain trays after somehow surviving unsuccessful abortions. They will die without the comfort of their mothers’ breasts. If that doesn’t touch your heart, you are without compassion. I hope you will not cast a single vote for any politician who supports such wickedness.

Neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden can stop abortion in America. Trump’s Supreme Court justices might one day overturn Roe v. Wade, but this will merely send the issue back to the states. Does anyone expect California, New York, and other so-called “Blue” states to make abortion illegal? If you care about abortion, why not vote for a candidate with a plan to address poverty and racial injustice? Such a focus will keep abortions in America on a steady downward trajectory. Dobson needs a new political playbook.

Abortion rates

3. Marriage and Family

The family is God’s original building block for society. Marriage continues to serve as the foundation for every dimension of human life. Everything of value rests on it, including procreation and the care and training of children. If that ground floor is weakened or undermined, the entire superstructure of civil society will come crashing down. But listen carefully: powerful and highly funded forces, including LGBTQ and other leftist entities, are determined to destroy the family as an institution. It is already on its knees, and its future is grim. Before you vote, find out what position the candidates have taken on this issue. Then vote accordingly.

This emphasis on the family comes from a man who said little or nothing when Trump separated families at the border, put children in cages, and threatened to deport DACA recipients. Parents shield their kids from this president because they don’t want to expose them to his lies, tweets, vulgarity, and general manner of treating people. Trump has brought pornography into the mainstream of our culture and has made a mockery of the civic virtues we try to teach our kids. Please, Dr. Dobson, consider that the man you support undermines everything you have spent your life defending. Your support of him is dripping with hypocrisy.

4. Religious Liberty

The first item listed in the Bill of Rights addresses the issue of religious liberty. All the other enumerated rights flow from that fundamental freedom. That is why it is alarming to recognize that this right to worship and honor God as we choose is under vicious attack today. The courts have done the greatest damage, but now an entire sub-culture is trying to bring down the Christian faith. Whether it has invaded your private world or not, it is at your front door. It was this primary concern that led to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War in 1776. We can’t compromise one jot or tittle within that fundamental right. Fight for it with every ounce of your strength and determination. Don’t let the government close the doors of your church or tell you when you can sing praises to the Lord Almighty. They have a devious agenda, and it is dangerous. Be ready to go to the mat in defense of what you believe. And let this passion influence how you cast your ballot in November. Here I stand. Will you join me?

This paragraph is wrong on so many levels. While real threats to religious liberty do exist, especially for faith-based schools, hospitals, and other institutions, this kind of rhetoric does little to help the country reach a genuine pluralism. (Here is a more thoughtful approach to the matter).

First, let’s be clear about the meaning of the American Revolution. An attack on Christian faith and religious liberty was not the primary concern that led to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

Second, the rights of Christians to worship when such gatherings might lead to the illness and death of other people is not a very Christian approach to public life. Does Dobson really think that governors trying to protect the health of all of the people in their state are operating with some kind of “devious agenda” to extirpate Christianity from the land? This is absurd. One could even make an argument that the care these governors are taking to protect citizens from COVID-19 is actually more Christian in character than this selfish appeal to individual rights.

5. Capitalism v. Socialism

It is difficult to believe that for the first time in American history, our nation appears to be thinking about trading our democratic way of life for the tyranny of socialism. I can hardly catch my breath. Could we really consider abandoning the beloved system of government that was designed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people? Is it true that up to 40 percent of millennials and others are prepared to surrender their liberties in exchange for the absolute authority of the state? Democracy and capitalism have made ours the most powerful and successful nation in the history of the world. Are we really considering scuttling the system that has served us for 244 years in exchange for what some people call “free stuff?” I pray not! But that option awaits you in the polling booth.

Joe Biden is not a socialist. Joe Biden believes in democracy. (By the way, I am not sure Trump believes in democracy). I don’t know of anyone who is willing to “surrender their liberties in exchange for the absolute authority of the state.” Another scare tactic.

6. The Judicial System

Given recent rulings, we know that judicial overreach has almost ruined this great nation. Justices and judges are constitutionally charged to interpret the law, not make law. But again, and again, they have overstepped their authority and brought us atrocities such as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and the so-called “separation of church and state,” which doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Most recently, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most egregious rulings since Roe v. Wade. It is the case of Bostock v. Clayton County. This decision was not based on constitutional law but on the whims of six justices. It created a new legal definition of sex out of thin air. Lawyers tell us that this ruling will affect every dimension of culture and haunt the nation as long as it endures. Please don’t vote for politicians who will expand, rather than limit, the power of the judiciary.

When the Supreme Court rules in Dobson’s favor he loves it. When it does not rule in his favor, he says they have “overstepped their authority.” If the Supreme Court suddenly decided to make gay marriage illegal, overturn precedent in Roe v. Wade, or pass an Amendment declaring the United States to be a “Christian nation,” Dobson would cheer such judicial activism.

7. The Nation of Israel

Scripture tells that those who bless Israel will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Our prayer is that the next Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. will continue to promote and cultivate a vibrant bond of friendship with the nation of Israel, which is our only ally in the Middle East. Anti-Semitism and all forms of racial discrimination are inherently evil, and we condemn them categorically. We are a nation that is dedicated to “freedom and justice for all” (The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance).

Is Dobson willing to extend “freedom and justice for all” to all Americans? Does he give his highest loyalty to Israel or to fellow Christian believers–members of the worldwide body of Christ–in Palestine? It is possible for Christians to reject anti-Semitism and still find solidarity with fellow believers. Dobson’s binary thinking does not allow for such a position.

I have written about this here before, but as I read Dobson’s newsletter, and saw the big orange “DONATE” button on the top of the web page, I was reminded of what Moral Majority veterans Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson (no relation) wrote about the Christian Right fundraising formula in their 1999 book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America:

First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general. Second, the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or to impose their morality on the rest of the country. Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done…Fourth, to get this job done, please send money.”

The Complicit Court Evangelicals

COurt Evangelicals

I just finished “Collaborators,” Anne Applebaum‘s brilliant essay in the July/August 2020 issue of The Atlantic. It is subtitled: “What causes people to abandon their principles in support of a corrupt regime? And how do they find their way back?”

Applebaum writes about Trump supporters and members of the administration who have abandoned longstanding principles in order to support the corrupt presidency of Donald Trump. Throughout the essay she compares and contrasts people like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and others with similar “collaborators” drawn from her experience covering Eastern Europe under communism.

She writes

Czeslaw Milosz, a Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, wrote about collaboration from personal experience. An active member of the anti-Nazi resistance during the war, he nevertheless wound up after the war as a cultural attache at the Polish embassy in Washington, serving his country’s Communist government. Only in 1951 did he defect, denounce the regime, and dissect his experience. In a famous essay, The Captive Mind, he sketched several lightly disguised portraits of real people, all writers and intellectuals, each of whom had come up with different ways of justifying collaboration with the party. Many were careerists, but Milosz understood that careerism could not provide a complete explanation. To be part of a mass movement was for many a chance to end their alienation, to feel close to the “masses,” to be united in a single community with workers and shopkeepers. For tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace: It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil. Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Milosz wrote, ‘he eats with relish, his movement take on vigor, his color returns. He sits down and writes a ‘positive’ article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it.’ Milosz is one of the few writers to acknowledge the pleasure of conformity, the lightness of heart that it grants, the way that is solves so many perceived and professional dilemmas.

And this:

20 months into the Trump administration, senators and other serious-minded Republicans in public life who should have known better began to tell themselves stories that sound very much like those in Milosz’s The Captive Mind. Some of these stories overlap with one another; some of them are just thin cloaks to cover self-interest. But all of them are familiar justifications of collaboration, recognizable from the past. 

Applebaum then lists the “most popular” forms of collaboration or complicity:

  1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.”
  2. “We can protect the country from the president.”
  3. “I personally, will benefit.”
  4. “I remain close to power.”
  5. “LOL nothing matters.”
  6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.”
  7. “I am afraid to speak out.”

I could not help but think about Applebaums’s seven forms of collaboration in light of my own work on Trump’s court evangelicals. (She does mention a few of them in the essay).  It seems like most of these forms of complicity, to one degree or another, explain why so many conservative evangelicals stand with this immoral president.

1. “We can use this moment to achieve great things.” When most conservative evangelicals talk about “great things” they have abortion, traditional marriage, and religious liberty in mind. They are thus willing to collaborate with Trump in order to accomplish these things. Applebaum tells the story of a man named Mark, a Trump administration official. Mark works for the administration, he claims, because he believes Trump is going to help the Uighurs.

She writes:

I thought I had misheard. The Uighurs? Why the Uighurs? I was unaware of anything that the administration had done to aid the oppressed Muslim minority in Xinjiang, China. Mark assured me that letters had been written, statements had been made, the president himself had been persuaded to say something at the United Nations. I doubted very much that the Uiguhrs had benefited from these empty words: China hadn’t altered its behavior, and the concentration camps built for the Uighurs were still standing. Nevertheless, Mark’s conscience was clear. Yes, Trump was destroying America’s reputation in the world, and yes, Trump was ruining America’s alliances, but Mark was so important to the cause of the Uiguhrs that people like him, in good conscience, keep working for the administration.

(Since Applebaum published this essay, John Bolton has written that Trump endorsed the mass detention of Uighur Muslims).

Many court evangelicals justify their support of Trump because they believe he will act on the policy issues they care about. They can use Trump to accomplish “great’ things and make the world a better place.

2. “We can protect the country from the president.” I am not sure many court evangelicals are making this argument. Why would they want to protect the country from a president who derives his power from almighty God?

3. “I, personally, will benefit.” On this one Applebaum writes:

These, of course, are words that few people every say out loud. Perhaps some do quietly acknowledge to themselves that they have not resigned or protested because it would cost them money or status. But no one wants a reputation as a careerist or a turncoat.

Of course no court evangelical will ever say that she or he supports Trump to gain a greater following or to become a Christian “leader” or to get rich. But we would be kidding ourselves if we think that this has nothing to do with it. Much of the court evangelical phenomenon can be explained by ambition and money and branding. They know where their bread is buttered. Just listen to Greg Thornbury talk about Eric Metaxas. Or head to Google and type in your favorite court evangelical’s name followed by the words “net worth.”

4. “I must remain close to power.”  I wrote extensively about the court evangelical pursuit of power in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Virtually every Christian Right operative who has left the movement or criticized it has said something similar to former Moral Majority leaders Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me:

…in 1999, Dobson and Thomas reflected soberly on their experience with Falwell and the Moral Majority in their book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? They concluded that the answer to the subtitle’s question was a definitive “no.” Neither Dobson nor Thomas left evangelicalism or ceased their commitment to conservative causes; but they were forced to admit that the political strategy they helped to forge in the 1980s had failed. Despite their efforts, Roe v. Wade had not been overturned. The Internet had made pornography more accessible than ever. Drug use had not subsided and crime had not dissipated in any significant way. In the process, the prophetic witness of the evangelical church was subordinated to political power and all its trappings. As Cal Thomas put it, in a reference to Palm Sunday, “Who wanted to ride into the capital on the back of an ass when one could go first class in a private jet and be picked up and driven around in a chauffeured limousine?

Thomas, who parlayed his Moral Majority fame into a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did not mince words when he disparaged the evangelical pursuit of political power. “Christian faith is about truth,” he tells his readers, and “wherever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Through his years with Falwell, Thomas learned how power is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” It is not only seductive, but all affects the judgment of the one who “takes it.” Thomas warned his evangelical readers who the case for political power threatens the spread of the gospel. He quoted the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.” Thomas pointed to the myriad ways in which the Moral Majority–and the Christian Right agenda that it spawned–played to the fears of white evangelicals. 

5. “LOL nothing matters.” I don’t think any court evangelical would embrace the kind of nihilism Applebaum writes about under this category, but I wonder if the rapture beliefs of some conservative evangelical Trump supporters might be relevant here. If the world will end at any moment, and true believers will be lifted from this earth to be with Jesus in heaven, then why not take a risk on a chaos candidate? If he defends the rights of churches, there will be more opportunities to preach the Gospel and get people to heaven.

6. “My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.” On this point, Applebaum addresses court evangelicalism. She writes:

The Republican senators who are willing to express their disgust with Trump off the record but voted in February for him to remain in office all indulge a variation of this sentiment. (Trump enables them to get the judges they want, and those judges will help create the America they want.) So do the evangelical pastors who ought to be disgusted by Trump’s personal behavior but argue, instead, that the current situation has scriptural precedents. Like King David in the Bible, the president is a sinner, a flawed vessel, but he nevertheless offers a path to salvation for a fallen nation.

The three most important members of Trump’s Cabinet–Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Willial Barr–are all profoundly shaped by Vichyite apocalyptic thinking. All three are clever enough to understand what Trumpism really means, that is has nothing to do with God or faith, that it is self-serving, greedy, and unpatriotic. Nevertheless, a former member of the administration (one of the few who did decide to resign) told me that Pence and Pompeo “have convinced themselves that they are in a biblical moment.” All of the things they care about–outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage, and (though this is never said out loud) maintaining a white majority in America–are under threat. Time is growing short. They believe that “we are approaching the rapture, and this is a moment of deep religious significance.”

If one’s political philosophy is shaped by this sense of apocalyptic urgency, it makes sense the Hillary Clinton (and now Joe Biden) may be the Antichrist. It would also make perfect sense to instill fear in followers about what might happen if Trump is defeated in 2020.

7. “I am afraid to speak out.”  Applebaum writes:

In the United Sates of America, it is hard to imagine how fear could be a motivation for anybody. There are no mass murders of the regime’s political enemies, and there never have been. Political opposition is legal, free press and free speech are guaranteed in the Constitution. And yet even in one of the world’s oldest and most stable democracies, fear is a motive. The same former administration official who observed the importance of apocalyptic Christianity in Trump’s Washington told me, with grim disgust, that “they are all scared.”

They are scared not of prison, the official said, but of being attacked by Trump on Twitter. They are scared he will make up a nickname for them. They are scared that they will be mocked, or embarrassed, like Mitt Romney has been. They are scared of losing their social circles, of being disinvited to parties. They are scared that their friends and supporters, and especially their donors, will desert them…They are scared, and yet they don’t seem to know that this fear has precedents, or that it could have consequences. They don’t know that similar waves of fear have helped transform other democracies into dictatorships….

To what extent are court evangelical leaders and pastors scared to stand-up to Trump’s immorality because they might lose their congregations or donations for their evangelical media empires? Sometimes this kind of fear is covered-up by pious rhetoric about “civility” and “unity in the body of Christ.” Christian leaders of all stripes don’t want to rock the boat because they might offend Trump supporters.

You can read Applebaum’s entire piece here.

How the history of white evangelical racism has led to Donald Trump’s election and continues to shape support for his presidency

Believe Me 3dI begin with a caveat. This post is not implying that all white evangelicals are or have been racist. Many white evangelicals have been anti-racist and have fought hard to curb systemic racism in American life. But, as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, these are not historical forces that led many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. They are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to continue to support Donald Trump. They are not the historical forces that will lead many white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  And they are not the historical forces that have led many white evangelicals to reject systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

But here is some history:

1 .After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, which resulted in sixty white deaths in Southampton County, Virginia, fearful white evangelical Christians in the South began to fight harder for the expansion of slavery to the west in the belief that its spread to more open country might reduce the proximity of slaves to one another and thus make insurrections more difficult. White churches responded to Turner’s rebellion with missionary efforts in the hope that the chances of passion-filled revolts might be reduced if slaves could be monitored more closely by white clergy and lay church leaders. Yes, the idea of African Americans rebelling and causing disorder has been around for a long time.

2. The anxieties stemming from slave insurrections led Southern ministers to develop a biblical and theological defense of slavery. These ministers argued that anyone who read the Bible in a literal, word-for-word fashion (as God intended it to be read) would conclude that God had ordained this system of labor. Commonsense interpretations of Bible passages that referred to slavery were often difficult to refute. Old Testament patriarchs such as Abraham owned slaves. Slavery was a legal institution in the New Testament world, and the apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians to obey government laws. In the book of Philemon, Paul required the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his owner. Writing in the immediate wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, Thomas Dew, a professor of political science at the College of William and Mary, used the Bible to defend the view that all societies had a fixed and natural social structure. Citing 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, Dew reasoned that Africans should remain slaves because God had created them to fulfill such a role in society. Slaves had been given a divine “calling” and, in Paul’s words, “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” One South Carolina Presbyterians went so far as to say, “If the Scriptures do not justify slavery…I know not what they do justify.” I am reminded here of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler’s remarks about slavery.

3. Evangelicals thought that the South’s social order, and its identity as a Christian culture worthy of God’s blessing, was grounded in a proper reading of the Bible. In other words, the people of the South–and eventually the Confederate States of America–believed that they were living in a Christian society precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.  The abolitionist argument against slavery was not only heretical because it violated the explicit teaching of Scripture; it also threatened the Christian character of the United States. Robert L. Dabney, a Virginia Presbyterian clergyman and one of the strongest defenders of slavery and white supremacy in the South, contended that the notion that slaves–or any Africans for that matter–had “rights” and thus deserved freedom was a modern idea introduced in the eighteenth-century by the progressive thinkers of the Enlightenment, not by the expositors of God-inspired Scripture.  James Henley Thornwell, another powerful theological voice in support of slavery, understood the Civil War as a clash between atheist abolitionists and virtuous slaveholders: “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders–they are atheists, socialists, communist, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. Sound familiar? Watch this or most other episodes of the Eric Metaxas Show. One of Thornwell’s students, New Orleans Presbyterian minister Benjamin Palmer, said that the South had been called “to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as not existing.” It was a duty to “ourselves, to our slaves, to the world, and to almighty God.”

4. Southern evangelicals also feared the mixing of races (even though the races were mixed mainly because of the long history of master raping slaves). Slaveholders believed that their defense of a Christian civilization was directly connected to the purity of the white race. One Presbyterian minister in Kentucky claimed that “no Christian American” would allow the “God-defying depravity of intermarriage between the white and negro races.”  South Carolina governor George McDuffie, who  said that “no human institution…is more manifestly consistent with the will of God, then domestic slavery,” also claimed abolitionists were on a “fiend-like errand of mingling the blood of master and slave.” In the process, McDuffie argued, they were contributing to the “end of the white republic established in 1776.”

5. Longstanding racial fears did not fade away with the Union victory in the Civil War. Reconstruction amendments that ended slavery (Thirteenth) and provided freedmen with citizenship rights (Fourteenth) and voting rights (Fifteenth) only reinforced Southern evangelical racism. A classic example of this was Dabney’s opposition to the ordination of freedmen in the Southern Presbyterian Church. During an 1867 debate over this issue, Dabney said that the ordination of African American minister in the white Presbyterian church would “threaten the very existence of civil society.” It was God, Dabney argued, who created racial difference and, as a result, “it was plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification.” He predicted a theological version of “white flight” by suggesting that black ordination would “bring a mischievous element in our church, at the expense of driving a multitude of valuable members and ministers out.” Dabney would not sit by and watch his denomination permit “amalgamation” to “mix the race of Washington and Lee, and Jackson, with this base herd which they brought from the pens of Africa.”

6. Northern Protestant fundamentalists at the turn of the 20th century were aware of the moral problem of racism, but they did very little to bring it to an end. While they did occasionally speak out against lynching and other acts of racial violence, they failed to see how their literal views of the Bible contributed to systemic racism in American life. White terror groups seemed to understand this better than the fundamentalists did. As historian Matt Sutton has shown, the Ku Klux Klan regularly sought partnerships with fundamentalists. The Klan’s leaders believed Protestant fundamentalist crusades to save Christian America made them a natural ally in the war against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. Some fundamentalist commentaries on race could have been lifted from the collected works of 19th-century pro-slavery theologians such as Lewis Dabney or James Henry Thornwell. A.C. Dixon, the fundamentalist pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, called the Fifteenth Amendment (the amendment that gave African Americans the right to vote) “the blunder of the age” because African Americans were “ignorant” and thus ill-equipped to cast a ballot. Other fundamentalists upheld typical racial stereotypes that portrayed African Americans as rapists, murderers, and threats to white women. In 1923, Moody Monthly, the flagship publication of fundamentalism, published articles defending Klan activity. Fundamentalist fears about the decline of Christian America regularly manifested themselves in racism.

7. In the wake of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, an event which historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” several evangelical and fundamentalist clergymen were quick to put their white supremacy on display. Edwin D. Mouzon, the bishop of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, said he did not know who was to blame for the massacre. But if you read the front page of the June 6, 1921 edition of the Morning Tulsa Daily World, “black agitators,” including black activist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois, were to blame.
Mon, Jun 6, 1921 – Page 1 · The Morning Tulsa Daily World (Tulsa, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.com

Mouzon said, “there is one thing…upon which I should like to make myself perfectly clear. That is racial equality. There never has been and there never will be such a thing. It is divine ordained. This is something that negroes should be told very plainly…At the same time, we must have a Christian attitude toward the black man; he is made by the same creator; he is subject to the same Christian laws, he is our brother in Christ.” On the same day, Reverend J.W. Abel of Tulsa’s First Methodist Church said, “What other nation in all human history has done as much [for] a people as the white race has done for the race which but a brief century ago emerged from slavery? A race which even in slavery was a thousand times better off than the black princes who ruled their race in Africa.” Abel continued, “But the sin of this [black] race is that they are all too ready to protect a member of the race in crime, for no other reason that he is a negro…some day the negro will come to know that the white race is his best friend.” Dr. Howard G. Cooke, pastor of Tulsa’s Centennial Methodist Church, noted that “there has been a great deal of loose-mouthed and loose-minded talking about the white people of Tulsa being equally to blame with the blacks. This is not true.” He added, “[The massacre] should be the beginning of a new regime of law and order in this city.” This is is an interesting observation in light of the fact that a self-proclaimed “law and order” president will be holding a rally in Tulsa tomorrow night, only a few weeks after the 99th anniversary of the massacre.  (Thanks to historian Kenny Brown for bringing this material to my attention)

8. In the mid-20th century,  white evangelicals had a mixed track record regarding racial issues facing the country during the civil rights movement. Billy Graham was famous for desegregating his evangelistic crusades, and many evangelical leaders and publications supported the Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in public schools, just as they supported the Civil Rights Acts (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). But very few Northern evangelicals actually participated in the movement, and strong pockets of segregationist thought and practice continued to exist in the evangelical South. Most white evangelicals were not particularly interested in the civil rights movement; they were far more concerned about–and opposed to–the way the federal government used its power to enforce desegregation and oppose Jim Crow laws in their local communities. Historian Mark Noll has argued that race and civil rights served as an entry point for the white conservative evangelicals critique of active government.

9. This relationship between race and evangelical opposition to “big government” intervention into state and local affairs is best illustrated in the evangelical response to two Supreme Court cases. Green v. Connally (1972) removed tax-exempt status from private schools and colleges that discriminated against students based on race. At the center of the controversy was Bob Jones University, a school that banned interracial dating and denied admission to unmarried African Americans. In 1975, the IRS moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the university, a case that was eventually decided in favor of the IRS in Bob Jones v. United States.  Green v. Connolly and Bob Jones v. United States also had implications for the hundreds of private Christian academies cropping up (at the rate of two per day) all over the United States. Many of these schools were in the South and had discriminatory admissions policies, which is not surprising given that many such schools were founded in the immediate aftermath of public-school integration. When President Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian,” supported the Green v. Connally decision, he alienated many conservative evangelicals who ran these academies. To be fair, many segregationist academies were already beginning to admit African American students in the early 1970s, but the leaders of these schools, true to their Southern heritage, wanted to deal with the issues of segregation, race, and civil rights on their own terms. They certainly did not want the federal government forcing them to desegregate.

10. Thus, when Jerry Falwell and like minded conservative evangelicals created the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, they already had experienced the power of the central government when the Supreme Court intruded on the affairs of their segregated academies. In fact, historian Randall Balmer contends that it was this fear of big-government interference as it related to desegregation of institutions like Bob Jones University and Falwell’s own Liberty Academy that prompted the formation of the Christian Right. Paul Weyrich, one of Falwell’s closest associates and one of the leading organizers of the movement, told Balmer in a 1990 interchange that the Christian Right was originally founded, not on evangelicals’ opposition to abortion, but rather on opposition to the attempts by the IRS to desegregate Christian academies.

11. Many of Trump’s evangelical supports came to Trump’s rescue when, in August 2017, he drew a moral equivalency between white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia and those who came to the city to try to oppose them. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church–Dallas, went on Fox Business Network and said that Trump “did just fine” in his statement(s) about the event. He performed a rhetorical move that court evangelicals and other Trump supporters have perfected: he changed the subject and went from defense to offense. Jeffress warned Fox viewers that an “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, and the “GOP establishment) were plotting to take Trump down. He then reaffirmed America’s Judeo-Christian roots without any sense that many of the Judeo-Christian influences that have shaped United States history were intricately bound up with the kind of racism that the nation had witnessed in Charlottesville. Watch:

It is time that white evangelicals take a hard look at its past and stop trying to “Make America Great Again.” It is time, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.” The operate word is reconciliation, not “renew,” “restore” or “reclaim.”

Is the Old Frank(y) Schaeffer Back?

17ca2-frank_schaefferFrank Schaeffer, the son of mid-century evangelical public theologian Francis Schaeffer, worked very closely with his father, Jerry Falwell Sr, Pat Robertson, and others in the creation of the Christian Right. About thirty years ago, he turned his back on his father’s legacy and became a prominent voice on the religious left. Back in 2007, before I started The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I reviewed his memoir Crazy for God at the now dormant Religion in American History blog.

In Micah Danney‘s recent Newsweek profile, Schaeffer talks about abortion in a more nuanced way than he did in the 1970s and 1980s. But I still hear some echoes from the old days when he was producing films based on his father’s book Whatever Happened to the Human Race.

Here is a taste:

Sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Boston in November, Schaeffer skewered the religious conservative movement he once served. His politics are much more progressive across the board, he said. Yet on abortion, the issue so central to his father’s legacy and his own path through fame, fortune and influence, he is critical of the left.

His fellow progressives are overly simplistic about it, he said, and dangerously so. They underestimate the impact that Roe v. Wade had on those who disagree with it. That miscalculation has turned the impact into a shock wave that continues to drive seismic shifts in American politics, powering Republican politicians into positions they then use to legislate against just about every other cause important to Democrats.

“Essentially, [liberals] have not honestly dealt with the fact that they had upset an apple cart that has changed American history. They just want it to all go away,” Schaeffer said. “‘We’re not talking about it because it’s settled.’ Well, it was never settled, and the poll numbers show that it is still not settled because it’s not just a bunch of old farts who are on the pro-life side. You have a whole younger generation of people coming up who aren’t even supporters of the Republicans.”

Twenty-five years ago, 56 percent of Americans identified as pro-choice and 33 percent as pro-life, according to Gallup. As of May 2019, pro-choicers have declined to 46 percent and the pro-life movement claims 49 percent of the population.

Schaeffer calls himself pro-choice but anti-Roe v. Wade. Life does begin at conception, he said, at least biologically. He sees the Democratic Party’s stance as “slavish and dogmatic,” and painfully neglectful of sincere moral outrage that smolders unabated on the other side of the issue. He pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 followed the legalization of abortion in a number of European countries, but argues it went further than all of them. That amounted to an “in your face” insult, he said, and added to a deep moral injury felt by a huge number of Americans whose religious convictions are central to their lives.

“We’re going up to 23 weeks. We’re going to divide it into trimesters and say it’s all fine and this is just a blob of tissue,” Schaeffer said. Extending that logic so close to the moment of birth and putting it all under a mantra of choice was an invitation to righteous backlash, Schaeffer argued.

By discounting such a large segment of the population’s concerns about the morality of the act, liberal dogma around abortion violates the central Christian principle of integration, Schaeffer said.

“We pretend that half our population doesn’t exist, and we tell them to just deal with it,” he said.

Pro-choicers will never get pro-lifers to cross the bridge to their side, Schaeffer said. A healthier relationship overall could start with a more honest national conversation about abortion procedures, according to Schaeffer, as well as issues like the future of genomics. All of it, he said, has implications for how we regard life and how lives will be affected.

Read the entire piece here.

Did George H.W. Bush Enable the Christian Right?

Bush and Falwell

Yes.

Check out Neil J. Young’s piece at The Washington Post:

Following Wednesday’s state funeral for George H.W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral, the former president’s casket will be flown to Houston where a memorial service will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church the following day.

Unlike his son George W. Bush, the elder Bush, a lifelong Episcopalian, was less known for his religious faith. He was certainly not thought of as a champion of the religious right, the powerful political movement most associated with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

Yet it was Bush, the moderate establishment Republican whose family helped found Planned Parenthood, who secured the religious right’s permanent place in American politics. While historians largely credit Reagan’s presidency with helping religious conservatives move from the shadows of American public life into its spotlight, it was the Bush presidency, particularly its disappointments and defeat, that entrenched the religious right as the center of the Republican Party and guaranteed its ongoing influence.

From the moment he entered the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, Bush drew the ire of religious right leaders — so much so that people like Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell objected to Reagan’s selection of Bush as his running mate. Conservative organizations tracked Bush closely throughout the primaries, scrutinizing his conservative credentials, reviewing his record and documenting his every misstep. Bush’s questionable history included having written the foreword to a 1973 book advocating the benefits of family planning in developing countries. As a congressman from 1967 to 1971, Bush’s enthusiastic support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning groups was so well-known it had garnered him the nickname “Rubbers.”

Read the rest here.

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

I am happy to contribute to this video posted today at The New York Times.

Retro Report spent over an hour interviewing me at Messiah College back in August.  I was apparently not as engaging as Cal Thomas, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Randall Balmer since I only got a quick soundbite.  (They even made me go home and change my shirt because it had too many stripes and did not look good on the camera!)

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece:

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006182547

Cal Thomas Rips the Court Evangelicals

Cal T

Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist and a veteran of the Moral Majority.  After he left the Moral Majority he co-wrote a book describing his experience with Jerry Falwell Sr.’s organization.  It is titled Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America. (I wrote about Thomas and his co-author Ed Dobson in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

Thomas supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election.  Yet he cannot seem to stomach the court evangelicals‘ criticism of other evangelicals, particularly those who met at Wheaton College last week.  Here is a taste of his most recent column:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

The verse refers to money, but in light of today’s debate about the unaccountable devotion many Christian leaders have for President Trump it is not a stretch to apply it to their relationship with him.

Last week at Wheaton College in Illinois a number of Christian pastors and leaders gathered to discuss the future of “evangelicalism” in the Trump era. Some who were not there claimed it was a forum for Trump-bashing, some who were in attendance disagreed.

There is a conceit among some conservative Christians that God is only at work when a person they voted for is elected and that the rest of the time He must be attending to other countries. “God showed up,” said Franklin Graham following Trump’s election. Scripture states that all authority comes from God and that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants.” (Proverbs 21:1)

That means that God also must have “shown up” when Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and every other president was elected. The Almighty does, in fact, have a different agenda than us earthlings and sometimes He puts up leaders to judge people for their wicked behavior.

Read the rest here.

The End of the “Moral Majority”

Jones WhiteI just finished Robert P. Jones‘s book The End of White Christian America.  Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).  It provides survey data that confirms what a lot of us have thought for several years: the number of white evangelicals in the United States is declining.

The last chapter of The End of White Christian America deals with the Donald Trump campaign and presidency.  Jones argues that Trump may be white evangelicals’ last great attempt to win the culture wars.  When the age of Trump is over there will not be enough white evangelicals in America for the Christian Right to make political gains.

I wonder.  Have evangelicals over the past fifty years been so busy fighting the culture wars and pursuing political power that they have failed to bring more white men and women into the fold through evangelization?  Have they invested so much time in politics that they have not cultivated the spiritual and moral lives of young people in a way that keeps them in the church?  Just a few thoughts.  Feel free to run with them.

Over at USA Today, Jones reflects on the latest PRRI study on white evangelicalism.  Here is a taste:

But one of the most important findings of our survey is that as the country has crossed the threshold from being a majority white Christian country to a minority white Christian country, white evangelical Protestants have themselves succumbed to the prevailing winds and in turn contributed to a second wave of white Christian decline in the country. Over the past decade, white evangelical Protestants have declined from 23% to 17% of Americans.

 

During this same period, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans has grown from 16% to 24%.

The engines of white evangelical decline are complex, but they are a combination of external factors, such as demographic change in the country as a whole, and internal factors, such as religious disaffiliation — particularly among younger adults who find themselves at odds with conservative Christian churches on issues like climate change and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. As a result, the median age of white evangelical Protestants is now 55, and the median age of religiously unaffiliated Americans is 37. While 26% of seniors (65 and older) are white evangelicals, only 8% of Americans younger than 30 claim this identity.

The evangelical alliance with Trump can be understood only in the context of these fading vital signs among white evangelicals. They are, in many ways, a community grieving its losses. After decades of equating growth with divine approval, white evangelicals are finding themselves on the losing side of demographic changes and LGBT rights, one of their founding and flagship issues.

In the 1980s, a term such as “the moral majority” had a certain plausibility. Today, such a sweeping claim would be met with a mountain of counter evidence from public opinion polls, progressive religious voices, changing laws and court decisions.

Read the entire piece here.

Read the very revealing PRRI report here.

The Court Evangelicals in Today’s Washington Post

Trump Jeffress

Here is a taste of my piece “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.”

If you want to understand white evangelicalism in the age of Trump, you need to know Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Jeffress is not a household name in the United States, known mainly in Southern Baptist circles. But he has recently gained national attention as a “court evangelical” — my term for a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

Read the rest here.

Who Are the Evangelicals?

Trump evangelical

Everyone (including me!) is trying to make sense of the so-called “evangelicals” who are supporting Donald Trump.  Even The New York Times is curious about this.  They have gathered four evangelical writers to discuss the meaning of the term “evangelical” and how it has been used in this primary season.

For example, Gabriel Salguero, the President and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, begins his piece this way: “The term evangelical should not be reduced to a political category.” Salguero argues that “evangelical” is a theological category–something akin to the so-called Bebbington Quadrilateral.

Here is a taste:

But while the evangelical vote is not uniform, there are three strong theological tenets that broadly define what evangelicals — across racial, ethnic and political lines — believe: We have a high view of the authority of Scripture, we value sharing our faith (and building it within the community), and believe strongly in salvation through Jesus Christ alone. Our unity is around theological concomitants, not political priorities.

As I have argued before, there seems to be a slight distinction between evangelical voters and “values voters.”  On one level, nearly all evangelicals in the GOP are values voters.  In this election cycle they want voters who are pro-life, support traditional marriage, and defend the right of evangelicals to uphold these views without government interference (They call this “religious liberty”). If any of the GOP candidates were to reverse their positions on any of these issues, I think it is fair to say that they would not garner much evangelical support.

Evangelicals who think these values are non-negotiable make up a large subset of the Republican Party.  But within that subset, evangelical voters might prioritize different things.

Some evangelicals support Trump because of his business savvy, his anti-immigration and anti-Muslim positions, his economic plan (is there one?), or his tough talk on foreign policy.

Other evangelicals support Ted Cruz because the Texas Senator believes in limited government, defends the Constitution, is pro-Israel, or gives high priority in his stump speech to the replacement of Antonin Scalia.

More moderate evangelicals support John Kasich because they like his positive campaign and his compassionate conservatism informed by his Christian faith.

Some evangelicals might like Rubio because he is willing to stand up to Donald Trump.

I think the media is just starting to make sense of these differences among evangelicals. Some members of the media may be starting to realize that the paradigm they have used to understand evangelical voting habits is outdated.

When Jimmy Carter ran for POTUS in 1976 and told the nation that he was a “born-again Christian,” journalists had no idea what that meant.  When Newsweek declared that 1976 was “The Year of the Evangelical,” the magazine almost seemed to suggest that it had uncovered some strange creature from another planet.  And then Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority came along and turned conservative evangelicals into one or two issue- voters (abortion always being one of those issues).

Until this year, members of the media and political pundits who know a lot about politics but little about religion, have found this old narrative useful.  But with the arrival of Trump as a candidate who has managed to attract large numbers of “evangelical” voters, this narrative has become much more complicated.

Pundits and experts are no longer thinking about evangelicals as a monolithic voting bloc. They are now trying to dig deeper, analyzing evangelicals in terms of church attendance (or non-church attendance), class, and even race.  (I see the phrase “white evangelical” used in this election cycle more than I have in the past).

Stay tuned.  I am not done with this New York Times forum.

Maybe Some Evangelicals Think Trump is Another Reagan

Trump and ReaganI know this sounds like a crazy idea, but when I heard Jerry Falwell Jr. introduce Donald Trump last week at Liberty University it provided me with a plausible explanation for why some evangelicals support the New York real estate investor’s candidacy for POTUS.  (By the way, Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump today).

Here is what Falwell Jr. said:

My father was criticized in the 1980s for supporting Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter for president because Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor who had been divorced and remarried and Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher.  My father proudly replied that Jesus pointed out that we are all sinners, every one of us, and when Jesus said “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” that meant that we are to be good citizens, voting, active in the political process, serving in the armed forces if necessary.  And while Jesus never told us who to vote for, he gave us all common sense to choose the best leaders.  Dad explained that when he walked into the voting booth he wasn’t electing a Sunday School teacher or a pastor or even a president who shared his theological beliefs.  He was electing the President of the United States and the talents, abilities, and experiences required to lead a nation might not always line up with those needed to run a church or lead a congregation.  After all, Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday School teacher, but look what happened to our nation with him in the presidency.  Sorry.

If there are other evangelicals who think this way, it might explain why Trump is so popular among them.  In this statement Falwell Jr. tries to neutralize the evangelicals–such Russell Moore and Michael Gerson–who have argued that evangelicals should not vote for Trump because of his character or his policies that seem to run counter to some evangelical beliefs.

As Falwell Jr. points out, his father supported Reagan despite the fact that the former California governor was divorced and did not share Falwell Sr.’s evangelical theology. What Falwell Jr. doesn’t point out was that Reagan had supported pro-choice legislation as the governor of California.  Falwell Sr. was willing to look beyond these things because presidential leadership was less about the candidate’s faith commitments and more about his leadership abilities, which were defined by Falwell Sr. in terms of free-market capitalism and an understanding of the world informed by American exceptionalism. (And I am sure it made it a lot easier when Reagan came around to a pro-life position on abortion).

Trump may have his flaws, but, as Falwell Jr. notes, “we are all sinners.” Trump has a strong and decisive personality, he is a defender of the free-market, he claims he will protect Christianity against the “threat” of Islam, he believes in American exceptionalism, he opposes gun-control, and he is a staunch opponent of Obama and Hillary Clinton. These are the characteristics that many conservative evangelicals want in a candidate. With the exception of moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, Trump’s religious views (or lack thereof) really don’t matter.

Maybe we should stop trying to figure out the theological reasons why so many evangelicals support Trump and simply conclude that since the Christian Right hitched its wagon to GOP politics, nostalgia for the 1980s will always trump (no pun intended) Christian character and faith-informed policy proposals.

For many evangelicals, Trump is the new Reagan.

The New "Books and Culture" is Here

I just got my copy in the mail today.  I immediately read the following two reviews:

Eric Miller’s review of Peter Hales’s Outside the Gates of Eden: The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now.  Miller writes:

However [John] Winthrop may hover over Hales’ story, his own vision and hope are most decisively inspired by the classic Emersonian ideals: the spontaneous discovery of an inward connection to a greater reality; a harmonic convergence of self and society; above all, a religious confidence that The Self Knows, and that our true enemy is the enemy of the self.  Will these ideals be enough to save us from the mighty surges of history Hales with such acuity uncovers?  Many of us, still poised at that watchtower, listening to that howling wind, find ourselves looking for rescue from another direction.  Still: Read this book

Todd Ream and Drew Moser’s review of Randall Balmer’s Redeemer; The Life of Jimmy Carter. Ream and Moser write:

Redeemer is a biography of Jimmy Carter that has little to do with Jimmy Carter in critical places. As the story advances, it reads at times more like an account of the rise of the Moral Majority in evangelical America, with Carter cast as an almost accidental antagonist.  The book’s epigraph sketches its narrative and theological arc and its fundamentally ironic perspective: He came unto his own, and his own received him not, John 1:11 (King James Version).”  But Balmer’s irony isn’t calculated to elicit cheap sneers; it grows out of the tangle of American history.  And if his book isn’t entirely satisfying as a biography, he does succeed–in contrast to previous biographers–in rightly portraying Jimmy Carter’s Christianity as the driving force behind his political and personal life

We did an interview with Balmer last week about this book.

I am sure these reviews will appear soon on the B&C website.  Stay tuned.

I should also add that there is an ad on page 18 for the 29th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History to be held on September 25-27 at Pepperdine University.  Learn more about the conference here.  Though the ad does not provide details, and the conference program has not been released, I can spill some of the beans and let you know that the following historians/authors/friends of this blog will be speaking in various capacities over the course of the weekend: Charles Marsh, Daniel Williams, Lendol Calder, Allen Guelzo, John Wigger, Jim LaGrand, Colleen McDannel, Thomas Albert Howard, Margaret Bendroth, Beth Barton Schweiger, Jay Case, Eric Miller, Chris Gehrz, Jonathan Den Hartog, Timothy Hall, Christopher Shannon, Darren Dochuk, Mark Noll, Molly Worthen, David Bebbington, Shirley Mullen, Jana Riess, Mike Kugler, Randall Stephens, Ed Blum, Randall Balmer, Jonathan Yeager, Bill Trollinger, Tracy McKenzie, Brad Gundlach, Warren Throckmorton, Paul Contino, John Wilson, Don Yerxa, and Wilfred McClay.

See you in Malibu.

Who is Jerry Falwell?

Who is that guy holding Tinky Winky?

The other day in my Introduction to History class at Messiah College I was talking about a former student who wrote her senior honors thesis on Jerry Falwell and the rise of the Moral Majority.  (I discuss this student in chapter 7 of Why Study History?)

As I began to explain how my former student had to put aside her liberal politics and beliefs in order to empathize and understand the world according to Falwell, I noticed that many of the 20 students in the class were giving me strange looks.

After a few minutes I figured it out. I asked the students how many of them had ever heard of Jerry Falwell.  Only two hands went up.  I then told them that Falwell was the founder of Liberty University and nearly everyone nodded.

Here are my initial thoughts about this conversation:

1.  Evangelical students today do not identify with the Christian Right’s founding generation.  They really have no clue about Falwell apart from the school he founded.

2. Evangelical students really have no understanding of the history behind the movement in which many of their parents came of age and which probably informed the kind of households in which their parents raised them.

3.  Messiah College students, while no less pious, tend to be a bit less connected to the evangelical “movement” or “subculture” than students at other Christian colleges. Falwell and the other founders of the Christian Right did not have a great influence on many of them.  I compare this to the couple of visits I have made to Wheaton College in the last few years where there is a definite sense that “evangelicalism” is a major part of the identity of the college and the students who attend it.  (But to be fair, most at Wheaton would not identify with Falwell as much as Billy Graham or Christianity Today).

For the record, I also asked them if they had ever heard of Billy Graham.  Almost all the hands went up and no one thought he was a professional wrestler.

What else should I make of my students’ failure to know anything about Falwell?

Moral Minority

David Swartz put it best at his blog: “The first review is in–and it’s a big one.” 

Yes indeed. 

David’s book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Lefts in an Age of Conservatism is reviewed in this weekend’s New York Times Sunday Book Review.  Here is a taste of Molly Worthen’s review:

So why did the evangelical left seem to dissolve into irrelevance? Swartz argues that evangelicals’ mass enlistment in the conservative Republicanism of the “culture wars” was not the inevitable consequence of doctrine or history: Jesus did not leave behind a clear party platform. But while members of the Christian right set aside doctrinal differences to rally around a shared cultural agenda, the left fell victim to internal identity politics and theological disputes. Black and female evangelicals argued that the left’s leadership was too white and too male. Anabaptists who emphasized nonviolence clashed with Reformed evangelicals who had ambitious plans to transform American culture. Meanwhile, secular liberals, eager to make abortion rights a nonnegotiable plank of the Democratic platform, drove anti-abortion Christians into the arms of savvy Republicans.
Progressive evangelicals tried to halt this migration: “The energy of the pro-life movement must be removed from the ideological agenda of the New Right,” Wallis warned in 1980. As conservatives transformed the fight against abortion from a “Catholic issue” into the defining battle of the culture wars, Wallis and others countered with another idea borrowed from Catholics, the “consistent life ethic” opposing poverty, war and the death penalty as well as abortion. Yet left-wing evangelicals’ measured arguments were no match for cries that abortion is murder and family values are under siege. It seems they were not so mainstream after all: efforts at fund-raising fell flat, and by the mid-’80s half of the subscriptions to Wallis’s magazine, Sojourners, went to Catholics.
Congratulations, David.

Jerry Falwell: Founder of the Megachurch

First off, let me say that I have become slightly addicted to Religion & Politics, the new online journal from the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  They are publishing some really good stuff by some excellent authors.  (One note:  it might be helpful to have a link to the Center somewhere on the Religion & Politics homepage).  I am really eager to see how the Danforth Center grows, especially after they did a national search last  season for scholars who study religion and politics. (Have the new hires been announced?).

I think the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will find today’s piece by Michael Sean Winters to be particularly interesting.   Winters argues that Jerry Falwell is the founder, among other things, of the present-day megachurch movement.

Here is a taste:

But for all his political influence, Falwell should also be remembered for his role in shaping another major development in the life of American evangelical religion: the megachurch. Before he created a political dynasty, before he founded a university, before he molded the Republicans’ base of social conservatives, Falwell built a church. Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, was his base, one that now boasts 20,000 members. It was from there that Falwell’s influential political and educational dynasty would grow. And it was from there that he learned the models of fundamentalist insularity and evangelical outreach that would mark his later endeavors.

Evangelicals have long liked crowds, and Falwell was not the first evangelical preacher to lead a church that held thousands. The Cane Ridge revival in 1801, which ignited the Second Great Awakening, reportedly attracted more than 20,000 people, but that was for a revival, not for establishing a permanent church. In the 1920s, Aimee Semple McPherson built the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, seating 5,300 people, filled three times a day with members of her Foursquare Gospel Church. But she did not host a variety of ministries attached to her worship services. In 1956, when Falwell founded Thomas Road Baptist with only 35 members, he would, over the next fifteen years, build it into what would become one of the first modern-day megachurches in the country.

A megachurch is not simply a large church. If it were, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome might qualify. Rather, megachurches are large Protestant enclaves—averaging 2,000 or more on a Sunday—and are usually located in the suburbs or exurbs of cities, where they cater to congregants through a host of ministries and services, schools, and day care centers. True to this mold, over the years Thomas Road Baptist had to build four different sanctuaries to accommodate its growth. More importantly, Falwell continually added new ministries to his church, creating a sub-culture for his parishioners.

This is a nice piece of religious journalism, but is it true?  Can anyone point to other evangelical churches that predate Thomas Road Baptist Church and can be defined, by Winters’s standards, as a megachurch?