Tweet of the Night

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John Smith coat of arms

It comes from Central Michigan University historian Andrew Wehrman.  He comments on Trump’s visit to Jamestown tomorrow:

Donald Trump is Threatening James Madison’s Vision of Religious Freedom

WaldmanI haven’t had a chance yet to read Steven Waldman‘s new book Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom, but I have heard good things about it.  I was hoping to catch him next month at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, but, unfortunately, I will be out of town.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at Washington Monthly: Breaking the Faith“:

At the heart of James Madison’s vision was a system of fair competition among religions: the power of the state should not be used to favor one over another. Trump’s ascent to the presidency has challenged that principle directly: he proudly advertises his desire to favor one group, white evangelicals, over others, especially Muslims. 

“The Christians are being treated horribly because we have nobody to represent the Christians,” Trump said during the 2016 campaign. He promised not only to protect Christians from persecution but also to restore their dominance: “We have to band together. . . . Our country has to do that around Christianity.” Although Trump has advocated a few legitimate expansions of rights for religious people generally, he mostly has defined religious liberty downward, using the concept, for instance, to justify allowing tax-exempt churches to endorse political candidates. 

Meanwhile, Trump stocked his government with men allied to the most extreme anti-Muslim activists. Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, dismissed Muslims’ claims that they should be protected by the First Amendment as a treacherous tactic. John Bolton, the current national security adviser, appointed as his chief of staff Fred Fleitz, the senior vice president of Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, one of the leading groups peddling conspiracy theories about the looming threat of sharia. After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then a member of Congress, claimed that the “silence of Muslim leaders has been deafening” and that therefore “these Islamic leaders across America [are] potentially complicit in these acts.”

Trump and the anti-Muslim extremists he has empowered have already degraded the basic rules that had long propelled America’s unique model of religious freedom. But things could still get much worse. After ten years of propaganda from Fox News, right-wing trolls, talk radio hosts, and now the president of the United States, a substantial minority of Americans don’t believe that Muslims are worthy of First Amendment protections. The foundation of religious freedom has been soaked with gasoline. 

Now imagine there’s a large-scale terrorist attack on American soil committed by a Muslim radical. Does anyone expect Trump to caution his followers against blaming Islam as a whole? He would more likely add fuel to the fire. How many hours would pass before we heard him say, “See, I was right about the Muslims!” And since the whole thrust of the anti-Muslim movement of the last decade has been to blur the line between Muslim terrorists and ordinary Muslims, Trump’s reaction could embolden more of his supporters to take matters into their own hands. And history is full of reminders that once animus is normalized against one religious minority, others are at risk of being next in line.

Read the entire piece here.

Muslims Were in America Before Protestants

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Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, called Job ben Solomon (1701-1773) in African dress, with the Qu’ran around his neck via Wikimedia Commons
 

Yes, as Sam Haselby reminds us, this is true.  Here is a taste of his piece at Aeon: “Muslims of Early America“:

The writing of American history has also been dominated by Puritan institutions. It might no longer be quite true, as the historian (and Southerner) U B Phillips complained more than 100 years ago, that Boston had written the history of the US, and largely written it wrong. But when it comes to the history of religion in America, the consequences of the domination of the leading Puritan institutions in Boston (Harvard University) and New Haven (Yale University) remain formidable. This ‘Puritan effect’ on seeing and understanding religion in early America (and the origins of the US) brings real distortion: as though we were to turn the political history of 20th-century Europe over to the Trotskyites.

Think of history as the depth and breadth of human experience, as what actually happened. History makes the world, or a place and people, what it is, or what they are. In contrast, think of the past as those bits and pieces of history that a society selects in order to sanction itself, to affirm its forms of government, its institutions and dominant morals.

The forgetting of early America’s Muslims is, then, more than an arcane concern. The consequences bear directly on the matter of political belonging today. Nations are not mausoleums or reliquaries to conserve the dead or inanimate. They are organic in that, just as they are made, they must be consistently remade, or they atrophy and die. The virtual Anglo-Protestant monopoly over the history of religion in America has obscured the half-a-millenium presence of Muslims in America and has made it harder to see clear answers to important questions about who belongs, who is American, by what criteria, and who gets to decide.

What then should ‘America’ or ‘American’ mean? With its ‘vast, early America’ programme, the Omohundro Institute, the leading scholarly organisation of early American history, points to one possible answer. ‘Early America’ and ‘American’ are big and general terms, but not so much as to be nearly meaningless. Historically, they are best understood as the great collision, mixing and conquest of peoples and civilisations (and animals and microbes) of Europe and Africa with the peoples and societies of the Western hemisphere, from the Greater Caribbean to Canada, that began in 1492. From 1492 to at least about 1800, America, simply, is Greater America, or vast, early America.

Read the entire piece here.

Is the Founder of The Veritas Forum Behind an Anti-Muslim Facebook Campaign?

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What is going on with Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder of the Veritas Forum?  Here is a taste of Asysha Kahn’s piece at Religion News Service:

Fact-checking website Snopes linked the network to Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder and president of The America Conservancy, whose aims, as Kullberg has described online, are “advancing Biblical wisdom as the highest love for people and for culture.” All 24 Facebook pages had financial ties to Kullberg directly or organizations she helps lead.

Posts on the network decry “Islamist Privilege and Sharia Supremacy” and claim that Islam is “not a religion”; that Islam promotes rape, murder and deception; that Muslims hate Christians and Jews; that Muslims have an agenda to “spread Sharia law and Islam through migration and reproduction”; and that resettling Muslim refugees is “cultural destruction and subjugation.”

The tactics seem to mirror the playbook of Russian troll farms, with page titles purporting to originate with diverse demographic groups like “Blacks for Trump,” “Catholics for Trump,” “Teachers for Trump” and “Seniors for America.”

Snopes found that Kullberg and her associates’ agenda appeared, at least in part, to be working to re-elect President Donald Trump in 2020. The “astroturfing” campaign — referring to efforts made to look as if they come from legitimate grassroots supporters — was at least in part funded by right-wing political donors, including a prominent GOP donor who served as a fundraiser and campaign board member for 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I was happy to contribute to the Khan’s report:

“If you would have told me about this investigation 20 years ago I would have been very surprised,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College and author of the book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” But given Kullberg’s more recent politics, he said, it’s hardly shocking.

Once a mainstream evangelical Christian figure, Kullberg is the founder of the The Veritas Forum, a prominent non-profit organization that partners with Christian college students to host discussions on campus about faith. The discussions attract non-evangelical, non-Christian and secular speakers as well as leading mainstream evangelical voices.

Her 1996 book “Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians” topped bestseller lists. Now based in Columbus, Ohio, she has served as a chaplain to the Harvard Graduate School Christian Fellowship and spent time as a missionary in Russia and several Latin American countries.

Most recently, Kullberg appears to have shifted further right politically, taking what Fea described as a “pro-Trump, Christian Right, culture war posture” laced with anti-social justice rhetoric. The American Association of Evangelicals, for which Kullberg is the founder and spokeswoman, is “essentially a Christian Right organization whose supporters read like a list of evangelical leaders who have thrown their support behind Donald Trump as a savior of the country and the church,” he said.

“She seems obsessed with the influence of George Soros on progressive evangelicals and believes that social justice warriors have hijacked the Gospel,” Fea noted.

Read the entire piece here.

While running the Veritas Forum, Kullberg worked with Christian speakers such as Francis Collins, Robert George, Os Guinness, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, Madeleine L’Engle, George Marsden, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Alister McGrath, Richard John Neuhaus, Alvin Plantinga, John Polkinghorne, Dallas Willard, Lauren Winner, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and N.T. Wright.  She put some of these speakers into dialogue with the likes of Anthony Flew, Christopher Hitchens, Nicholas Kristof, Steven Pinker, and Peter Singer.

In her new role with the “The American Association of Evangelicals” she works with court evangelicals and pro-Trump evangelicals such as Eric Metaxas, James Garlow,  Everett Piper, Tim Wildmon, Wayne Grudem, Steve Strang, David Barton, and Lance Wallnau (the Trump prayer coin guy).

The divisions in American evangelicalism are widening.   The American Association of Evangelicals (AAE) is now the conservative, Christian Right alternative to The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Here is how it understands its relationship to the NAE:

Kullberg is also a leader with Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (EBI) a more conservative evangelical immigration group that appears to be an alternative to the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).  While the EBI includes many of the culture warriors I mentioned above, the EIT includes people like Leith Anderson (President of the NAE), Shirley Hoogstra (President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities), and Russell Moore (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission).

New alignments are forming.  Evangelicalism is changing and fracturing.

Gerson: Trump is the Real Threat to Religious Liberty

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Here is Gerson–an evangelical, former Bush speechwriter, and Washington Post columnist–on Trump’s response to recent statements by Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar:

By all the evidence, Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot. At one campaign event in 2015, a member of the audience stated, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims.” And he went on to ask, “When can we get rid of them?” Trump responded: “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.” Imagine a normal politician on the left or right being asked about the possibility of getting rid of all the Christians, or getting rid of all the Jews. They would likely use such a moment to clarify that they aren’t, in fact, insanely prejudiced monsters. Trump used such a moment to affirm the instinct of mass deportation and to promise a range of other anti-Muslim actions.

Could this have been a slip of the tongue? No, it wasn’t. Trump has a long history of animus — raw animus — against one of the Abrahamic faiths. He has said, “We’re having problems with the Muslims.” And: “There is a Muslim problem in the world.” And: “The United Kingdom is trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem.” And: “Islam hates us.”

Read the entire piece here.

Let’s Remember What Thomas Jefferson Thought About Religious Liberty for Muslims

Jefferson and Religious Liberty

Check out Elahe Izadi‘s piece at The Washington Post.  It quotes several scholars of early American history, Islam, Thomas Jefferson, and religious liberty including Denise Spellberg, Andrew O’Shaughnessy, and John Ragosta.

Here is a taste:

Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and asked that it be one of just three accomplishments listed on his tombstone. The Virginia law became the foundation of the religious freedom protections later delineated in the Constitution.

Virginia went from having a strong state-established church,  which Virginians had to pay taxes to support, to protecting freedom of conscience and separating church and state. Jefferson specifically mentioned Muslims when describing the broad scope of protections he intended by his legislation, which was passed in 1786.

“What he wanted to do was get the state of Virginia out of the business of deciding which was the best religion, and who had to pay taxes to support it,” said Spellberg, a professor of history and Islamic studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

During the bill’s debate, some legislators wanted to insert the term “Jesus Christ,” which was rejected. Writing in 1821, Jefferson reflected that “singular proposition proved that [the bill’s] protection of opinion was meant to be universal.”

He continued:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo [Hindu], and Infidel of every denomination.”

Read the entire piece here.

Understanding the Supreme Court Decision on Trump’s Travel Ban

Gorsuch Trump

Some nice context here from CNN writer Chris Cilizza.  Here are his “5 takeaways“:

 

  1. “Elections matter. A lot.”
  2. “This is as much Mitch McConnell’s victory as it is Donald Trump’s”
  3. “The President has loads of power”
  4. “The court didn’t take Trump literally”
  5. “The court wanted to make clear it wasn’t endorsing past Trump statements on Muslims.”

See how Cilizza develops these points here.

Beinart: Will the GOP Stand-Up to Roy Moore’s Anti-Muslim Prejudice?

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

The Republican nominee for Jeff Sessions’s vacated Alabama Senate seat is a Christian nationalist who appears to see Muslim-Americans as second-class citizens.  Writing at The Atlantic, Peter Beinart wonders why Moore’s fellow Republicans are not condemning his views.  Here is a taste of his piece:

In his hostility to Islam, and his belief that American Muslims should not be allowed to serve in office, Moore stands firmly in the tradition of Cain, Bachmann, Carson and Trump. In 2006, when Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison swore his oath of office on a Koran, Moore comparedit to taking an “oath on Mein Kampf” in 1943, and said Ellison should not be seated in Congress. This July, he called Islam a “false religion.” In August, he said, “There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities.” He later acknowledged that he had no idea if that was true. (It isn’t.)

What’s new isn’t what Moore has said. It’s the way leading Republicans have responded. There has been virtually no criticism at all. When CNN asked Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson how he felt about Moore’s claim that Barack Obama was a Muslim, Johnson responded merely that, “no two people agree 100% of the time.” When asked by the Toronto Star about claims that Moore was anti-Muslim, the Chairman of the Russell County, Alabama, Republican Party replied, “I’m anti-Muslim too.” (He later explained that, “I don’t have any problems with anybody’s religion as long as it’s Christian.”) When Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel declared in an interview on Fox News that, “the voters did the right thing,” Moore’s anti-Muslim comments didn’t even come up. In the age of Donald Trump, most Republican politicians are now too afraid to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry. And increasingly, journalists no longer expect them to.

And where are the court evangelicals?  Why aren’t they speaking out against Moore?  I assume they are too busy petitioning Donald Trump for more religious liberty legislation.

Baylor University Surveys Trump Voters

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Read the entire report here.

Trump voters:

  • say they are very religious
  • see Muslims as threats to America
  • view the United States as a Christian nation
  • believe in an “Authoritative God” (a deity who is highly engaged and highly judgmental)
  • value gender traditionalism

The report notes:

This collection of values and attitudes form the core ethos of what we might call Trumpism. It is a new form of nationalism which merges pro-Christian rhetoric with anti-Islam, anti-feminist, anti-globalist, and anti-government attitudes.

What is Bernie Sanders Doing?

This is why many evangelicals turn to a strongman like Donald Trump. They believe that their religious liberties are under attack and Trump will defend them.

Whatever one thinks about Russel Vought’s religious beliefs or the way he handled Bernie’s grilling, what happened here should concern all of us.  Even atheists are concerned.

This seems to me to be a clear violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Here is a taste of Emma Green’s piece on the incident at The Atlantic:

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders flirted with the boundaries of this rule during a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sanders took issue with a piece Vought wrote in January 2016 about a fight at the nominee’s alma mater, Wheaton College. The Christian school had fired a political-science professor, Larycia Hawkins, for a Facebook post intended to express solidarity with Muslims. Vought disagreed with Hawkins’s post and defended the school in an article for the conservative website The Resurgent. During the hearing, Sanders repeatedly quoted one passage that he found particularly objectionable:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

Later, during the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Sanders brought this up again. “Do you believe that statement is Islamophobic?” he asked Vought.

“Absolutely not, Senator,” Vought replied. “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith.”

Where Sanders saw Islamophobia and intolerance, Vought believed he was stating a basic principle of his belief as an evangelical Christian: that faith in Jesus is the only pathway to salvation. And where Sanders believed he was policing bigotry in public office, others believed he was imposing a religious test. As Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement, “Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office.”

Read the entire piece here.

Many conservative evangelicals are likely to turn this into another culture war issue. Few will try to use this incident to think more deeply about how to balance the exclusivist claims of religious faith with participation in a pluralistic society.  The former is easy, and because it is easy it often becomes our default position.  The latter takes hard work–work I am not sure many evangelicals are interested in, or capable of, performing.

African Muslims in Early America

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The National Museum of African American History & Culture website has a very informative feature on African Muslims in early America.  Online exhibits of this nature will go a long way toward debunking the myth, popular among many conservative evangelicals today, that the arrival of Muslims in the United States is a relatively new phenomenon.

Here is a taste:

While we do not know exactly how many African Muslims were enslaved and transported to the New World, there are clues in legal doctrines, slaveholders’ documents, and existing cultural and religious traditions. African Muslims were caught in the middle of complicated social and legal attitudes from the very moment they landed on our Eastern shores, and collections at the Museum help provide insight into their lives.

African Muslims were an integral part of creating America from mapping its borders to fighting against British rule. Muslims first came to North America in the 1500s as part of colonial expeditions. One of these explorers was a man named Mustafa Zemmouri, also known as Estevanico, who was sold by the Portuguese into slavery in 1522. While enslaved by Spanish conquistador Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Estevanico became one of the first Africans to set foot on the North American continent. He explored Florida and the Gulf Coast, eventually traveling as far west as New Mexico.

African Muslims also fought alongside colonists during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Multiple men with Muslim names appear on the military muster rolls, including Bampett Muhamed, Yusuf ben Ali (also known as Joseph Benhaley), and Joseph Saba. Other men listed on muster rolls have names that are likely connected to Islamic practice, such as Salem Poor and Peter Salem, whose names may reflect a form of the Arabic salaam, meaning peace. These men often distinguished themselves on the battlefield.

The founding fathers were aware of Islam and the presence of Muslims in America. Thomas Jefferson, who owned a copy of the Qur’an, included Islam in many of his early writings and political treatises. Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Jefferson argued in the proposed “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” that, “neither Pagan nor Mahamedan [Muslim] nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” Unfortunately, this language was amended before ratification to remove references to non-Christian groups. Jefferson was not the only statesman who recognized religions other than Christianity in his work. However, their knowledge of and theoretical openness to Islam did not stop them from enslaving African Muslims.

Read the piece and see the artifacts here.

Jefferson on Islam

TJ-Quran-195x300Over at Immanent Frame, the discussion of Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders continues.  In the latest installment, Nadia Marzouki of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs writes:

Among the scholars who have most inspired my work as a political scientist are multiple historians—whether intellectual, legal, or religious. From James Kloppenberg and Samuel Moyn, to Anver Emon and Patrick Boucheron, scholars of history have offered some of the most rigorous and original contributions to ongoing debates about democracy and religious freedom. History avoids the pitfalls that often characterize other disciplines, especially mine, including an excessive focus on the present and on refined quibbles about methods and positionality, sometimes at the expense of relevance. Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Quran is one of the most significant illustrations of the need for more history in current academic and political disputes about secularism and citizenship. Hers is not a history of the supposedly linear process of integration of American Muslims. In lieu of the traditional “from migrants to citizens” narrative, Spellberg argues that Muslims were thought of as citizens by the Founding Fathers themselves. The estrangement of Muslims from the American nation and the construction of Muslims as foreigners are products of later developments of the nineteenth century.

In 1765, Thomas Jefferson, then a law student at the College of William and Mary, acquired an English translation of the Qur’an. His fascination with Islamic law and culture led him to defend the rights of Muslims as citizens. Sometimes derided as an “infidel” president, much like Barack Obama three centuries later, he insisted that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom should “comprehend within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination,” and argued that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.” Tracing the genealogy of Jefferson’s understanding of Islam, Spellberg establishes the importance of John Locke’s definition of religious freedom to Jefferson’s own thinking.

Spellberg’s work corrects the mistaken belief that the encounter between Islam and America is something recent, and instead analyzes this encounter not as a shock between two constituted bodies but as an open set of hybrid and ambivalent phenomena. Her goal is not to pacify the history of the relations between Islam and the West, nor does she seek to deny the erratic character, often invisible and numerically limited, of the Islamic presence in Europe and America before the nineteenth century. Rather, an essential implication of Spellberg’s study is the repositioning of Islam within the interiority and intimacy of Western societies. Her book suggests that one cannot think properly about some fundamental ideals of liberal democracy and secular America independently of their relation, if only in theory, with Islam. This epistemological postulate of a constitutively networked and co-extensive relation of Islam and America opens up new perspectives of research, distinct from the traditional theodicy of the progressive acceptance of religious minorities and based on a robust understanding of political liberalism—which is often too promptly reduced to imperialism in a large part of the broad corpus of secularism studies.

Spellberg posits that the encounter between Islam and America is not the outcome of a slow teleology of integration but a point of departure that captures the foundational ambivalence of American liberal-secular democracy.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelical Leaders Oppose Trump’s Refugee Ban

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I was recently on the phone with a religion reporter for a national outlet who is very good at her/his job.  The reporter was trying to get a sense of the diverse nature of white evangelicalism.  For example, we talked a lot about Betsy DeVos.  I tried to explain (although she/he already knew this) that just because Betsy DeVos went to Calvin College, is Dutch Reformed, or believes in advancing the “Kingdom of God,” does not mean that everyone affiliated with Calvin College, the Christian Reformed Church, or advancing the Kingdom of God view political matters in the same way or supported DeVos’s nomination for Secretary of Education.

I thought about this phone conversation again when I read Jeremy Weber’s recent piece in Christianity Today on the evangelical leaders who signed a letter opposing Donald Trump’s recent ban on refugees from Muslim countries.  Many in the media like to appeal to the 81% of voting evangelicals who pulled the lever for Donald Trump.  This is true.  But for every Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell Jr. there is also a Tim Keller, Richard Mouw, and Max Lucado.

The evangelical leaders who oppose Trump’s ban include (in addition to Keller Mouw, and Lucado):  Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church), Leith Anderson (President of the National Association of Evangelicals), John Perkins (Christian Community Development Association and evangelical Civil Rights activist), Daniel Akin (President of Southeastern Theological Seminary), Stuart and Jill Briscoe (former pastors of Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin), Joel Hunter (pastor of Northland Church in Florida and former spiritual adviser to Barack Obama), Shirley Hoogstra (Director of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities), and. Richard Waybright (pastor of Lake Avenue Church in California and former president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).

It is worth noting that most of these signers are not the usual suspects.  In other words, they are not the left-leaning evangelicals of the Jim Wallis or Ron Sider political camp.

It strikes me from reading Weber’s article that the evangelical support for Trump’s ban comes from the grassroots, not evangelical leaders.  While I am sure that there are many evangelicals who support Trump’s ban, there may be more who oppose it, regardless of how they voted in November.

What Am I Missing on This Trump Muslim Ban?

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Trump’s executive order states:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.  Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

It seems as if the order prioritizes one religion over another.  Isn’t this considered a religious test? Does the establishment clause apply to the entrance of immigrants?   Why didn’t the Solicitor General of Washington make this argument?

Honest questions here.  What am I missing?

A Tale of Three Protests

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This could be the first weekend of the Trump administration in which the country has not experienced a major protest march of one form or another.  As I write this on Saturday morning, the weekend is still young.  But I doubt that we will let our impulse for social reform get in the way of the Super Bowl.  After all, this is the United States. 🙂

All of these protests–the Women’s March, the March for Life, and the spontaneous gatherings in American airports to protest Trump’s immigration ban–all had one thing in common.  They were, in one way or another, defenses of human dignity.  In this sense, they were inextricably linked. A recent post by a immigration lawyers Melbourne team have illustrated this quite well, it’s worth a look.

Protests and marches of this nature have a long history in the United States.  Think about the Stamp Act Riots, the Boston Tea Party, the Whiskey Rebellion, the New York City Draft Riots, women’s suffrage parades and marches, the Bonus Army, the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam Movement, Stonewall, labor protests, the movement to stop globalization, the Million Man March, the present-day Tea Party Movement, and Occupy Wall Street.  (And this list only scratches the surface).  We can debate to what extent these historic protests brought real social change, but we cannot argue with the fact that such activity is part of the American tradition of free speech, freedom of assembly, and the defense of human rights and dignity.

The American protest tradition was at its best on Saturday, January 21, 2017, one day after Trump was inaugurated, when women took to the streets in major and minor cities all over the United States.  On the Monday following the women’s march, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that “a lot of these people were there to protest an issue of concern to them and [were] not against anything.”  I realize that Spicer’s job is to spin events in favor of Donald Trump, but anyone who attended one of these rallies or watched the coverage on television knows that the people present that day were “against” something.  They were against the Trump presidency.  The day was a stunning rebuke to the new administration.

Spicer, however, is correct when he says that women (and some men) came to Washington for a host of different reasons.  As I watched the march unfold on my television screen, it became clear that the movement lacked any focus beyond the fact that everyone opposed Donald Trump.  People were there to unleash their frustrations. Only time will tell if the march translates into real political gain. I have my doubts.

I was saddened to see the organizers of the Women’s March try to separate themselves from women who opposed abortion.  I think it was a missed opportunity to find common ground and show that Trump’s degradation of women transcends the debate over abortion.  I know pro-life women who attended and felt a sense of solidarity.  I also know many who did not attend and who were troubled by this kind of exclusion.

Which leads us to the March for Life on January 28, 2017.

The Pro-Life Movement has a long history in the United States.  As Daniel K. Williams has argued in his excellent book Defenders of the Unborn (you can listen to our podcast interview with him here-Episode 2), the movement was once embedded within the Democratic Party.  Liberals such as Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Bill Clinton, Paul Simon, Dick Durbin, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Herbert Humphrey,  Joe Biden, Ed Muskie, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Bob Casey, Daniel Berrigan, Jimmy Carter, Thomas Eagleton, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Mario Cuomo were pro-life politicians.  Many of them, as David Swartz notes in his book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, “flipped to a pro-choice position under party pressure.”

The history of this so-called “flip” is complicated and I would recommend reading Williams’s book (or listen to our interview with him) to understand it in context.  But I think it is fair to say that Democrats of a previous generation saw very little tension between their political convictions and their opposition to abortion.  Democrats have always been concerned about protecting the most vulnerable human beings in American society. This is a core tenet of the modern Democratic Party.

Back in September 2015 I turned to the pages of USA Today  to challenge then presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to say something about reducing abortions in America.  I wrote: “aborted fetuses are alive, they are vulnerable and they need protection.”  I did something similar, albeit in a more indirect way, in a piece I published in the Harrisburg Partiot-News about Hillary Clinton’s failure to reach out to evangelicals on the issue of abortion.

Democrats and Republicans, men and women, convened in Washington  to march for life. The march was not as large as the Women’s March the week before, but it was just as powerful. Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr., a bishop in the largest Black denomination in the United States, was perhaps the most inspiring speaker.  As I wrote about last week, his speech connected the pro-life movement to the Black Lives Matter movement. Jesse Jackson could have delivered the same speech in 1977.  In that year, as Williams notes in Defenders of the Unborn (p.171), Jackson wrote an article for Life News linking his opposition to abortion to his defense of social justice, poverty, and black personhood.

My only critique of the event was the way it politicized a great social sin.  The problems with abortion should be addressed in an apolitical way.  The Pro-Life Movement transcends Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, and the Republican Party. Speeches by Conway and Pence gave the march a political flavor that distracted from the day’s message.

Finally, protest swirled on Sunday, January 29, 2017 in the wake of Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  Americans arrived at airports by the thousands to defend the human rights of immigrants and refugees who were detained by the Trump administration. They also cried out against the targeting of immigrants from a specific religious group.

The constitutionality of Trump’s executive order can be debated.  After doing a little reading it appears that certain parts of the order seem to be OK.  But after reading it a few times there seems to be no way around the fact that this order discriminates based on religion.  We will need to let the courts decide if such discrimination in cases of immigration is indeed unconstitutional.

Section 5b reads:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.  Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

The order states that “minority religions” in these Muslim countries will get priority.  How can this be read as anything but an attempt by Trump (and probably Steve Bannon) to favor Christians (and other non-Muslim faiths) and discriminate against Muslims?

America has been here before.

In 1835, Samuel F.B. Morse, best known in American history for inventing the telegraph, was one of the nation’s foremost opponents of Catholic immigration.  He saw Catholics as a threat to American democracy and wrote about them as both a political and religious movement. In 1911, the Asiatic Exclusion League, an organization with a mission to deny all Asian immigrants access to the United States, described Asians as a people whose “ways are not as our ways” and whose “gods are not our God, and never will be.”  The members of the League argued that Asian men and women “profane this Christian land by erecting here among us their pagan shrines, set up their idols and practice their shocking heathen religious ceremonies.”

The difference between Donald Trump and Morse, the Asiatic Exclusion League, and other attempts in U.S. history to restrict immigration, is that Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  I am not a scholar of immigration history (although I do occasionally teach a class on the subject), but I cannot think of another case in which a POTUS tried to overtly stop immigrants to the United States based on their religious faith.  Some Presidents may have secretly wanted to do this, but they never acted on it in the way that Donald Trump has done.  The closest thing I can think of is the government’s decision in 1939 to turn away 937 European Jews fleeing the Holocaust, but this decision was not overtly framed in a religious way. (I welcome anyone who can think of an example of a POTUS doing this).

American immigration and refugee policy has always been at its best when it respects the human dignity of all men and women, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.  Those who flooded American airports last Sunday were protesting the failure of the Trump administration to live up to these ideals.

Three protest marches.  Three defenses of human dignity.  Three signs of hope in an imperfect world and an imperfect country.

The Mind of the Evangelical Trump Voter

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Over the last several months I have had some good conversations (and some not so good conversations) with a few dozen of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump. The more I listen to these evangelical Trump supporters the more I realize that they are divided over the new President’s policies regarding trade, job creation, and even Obamacare. While some of them mentioned their support of Trump’s policies on these issues, it was clear that they are secondary.

Here is what unites them:

Abortion:  Trump evangelicals believe that a Trump presidency is their best chance to overturn Roe v. Wade.  So far they are ecstatic about Trump’s support for last Friday’s March for Life and his efforts to end funding for international organizations that perform abortions.  They will no doubt cheer Trump’s forthcoming Supreme Court justice nominee.

These evangelicals limit their understanding of “pro-life” to the issue of abortion.  So, for example, they do not see Trump’s recent executive order banning refugees to be a “life” issue.  Many of them are outraged that protesters are making such a big deal over Trump’s decision to stop the flow of Muslim refugees into the country when thousands and thousands of babies are being killed in the womb each year

Religious Liberty:   Trump evangelicals are thrilled that the President is aware that thousands of Christians being persecuted for their faith around the world. I imagine Christian colleges are, for the most part, breathing a sigh of relief over the fact that they will no longer be discriminated against when it comes to federal and other types of funding.

So far we have heard very little from these evangelicals about extending religious liberties to Muslim refugees. As evangelical  Washington Post columnist and Trump critic Michael Gerson recently wrote, “In the long run, religious liberty is weakened in every case when it is weakened in any case. On this matter, hypocrisy is a form of self-harm.”

Fear:  Evangelicals want their country back.  Trump will not only make America great again, but he will protect them against internal and external threats.  Most Trump evangelicals I talk with love his recent executive order banning refugees from Muslim countries.  Man of them don’t want Muslims in America.  Some of them still think that Barack Obama is a Muslim.  They believe Muslim terrorists pose a threat to their lives, even though they are more likely to be killed by a moving train, flammable clothing, or cows than a Muslim terrorist.

Trump is delivering “big league” for his evangelical voters.  He is keeping his promises. It looks as if the 81% will not be going away anytime soon.

Thomas Jefferson Remembers the Debate Surrounding His Statute of Religious Freedom

va-statuteHere is what Thomas Jefferson wrote in his 1821 “Autobiography” about the passing of his Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (1786). Note the part at the end about the rejection of a proposal to mention “Jesus Christ” as “the holy author of our religion” in order to accommodate Jews, Muslims, Hindus and “infidels.”

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan (Muslims), the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

Michael Gerson: Christians Are In “Grave Spiritual Danger” Under Trump

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Michael Gerson continues his full-blown frontal assault on Donald Trump from the pages of The Washington Post.

In yesterday’s column Gerson admits that evangelical Christians may have it easier under Trump.  For example, today Trump reinstated a ban on using U.S. funds to promote abortions in foreign countries.  We will see if this appeal to evangelical concerns continues when Trump gets around to appointing a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

But evangelicals, Gerson argues, must take seriously three other important dimensions of their faith and political witness in the age of Trump.

  1. Trump is a nativist who devalues immigrants.  Evangelicals must take him on when he demeans other human beings this way.
  2. Evangelicals need to remember that religious liberty does not only apply to them.  It applies to Muslims as well.  If they refuse to grant the same degree of religious liberty to Muslims they are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot. As Gerson writes, “hypocrisy is a form of self-harm.”  Evangelicals should not fail to show love to their Muslim neighbors, especially since they fear what will happen to them now that Trump is President.
  3. Evangelicals should be cautious about seeking political power.  Gerson writes: “when religion identifies with a political order, it is generally not the political order that suffers most.”

He concludes:

In politics, Christians should not be known primarily for defending their institutional liberty, as important as that is. They should be known for a Christian anthropology that puts the dignity of life — of every life — at the center of the political enterprise. And they should be known for courage in applying this commitment, without prejudice, to every party and ideology.

There are temptations of pride in this prophetic role as well. (Obviously, some of my regular readers might sigh.) It is easy, through an excess of outrage, to become the parody of a prophet. But Christian faith, at its best, points to a transcendent order of justice and hope that stands above politics. So it was in the abolitionist struggle and the civil rights movement. So it needs to be in the Trump era.

Read the entire piece here.