Evangelicals and the January 6 insurrection

New York Times religion reporters Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham just published a piece on evangelicals and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday.

Here is a taste:

Lindsay French, 40, an evangelical Christian from Texas, flew to Washington after she had received what she called a “burning bush” sign from God to participate following her pastor urging congregants to “stop the steal.”

“We are fighting good versus evil, dark versus light,” she said, declaring that she was rising up like Queen Esther, the biblical heroine who saved her people from death.

“We are tired of being made out to be these horrible people,” she said, acknowledging there was some violence but insisting on the falsehood that Antifa was behind it.

And this:

Oren Orr, 31, an arborist from Robbinsville, N.C., where he goes to Santeetlah Baptist Church, rented a car to drive to Washington. He carried his American flag right up below the officers on the bleachers, and his wife had a Christian flag. Mr. Trump could be the last president to believe in Jesus, he said. (Mr. Biden speaks often about his lifelong Catholic faith, and unlike Mr. Trump, attends church services frequently.)

Mr. Orr said he brought a baton and a Taser to Washington but did not get them out. “I know the Lord has my back no matter what happens,” he said.

Are Lindsay French and Oren Orr representative of American evangelicals? No. Most white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 not because they liked him, but because Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden were pro-choice and posed a threat to religious liberty. Most of them are horrified by what happened at the U.S. Capitol last week, but few of them see any connection between their vote in 2016 and the events of January 6. At the same time, many also believe the Democrats stole the election. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of evangelicals embrace the views of people like Lance Wallnau, Eric Metaxas, Charlie Kirk, and the rest of the Liberty University Falkirk Center and court evangelical crowd.

Here is Dias and Graham again:

In a Facebook video shot in Washington on Monday night, Tennessee pastor Greg Locke referred to himself as part of the “black robe regiment,” a reference to American clergy who were active in the American Revolution. At a rally the next night, Mr. Locke preached to a crowd of Trump supporters in Freedom Plaza, predicting “not just a Great Awakening, but the greatest awakening that we have ever seen.”

There is a lot going on in this excerpt. We have written about Locke’s “black robe regiment” before. This reference to eighteenth-century patriotic clergy got traction during the Tea Party movement that emerged in the early Obama administration. It also draws upon QAnon conspiracy theories that predict a national and religious revival is coming to America.

Most evangelical pastors are not like Lindsay French’s pastor or Greg Locke. They do not preach politics from the pulpit (even though many of them voted Trump in 2016 and 2020), they do not encourage their congregations to “stop the steal,” and they do not invoke the Black Robe Brigade in their sermons. I have communicated with dozens and dozens of evangelical pastors over the last month or so. Most of them never mentioned Trump’s name (or Joe Biden’s name) in official church settings. (Nor did they condemn Trump or Biden). Most of them are striving to steer their divided congregations toward some form of Christian unity as they try to figure out how to respond to the power that Fox News (and now Newsmax and One America) and social media have over their congregations. They wonder if their congregations will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic in tact. Many of them are trying to educate their congregations about race. Whether you are sympathetic or not to the struggles that these pastors are facing, they are an important part of the larger story of evangelicals in the age of Trump.

The best histories of evangelicals in the Trump era will tell a complex and complicated narrative.

Roughly 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in both elections. History will show that they enabled this president. I stand by every word I wrote in Believe Me.

But history will also show that evangelical support for Trump took on different levels of commitment. Some followed him deeper into the abyss than others. It is important for future historians to capture this nuance and avoid the media’s efforts to paint evangelicals with broad brushes.

*The New York Times* talks to Trump evangelicals about the election

Here are a few bits from yesterday’s piece by Elisabeth Dias and Ruth Graham:

After calling the Latino vote “the quintessential swing vote,” court evangelical Samuel Rodriguez described Trump’s “policies” as “absolutely remarkable.”

Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said that forty years ago a vote for Trump was unimaginable to evangelicals, but today “they feel the wind facing them…with a clear sense that the culture is becoming reordered in a hostile and increasingly secular manner. Evangelicals are voting with the same values, but with a different set of priorities.” I beg to differ. The priorities of white evangelicals on the Christian Right have not changed much in forty years.

Franklin Graham reminded Dias and Graham that the election was not yet “official.” He added: “America is in such a moral decline…We are becoming a much more violent country. I am afraid for our country.”

Robert Jeffress took out billboards throughout Dallas to advertise his upcoming sermon on Biden. He added: A Joe Biden win cannot erase all the positive accomplishments that can be attributed to President Trump.”

Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition is now focused on the Georgia Senate run-offs on January 5, 2021.

Read the entire piece here.

Religion journalist Ruth Graham joins *The New York Times*

Rith Graham

Ruth Graham

Big news on the religion journalism front. Here is the announcement:

 

Given National’s mission to understand the country in all its complexity, our coverage of religion in America could not be more important. That is why we are thrilled to announce that Ruth Graham is joining us as a national correspondent covering religion, faith and values.

Since 2018, Ruth has been a staff writer at Slate, where she has written with enormous grace and wit about the intersection of religion, politics and culture. Ruth’s work is compulsively readable and caught our eye for its sheer range in tone, subject matter and form.

She has written with sensitivity about what it’s like to be Black at Liberty University. She can bring a light touch, introducing readers to the jetsetting, Jesus-quoting Christian influencers of Instagram. She can break news, like when she traveled to rural Kansas last year to conduct the first interview with former cardinal Theodore McCarrick after he was publicly accused of sexual abuse. (If you need a brief escape from your pandemic quarters, you should stop what you’re doing and read her take on which fantasy celebrity house is best for a quarantine.)

On top of all that, she also reported and hosted the four-part narrative podcast “Standoff,” a re-examination of the 1992 federal siege at Ruby Ridge in Idaho.

Born and raised in Wheaton, outside Chicago, Ruth has a B.A. in political science from Wheaton College. Her career in journalism started at The New York Sun, where she eventually became features editor. Her religion reporting as a freelance journalist appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Politico magazine, Al Jazeera America and many others. She has been a contributing writer to The Boston Globe’s Ideas section and to TheAtlantic.com.

Ruth lives with her family in a small town in New Hampshire, and plans on moving next year to Dallas for The Times, which will put her in an ideal spot to explore religion in America.

The combination of Ruth and Elizabeth Dias will create a powerhouse team for making sure The  Times covers religion and morality with depth and sophistication. We can’t wait for Ruth to start next month.

Please join us in congratulating and welcoming her.

Congratulations Ruth Graham!

Don’t Make Too Much About the Slip in White Evangelical Support for Trump

Trump and Bible

I have a now talked with a few media outlets about this. They are very eager to discuss a recent New York Times article titled “Trump’s Approval Slips Where He Can’t Afford to Lost It: Among Evangelicals.” Here is Jeremy Peters:

Unnerved by his slipping poll numbers and his failure to take command of the moral and public health crises straining the country, religious conservatives have expressed concern in recent weeks to the White House and the Trump campaign about the president’s political standing.

Their rising discomfort spilled out into the open this week when the founder of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, scolded the president for taking such a belligerent tone as the country erupted in sorrow and anger over the police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis.

Read the entire piece here.

Three quick thoughts on this:

  1. As I wrote last week, Pat Robertson does not have the influence over white evangelicals in the way he did in the 1980s and 1990s. His criticism of Trump’s speech and photo-op will not move the needle. I have no doubt that Robertson will vote for Trump in November. Moreover, many white evangelicals who are not happy with the way Trump has handled the coronavirus or the Floyd protests will still vote for him in November.
  2. Remember, white evangelicals think some moral issues are more important than others. Abortion and “religious liberty” (as white evangelicals understand it) will always trump racism and presidential leadership when it comes to electing a president. Even a moderate Democratic like Joe Biden is a threat.
  3. Having said that, even a small slip in evangelical support for Trump in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida could cost him the election.

Franklin Graham on the *Christianity Today* Editorial: “My father would have been embarrassed.”

780b2-billyandfranklingrahamcrowd

Check out Elisabeth Dias’s piece at The New York Times. She got an interview with court evangelical Franklin Graham about today’s Christianity Today’s editorial.

A taste:

“My father would be embarrassed,” Franklin Graham said in an interview, referring to his father, Billy Graham, who founded the magazine.

“It is not going to change anybody’s mind about Trump,” Mr. Graham said. “There’s a liberal element within the evangelical movement. Christianity Today represents that.”

 “A liberal element.”

Read the entire piece here.

Alabama Governor Signs Anti-Abortion Bill One Day and Plans to Execute Someone on the Next Day

Alabama Governor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Today I had a long conversation with New York Times reporter Adeel Hassan.  He was trying to figure out how Alabama could execute a convicted murderer on the day after the state passed a very extreme abortion law.  Here is his report:

A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.

“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”

Read the entire piece here.

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

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

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

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece:

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

*The New York Times* on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13

jeff-sessions

It’s been a crazy day.  Last night I was wrapping-up some writing on the Southern Baptist Convention, trying to finish some end-of- the-academic-year paperwork, scheduling some blog posts, and preparing for the Believe Me book tour.

Then Jeff Sessions referenced Romans 13 and The Washington Post asked me for some historical context. I have been answering questions all day.

Here is my contribution to Julia Jacobs’s piece at The New York Times:

Referring to the Bible in political speeches is nothing new, said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush did so liberally, for example. But using Scripture as an enforcement tool for a particular federal policy is more concerning, Dr. Fea said.

“The founding fathers created the criminal justice system to be a largely secular criminal justice system,” he said. “They didn’t have in mind punishing criminals and condemning them using Bible verses.”

And the passage he chose drew considerable criticism. Historians and theologians took to the internet to point out that Romans 13 has been used to defend antiquated or outright contemptible points of view.

Before the nation’s founding, it was frequently used by Loyalists to oppose the American Revolution, Dr. Fea said. And in the 19th century, pro-slavery Southerners often cited the chapter’s opening verses to defend slavery — in particular, adherence to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the seizure and return of runaway slaves.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Court Evangelicals” in *The New York Times*

Trump court evangelicals

Check out Laurie Goodstein‘s piece on anti-Trump evangelicals at The New York Times.  The article focuses on Shane Claiborne and the recent Red-Letter Revival in Lynchburg, but it also mentions our phrase “court evangelicals” and links to The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog.

Here is a taste:

The revival last month was the most energetic of several recent attempts by Christians in various camps to confront what they see as Mr. Trump’s “court evangelicals” selling out the faith. The critics have written columns, and a book called “Still Evangelical?” They convened a closed-door summit last month at Wheaton College. A number of bereaved, eminent elders plan a procession to the White House soon to hand over their manifesto, “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”

Read the entire piece here.

How Major Media Outlets Covered Billy Graham’s Death

Duisburg, Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham

Via Wikipedia commons

I haven’t watched much television today, but I have noticed that every time I tuned into CNN on my computer I found very little coverage about the death of Billy Graham, arguably the most famous person in the 20th-century world.  Granted, there are issues related to guns and school shootings in Florida and beyond.  I thus fully understand why Graham took a back seat on my preferred cable news station.

So I decided to cruise around the Internet a bit.  On CNN’s website, I needed to scroll down a bit before I found a link to Graham’s death.  The same was true for MSNBC, Fox News, and The Washington Post.

Graham’s death is front and center at the websites of the BBC, The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal.  On the BBC site I was able to click on links to two articles on Graham without having to scroll down.

That Time I Scooped *The New York Times*…

…and got no credit for it.  (OK–that  sounded pretty whiny, but I think I am going to stick with it).

Yesterday I broke the Donald Trump “conversion” story here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  (Actually, the pastor Michael Anthony broke it and Charisma magazine may have posted the story around the same time that I did).

One of the people who retweeted my post was New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel:

Gabriel took the news to the pages of The New York Times here.  My post is now, with the exception of my commentary, no longer relevant.

Of course there are no footnotes in journalism, but perhaps Gabriel could have thrown a bone (in the forms of a link or reference in the piece) to a small, hard-working blogger! 🙂

Deconstructing Catholic Liberal Theologians

Some of you have been following the Ross Douthat vs. liberal Catholic theologians debate over who is the most qualified to write about the Catholic Church.  Check out our coverage here and here.

Recently Kenneth Woodward, the dean of religion journalism and the longtime religion writer at Newsweek, chided these progressive theologians for their elitism and their inability to articulate their position clearly.

Here is a taste of his piece at First Things:

…Because the flare-up touches on who is qualified to write about matters Catholic, I took interest. After all, I was no more qualified as Newsweek’s religion editor than is Douthat as a columnist for the Times: neither one of us has a degree in theology, which seems to be what the Catholic scholars are demanding. Or are they?
For me, it is the second of the letter’s four sentences that is troubling. This, the key accusatory sentence, is so bumbling in construction that any effort at exegesis has to take it in parts. Part one reads: “Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject…” What exactly is the subject he is not qualified to write about? He has has already published a very substantive journalistic book on Catholicism that has been generally well received by Catholics of various stripes. If the subject is Catholic sacramental marriage, he is a husband and a father, an experiential credential that some of his academic critics, being priests, do not. If nothing else, it gives him a personal stake in the outcome of the church’s deliberations.
It is hard not to conclude from the way this sentence begins that what the offended scholars mean by “professional qualifications” is a doctorate in theology or in some degree kindred to “the sacred sciences.” But neither did G. K. Chesterton, or C.S. Lewis, or Thomas Merton, I believe. What they did is read widely and write well. A doctorate is the one credential Douthat’s critics own that he does not. This smacks of the academic virus that Frank O’Malley, my old English professor at Notre Dame, identified as “PhDeism”—i.e. credential worship. It is the virus that, in another context, Christopher Lasch lamented as inciting “the tyranny of experts” and is akin to what led Kierkegaard to observe that “a roomful of experts is only a crowd.”
But then if a doctorate were required of journalists, there would be no writers, editors or columnists (save one) at the New York Times. Real journalists do not even get PhDs in journalism, thank God, just as real journalists do not drink bottled water.
The rest of this sentence reads thus: “…the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism is.”
It is hard to know what this sentence is trying to say. Does it refer to Douthat’s political conservatism or his conservative Catholicism? If it means that he views the recent synod on the family as a contest between liberal and conservative factions—well that “narrative” unfortunately has governed what every reporter and pundit has employed this and every other discussion of Catholic issues and events since Vatican Council II. And it certainly applies to the polarity that Catholic theologians have themselves exhibited time and again when gathered in solemn assembly. Unfortunately. And it is the only way the New York Times can understand what is going on in the church.
If it is a fumbling way of saying that popes (especially Francis) are above “political” maneuvers like so many other bishops, tell it to Robert Mickens or, for that matter, Garry Wills, whose narratives are as “politically partisan” as that of Douthat. Why target Douthat, and for that matter, why post this complaint to the Times? Which brings me to the letter’s last sentence.
Read the rest here.

"The New York Times" Tackles the Calvinist Resurgence Within Evangelicalism

M. Dever. Photo Credit: Drew Angerer of NY Times

Calvinism is apparently cool again.  At least that is the image presented by Rev. Mark Dever in the photo accompanying Mark Oppenheimer’s New York Times piece, “Evangelicals Find Themselves in the Midst of a Calvinist Revival.”  I am not familiar with Dever or his ministry at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, but his casual and relaxed style, his leather coat, and his faded jeans speak volumes about the nature of this so-called “Calvinist revival.”

I think that a historian of American evangelicalism who is in town for the AHA needs to make a research trip to Dever’s church on Sunday morning.

Here is a taste of Oppenheimer’s piece:

Evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival. Increasing numbers of preachers and professors teach the views of the 16th-century French reformer. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Tim Keller — megachurch preachers and important evangelical authors — are all Calvinist. Attendance at Calvin-influenced worship conferences and churches is up, particularly among worshipers in their 20s and 30s.
In the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, the rise of Calvinism has provoked discord. In a 2012 poll of 1,066 Southern Baptist pastors conducted by LifeWay Research, a nonprofit group associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, 30 percent considered their churches Calvinist — while twice as many were concerned “about the impact of Calvinism.”
Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist. 
Darryl Hart:  I turn this one over to you.