Evangelicals Love Trump’s “National Emergency” Declaration

Border WallPerhaps you have seen the new NPR/PBS/Marist Poll on Americans reaction to Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” on the Mexican border. I used this poll to begin my lecture yesterday at the University of Southern California.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here are a few things worth noting:

  • 61% of all Americans disapprove of Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency.  36% approve.
  • But only 26% of white evangelicals disapprove of Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency.   67% approve

 

  • 39% of Americans believe that there is a national emergency at the Mexican border.  58% of Americans do not believe this.
  • But 70% of white evangelicals believe that there is a national emergency at the Mexican border.  22% of white evangelicals do not believe this.

 

  • 36% of Americans believe that Trump is “properly using” his presidential powers by declaring a national emergency on the border.  57% do not.
  • But 69% of white evangelicals believe that Trump is “properly using” his presidential powers by declaring a national emergency on the border.  23% do not.

 

  • 54% of Americans said that they are “less likely” to vote for Trump in 2020 because he has declared a national emergency to build a border wall.  33% of Americans said they were more “likely” to vote for Trump because of the national emergency and the wall.  12% of Americans said the wall will not make any difference in how they vote in 2020.
  • Only 22% of white evangelicals said that they are “less likely” to vote for Trump in 2020 because he has declared a national emergency to build a border wall.  60% said they are more likely to vote for Trump in 2020 because he wants to build a border wall.  15% of white evangelicals said the wall will not make any difference in how they vote in 2020.

These are very revealing statistics.  They tell us a lot about white evangelicals today.  Why are they so supportive of Trump’s national emergency and his border wall and why are they so out of step with the rest of the American population?  Read the report here and draw your own conclusions.

As I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, white evangelicals are fearful that their white Christian nation is eroding and they believe Trump’s immigration policies are the best way to save it.

Thanks to John Haas for calling this poll to my attention.

Believe Me 3d

Conservative Evangelicals Defend Steve King and Want Kevin McCarthy to Apologize

King and trump

Perhaps some of you missed it.  Iowa congressman Steve King, in an interview with the New York Times, said this: “White nationalists, white supremacist, Western Civilization–how did that language become offensive?”

King later tried to back away from the statement, but it was too little, too late.  House minority leader Kevin McCarthy removed King from the House Judiciary and Agriculture Committees earlier this week and he was almost censured.  King’s remarks were the latest in a long career defined by racist and nativist comments.

Not everyone is happy with what McCarthy, the House Republicans, and Congress have done to King.  Right Wing Watch has brought to my attention news of a group of Christian Right leaders who are supporting King.  The group is led by Janet Porter, a Christian Right activist who served as the spokesperson for Roy Moore’s 2017 Alabama  Senate race.  Porter is asking Christian Right leaders to sign a letter to Kevin McCarthy.  Here is the text of that letter:
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Dear Leader McCarthy,

We are appalled that Republican leadership would choose to believe a liberal news organization famous for their bias over an outstanding member of Congress who has served the people of Iowa and the United States honorably and faithfully for 16 years.

If Congressman Steve King believed and stood by the outrageous misquote of the New York Times, then the actions taken against him would have been warranted, but the opposite is true.

Unlike North Korea, we in the United States are “innocent until proven guilty” and hold to the principles of Western Civilization, as Rep. King so admirably does. The foundational principle begins with the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are the principles to which Rep. King was referring and which he has championed for more than two decades of public service.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of turning the reins of the U.S. Congress over to the liberal media, allowing them to target, misquote, and falsely brand any member of Congress they wish to remove. 

We call on you to do the right thing as Minority Leader: issue a public apology and reinstate Rep. King to his committee assignments.  If we don’t stand with this good man against the media-manufactured assault today, none of us will be safe from it tomorrow.

The Christian Right leaders who signed this letter include:

  • The scandal-ridden former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
  • Court evangelical and family values radio host James Dobson
  • Court evangelical and charismatic media mogul Steven Strang
  • Paul Blair, president of an organization called Reclaiming America for Christ
  • Rick Scarborough, a conservative Southern Baptist political activist
  • Lance Wallnau, a court evangelical who claims to have prophesied Donald Trump’s election.
  • Rena Lindevaldsen, a law professor at Liberty University
  • Jim Garlow, a pastor and prominent court evangelical who recently co-authored a book with David Barton.
  • Cythnia Dunbar, a member of the Republican National Committee who is probably best known for trying to bring Christian nationalist ideas into American history books in Texas.  (She also claimed that Barack Obama, if elected POTUS, would work with terrorists to attack the United States within his first 6 months in office).
  • William Federer, a Christian nationalist known for collecting quotes about the founding fathers

I discuss Dobson, Strang, and Wallnau in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This letter may be more revealing for the people who DID NOT sign it, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Johnnie Moore,  Eric Metaxas, and other court evangelicals.

Why are White Evangelicals Ambivalent About Refugees and Migrants?

immigrants

Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton tackles this issue.  She wonders why so many evangelical leaders reject anti-immigration rhetoric and so many of their followers embrace it.

Here is a taste:

From his dismissal of “shithole countries” to his attempts to institute a “Muslim travel ban,” from his incendiary rhetoric about Mexican immigrants being rapists and criminals, to his latest attempts to prevent the Honduran migrants to seeking asylum, Trump’s approach to borders has been one of nativism and insularity by protecting (his idea of white) America at the expense of everyone else. And, by and large, white evangelicals on the ground have followed suit — even when some in evangelical leadership is advocating for more nuanced policy positions.

The reasons for this discrepancy are complicated. They include a white evangelical population that gets its moral sense as much from conservative media as it does from scripture. There’s also a more general conflation of white evangelicalism with the GOP party agenda, which has been intensifying since the days of the Moral Majority in the 1980s.

As Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy and policy for World Relief, the humanitarian wing of the National Association for Evangelicals, told Vox, white evangelicals’ views on immigration are more likely to be shaped “not from their local church or their pastor, but actually from the news media. … This has become an issue of the church being discipled by the media more than the Bible or the local pastor in terms of their views on immigration.”

Ed Stetzer, a Christian author and commentator who leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, agreed. “White evangelicals are more shaped on this issue by Republican views,” he told Vox. “They’re being discipled by their cable news network of choice and by their social media feeds.” He pointed out that, while white evangelicals are more likely than other religious voting blocs to express conservative views on immigration, they don’t necessarily do so at greater rates than nonwhite evangelical Republicans.

In other words, the political views of white evangelicals may say far more about their party affiliation than it does about their theological identity. In the Trump era, in particular, white evangelical Christianity and nativist political isolation have become particularly intertwined. Trump, his administration, and its allies have used the language of Christian nationalism to shore up their political base.

Read the entire piece here.  Sadly, it appears that Fox News-style fear-mongering easily sways many white evangelicals.  Or at least this is what I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Epps: “The Citizenship Clause Means What It Says”

22c0d-united-states-constitution

Here is Garrett Epps on Donald Trump’s latest nativist scheme:

In an interview with Axios on HBO, Trump confirmed what had been suspected since last summer: He is planning an executive order that would try to change the meaning of the Constitution as it has been applied for the past 150 years—and declare open season on millions of native-born Americans.

The order would apparently instruct federal agencies to refuse to recognize the citizenship of children born in the United States if their parents are not citizens. The Axios report was unclear on whether the order would target only American-born children of undocumented immigrants, children of foreigners visiting the U.S. on nonpermanent visas—or the children of any noncitizen.

No matter which of these options Trump pursues, the news is very somber. A nation that can rid itself of groups it dislikes has journeyed far down the road to authoritarian rule.

The idea behind the attack on birthright citizenship is often obscured by a wall of dubious originalist rhetoric and legalese. At its base, the claim is that children born in the U.S. are not citizens if they are born to noncitizen parents. The idea contradicts the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause, it flies in the face of more than a century of practice, and it would create a shadow population of American-born people who have no state, no legal protection, and no real rights that the government is bound to respect.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

When Women Fought for Suffrage by Disparaging German Immigrants

Carrie_Chapman_Catt_and_Anna_Howard_Shaw_in_1917

Sara Egge, an assistant professor of history at Centre College, reminds us that history is complicated.  Over at Zocalo, Egge shows how some women fighting for the right to vote “saw German men as backward, ignorant, and less worthy of citizenship than themselves.”

Here is a taste:

Nativist fear built into outright hysteria, and Midwestern suffragists began recasting decades of foreign resistance to assimilation as treason. They argued that to protect democracy, only those citizens who understood civic responsibility should vote. By 1917, when the United States entered World War I, suffragists crystallized their message. In South Dakota, propaganda warned of the untrustworthy “alien enemy” while celebrating patriotic suffragists who sacrificed “so deeply for the world struggle.” Another message deemed the “women of America…too noble and too intelligent and too devoted to be slackers” like their German counterparts.

That rhetorical maneuver finally gave woman suffrage the political leverage it needed to achieve victory. In November 1918, voters in South Dakota passed a woman suffrage amendment to the state’s constitution with an impressive 64 percent majority. Of the first 15 states to ratify the 19th Amendment, about half were in the Midwest— a startling shift for a region that had seemed permanently opposed to woman suffrage.

While Shaw’s speech was meant for an audience living in an important historical moment and place, it also resonates today. Suffragists had no qualms about using nativism to open democracy to women. They were willing to skewer immigrants in their decades-long quest for political equality. Shaw’s remarks also remind us how many assumptions Americans have made—in 1914 and today—about the rights and responsibilities that accompany citizenship.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals and Trump: The Latest Poll

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

A poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic has much to say about white evangelicals in the United States.

  • 61% of evangelicals believe that the United States is moving in the right direction.  This compares to 64% of all Americans who believe that the United States is moving in the wrong direction.
  • 79% percent of white evangelicals believe “media bias” is hurting the country.  50% of religious unaffiliated people believe this.
  • 77% of white evangelicals view Trump favorably.   17% of non-white Protestants view Trump favorably.
  • 52% of white evangelicals feel negatively about the very real possibility that whites will be a minority in the United States by 2043.

On the last point: When Trump said last week that immigration was changing the “culture” of Europe, he was appealing to a significant portion of his evangelical base.

Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s article at Religion News Service:

“I argued that white evangelical voters have really shifted from being values voters to being what I call ‘nostalgia voters,’” said Jones. “They’re voting to protect a past view of America that they feel is slipping away. That’s driving evangelical politics much more than the old culture-war dynamics.”

Brantley Gasaway, a professor of American religious studies at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., said white evangelicals’ fears about the nation’s growing racial diversity might be linked to their perception of religious diversity.

“They perceive that America becoming less white means America will become less Christian,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true. Many Latino immigrants are coming from predominantly Christian nations. But they perceive changes in racial demographics as being a threat to the predominance of Christians in the United States.”

As a group, white evangelicals are declining. A decade ago they made up 23 percent of the U.S. population; today it’s more like 15 percent, Jones said. But they have an outsize influence at the ballot box because they tend to vote in high numbers.

The one area where religious groups appeared united is in their support for legislation that would make it easier to vote — measures such as same-day voter registration and restoring voting rights for people convicted of felonies.

Read the entire piece here.  Why do white evangelicals believe all these things?  I took a shot at explaining it here.

What Does Trump Mean When He Says Immigration is “Changing the Culture” of Europe?

Trump May

Here is a taste of CNN’s coverage of today’s Donald Trump–Theresa May press conference:

President Donald Trump said Friday that European leaders “better watch themselves” because immigration is “changing the culture” of their societies.

“I think it has been very bad, for Europe. … I think what has happened is very tough. It’s a very tough situation — you see the same terror attacks that I do,” Trump said at a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May outside of London.

“I just think it is changing the culture, I think it is a very negative thing for Europe,” Trump said.

“I know it is politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I will say it and I will say it loud,” Trump added.

Let’s face it.  Trump’s remarks have very little to do with England or Europe.  I think he could care less about what happens to these countries.

These comments are about the United States.   They represent his ongoing nativism and racism.  Comments like this appeal to his white Christian base and trigger the kind of fear I write about in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Trump is telling white Christian Americans afraid of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity that he will be a strongman who will protect them from such diversity.

A Message to Irish-Catholic Trump Supporters

Kelly

John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, sends an important reminder to pro-Trump Catholics who think immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses.”

Here is a taste of his piece at Commonweal:

Kelly, an Irish-American Catholic from Boston, is either oblivious to the irony of someone with his family’s background trafficking in pernicious stereotypes or knowingly tapping into the power of caricatures to dehumanize people. Irish immigrants were similarly demonized in the nineteenth century when they fled the Potato Famine. Like the parents of today’s Dreamers, they took great risks in search of a better life for their family. The Irish were viewed as so alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority they were not even regarded by many as “white.” The Boston Globe described the zeitgeist of the era in a 2016 article.

In the popular press, the Irish were depicted as subhuman. They were carriers of disease. They were drawn as lazy, clannish, unclean, drunken brawlers who wallowed in crime and bred like rats. Most disturbingly, the Irish were Roman Catholics coming to an overwhelmingly Protestant nation and their devotion to the pope made their allegiance to the United States suspect.

It was out of this context that a nativist movement flourished. By the 1850s, the Know-Nothing Party, originally called the American Party, included eight governors, more than one-hundred congressmen, and held power in half a dozen state legislatures. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan expanded in New England and the Midwest, targeting immigrants and Catholics. A massive KKK rally in Worcester, Mass. attracted as many as fifteen-thousand people in 1924. At the end of the rally, the Klan clashed with Catholics who came to counter protest under a Knights of Columbus banner.

The politics of nativism is not new. But there is something particularly galling about Catholic members of this administration such as Kelly, and powerful members of Congress, including Speaker Paul Ryan, leading or enabling the contemporary incarnation of anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia. Ryan posted a picture on Twitter this week showing him welcoming a member of the Irish Parliament. “Even if my Gaelic is a little rough,” Ryan tweeted, “always great to connect with my roots.”

Kelly, Ryan, and others should remember those roots included immigrants from a different place but with the same dreams. In the face of craven politicians who perpetuated fear and ugly stereotypes, those immigrants persevered and made America great.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Maura Jane Farrelly

51Hpt1GPjKL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Maura Jane Farrelly is associate professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. This interview is based on her new book, Anti-Catholicism in America (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: The boring answer is that Cambridge asked me to put together a narrative about anti-Catholicism in early America that could be used in an undergraduate classroom. The more interesting answer, however, has to do with my sense, while watching protests over the construction of an Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan in 2010, that we have been here before.  Many immigrant groups have been viewed as a threat by native-born Americans — and sometimes, as is the case now, it’s been because those immigrant groups have been associated with violence.  But in the case of nineteenth-century Catholics and twenty-first-century Muslims, I think the fears were — are — about something deeper, as well.  The anxieties have been rooted in the not-entirely-unfounded sense that Catholics and Muslims have (or have had) an understanding of “freedom” that is  different from the American understanding of freedom.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: The book argues that anti-Catholic bias played an essential role in shaping colonial and antebellum understandings of God, the individual, salvation, society, government, law, national identity, and freedom. For this reason, the early history of anti-Catholicism in America can provide us with a framework for understanding what is at stake in our contemporary debates about the place of Muslims and other non-Christian groups in the United States today.

JF: Why do we need to read Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: To give us hope — and maybe a bit of humility, too (she said with a striking lack of humility…).  As I note in my introduction, anti-Catholicism — which was such a salient force in America’s political and cultural history for such a long period of time — is basically gone now.  It’s a tool that is utilized primarily by internet trolls (and,  recently, by one thoughtless and impolitic senator from California who was looking to derail the nomination of a conservative law professor from Notre Dame to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  But I think the collective response of political and religious leaders to Diane Feinstein’s questioning of Amy Coney Barrett confirms my assertion that anti-Catholicism is no longer an “acceptable” impulse in America.).  If the Catholic understanding of freedom can become more compatible with the American understanding of freedom — and the American understanding can become more compatible with the Catholic — then maybe the same will happen with Muslims?  And certainly the fact that our cultural understandings of freedom are protean — as any serious study of history will reveal — should give us all pause as we make political claims that are based on our sense of what freedom is and what it takes to secure it.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MJF: My journey to this place has been marked by some rather significant diversions (I worked as a reporter for several years — though Phil Graham, if he were still alive, might say I was just playing with the “first rough draft of history”…). But I think I first fell in love with early American history when my family and I took a summer vacation to Massachusetts. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old?  I still pinch myself, sometimes, that I now get to live in this state.

JF: What is your next project?

MJF: I may be leaving religion for a while.  I don’t know. I’ve stumbled upon a tragic story from the late nineteenth century that involves people from two prominent American families.  I’m hoping to use this story as a springboard into a greater exploration of the role of the frontier in defining American freedom (there’s the common thread, I guess…); the beginnings of the conservation movement; and the phenomenon of so-called “remittance men” and their place in the literature and lore of the American West.

JF: Thanks, Maura!

Quote of the Day

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.

Abraham Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed, August 24, 1855

HT: John Craig Hammond

Image of the Day

We discussed this in my Pennsylvania History class today.  This kind of nativism was very strong in Philadelphia in the 1840s and 1850s.  We did our best to stay in the 19th century.

Know Nothing

Another Reason Why Eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities Might Be a Bad Idea

In case you have not heard, Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal, released today, eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.  This morning I wrote an extended piece on this development. We are currently shopping it around.

I have also been tweeting (follow along @johnfea1) older pieces from The Way of Improvement Leads Home in which I or others have defended the humanities.

In the meantime, here is another reason why the NEH might be useful.  Read this recent tweet from our Vice President:

I can’t imagine that mid-19th century Irish immigrants felt this deep sense of kinship.

Irish 1

Irish 2

Irish 3Irish 4

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

trump-liberty

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.

Muslims Are the New Catholics

Yesterday we linked to John Turner’s Anxious Bench essay “Muslims are the New Mormons.” Turner is not the only one making historical analogies these days.  In a recent essay at Religion Dispatches Patricia Miller reminds us that 19th-century Americans were not always very friendly to Catholics.

Here is a taste of her piece: “When Catholics Were the Muslims“:

A well-known national figure tries to rally Americans to the danger posed by a poorly understood minority religious group that’s increasingly making its presence felt in the country. He charges that their faith is a “political” religion inimical to American concepts of civil and religious liberty. He speaks darkly of how it treats women, cloistering them from the world. And he claims the press is held captive to its agenda and is failing to alert Americans to the growing threat at their door.
No, it’s not Donald Trump talking about Muslims, it’s a prominent Presbyterian minster talking about Catholics in the 1830s, and it serves as a reminder that when it comes to political demagoguery, Catholics were once the Muslims.
Robert Breckinridge was a leader of the Old School Presbyterians and the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, a city that had one of the largest Catholic populations in the country in the 1830s. He hailed from a politically prominent Kentucky family (his father was Thomas Jefferson’s attorney general), which gave him national clout even early in his career.
Breckinridge, along with his brother John, the previous pastor at Second Presbyterian, used the pulpit to whip up concern about the growing population of Irish and German Catholic immigrants, who he held couldn’t be good Americans because they owed their fealty to the pope.
Read the rest here.

Trump’s Proposal to Ban Muslims is Worse Than the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Erika Lee, the director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota and the author of The Making of Asian America, argues that Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from the United States makes the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 look tame by comparison.  The Chinese Exclusion Act only applied to manual laborers.

She explains in a recent seven-minute interview at Public Radio International.

Donald Trump: American

Over at USA Today, Stephen Prothero of Boston University reminds us that the kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric that Donald Trump is spewing has a long history in the United States.  

He is right.

Here is a taste of his piece:

Trump is popular because he is giving voice to anxieties deeply held in the heartland, not least the anxiety that “they” are taking away “our” country. In North Carolina, for example, 40% of Republican voters in a recent Public Policy Polling survey think Islam should be illegal. But Trump also stands in a long line of culture warriors from the late 18th century to today.

Protestants attempted to banish both Catholics and Mormons from the American family on the theory that their religions were incompatible with American values. Just as some today argue that the religious liberties of Muslims should not be respected because Islam is not really a religion, many 19th century Americans claimed that Roman Catholicism was really a political scheme to take over the country and that Mormonism was really an insidious business enterprise. Liberals who allowed Catholics or Mormons to hide behind the cloak of religious liberty were called either dupes or fools (or both) because popes and Mormon presidents alike were considered unrepentant theocrats.

So today’s Islam wars are not an aberration. They are the norm. Culture wars are a recurring feature in U.S. history — episodes in the story of a not-so-indivisible nation forever at war with itself.

Read the rest here.  Prothero blames culture wars on conservatives.  I wonder if any of our readers might take issue with that statement.

Another Evangelical Repudiates the Trump Candidacy

First it was Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, from the pages of The New York Times.  Now Michael Gerson, the evangelical Washington Post columnist (and graduate of Wheaton College), has repudiated Trump’s candidacy.

Here is a taste:

And Trump would make — has already half-made — the GOP into an anti-immigrant party. Much of Trump’s appeal is reactionary. He has tapped into a sense that an older America is being lost. In a recent poll, 62 percent of Republicans reported feeling like “a stranger in their own country.” This is a protest against rapid and disorienting social change, against an increasingly multicultural country, and against the changes of the Obama years.
It does not take much political talent to turn this sense of cultural displacement into anti-immigrant resentment; only a reckless disregard for the moral and political consequences.
As denial in the GOP fades, a question is laid upon the table: Is it possible, and morally permissible, for economic and foreign policy conservatives, and for Republicans motivated by their faith, to share a coalition with the advocates of an increasingly raw and repugnant nativism?

Why Do So Many People Think Barack Obama is a Muslim?

I am sure many of you have seen this:

Trump is getting criticized heavily for not responding to this question in the way that John McCain responded to a similar question in 2008:

Several other GOP candidates have condemned Trump for his refusal to rebuke the man who asked this question.  But Trump has been silent.

Why?

The answer is simple.  According to a recent CNN poll:

39% of Americans think Barack Obama is a Muslim

47% of Tea Party supporters think Obama is a Muslim

43% of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim

54% of Trump supporters think Obama is a Muslim.

Donald Trump knows that his campaign is appealing to a very ugly and strong faction within the Republican Party.  Right now they are propping Trump up.  Listen to a Trump rally.  He says nothing about policy.  He is an entertainer.  If he loses the “Obama is a Muslim” crowd his campaign has very little left to stand on.  It makes no political sense for him to condemn the remark this man made at Trump’s recent rally.

Which then leads me to a larger question:

Why do so many people still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim?

Or better yet:

How many of the people who believe that Obama is a Muslim also believe that America is a Christian nation or should be a Christian nation?

The fact that so many people believe that Obama is a Muslim is yet another example of the fear and anxiety that conservative Christians are feeling as they witness the slow and steady erosion of an American culture defined by Judeo-Christian faith.  The age of Will Herberg’s Protestant, Catholic, Jew is over.

We have witnessed this kind of fear and anxiety before in American history, especially as it relates to the nativism shown towards Catholics in the 19th and early 20th century.  As the United States ceased to be an overwhelming Protestant nation, Protestants responded in ugly ways.  Our society was less-politically correct back then.  Anti-Catholic cartoons and writing appeared in mainstream publications.  Cartoons like the one below were seldom condemned by non-Catholics.  I am sure that many Trump supporters would like to publish a similar cartoon today about Muslims, but I don’t think any legitimate newspaper or online news site–conservative, liberal, or moderate–would run it. Unlike in the 19th century, most non-Muslims today would condemn such a cartoon. Or at least I hope they would.

Thomas Nast, “The Promised Land,” 1870

The decline of traditional Judeo-Christian culture in the United States is real.  Students no longer pray or read the Bible in public schools. Abortion is legal. So is same sex marriage. Popular culture seems to be no longer tempered by Christian beliefs.  The divorce rates are high and many families are broken. All of this is undeniable.

(Of course there are examples in which Christianity has also made us a better society–just ask African Americans, the poor, and many others who have benefited from those who have used the Bible to fight for justice in this world. In some ways, we are better off today because the true spirit of Christianity has been applied wherever injustice has been present).

As I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, prior to the 1970s Americans considered themselves to be living in a Christian nation. It was a given. (See, for example, Kevin Kruse’s treatment of this issue in the mid-20th century).  At the same time, Christians have always believed that Judeo-Christian culture in the United States is declining or is under threat. The “decline” has been attributed to many things: evolution, higher criticism, non-Christian religions, Catholics, abortion on demand, progressives, immigrants, communists, liberals, the Supreme Court, etc….

It is thus not uncommon for people to be afraid when the world is changing all around them.  People respond to this fear in different ways.  Sometime the response to such fear can turn ugly, and that is unfortunate.

The idea that Obama is a Muslim also comes from a politically-charged and rather judgmental approach to Christian faith that defines a true Christian as someone who is pro-life, supports traditional marriage, and believes in limited government (as opposed to the kind of “big government” that comes up with laws like the Affordable Care Act).  In this view, Obama cannot be a Christian by virtue of the fact that he supports these things.  And his biography–the son of a Muslim from Africa–provides a convenient and useful way to decipher who he really is.  One way to react to the decline of Judeo-Christian culture in the United States is to put the blame on a President who is not a Christian.

Trump is tapping into a long-standing American tradition. It appears to be working–at least for now.