Trump launched his 2020 campaign tonight. Not much has changed since 2016.

Trump Tulsa

Earlier this evening, Donald Trump started his campaign with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma is rising. Most of those who did attend the rally were not wearing masks. With the exception of U.S. Senator James Lankford, none of the politicians Trump asked to stand and be recognized–Senators James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, Representatives Jim Jordan, Debbie Lesko, and Elise Stefanik, and Governor Kevin Stitt–were wearing masks. Six of Trump’s rally staff tested positive for coronavirus this week.

The millions of attendees that Trump promised this week did not show up. It looked like he had a decent crowd in Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center (BOK), but it was much, much smaller than what the Trump team estimated. As I watched on television (C-SPAN), I saw a lot of empty seats. Trump and Mike Pence had to cancel an outdoor speaking event today because no one came.

Trump chose to say nothing about the country’s race problems. He did not bring-up George Floyd, Juneteenth, the country”s racial unrest, or the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. His silence spoke volumes.

I live-tweeted and retweeted the rally

This is what we mean by Christian nationalism. Pence uses this verse all the time and applies it to the United States. I wrote about the way the Christian Right uses 2 Chronicles 7:14 here and here. Russell Moore has a nice piece on this here.

Much of the material in the link above comes from my discussion of “law and order” and Nixon in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

For those who can’t access the link in the above tweet, you can find it here. During the speech, Trump continued to extol his two Supreme Court justices, although he did not mention either of them by name. Readers will recall that we also looked at the Bostock case this week from the perspective of religious liberty and historical thinking.

I would love to know what was going through the mind of James Lankford during this rally. He does not seem like the kind of guy who likes these kinds of events. As we noted earlier this week, Lankford was behind Trump’s decision to move the Tulsa rally from June 19, 2020 (Juneteenth) to June 20, 2020.

Here is what Americans think about how Trump handled, and is handling, the coronavirus. His lies, mistruths, and partially true statements (at least before April 9, 2020) about the pandemic have been compiled here. The Associated Press reported that Trump “wasted” months before preparing the country for the virus. One could make a good case that Trump’s “America First” policy was to blame.

It is hard to pick the most disgusting thing Trump said tonight, but the above statement would be near the top. It reveals the inner-workings of Trump’s mind. Only a narcissist, who interprets everything through the lens of how it benefits his ambitions, would say publicly that there is a political downside to coronavirus testing.

The last five tweets cover the darkest moments of Trump’s speech

As noted above, Trump said nothing about race in America or Tulsa. Yet he spent a considerable portion of the speech talking about this:

John Gehring nails it. Court evangelicals, cover your ears:

Great observation from Kedron Bardwell:

Let’s remember that in 2016, Trump announced a list of  Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society judges. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were on that list. Trump’s promise of a new list, of course, is a direct appeal to the white evangelical base. Trump knows that evangelicals vote for a president based predominantly on his or her promises of conservative Supreme Court appointments. Gorsuch’s majority opinion in the Bostock case will not change anything here. Trump is hoping this strategy will pay off again in November.

Matt Lewis may be correct, but I am pretty sure Trump will give it his best shot.

If you can’t read the link in the above tweet click here.

Here Trump seems to be making a statement about the self-interested nature of humanity and his constituency’s inability to rise above such selfishness. He is essentially saying something like: “I dare you to place your morality and what is right over a strong economy.  You don’t have the guts.” It all reminds me of his “I can stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” line.

For more on John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, click here.

And the campaign has begun!

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

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

But here is some history:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oklahoma Senator James Lankford was behind Trump’s decision to move the Tulsa rally date

BOK

Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center will host Trump’s June 20, 2020 campaign rally

Trump claims he did not know that June 19th, 1865 was an important day in African-American history. I guess he forgot that he released a statement on Juneteenth last year.

Juneteenth celebrates the date when Union Major General Gordon Granger and 2000 Union troops landed in Galveston, Texas to announce the end of the Civil War.  In accordance with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (which became official on January 1, 1863), Granger also and announced that “all slaves are free.”

When asked about Trump’s decision to schedule a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the place that just celebrated the 99th-anniversary of a 1921 race massacre, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, a Republican, said: “I would certainly say that the more diverse our staffs, the more we avoid these public issues that come about. So I don’t have a good answer for that because I’m not on his staff and don’t know what his plan is,”

Scott is right. But even if Trump didn’t have any people of color on his staff, one might think he would have some educated white people who knew something about American history.

After much public outcry, Trump decided to push the rally to June 20. Oklahoma Senator James Lankford was one of the people who convinced Trump to change the date.

Here is the Associated Press:

“There’s special sensitivities there in Tulsa, but Juneteenth is a very significant day, so my encouragement to the president was to be able to pick a day around it,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said Sunday. Lankford said he was among several people who had spoken with Trump.

Lankford said he had called Trump on an unrelated matter and that Trump broached the issue. He said Trump told him he was thinking about rescheduling and asked Lankford’s opinion.

“I suggested, ‘Yes, I think that would be a great idea. It would be very, very respectful to the community,’” Lankford said. He said Trump immediately said he didn’t want to do anything that would show disrespect to the black community.

“He didn’t see it as disrespectful to be able to do it on Juneteenth,” Lankford said. “Other people interpreted it differently and so he moved the rally date.”

Read the entire piece here.

Lankford is a Trump supporter and lines-up with Christian Right values, but has, on a few rare occasions, criticized the president:

  • He criticized Trump’s photo-op in front of St. John’s Church.
  • He has criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.
  • I participated with him in a National Association of Evangelicals briefing in Washington D.C.
  • He made a subtle criticism of Trump’s handling of the Charlottesville race riots.

It is also worth nothing that the BOK Center in Tulsa has not held an event since the coronavirus lockdown and all events following Trump’s June 20 rally, including concerts by The Black Crowes, Justin Bieber, Poison, and Toby Mac, have been cancelled or postponed.

The Author’s Corner with Marie Dallam

51+rCcs4muL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Marie Dallam is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma Honors College. This interview is based on her new book, Cowboy Christians (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Cowboy Christians?

MD: When I first I moved to Oklahoma to teach at the university, I saw an ad in the paper for “cowboy church.” I could not imagine what that was, or what it meant, and in pursuit of an answer I realized that no one had done any academic work on it. So, the project just kind-of presented itself to me. The more I delved into cowboy church, the more the project expanded, so ultimately the book is as much about religious history among cowboy culture people as it is about the present-day cowboy church movement. The project also became a great way for me to learn about this region of the country, by driving all over Oklahoma and Texas and meeting people from communities who I would not normally encounter.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Cowboy Christians?

MD: Cowboy church is a noteworthy revival movement within American evangelicalism today. By considering aspects of its impetus, structure, atmosphere, and development, I am able to contextualize it in relation to other significant religious forms of both the past and present, including muscular Christianity, the Jesus movement, new paradigm churches, and new religious movements.

JF: Why do we need to read Cowboy Christians?

MD: American evangelicalism is particularly good at reinventing itself, and exploring its many twists and turns helps us to understand larger patterns of theological and institutional religious development in the United States. The cowboy church movement is one such twist, but until now it has largely flown under the radar of critical study. In addition to history and analysis, I include a number of stories about my experiences of attending and meeting people at cowboy Christian events, which makes the book a more engaging and personal read.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Of if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

MD: I am a historian of American religion. I’m particularly fascinated by alternative forms of religious belief and practice, especially groups that have been socially marginalized. When we—as a society, and/or as scholars—overlook these kinds of communities, it curtails our ability to truly understand the development of religion in the United States. So my goal as a historian is to preserve the record of religious minorities of all sorts.

JF: What is your next project?

MD: I cannot say what my next “big” project is. But for the short term, I will be working on some research related to the history of Susan Parrish Wharton’s social gospel work in Philadelphia around the turn of the 20th century. It’s a smaller project that I began about a decade ago, and from which I got sidetracked. I would like to finally finish it!

JF: Thanks, Marie!

Boston 1775 Debunks the "Black Robed Regiment"

Can you bring something back that may have never existed?

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 is good. Very good. 

A group of Christian nationalist evangelical ministers known as “The Black Robed Regiment” has been in the news recently. Dan Fisher, the Oklahoma state representative who wants to ban the AP U.S. History course in the state, is a self-identified member of this “regiment.”  The clergy in the “Black Robed Regiment” claim that they are modeling their movement on the eighteenth-century ministers who used their pulpits to promote the American Revolution.

Bell traces the phrase “Black Robed Regiment” to a conversation between Glenn Beck and David Barton on a 2010 episode of Beck’s show.  His recent post shows that many of the stories of patriotic eighteenth-century ministers used by today’s “Black Robed Regiment” are based on very weak evidence.  He has also found what appears to be a comment from a Barton researcher that was inadvertently left in a footnote on Barton’s page devoted to the regiment.

Here is a taste:

In fact, Google Books can’t find the phrase “black robed regiment” from anysource prior to this century. It appears that Barton made it up, inadvertently or on purpose, based on the actual period phrase “Black Regiment,” which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

My favorite footnote in the article is attached to this passage:

“When Paul Revere set off on his famous ride, it was to the home of the Rev. [Jonas] Clark in Lexington that he rode. Patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams were lodging (as they often did) with the Rev. Clark. After learning of the approaching British forces, Hancock and Adams turned to Pastor Clark and inquired of him whether the people were ready to fight. Clark unhesitatingly replied, “I have trained them for this very hour!” [47]”

The note:

“[47] Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 34. Only source we can locate is Cole’s.”

I doubt that second sentence was meant to be left for us to see. It indicates that Barton and his research team had enough questions about whether “Pastor Clark” really said those words to look for a better source than a book published by a Christian evangelical press 166 years after the event. But they failed to find any other source to support Cole’s quotation, despite the many accounts and histories of the Lexington alarm—which should have made them skeptical about that book. Instead, Barton cited it in this essay seven more times.

 

Some Thoughts on Advanced Placement United States History in Oklahoma

Rep. and Rev. Dan Fisher of Oklahoma
I am glad to hear that State Representative Dan Fisher has decided to rework Oklahoma State House Bill 1380.

For those of you have not been following this controversy, Bill 1380, which originally made it through an Oklahoma House committee by a vote of 11-4 (the vote was along party lines with Republican voting in favor and Democrats rejecting it), would cut state funding for Advanced Placement United States History courses because the College Board’s recent revisions to the course make it too “unpatriotic.” Fisher, the author of the bill, claimed that the AP course did not teach “American exceptionalism” and focused too heavily on “what is bad about America.”  
The backlash to this bill in Oklahoma has been so strong that Fisher has decided to pull it.  According to this article, one of the opponents of the bill is Patti Harrold, a veteran AP teacher, a self-proclaimed “conservative Christian Republican,” and President of the Oklahoma Council for History Education.
*****
Conservative lawmakers and educators have been critical of the new AP curriculum framework since it first appeared in October 2012.  Larry Krieger, a retired North Carolina teacher, has been leading the fight against the College Board for a couple of years.  In a March 2014 piece he called the changes to the course “a curricular coup that sets a number of dangerous precedents.”  He is upset about several things related to the course content.  He claims that the section on the colonial period is too focused on race and “British cultural and racial superiority.” Similarly, he complains that the section on Manifest Destiny ignores the American mission to spread democracy across the continent, focusing instead on the racial implications of westward expansion.  Moreover, there is not enough attention given to the Declaration of Independence, James Madison, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.
In August 2014 the Republican National Committee joined the anti-APUSH chorus with a resolution criticizing the College Board’s “radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” The resolution chided the College Board for neglecting coverage of the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and the religious dimensions of United States History.  The resolution claims that the new curriculum framework has excluded Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, Martin Luther King, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the Holocaust.
In September 2014 the College Board responded to the criticism.  College Board President David Coleman stressed that the published “framework” was not meant to be a full curriculum.  It serves only as a guide for teachers to plan their courses.  In the end, teachers still have the power to choose their course content (individuals, events, documents).  If teachers wants to spend more time on World War II or the Founding Fathers they are welcome to do so, but Coleman also reminded his critics that the topics and themes chosen as examples in the framework “represent common perspectives in college survey courses that merit familiarity, discussion, and debate.”  In the end, the teachers and professors who grade the AP exam will reward students based on their use of historical evidence and historical thinking in constructing an argument, not on whether or not they agree or disagree with the historical movement they are asked to write about.
Around this time James Grossman, the Executive Director of the American Historical Association, took to the op-ed page of The New York Times to defend the new AP curriculum framework.  He praised the framework for its emphasis on historical thinking, the interpretation of historical documents, and focus on a “dialogue with the past.”  He reminded us all that “learning history means engaging with aspects of the past that are troubling, as well as those that are heroic.” He explained why all historians must be revisionists.  He even pointed out that there are parts of the framework that make a “bow to American exceptionalism.”  Since then, Grossman has weighed in, albeit briefly, on the Oklahoma controversy.
*****
This recent manifestation of the APUSH wars pits an evangelical pastor and Oklahoma state legislator against the historical profession as represented by the College Board.  Dan Fisher is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, a megachurch in Yukon, Oklahoma.  He graduated from Arkansas Tech University.  He has been the pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church since 1992. According to this biography, the church has grown considerably under his care.
Fisher is also active in Tea Party politics as a member of the so-called “Black Robe Regiment,” a group of conservative evangelical pastors who follow the example of the eighteenth-century patriotic ministers who used their pulpits and influence to promote the American Revolution.  Fisher travels around the country, dressed in eighteenth-century clerical garb, speaking about the need for a revival of The Black Robe Regiment as a means of saving the country from the present-day threats to liberty foisted on the American people by big government and “activist courts.” He is a dynamic and powerful communicator.
You can listen to his dramatic “Bringing Back the Black Robed Regiment” presentation here (scroll down a bit).  The presentation starts with a clip from the Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot.” He then, quite accurately, shows the way in which eighteenth-century ministers applied the Bible to every aspect of American life, including politics.  The heroes of this presentation are Peter Muhlenberg, James Caldwell, Jonas Clarke, Charles Thompson, Thomas Allen, Jacob Duche, William Smith, and John Witherspoon.  He also argues that the First Great Awakening brought about the American Revolution.   Some of the stories he tells are accurate, others are probably myth, but they all work well to support Fisher’s message.  He believes that it is time to restore the United States to its Christian roots and the history of the Black Robed Regiment is our primary guide for making that happen.
Like David Barton and others, Fisher is using history to promote a political agenda in the present. All one has to do is listen to his Black Robe Regiment presentation to understand why he would be opposed to the curriculum framework of APUSH course. For Fisher, history is important primarily for its ability to promote a Christian nation and a Christian understanding of American exceptionalism rooted in John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill.”
*****
Unfortunately, Fisher does not understand the purpose of studying history in a school curriculum. Indeed, the study of history develops civic awareness and provides us with heroes from the past that we can look up to.  But this is the only kind of history that Fisher wants to promote.  This kind of search for a useful past makes sense.  Our natural inclination is to find something familiar in history–something that affirms our own convictions in the present.
Historians know, however, that not all of the past is familiar or useful.  Not all of the past serves our present-day agendas. Yet we must study it.  Students do not have to see themselves in the past in order to learn from it.  Their study of history can develop character, the kind of moral and intellectual development that happens when they encounter historical actors who are strange to them.
Real history education takes place when students learn to respect the ideas of people with whom they (or their parents) might differ.  Historical thinking forces them to lay aside their own biases and enter into the mind of a person from the past who may have views that do not conform to their own. Such an engagement with the past lends itself to certain virtues–empathy, prudence, hospitality, self-denial–that might make our students better people.  This is the real value of the study of history in schools.
Perhaps the study of race in America might help a high school student from a conservative Baptist home in the South learn something about the plight of their Mexican-American neighbors or the suffering of poor migrant workers.  Or perhaps her classmate, the child of secular atheists, might come to value the way that religion–an particularly Christianity–was important to the founding of the United States.
History, when taught correctly, has the power to transform us, regardless of the subject matter. It forces us to put aside our own selfishness and see ourselves as part of a human story that is larger than the contemporary moment in which we live.  As educator Sam Wineburg writes about history, “Of the subjects in the secular curriculum it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.”
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Over the years I have developed some familiarity with APUSH.  I taught the course at a private boarding school.  I graded APUSH exams in San Antonio for seven years.  I have trained APUSH teachers.  I have never been a big fan of the course.  When I taught it I always felt like I was rushing through the material so that my students knew enough information to do well on the test.  I always wished that there was more time for reflection and debate.  I wanted more time to teach students about how to read a document and to help them imbibe historical thinking skills such as context, contingency, change over time, causation, and complexity.  Content is important  It produces historical literacy.  But content is easily forgotten.  As I argued repeatedly in my book Why Study History?history has the potential to make us better citizens, employees, and even people of faith.
So needless to say I was very happy to see the folks at the College Board revise the APUSH course in order to stress historical thinking skills.  The course now emphasizes chronological reasoning, comparison and contextualization, crafting historical arguments, and interpreting and synthesizing ideas,  The course now conforms to some of the best new scholarship in history education, the kind of stuff being written by scholars such as Wineburg, Bruce VanSledright, Lendol Calder, and others. While we still need to expose our students to as many historical perspectives and voices as possible in the APUSH course (see below), the primary goal should be dialogue and engagement with these sources.
With this in mind, I would have no problem teaching Dan Fisher’s proposed APUSH replacement course.  Anyone who argues that there is not enough race, class, and gender in his choices of documents is missing the point of a good history education.  But for those who still want to complain about “who’s in” and “who’s out,” I would point out that Fisher leaves plenty of space for Native American voices in the colonial era.  The course includes documents by Frederick Douglass, Chief Joseph, William Jennings Bryan (I am surprised the “Cross of Gold Speech” made the cut), Abigail Adams, Martin Luther King, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Malcolm X, Lyndon Johnson, Chief Joseph, and Booker T. Washington.  I would probably add a few more documents to the mix to provide some balance, but I have no major problems with Fisher’s choices. While Fisher would probably be disappointed that I would not use his proposed curriculum to promote or endorse the ideas in any of these documents, I think his choice of documents is just fine.
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But in the end, I am guessing that Fisher will not be satisfied with my skills-based approach to teaching United States history.  It probably sounds too close to the skills-based emphasis in the Common Core. He believes that content is more important than skills.  So with this in mind, let me try to address Fisher’s concerns about what he believes to be the “unpatriotic” content in the APUSH course and do so from a theological perspective that Fisher just might understand and agree with.
Evangelical Christians like Fisher and the members of his Trinity Baptist Church believe that God has created humans.  In the opening chapters of the Old Testament book of Genesis, we learn more about what that means.  One central theme in the Genesis creation story is the affirmation that humans are created in the image of God (imago dei in Latin).  That God created human beings in His image implies that all human beings have inherent dignity and worth independent of their actions and behavior.  Christianity teaches that because human beings are created in the likeness of the Creator, and thus share, in some fashion, the divine image, human life is precious and sacred.
The imago dei should inform the way Christians approach the subject of history.  This doctrine should guide us in the kinds of stories we tell about the people whom we come across when visiting the past.  It should also shape the way Christians teach about the past.  An approach to history informed by imago dei can make Christians unafraid of historical scholarship that brings the voices of new actors–actors that fall under the categories of race, class, and gender–into the national story.  Fisher thinks that the APUSH attempt to add such disparate voices to the curriculum framework is just another example of political correctness, but by including slaves, Indians, women, the oppressed, and others alongside the story of the great white males the folks at the College Board are, unintentionally to be sure, reflecting some very good theology about the Creation and the nature of human beings.
Yale theologian Mirsolav Volf reminds us that ‘God sees each human being concretely, the powerful no less than the powerless.  God notes not only their common humanity, but also their specific histories, their particular psychological, social, and embodied selves with their specific needs.” I would love to hear Fisher and other Christians who think that certain voices do not belong in the stories we tell our children about the past offer a response to Volf.  On closer examination, one might even argue that the examples given in the new APUSH curriculum framework might be more compatible with Christian teaching than the nationalistic, God and country approach to history Fisher wants to teach the students of Oklahoma.
But let’s not stop there.  As Fisher knows, the Christian tradition also teaches that God created all human beings with freedom.  Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a responsible and free being.  The freedom to make choices with our lives can lead Christians toward a life of communion with God, but it can also lead us into sin.  Fisher is certainly aware that human beings throughout history have made the choice to prefer themselves over God.  This, after all, is why Fisher’s church preaches redemption.  Christians believe that because of the fall (Genesis 3), the image of God in humans has been tarnished by sin.  The sinfulness of humans means that we live in a world filled with brokenness, injustice, and violence.
I wonder what role the Christian doctrine of sin plays in Fisher’s view of American history? Historian George Marsden has written that “of all traditional Christian teachings the doctrine original sin or of pervasive human depravity has the most empirical verification.”  Historians understand, perhaps better than most, the reality of pain, suffering, injustice, anger, and vice brought on by sin.  
Fisher obviously believes that children should study history for the purpose of becoming informed and patriotic citizens.  He is not alone.  The study of American history has always served a civic function in this country.  But what has resulted from this approach to teaching history is a skewed view of the American experience that celebrates certain heroic figures to the neglect of others. American nationalism triumphs over the stories chronicling those moments when the United States failed or when it acted in ways that might be considered unjust.  Such an approach to American history is not only one-sided; it also fails, from the Christian perspective that Fisher espouses, to recognize the theological truth that all earthly kingdoms and nations are flawed when compared to the Kingdom of God.
I am not suggesting that we should stop teaching our kids the stories that make us feel good about about our country.  But Christians should not surprised when they encounter stories that may lead them to hang their heads in collective shame.  As Marsden puts it, it is a “sign of maturity” when “representatives of a group can write history that takes into account that members of that group are flawed human like everyone else.  In the long run, the most convincing histories will be those that portray their protagonists with faults as well as virtues.”
Let’s hope the revised version of this bill does not see the light of day.

Zimmerman: The Real Problem is Not Oklahoma, It is College History Departments

Jonathan Zimmerman, a history of education professor at New York University, believes that there is a larger problem lurking behind Oklahoma’s rejection of the Advanced Placement United States History course.  How can we expect high school history courses to teach students historical thinking skills when most of our college and university professors are not doing it.  


Here is a taste of Zimmerman’s piece at The New Republic:


In a recent survey of 23,000 undergraduates at 24 varied institutions, half of the students said they were not taking a single course requiring a total of 20 pages of writing. In a field like history, especially, it’s hard to imagine how you could acquire real disciplinary skills if you’re not writing on a regular basis.
Most of all, it’s hard to see how our A.P. history teachers will instruct those skills if our colleges don’t. A growing number of states now require future teachers to major in the subject they teach, which is exactly as it should be. But that won’t do much good if these people aren’t encountering good models of the pedagogy they’re supposed to provide when they enter the profession. 
Advanced Placement, born over a half-century ago in an effort to cultivate a narrow intellectual elite, now caters to a wide swath of American students. Thirty-three percent of public high school graduates took at least one A.P. exam in 2013, up from 18.9 percent just 10 years earlier. 
This increase in test-taking would be fineindeed, it would be fantasticif we could give these kids the tools they need to succeed in college. But we can’t do that until the colleges teach those skills, too. Contrary to what you might have heard on Fox News, the new A.P. history exam isn’t a vast left-wing conspiracy to turn our kids against America. It’s a good-faith effort to bring high school teaching in line with what our colleges are supposed to be doing, but don’t do nearly enough.