RNS Covers the Retirement of National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson

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Here is a taste of Adelle Banks’s piece at Religion News Service:

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Leith Anderson is a fan of the word “evangelical” and the Christians who claim that name.

But he knows the term may have outlived its usefulness in a polarized country where evangelical has often become a synonym for conservative Republican.

“I like the word ‘evangelical.’ I would like it to stand for what I think it has always stood for,” the retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals said in a recent (Nov. 19) interview. “But if people want to abandon the term, let them abandon the term. That’s really not what matters. What really matters is their faith and their practice.”

Anderson, who has been NAE president since 2006, has worked to help people understand the diversity of what and who evangelicals are. He’s done so in the face of public polls showing that “white evangelicals” are among the most ardent supporters of President Donald Trump and his policies.

The longtime pastor wants evangelicals to be defined by their faith — not their politics.

“I want the standard to be what the Bible teaches, not what the polls report,” he said.

John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College, said Anderson has successfully balanced the NAE’s stances — advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, welcoming refugees and opposing racism while supporting traditional marriage and opposing abortion.

But Anderson, whom Fea called a “quiet spokesman” with a pastoral heart, has been overshadowed by fellow evangelicals Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. Those two are often seen as public faces of evangelicals and more likely to be quoted in the media.

“It’s a very awkward place,” said Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” “It doesn’t fit well in talk radio or the talking heads screaming at each other on cable news.”

Read the rest here.

Walter Kim is the New President of the National Association of Evangelicals

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Kim grew up in Appalachia.  He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he was a history major.  He has an M.Div from Regent College in Vancouver, and a Ph.D in Near Eastern languages from Harvard.  It is an impressive resume.  He is a currently pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia and previously served as lead pastor at Boston’s Park Street Church. (My former pastor, Phil Thorne, is currently the Interim Senior Minister at this historic evangelical church).

Kim replaces Minnesota pastor Leith Anderson.

According to Kate Shellnut’s piece today at Christianity Today, Kim hopes to “bring together a movement in crisis.”

Here is a taste of that piece:

Kim will maintain his position at Trinity Charlottesville, a prominent PCA congregation with over 1,000 members, noting the bivocational precedent for the presidency, as past leaders have also continued their roles in their local churches.

“Throughout this process, my prayer has been that if I trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding, he would make my path straight (Prov. 3:5-6),” said Kim, who is married with two teenage kids. “I’m also grateful for the godly counsel of family, dear friends both old and new, and a discernment committee at Trinity. These resulted in a growing conviction to accept this appointment—knowing that even though I am a jar of clay, the all-surpassing power is from God (2 Cor. 4:7).”

Prior to Trinity Charlottesville and Park Street, Kim served as a chaplain at Yale University, and taught at Boston College and Harvard University, where he received his PhD in Near Eastern languages and civilizations. He has previously described being raised in a loosely Christian home and “backing into evangelicalism” as his faith affirmations and experience grew deeper.

Read the entire piece here. This looks like a good move.

The American Council of Christian Churches Still Exists

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When post-fundamentalists like Billy Graham, Carl. F.H. Henry, and Harold John Ockenga began to forge a kinder and gentler brand of conservative Protestantism known as “neo-evangelicalism,” there were many veterans of the fundamentalist-modernist battles of the 1920s who continued to cling to the “fundamentalist” label. The primary difference between these groups of former fundamentalists focused on how to engage the larger religious world.  Neo-evangelicals favored cultural engagement and an irenic spirit toward liberal Protestantism.  Fundamentalists championed separation from the world and a more militant attitude toward liberal Protestantism. As historian George Marsden once quipped, a fundamentalist is “an evangelical Christian who is angry about something.”  The fundamentalists believed that the neo-evangelicals were compromising true biblical faith by participating in religious events with modernists.  The neo-evangelicals founded the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942.  A year earlier, the fundamentalists founded the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC).  I wrote about the distinctions between these two groups here.

The American Council of Christian Churches was founded by Presbyterian minister Carl McIntire.  His fundamentalist credentials were strong.  McIntire was defrocked by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. for violating his ordination vows in 1936 and quickly joined J. Gresham Machen’s Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).  A year later he broke away from the OPC and formed the Bible Presbyterian Church.  I wrote about these splits here.

McIntire had grandiose dreams of a national council of fundamentalist churches similar to the ecumenical Federal Council of Christian Churches (FCC).  By early 1940, he was calling for a national organizations from the pages of his weekly newspaper, the Christian Beacon.  McIntire used the Christian Beacon to unleash scathing attacks against modernists and those fundamentalists who refused to separate from mainline Protestant denominations.  He would devote entire issues of the paper to the publication of charts and graphs designed to document the growth of liberal theology in the FCC and expose its modernist leaders.  In one editorial on the FCC and modernism, Mcintire wrote:

There is a need for an organization representing the true Protestant position which can receive its proportionate share of time from the radio broadcasts…The reason that the Protestants are not represented is that they have no spoken up.  We believe God is able and that He is going to raise up a voice.

As this quote reveals, McIntire imagined an organization that championed fundamentalist voices on the radio.  He also wanted an organization of churches that would advocate for fundamentalist military chaplains during World War II.

The American Council of Churches was born on September 17, 1941 at McIntire’s National Bible Institute (later Shelton College) on 55th Street in New York City.  The original sponsors included Will Houghton of Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones Sr. of Bob Jones University, and Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life Fellowship.   The original ACCC was made-up of two fundamentalist denominations: McIntire’s Bible Presbyterian Church and the Bible Protestant Church, a group of separatist Methodists who withdrew from the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939 in protest to the merger between the Methodist Protestant Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, and Methodist Episcopal Church South.

The ACCC grew modestly.  In the next several years the Bible Presbyterian Church and Bible Protestant Church were joined by the American Bible Fellowship, the General Association of Regular Baptists, the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Old Evangelical Catholic Church, the Union of Regular Baptist Churches of Ontario and Quebec, the Tioga River Christian Conference, the Conference of Fundamentalist Churches, the United Christian Church, the National Fellowship of Brethren Churches, the Ohio Independent Baptist Church.  The two largest denominations were the General Association of Regular Baptists, which under the leadership of Robert T. Ketcham had split from the Northern Baptist Convention, and the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, who were a untied group of independent churches under the leadership of William McCarrell.

The leaders of the ACCC, despite the organization’s small constituency (1.2 million members), understood it as the ecclesiastical opponent of the massive FCC, which contained over 30 million members.  The zealous voices of the ACCC made it appear as if they had a much large piece of the American religious landscape.  They energetically, and successfully, lobbied for radio time and military chaplains.   The organization launched McIntire into the national spotlight.

I lost track of the activities of the American Council of Christian Churches after I turned my scholarly attention to early American history.  But last week I learned that the organization still exists.  In fact, its national meeting will take place this weekend right in my own backyard.

The 2019 meeting of the ACCC is scheduled for October 22-24 at Faith Chapel in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  You can read all about it here.

It appears that the present-day ACCC is made up of nine denominations and continues to uphold its historic commitment to separation.

The 2019 conference theme is “Biblical Fundamentalism: Pursuing Purity.”  Here is what attendees can expect:

The emergence of Biblical Fundamentalism late in the 19th century was not the creation of something new in Christendom.  It was the call to return to the Apostolic roots of Christianity and to resist the efforts of modern liberalism to redefine the message of the Bible.  The Bible conferences that took place at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, beginning in 1876, recognized the theological drift that afflicted churches across the United States and Canada.  Long before the appearance of the New Evangelicalism with its cultivation of dialogue with enemies of the faith and compromise of the faith’s core principles, the early Fundamentalists confronted the emissaries of German rationalism and their campaign against the cardinal doctrines of Christianity.  They faced those enemies of the truth with resolve and summoned believers in Christ to take their stand for the separated witness of the Gospel. 

Nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century, Biblical Fundamentalism tends to be an expression of scorn and contempt among so-called conservative evangelicals who appear to desire the revival of the New Evangelicalism.  The American Council of Christian Churches declines all association with such a desire.  It takes its stand without apology for the faith once delivered to the saints.  It bears the historic name of Biblical Fundamentalism as a badge of honor and an assertion that it will stand with Christ outside the camp of worldliness and compromise.  For its 78th annual convention, to take place October 22-24 at Faith Chapel, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the American Council of Christian Churches calls the people of God to a revival of their old resolve to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  The history of Biblical Fundamentalism is replete with courageous contenders for the truth whose example 21st century believers do well to emulate.  The answers to the challenge of this time lie in the Holy Scriptures and in their revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ.  To both the written and Incarnate Word, the faithful people of God owe all their allegiance and the devotion of their lives.

The titles of the plenary addresses tell us a lot about the organization.  They include:

“The Battle Royal: Biblical Fundamentalism”

“God Would Raise Up New Generations of Fundamentalists”

“Knowing Our History: Biblical Fundamentalism’s Past”

“Has the Battle Ended? Biblical Fundamentalism’s Present and Future”

The conference also includes breakout sessions devoted to the legacies of McIntire, Bob Jones Jr. Gresham Machem, Robert T. Ketcham, Bob Jones Sr, Ian Paisley, and William Bell Riley.

Yes, it appears the American Council of Churches is alive and well.  There are still groups out their who gladly embrace the label “fundamentalist.”

The National Association of Evangelicals Responds to the Border Crisis

Detention

Here is the official statement:

“As evangelical Christians, we believe that all people — regardless of their country of origin or legal status — are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. Overcrowded and unsanitary conditions are inappropriate for anyone in detention, but particularly for children, who are uniquely vulnerable. Jesus reserves some of his strongest words of judgment for those who subject children to harm,” the leaders say in the letter, which was organized by the Evangelical Immigration Table.

Evangelicals are welcome to add their names to the letter here.

In the letter, evangelical leaders ask the administration and Congress to:

  • Immediately appropriate adequate funding and deploy appropriately trained staff to care for children and families who are held in temporary processing facilities and in facilities for unaccompanied children;
  • Respect and enforce the protections of U.S. asylum laws, ensuring that no one with a credible fear of torture or persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” is returned to their country of origin or forced to remain in unsafe third countries, and that all asylum seekers are afforded due process and treated humanely throughout the process;
  • Minimize the use of detention, especially the detention of children, and utilize effective alternatives to detention to ensure that those with pending asylum cases show up for court; except in cases when there is a valid reason to suspect that an individual presents a threat to public safety, families should be allowed to rely upon sponsoring relatives and friends throughout the U.S., or upon the assistance of local churches and non-profit organizations, rather than being detained at taxpayer expense;
  • Invest in the personnel and facilities necessary to adjudicate asylum requests in a more fair and timely fashion, ensuring that qualifying individuals are more quickly afforded legal status and employment authorization and that those who do not meet the legal requirements for asylum will not be incentivized by the possibility of an extended stay in the U.S. to make a dangerous journey;
  • Restore and expand U.S. assistance to faith-based and other nongovernmental organizations focused on developing opportunities and reducing poverty, violence and corruption in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, so that fewer families will feel that they have no choice but to leave their homelands; and
  • Respect the unity of the family both in the context of border enforcement and within the interior of the United States, not separating children from their parent(s) except in the rarest of circumstances when it is necessary for the wellbeing of a child.

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

Jullberg

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.

More on “Fairness for All”

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What is “Fairness for All”?  Get up to speed here.

Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron covers a motion championed by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Evangelicals that is bound to bring more division to the evangelical community.  I was happy to contribute to Shimron’s reporting.

Here is a taste:

Last week, World Magazine reported that two respected evangelical institutions, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, both quietly adopted a set of principles that call for comprehensive religious freedom protections combined with explicit support for LGBTQ protections in employment, education, housing and adoption, among others.

Neither group is backing down from the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. But the two groups want to work toward federally recognized protections for sexual orientation and gender identity alongside strong religious exemptions.

Specifically, they plan to soon unveil a draft of a bill they are working on with input from legal scholars, theologians and LGBTQ advocates that they say accomplishes those goals. The evangelical groups hope several members of Congress will sponsor the bill, tentatively called “Fairness for All,” in the session that begins Jan. 3.

“Fairness for All says we have to do this together because there are interests on both sides that ought to be protected,” said Stanley Carlson-Thies, director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and a consultant in discussions about a possible bill.

Read the entire piece here.

A Southern Baptist Theologian Suggests that the CCCU-NAE “Fairness for All” Motion is the Work of Satan

Midwestern Sem

I am not sure which part of Wayne Grudem‘s theology Midwestern Baptist Seminary professor Owen Strachan admires more:  Grudem’s belief that women should serve as “compliments” to their husbands or his belief that the gift of prophecy is real.  (Side note:  I wrote about Grudem’s views of prophecy here).

In a recent post at Midwestern’s website, it seems like the later.  Strachan disagrees with a decision by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities and National Association of Evangelicals to propose an legislative initiative that would protect religious liberties alongside liberties for the LGBTQ community.  Read our post here.

Strachan writes with a sense of prophetic urgency.  “Are you paying attention?, he asks his fellow conservative evangelicals.  He adds: “The evangelical movement–and the religious community more generally–seems largely asleep in the face of its peril.”  But Strachan does not just have an honest disagreement with the CCCU and NAE.  He seems to be pretty certain that he is on God’s side and the dozens of Christian colleges in the CCCU and denominations in the NAE are on the side of Satan.  Here is a taste of his piece:

It is remarkable to observe the church’s silence or quiescence on these matters in our time. The evangelical movement seems not to know of the danger it faces in America. We do not wage war against flesh and blood, no, but we cannot miss that the LGBT lobby and its many willing partners seek to target and shut down Christians and Christian institutions who stand against the new sexual orthodoxy. If we are paying attention, we are seeing all sorts of quiet policing taking place on social-media platforms. Vimeo, Twitter, Patreon, Facebook: these and other organizations believe they are advancing justice by silencing those who dissent from mainstream orthodoxy. Free speech is challenged today, but not only at the more identifiable public level (the government). Free speech (and free thought) is increasingly imperiled at the private level, where it is especially difficult to spot and oppose. All this, by the way, is seen as righting the wrongs of the 2016 election, making America a more just society, and bringing gender equity to our body politic. This is, in other words, a system of righteousness, secular righteousness, and it comes by a new law that is ironically shorn of religion but championed with religious fervor.

Let us think for a moment of the broader conflict here. Part of Satan’s strategy is to use any means he can find to shut down the church. Satan’s major target is not the intellectual dark web. Satan’s major target is the body of believers who love and promote the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for depraved sinners like us (1 Peter 5:8). In every country on the earth, among every people group there is, Satan wants to do everything he can to destroy access to the gospel, belief in the gospel, and the very people who are claimed by the gospel. He is a waging a massive, multi-front war across every inch of the globe to deny God his rightful glory and to shred the blood-bought people of God. He does this not only by tempting Christians to sin, but by creating public and private structures that limit access to the truth. This world is not a neutral place. It is God’s world, but Satan wants it for his own. So, he works with great cleverness, great subtlety, and great daring to do everything he possibly can to oppose the work of God and the people of God.

We see an example of how to respond to Satan’s stratagems in the apostle Paul’s capture by the Romans (see Acts 22-26). I doubt your average evangelical has heard a solitary syllable about the significance of Paul’s self-defense for matters of conscience and public faith, but it matters greatly for our conversation. Satan will use any government, any body of leadership, he can to shut down the proclamation of the gospel. When he succeeds in his aims, and the state (or any group or leader) acts to quiet the church, what should Christians do? Paul shows us. When the Romans catch him in their net, Paul does not go quietly. He does not say, “Well, the life of the church matters, but the affairs of state don’t rate. I guess it’s prison for me, and then death.” No, Paul appeals to his Roman citizenship (beginning in Acts 22:25). He lives to fight another day. He refuses to accept his easy persecution and silencing. Even in prison, he continues the fight, as Acts shows, and he redeems the extra time his maneuvers buy by writing several epistles of the New Testament. Think about that: if Paul hadn’t made his citizenship appeal, and hadn’t fought his unjust persecution, we would not have the New Testament we have.

Christians in the twenty-first century should learn from Paul. We should not work with the Roman government to hammer out a way we can bow to Caesar, but also bow to Christ. We should follow Christ only. 

Read the entire post here.

I don’t have any other word but “fundamentalism” to describe Strachan’s post.  He is right.  Other Christians are deluded by Satan.  Everything is black and white.

When WAS Evangelical?

Daniel Silliman of Valparaiso University has a very thoughtful and helpful Twitter thread on the use of the term “evangelical” in American history.  I know Daniel is looking for a job in an academic history department.  Someone should hire him based on this thread alone!  🙂

 

The National Association of Evangelicals and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Adopt a “Fairness for All” Motion

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The National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities have endorsed “Fairness for All,” a legislative initiative to protect religious liberties alongside liberties for the LGBTQ community.  This means that these organizations are endorsing so-called Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) laws, or laws that add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications.  The NAE and the CCCU believe that the support of SOGI laws is the best way of protecting religious liberty for their institutions.

Shirley Mullen, the President of Houghton College in upstate New York, authored the NAE motion.  Mullen is a Christian historian with Ph.Ds in History (University of Minnesota) and Philosophy (University of Wales) and a former president of the Conference on Faith and History.

Here is the motion:

Motion

That the National Association of Evangelicals support principles calling on Congress to consider federal legislation:

  • We believe that God created human beings in his image as male or female and that sexual relations be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman.
  • We support long-standing civil rights laws and First Amendment guarantees that protect free religious
    exercise.
  • No one should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or
    gender identity.

Background Overview of Fairness for All and Possible Future Legislation (Based on principles)

Written by Shirley Mullen (President of Houghton College and member of NAE board & executive committee)

Cultural Context

While the United States of America was founded on principles that sought to provide both freedom from a potentially coercive established state religion (“separation of church and state”) and freedom for the flourishing of religious activity according to the conscience of individuals (“free exercise” clause) this balanced tension has been difficult to preserve in practice. This framework of pluralism where multiple perspectives on religion — and other matters of worldview — are fostered and legitimized in the public square has been much more difficult to imagine and to realize than either the alternative of a dominant religious tradition or the alternative of secularity.

Though there was no established religion in 18th and 19th century America, the dominant cultural religious tradition— for historical rather than legal reasons — happened to be Protestant Christianity. For a range of reasons, including perceived tensions between science and religion, increased immigration from non-European contexts, the growing politicization of religion around particular ethical issues, this consensus changed in the 20th century. (For a fuller analysis of this transition, see Robert Putnam, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” 2010). Increasingly, religious conviction is considered a matter of private conscience leaving the public arena dominated by the assumptions and the “faith” of secularity.

This cultural shift has, so far at least, left institutional churches protected under the legal tradition of “religious freedom.” It has resulted in the narrowing of the notion of “free exercise” of religion especially as this relates to institutions that carry on non-religiously explicit tasks but are nevertheless motivated by faith and informed by faith. These tasks\ include higher education, in addition to humanitarian organizations, adoption agencies and rescue missions, to mention just a few.

For example, in the past five years alone, Christian colleges and universities have faced challenges from the government to their right to accept state financial aid grants, legal challenges to their right to hire faculty and staff based on considerations of faith, limitations in their opportunities to post jobs in the bulletins of professional organizations or in certain online contexts, opposition to their prerogative to claim exemptions to Title IX legislation in the context of NCAA — and this trend shows every sign of continuing.

Timing

We believe that now is the time to take deliberate action to reclaim the space for religious freedom that was intended in the founding of the United States. While religious freedom is no longer a noncontroversial bipartisan issue as it was in 1993 when Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there is likely to be more sympathy for protecting religious freedom in a Republican Congress than in a Democratic Congress. The Equality Act, which would undermine the provisions of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and significantly threaten the ability of religious organizations to hire according to their faith convictions, has gained increasing favor each time it has been reintroduced in Congress. It is also heavily funded by a range of lobbying interests.

Strategy

Despite the challenges of passing legislation in today’s partisan environment, we strongly believe that this religious freedom is best secured in a legislative context rather than by executive order or rulings by the attorney general —both of which have expiration dates and can be undone by subsequent presidents and attorneys general. There is strong evidence that the Supreme Court supports religious freedom protections much more readily when these are grounded in specific legislation and not just appeals to the First Amendment.

While there is some legislative support for the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), this support is less than the support for the Equality Act. Since the Hobby Lobby decision in 2014 and especially since the Obergefell decision in 2016, it has been easy for legislation supporting religious freedom to be seen as simply permission to discriminate.

As Christian higher educators, we are increasingly persuaded that the most viable political strategy is for comprehensive religious freedom protections to be combined with explicit support for basic human rights for members of the LGBT community. (These rights include basic legal and human rights related to housing, credit, jury duty and employment — and do not imply affirmation for particular lifestyle or moral choices.)

This proposed legislation known as Fairness for All, in no way argues against FADA, but seeks to offer an additional legislative option — one that we believe can garner bipartisan support.

As you can see from the material provided from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, this proposed legislation seeks to secure basic human rights for the LGBT community at the national level in exchange for strong and perpetual protections for religious freedom. The fact that these basic human rights for the LGBT community are already secured for nearly 60 percent of the country at either the state or local level suggests that the window for this exchange of protections at the national level is narrow There is an opportunity in this moment that is not likely to last.

Critical Need to Support an Expansive Vision of Religious Freedom

While the explicitly religious work of the denominations of the National Association of
Evangelicals is not currently under threat from opponents of religious freedom, the work of the Church in the United States has never been seen as narrowly confined within the walls of church buildings. Churches have been vital to the volunteerism that created and sustained the humanitarian and charitable spirit in this country long before welfare was considered the work of the government. This is the moment when we as the NAE must stand up and affirm those who would advocate for a large vision for religious freedom — one that allows for one’s daily life to be informed by one’s fundamental spiritual and moral convictions, one that allows for religious conviction to be part of legitimate dialogue in the public square, and one that allows our society’s institutions to be seasoned by the motivations and insights of religious perspectives.

The very nature of the Protestant tradition with its many branches means that there is no central focus of authority or legitimacy within evangelicalism. There is no obvious circle of support for the work of Christian higher education in a moment like this when its very core mission is threatened. As one of the associations that seeks to secure the place of evangelical faith in our culture and in our world, it is in the NAE’s interest ultimately to secure the work of our colleges and universities so that they may continue to partner with the work of churches in preparing young men and women to serve as gospel salt and light in our world. 

Evangelical Witness

It is a matter of strategic importance to support the CCCU in their work of securing space for religious freedom in our time. But that may not be the strongest argument for supporting this motion. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to imitate his example of creating hospitable and surprising spaces in the world where the Holy Spirit can be at the work of drawing people to repentance and discipleship. We have often as evangelicals been more associated with judgment than grace-filled hospitality. We believe that Fairness for All legislation offers the best opportunity to create a civic society that secures freedom of conscience for all individuals and space for the grace and power of the gospel to be at work.

You can find this document here.

So far the best reporting on this development comes from D.C. Derrick at World Magazine.

Not all evangelicals are on board with this idea. Back in December 2016, a group of Christian leaders (mostly evangelicals and conservative Catholics, 68 male and 7 female and a small number of people of color) signed a statement opposing the support of SOGI laws.  Some of the signers of that statement included Daniel Akin (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), Ryan T. Anderson (Heritage Foundation), Robert Benne (Roanoke College), Charles Caput (Archbishop of Philadelphia), D.A. Carson (Gospel Coalition), Jim Daly (Focus on the Family), David Dockery (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Tony Evans (Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship), Robert George (Princeton University), Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School), Franklin Graham (Samaritan’s Purse), David Lyle Jeffry (Baylor University), John MacArthur (Grace Community Church), Eric Metaxas (Christian radio host), Al Mohler (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Russell Moore (Southern Baptist Convention), Paige Patterson (formerly of Southwestern Baptist Seminary), R.R. Reno (First Things), Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) , Justin Taylor (Gospel Coalition), and George Wiegel (Ethics and Public Policy Center), Thomas White (Cedarville University).  According to Derrick, Samuel Rodriguez is the only NAE board member to sign this statement.  Seventeen signers are affiliated with CCCU institutions.

Here is more from Derrick:

Critics argue that any legislation in the mold of Fairness for All would protect explicitly religious entities, such as churches and Christian schools, but not Christians in the secular marketplace—including florists, bakers, and other professionals who have faced litigation and fines under SOGI laws….

We will try to do more coverage of this issue here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Some Good Stuff About Evangelicals

Evangelicals serving

I recently published a piece at the magazine of the National Association of Evangelicals titled “Hope, Humility, and History: How Evangelicals Have Been an Influence for Good.”  Here is a taste:

Evangelicals have been taking some hard hits lately. Some are even abandoning the label because it has become too associated with a political agenda. As a historian who has written and thought deeply about the relationship between evangelical Christianity and American life, I am fully aware that for every positive contribution evangelicalism has made to American culture, we can point to another way in which evangelicalism, sadly, has been at the forefront of some of the nation’s darkest moments.

It is imperative that evangelicals study their past and come to terms with it. This requires us to lament the moments in which we have failed and celebrate the moments when the good news of the gospel has changed lives, set people on a course for eternity with God, and led them to act in ways that are good and just. Throughout history, evangelicals have contributed to society in positive ways when we have emphasized hope over fear and humility over the pursuit of power.

Read the rest here.

My Morning on Capitol Hill

DirksenActually, it was more like “my forty-five minutes on Capitol Hill.”

As I wrote the other day, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) invited me to speak on Believe Me to about 100 “evangelical leaders” at its annual Washington Briefing.

I thought the talk went well.  If there were pro-Trumpers or court evangelicals in the room, they did not speak during the Q&A.  I met several evangelical leaders who voted for Trump, but most of them said they chose him because they did not want to vote for Hillary Clinton.

After the talk, I chatted in the hallway of the Dirksen Senate Building with about eight or ten attendees.  Almost all of them brought-up abortion and the Supreme Court. Frankly, I was surprised how many of these pro-life evangelical leaders agreed with my view that the overturning of Roe v. Wade was not the most effective way of reducing abortions in the United States.

Several folks on Twitter said that they were surprised the NAE invited someone like me to speak to their leadership.  Those who wrote these tweets do not understand the difference between the Christian Right-inspired conservative evangelicals loyal to Trump and the agenda of the NAE.   Actually, the NAE seems to be striking just the right tone in this so-called “age of Trump.”  For example, read their statement “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.”

I know a lot of people were praying for me or sending good wishes as I addressed the group this morning.  They were much appreciated.  Thank you!

I’ll be Southern Methodist University in Dallas tomorrow night.  Let’s hope my flights don’t get canceled due to Hurricane Michael.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Headed to the Senate Building

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On Wednesday morning, October 10, I will be on Capitol Hill (Dirksen Senate building) to speak to about 100 evangelical leaders gathered for the National Association of Evangelicals’ annual “Washington Briefing.”

The NAE leadership has asked me to talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  The event is not open to the public, but I can announce that I will be sharing the day with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Mark Green, Nathan Gonzalez, Shirley Hoogstra, Ali Noorani, Sen. James Lankford, Brian Walsh, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Sen. Marco Rubio, Stephanie Summers, and Os Guinness.

Stay tuned.

What is Catholic Social Teaching?

West and George

Robert George and Cornel West

As the Believe Me book tour marches on, I have been talking a lot about the way white conservative evangelicals have adopted a playbook that teaches them to engage the world through the acquisition of political power.  This partly explains why 81% of American evangelical voters pulled a lever for Donald Trump in 2016.  I have suggested that thoughtful evangelicals have offered alternative playbooks, but the Christian Right has largely ignored them.  I wrote about some of those alternative playbooks here.

Over at First ThingsPrinceton’s Robert George explains one of these alternative playbooks:  Catholic social teaching.  The Catholic approach to social, political, and moral life has been getting a lot of traction among some evangelical thinkers and, as I see it, informs much of the National Association of Evangelical’s current thinking on these issues.

Here is a taste of George’s piece:

So we need to get at the truth, and here we’re blessed to know that the Church is a teacher of truth. There are truths to which we reliably repair because they are taught definitively by the Church. That doesn’t mean that there is no room within the Church for conversation and debate—but there are some important things that are settled. And let me begin with what I believe is the most important, most foundational principle of Catholic teaching about how we should conduct our lives and order our lives together: the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family. That is the “anchoring truth” (to borrow a phrase from my friend Hadley Arkes). All Catholic social teaching, all Catholic teaching about how we should conduct our lives, is founded on it.

Now there are debatable questions about how this principle should be applied, but there are some questions that are scarcely debatable for those who truly affirm the principle, who understand what each of these words means: “profound,” “inherent,” and “equal.” The principle means, for example, that we must respect and protect the life of every human being, from the tiniest embryo all the way to the frail, elderly person who is at the point of death. It means that we must respect and protect the life of the physically disabled or cognitively impaired person, and treat that person’s life as equal in value and dignity to the life of the greatest athlete, the most brilliant scientist, the most successful investment manager, the most gifted musician, the most beautiful fashion model or actress. It is hard for us to do this, and follow through on it consistently, because we naturally rank people, and for some purposes that’s a perfectly legitimate thing to do. It’s not wrong to choose the best basketball player for the team. It’s not wrong to feature the prettiest fashion model on the magazine cover. It’s not wrong to award tenure based on the quality of a scholar’s research and teaching. But when it comes to fundamental questions of human dignity and the protection of the laws, there can be no legitimate ranking, no distinctions, no discrimination. All are “created equal.” 

That means that we as Catholics must be fervent pro-lifers—tireless defenders of life, beginning with the precious life of the vulnerable child in the womb. This is non-negotiable. It also means that we must be fervent anti-racists, because to distinguish invidiously among people, to discriminate on the basis of some irrelevant feature like race, is to violate the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family. As Catholics we must understand that all of us are brothers and sisters. Nothing can change that. 

Read the entire piece here.

The National Association of Evangelicals Define Evangelicalism

latin evangelicals

The organization representing 45,000 churches in 40 different denominations has published its definition of evangelicalism

Evangelical Christians are people of faith. Our diversity ranges across geography, race, politics, education and economics. In the words of the Bible, we are among “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9).

We identify ourselves by our spiritual convictions in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus Christ alone and living out our faith in everyday life, especially sharing the good news of Jesus with others. We share the historic Christian beliefs in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected to life.

Many Christ-followers claim the name evangelical, because it is the Bible’s original word for good news. Others prefer to be called born again. Some choose Christian or avoid titles in favor of simple faith.

Because there are millions of us in the United States and far more of us in other countries around the world, there are subgroups identified by where we live, how we vote, the level of our education or even our local cultural expressions. Each has distinctive beliefs and practices that may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable to one another. Sometimes these subgroups or their leaders are identified as typical of all evangelicals even though there is no consensus, connection or communication between them.

What all evangelicals share in common does not require organizational connection, denominational affiliations or shared leadership. Our common bond is personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Throughout history and ongoing today is the compassion and care that evangelical Christians have for others. This has led to sending missionaries, founding colleges, building hospitals, feeding the hungry, seeking justice for the poor and serving as the agents of Jesus in a broken world. The variety of evangelicals and our many causes have led evangelicals to approaches that differ from one another and that even cause conflict — both with society at large and with other evangelicals. We have both succeeded and failed but we have not given up. We return to the teaching of the Bible and the leadership of Jesus in our quest to be faithful to our callings to love God, love our neighbors and share our faith.

Our identity is in our faith in the midst of our diversity.

I affirm this definition.  I am not sure I am a very good evangelical, but I try to live-up to the ideals in this statement.

Mark Noll Defines Evangelicalism

NollHere is a taste of the esteemed evangelical historian‘s article at the blog of the National Association of Evangelicals:

The conceptual challenge from scholars poses a more basic challenge than the simplistic equation of evangelicalism and right-wing politics. In 1989 the British historian David Bebbington provided a succinct definition in his book, “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain,” that has been widely referenced. That definition identifies evangelicalism as a form of Protestantism with four distinct emphases:

  • conversion, or “the belief that lives need to be changed”;
  • the Bible, or “the belief that all spiritual truth is to be found in its pages”;
  • activism, or the dedication of all believers, especially the laity, to lives of service for God, especially in sharing the Christian message far and near; and
  • crucicentrism, or the conviction that Christ’s death on the cross provided atonement for sin and reconciliation between sinful humanity and a holy God.

While many have employed this definition to good effect, others have pointed out difficulties. Most obvious in an American context are divisions created by race. Along with many white Protestant groups that have embraced these four characteristics, so have many African Americans. Yet the American reality of slavery, followed by culturally enforced segregation, means that whites and blacks who share these religious emphases share very little else, as Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith demonstrated in “Divided by Faith.” An evangelicalism that includes both blacks and whites might make sense in very narrow religious terms, but far less in the actual outworking of American history.

A broader historical challenge has recently come from Linford Fisher of Brown University in the substantial article “Evangelicals and Unevangelicals,” published in Religion and American Culture, which argues that “evangelical” has often meant less, and sometimes more, than the Bebbington definition. From the time of the Reformation and for several centuries, the word usually meant simply “Protestant” or, almost as frequently, “anti-Catholic.” During the 18th century revivals associated with George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and the Wesleys, “awakened” believers in Britain and America did not use the word too frequently. When they did, it meant “true” or “real” religion as opposed to only formal religious adherence.

Linford then documents the way that after World War II, former fundamentalists embraced the word as they sought a less combative, more irenic term to describe their orthodox theology and their desire to re-engage with society. Organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals and the wide-ranging activities of Billy Graham popularized the word. In the process some Pentecostals, Lutherans, Mennonites, Christian Reformed and others who had not been associated with the main body of America’s earlier “evangelical Protestants” were now glad to join in using it to describe themselves. At the same time, other Protestants who had thought of themselves as evangelicals began to avoid the word as designating something too close to fundamentalism.

Read the entire piece here.

What Did James Dobson Tell the National Association of Evangelicals When It Invited Bill Clinton to Its “Annual Event?”

Brantley Gasaway, an American religious historian at Bucknell University and author of the excellent Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justicetweeted this letter today in response to my Washington Post piece on the court evangelicals. It comes from the archives of the National Association of Evangelicals at Wheaton College.

The letter is written from James Dobson of Focus on the Family to Robert “Bob” Dugan Jr., the director of the NAE’s Office of Public Affairs.  Dobson is worried that if President Bill Clinton was invited to this NAE event it would “divide the evangelical community.”

Yes, times have changed.

Here is a transcription:

Feb[ruary 26, [19]94

Bob, My Friend

I think NAE has made a serious costly mistake by inviting the President to your annual event.  He wants to divide the evangelical community. NAE just helped him do it.  I’m disappointed!  Jim.

Dobson.jpg-large

Does anyone know if Clinton came to this “annual event?”

This Video Proves Why Robert Jeffress is the Court Evangelical of All Court Evangelicals

Watch it if you can stomach it.  The court evangelicals were out in force at the Kennedy Center last night.  Paula White was also there.

In just under 6 minutes:

  • Jeffress claimed that “our nation was founded on a love for God and a reverence for His word.”  Is this correct?  I am wrestling with this question all weekend @johnfea1 and at #ChristianAmerica?. We are posting every 30 minutes during Fourth of July weekend.  Or you can just go get a copy of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  This Christian nation stuff never goes away.  Christians (the followers of David Barton and his ilk will not listen to non-Christians) need to offer an alternative narrative to this way of thinking about American history.  We are here, but we don’t have the resources or the funding.
  • Jeffress dabbles here in American exceptionalism.  He sounds like a 17th-century Puritan delivering a jeremiad calling the new Israel back to its spiritual roots. Jeffress asks “Has God removed his hand of blessing from us?” Earlier today someone on Twitter reminded me of a 2012 statement from Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  He was writing about the idea that the United States is a Christian or chosen nation.  Anderson said “The Bible only uses the word ‘Christian’ to describe people and not countries.”
  • Jeffress suggests that Donald Trump is a messianic figure who God raised up to save Christian America from despair.  He says, “but in the midst of that despair came November the 8th, 2016 (wild applause) and that day represented the greatest political upset in American history.  Because it was on that day, November the 8th, that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were going to choose the next President of the United States.  And they chose Donald Trump” (more wild applause).  I think November 8, 2016 just became part of the Christian calendar at First Baptist Church–Dallas.
  • Jeffress reminds us that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump.  He says they “understood that [Trump] alone had the leadership skills necessary to reverse the downward death spiral our nation was in” (wild applause). Jeffress claims that people are more excited now about Trump than they were on election day because Trump “has exceeded our every expectation.” OK.  Those expectations must be pretty low. (By the way, I am still waiting for Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals to condemn the Morning Joe tweets).
  • Jeffress claims that Trump has done more to protect religious liberty than any POTUS in U.S. history. Really?  More than Jefferson?  More than Madison?
  • Jeffress says that “millions of Americans believe that the election of President Trump represented God giving us another chance, perhaps our last chance, to truly make America Great Again.”  Apparently God wants to give us another chance to return to the 1950s or the 1980s.

Trump’s speeches to evangelicals are always the same.  They are getting old. I am pretty sure his speech writers have exhausted everything they know about evangelicals. But why should they think more deeply about faith and public life when they can just have Trump throw out catchphrases and talking points about religious liberty or “the wall” or ISIS and have the crowd go wild.

Trump railed against the fake media and gets rousing cheers from an audience that I assume was made up of parishioners of First Baptist Church in Dallas.  I am inclined to give this cheering a pass because it is not occurring on a Sunday morning in a church sanctuary, but it is still disturbing to watch my fellow evangelical Christians put their hope in a strongman and do so with such zeal.  For example, when Trump says that “in America we do not worship government, we worship God,” the audience starts chanting “USA, USA, USA.” Something is wrong when a reference to the worship of God triggers nationalist chants.

A few final points:

Someone needs to tell Trump’s speechwriter that there was no public prayer at the Constitutional Convention.  Ben Franklin suggested it, but it did not happen.

And let’s also remember that his Executive Order on the Johnson Amendment accomplished nothing.  The Johnson Amendment is still in the tax code.  It can only be changed by Congress.

I remain part of the #19percent!

Evangelical Leaders: We Don’t Want to Endorse Political Candidates

trump-evangelicals

When Donald Trump says at his rallies that he will abolish the so-called “Johnson Amendment” he gets wild cheers.  (Although I have not heard him talk about this much lately.  I think he only brings it up when he talks to evangelicals).

But if this study from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is correct, most of those people cheering at the rallies must have some serious differences with their pastors over whether or not it is appropriate to endorse political candidates from the pulpit.

Or perhaps the people who want the Johnson Amendment abolished attend evangelical churches that are not affiliated with the NAE.

Or perhaps these people don’t attend church (and thus do not have pastors), but still think that pastors endorsing candidates is a good idea.

And if a September 2016 study by Lifeway is correct, about 80% of evangelicals do not want their pastors to endorse candidates.

So who are these people cheering for Trump when he says he will abolish the Johnson Amendment?

Here is a taste of David Gibson’s Religion News Service piece on the NAE study:

The centerpiece of President Trump’s religious freedom agenda, and the carrot he often dangled in front of Christian leaders as he sought their support during the campaign, was a pledge to overturn a 1954 law that says houses of worship can lose their tax-exempt status if they engage in partisan campaigning.

But a new survey of evangelical leaders — mainly pastors whose flocks were crucial to Trump’s victory in November — shows that close to 90 percent of those asked opposed the idea of clergy endorsing politicians from the pulpit.

Read it all here.