Court evangelical: Kamala Harris has a “Jezebel spirit” and is a satanic “chameleon” secretly working as an “Obama surrogate”

Lance-Wallnau

Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Lance Wallnau, a leading figure in the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) movement, received a word from God: “Donald Trump is a wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness.”

When Wallnau’s prophecy caught the attention of Trump’s evangelical supporters, he was invited to attend a meeting with the candidate and other evangelical leaders in Trump Tower. As Wallnau listened to Trump talk about his desire to give evangelicals a more prominent voice in government, he sensed that God was giving him an “assignment”–a “calling related to this guy.”

One day, while Wallnau was reading his Facebook page, he saw a meme predicting that Trump would be the “45th president of the United States.” God told Wallnau to pick up his Bible and turn to Isaiah 45. On reading the passage, Wallnau realized that, not only would Trump be a “wrecking ball” to political correctness, but he would be elected president of the United States in the spirit of the ancient Persian king Cyrus. In the Old Testament, Cyrus was the secular political leader whom God used to send the exiled kingdom of Judah back to the Promised Land so that they could rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its holy Temple. Wallnau was shocked by this discovery. “God was messing with my head,” he told Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma, a magazine that covers INC and other Pentecostal and charismatic movement (and claims a circulation of over 275,000).

From this point forward, Wallnau would become an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.  He has made appearances on Christian Right radio and television programs to tell his story about he prophesied Trump’s election. Some of you remember when he  hawked $45.00 King Cyrus prayer coins on the Jim Bakker Show.

Here is he is on the Eric Metaxas Show talking about “a guy from Messiah College.”

In his most recent Facebook video, Wallnau had some choice things to say about Joe Biden’s running mate. Here is Kyle Mantyla at Right Wing Watch:

Wallnau asserted that Harris is “not intelligent” but simply possesses an ability to deceive people, which is why she was chosen to serve as Joe Biden’s running mate by the “deep state” and “do what [Barack] Obama wants her to do, which is to undo Trump’s legacy.” He added that Harris is driven by a “Jezebel spirit,” which some evangelicals believe is an evil and cunning demonic female spirit intent on attacking God and those who worship him.

Watch the video:

You can watch the entire thing here. If you can’t watch it, here is what you missed:

  • Kamala Harris is a “chameleon.”
  • The “devil” is going to try to use Harris to “take Trump out.”
  • The “Wuhan China” is connected to a vision Wallnau saw of “President Harris.”
  • Satan released the virus to take down Trump.
  • The spirit of the “false prophet” is working with the media to make Harris look more moderate, but she is really an “Obama’s surrogate.”
  • “God never really intended that Donald Trump would not be there for this next term.”
  • Wallnau admits a version of the “fear thesis” when he says the voted “out of anxiety” and elected Trump, but then the church went back to “business as usual” without realizing the “apocalyptic cliff-hanger” it is in.
  • Evangelical Christian pastors and leaders who say that they will merely hold their noses and vote for Trump in 2020 are weak. They should be openly campaigning for him.
  • If we pray hard enought, God will intervene on behalf of Trump between now and November.

More than 260,000 people have watched this video. Some have even responded to it with comments like these:

–I just seen you tonight and what a Blessing, telling it like it was and is and is to come! I will be following you cause I like what I’m hearing and your my new brother in the Lord and Family of God! Thanks for sharing.

–Kamala Harris I read about her religious faith it is not Christian it is an ancient Egyptian faith just remember that when the Pharaoh put his dead son on Satan’s arm trying to bring him back to life it did not happen God will win the devil will not.

We must fight with prayer. God have mercy on our land and President Trump. Grant us mercy one more time Lord, heal our land. In Jesus name.

–I think she is a witch

–I can’t stand to hear all of this!! We must vote so these things will not happen. The enemy is not on the throne. God still reigns.

–Chameleon Harris….she’s slippery, scaly and has horns 🦎 changes colors according to her agenda.

–I have never listened to you before so I find amazing that what you said about Kamala is exactly what I said to my husband last night. Binding together in prayer and praise through Jesus name.

–Thank you. I appreciate your bold truth and not trying to protect a tax exempt status in a time as this.We need voices bold as a lion like you.God bless you in Jesus name.

–“Extraordinary surprises and interventions! Spiritually radioactive Christians around all the people engaged in this political contest!” Show us how to do the work you have called us to do!

–They will want to take your guns

–Mental manipulation to wear mask, take vaccine ….

–Amen!! Pray and vote like Jesus would! Trump 2020

–The dems have stocks in the mask companies. They want there money.

Those ensconced in their cosmopolitan enclaves need to take this stuff seriously. Wallnau and the INC influence, as scholars Brad Christerson and Richard Flory have shown, runs deep in conservative political circles in the United States and around the world.

“As our current crises carry on, we will be sorely tempted to recreate an idealized, selectively remembered past…”

Golden Calf

Over at Christianity Today, Jeremy Sabella, a lecturer in religion at Dartmouth College, reflects on the place of nostalgia in times of social crisis. His theological reflection draws heavily upon the Old Testament story of the wandering Israelites and their nostalgic longings for their old lives in Egypt.

Here is a taste:

In times like these, communities of faith can offer something far more edifying than nostalgia: hope. Hope, in its full biblical sense, arises out of hardship: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; character produces hope.” This hope endures precisely because it is the work of the Spirit: “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5). Hope takes root when the people of God follow the Spirit’s prompting to face the present trial. Nostalgia, on the other hand, can tempt us to indulge phantoms of an idyllic past rather than face the present hardship. Giving into fantasies of the past cheats God’s people of the opportunity to cultivate hope that overcomes despair.

Our comfortable, settled American life has given way to a season of wilderness. Wilderness spaces unsettle us to our core by confronting us with how contingent our lives are. The manna God provides in such spaces does not taste like what we’re used to. But it nourishes us in ways that the rich fare of our previous settled life could not. As our current crises carry on, we will be sorely tempted to recreate an idealized, selectively remembered past rather than attend to the needs and concerns of the present. But God’s people must discipline themselves to focus on the here and now. For that is where the work of the Spirit unfolds, making all things new.

Read the entire piece here.

Teaching James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation”

James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson

Yesterday in my Created and Called for Community (CCC) class at Messiah College we discussed James Weldon Johnson‘s poem “The Creation” (1922). It is one of seven poems in his 1927 collection God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.  Read it here.

My colleague (and Dean) Peter Powers, a scholar of religion and the Harlem Renaissance, writes:

“The Creation”  is found within the collection of God’s Trombones, which Johnson conceived as an interlinked set of sermons modeled on the style of traditional African-American preachers. Johnson thought of these preachers’ voices, with all their power and emotional range, as God’s trombones,” and saw clear links between the preaching, writing, and music-making of African Americans during this time.  All three forms of expression conveyed originality and creativity, and so could serve as wellsprings of African-American aspirations of freedom .

In writing these sermons into poetry, Johnson sought to communicate both authenticity and dignity.  He was troubled by many writers of his time (both white and African American) who used literary conventions and cliched dialect that depicted African American speech as malformed and unintelligent.  Johnson felt such depictions could perpetuate racist stereotypes that African Americans were incapable of significant cultural achievements in written English.  So instead of deliberately using misspellings and outrageous grammatical constructions, Johnson evoked the oral tradition in a more nuanced way through sentence structure, syntax, and word choice.  The aesthetic choice suggests that the oral tradition is high art in and of itself, as well as the basis for producing other great works of art.  This idea–that great art should be rooted in the folk tradition even as it transcends it–became a signature aesthetic of the Harlem Renaissance.                

“The Creation” is a sermon. It is meant to be preached. So I decided to play a reading of the poem by African-American clergyman and vocal artist Wintley Phipps. I asked the students to follow along with the printed text and try not to get caught-up with the images. I wanted this exercise to cultivate the moral imagination.

I asked the students to compare Johnson’s interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 with the actual Old Testament text they read on Monday.  Several students connected Johnson’s poem to the second creation account (Genesis 2:4-2:25), an account that reveals the personal and compassionate nature of God.

We talked about the poem as a product of Jim Crow America.  I wanted the students to see that James Weldon Johnson’s understanding of humanity was more theologically and biblically sound than the views of the Christian defenders of segregation.  We returned to Bruce Birch’s essay and talked again about the Judeo-Christian belief that all human beings are created in the image of God.  Human dignity and worth has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin. Johnson knew this.

One student connected Johnson’s poem to Bruce Birch’s distinction between the “ethic of doing” and the “ethic of being.”  In “The Creation,” Johnson writes:

Then God walked around,

And God looked around

On all that he had made.

He looked at the sun,

And he looked at the moon, 

And he looked at the stars; 

He looked at the world

With all  its living things,

And God said, I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down–

On the side of a hill where he could think;

By a deep, wide river he sat down;

With his head in his hands,

God thought and thought ,

Till he thought: I’ll make a man! 

This student noted that before God acted to create humankind, he thought about it.  Johnson says that God “thought and thought” with “his head in his hands.” It was an important reminder that we often need to engage intellectually with the world before we act in the world.

Finally, I told the students that Johnson’s poem serves as a wonderful transition from this week’s focus on the biblical creation story to next week’s conversations about creativity.  Johnson wrote a poem about creation.  But “The Creation” is also a creative work.  Because we are created in God’s image we are called to creativity.  More on this next week.

Follow along here.

The “Ethic of Being”

Image of God

This week in Created and Called for Community at Messiah College we are exploring the Judeo-Christian creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.  On Monday we read the scriptural text and yesterday we discussed Old Testament theologian Bruce Birch‘s essay “In the Image of God” from his book (with Larry L. Rasmussen) The Predicament of the Prosperous

Birch begins his essay with a story:

A socially committed pastor once said to me after I had spoken on biblical understandings of hunger issues, “That was interesting, but we really don’t have time to be reading the Bible.  People are starving out there.”

I asked my students to respond to this story.  Some of them related to this pastor.  Others, it was clear to me, had never thought deeply about social issues and thus could not relate to the pastor’s sense of urgency.

Birch continues:

…Christian social witness in our time has become chiefly identified with the “doing” side of the Christian moral life. “What shall we do about _____? ”  You can fill in any issue of concern: peace, racism, poverty.  The emphasis is on decision-making, strategy, and action…The Bible, however, does not make decisions for us or plan courses of action.  Attempts to use the Bible as a rule book are not very successful.  There are, of course, broad moral imperatives, such as the command to love our neighbor, which are of central importance, but the church is left with the struggle to decide what the loving act toward the neighbor might be in a given situation.  Many issues our society faces–nuclear war, environmental damage–were not anticipated at all by the biblical communities.  Even when we share a common concern with those communities, such as feeding the hungry, we must make decisions and take actions in a complex global economic system totally unlike anything imagined in the biblical tradition.

While it took a few minutes for my Christian students to get beyond the idea that “attempts to use the Bible as a rule book are not very successful,” we all agreed with Birch that the scriptures do not offer specific strategies, action steps, or policies for how to deal with pressing social issues in the world.  Instead, I suggested, the Bible offers what I called (for lack of a better term) “first principles” for building specific responses to social concerns in a “complex” 21st-century world.

Birch writes:

Does this make the Bible remote or irrelevant to our Christian social concern?  By no means!  Alongside the concern for the ethics of “doing” lies an ethics of “being.”  Christian social concern requires not only that we ask what we should do in a broken world but also that we ask who we are to be.  The shaping of decision-makers is as important as the shaping of the decision.  As we enter and are nurtured by the Christian community, we form values, perspectives, and perceptions that inform our deciding and acting.  The identity we bring with us as Christians deeply affects our participation in ministering to a broken world.

There was a lot to think about here.  We returned to Birch’s story about the socially-conscious pastor.  While Messiah College is committed to service, and students will get multiple opportunities to serve during their years as a student, Messiah is fundamentally a Christian college–a place of intellectual and spiritual formation.  College is a unique experience.  It is a time to think, learn, and study.  Stanley Hauerwas and John Henry Newman have already taught us that college is a time to prepare for a life of service to the church and the world.  Students should not feel guilty about spending more time thinking and reflecting about the world than they do acting in the world.  The time to act will come, but right now they need to learn who they are.  They need to think about what Birch calls the “ethics of being.”

So who are we?  What does the Christian tradition teach us about what it means to be “human? At this point I introduced my students to the word “humanism.” Back when I was a college student at an evangelical school, “humanism” had a negative connotation.  It was often preceded by the adjective “secular.” Secular humanists, we were told, lurked around every corner trying to undermine Christianity and convince young people to abandon their faith. Secular humanism was the work of the devil. It was corroding Christian values.  We studied “apologetics” in order to intellectually defeat secular humanism.

But I was pleasantly surprised to learn only one student–a thirty or forty-something non-traditional student–knew what I meant when I referenced “secular humanism.” The fact that my students did not come with the cultural war baggage of the 1980s and 1990s allowed us to explore more freely the historic meaning of humanism–the study of what it means to be a human being in this world.

Any exploration of Christian humanism should begin in Genesis 1 and 2.

Birch spends a significant part of his essay interpreting this passage. We did not have time to examine all of his exegesis, so I tried to narrow our discussion to a few of his points.  Birch writes:

We know the God of blessing not only as the Creator who called the world into being but in the ongoing reliability of the created order and in the divine presence that sustains life in all its week-to-week rhythms.  This aspect of God is present with us in all moments and is universally known by all humanity.  God’s intentions in creation is for all to experience shalom, a Hebrew word meaning wholeness.

We talked about shalom.  Some students identified it as a greeting.  Others associated it with “peace.” I asked them to call out some antonyms for “peace” and they responded with words like “chaos,” “war,” “conflict,” and “division.”  Indeed war, conflict, and division undermine shalom.  These things rip at the wholeness God intended for His creation.

Birch then offers four themes from Genesis 1 and 2 to help us think about “what it means to be given life as a creature and to live that life in relationship to God and the rest of the created order.”

  1. Humanity is created in the image of God.  On Monday, during our discussion of Genesis 1:26-27, I introduced students to the idea of Imago Dei. The Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, as New Testament scholar Scot McKnight shows us, translates the word behind “image” with the word eikon.  We talked about the role of “icons” in Christian worship.  Icons are paintings, statues, or figures that aid us in our devotion to God.  Genesis 1 teaches us that we are living eikons.  Much in the same way that monuments try to help us understand more fully what happened in a particular historic place, the creation story teaches us that our lives are monuments–eikons that should point people toward a deeper understanding of God.  We are image bearers. I told my students that the larger culture will try to tell them who they are, but Genesis 1 and 2 will always remind of them of their true identity.
  2. Genesis 1 and 2 also affirms the “goodness of creation.”  God did not create everything in His image, but everything God created is “good.” We talked a bit about the implications of this truth for our relationship with the animal kingdom and the environment.
  3. This passage also reminds us of the “interrelatedness of creation.” As Birch writes, “We are created for relationship to God, to others, and to nature.” In a college or university such “interrelatedness” manifests itself in the liberal arts curriculum and the way it challenges students to see the connectedness (to use Ernest Boyer’s phrase) of their general education coursework.
  4. Finally, Birch warns us about what he calls “the distortion of hierarchical thinking about creation.”  Over the centuries, Christians have misused “God’s commission giving humanity dominion over the earth” in such a way that has led to “a hierarchical  understanding that divided the relationship of the human to God and to nature.”  Birch adds: “Early in the history of the Christian church a subdivided hierarchy became the standard: God, males, females, other races than white, Jews, animals, plants, and the earth itself.  This hierarchical understanding of creation became the foundation for entire superstructures of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism.”

This last theme was the perfect way to open-up a discussion of the final section of Birch’s essay: “The Brokenness of Creation.” We are created in the image of God and called to pursue relationships with God and His “good” creation. But Genesis 3 teaches us that we are also sinners who have abused the human freedom God has given to us. “Sin,” Birch writes, “is the word we use to describe how shalom, wholeness, gets broken.” Or to use McKnight’s phrase, we are “cracked eikons.”  I wish we had more time to discuss the implications of sin, but there will be other opportunities later in the class.

In the end, I encouraged the students to see this discussion of Genesis 1 and 2 (with the help of Bruce Birch) as a starting point for both future class discussions and all of their future college work.  If time permitted, I would have asked students to think about what this “ethic of being” might mean for their college majors.  How does the fact that we are simultaneously image-bearers and sinners help us think about our disciplines and professions? (I tried to do this for the field of history in my book Why Study History?).  And how, in the wake of the Cross and the Resurrection, might we work to restore shalom to a broken creation?

Tomorrow we are reading James Weldon Johnson’s poem The Creation.  Follow along here.

Psalm 72

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
    the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
    your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
    the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
    and save the children of the needy;
    may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure as long as the sun,
    as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
    like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
    and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May the desert tribes bow before him
    and his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts.
11 May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.

15 Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.
16 May grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
    and thrive[c] like the grass of the field.
17 May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.

Then all nations will be blessed through him,[d]
    and they will call him blessed.

18 Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvelous deeds.
19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

Teaching this Semester

Created and Called

This semester, for the first time in my eighteen-year career at Messiah College, I will not be teaching any history courses.  Instead, I will be teaching three sections of a required first-year seminar titled “Created and Called for Community.”  This course, which uses a common syllabus, is designed to introduce a Messiah College liberal arts education to first-year students.  It focuses on the writing, close reading of texts, biblical and theological reflection on human dignity and community, and the meaning of Christian vocation.

I will be teaching these texts:

Stanley Hauerwas, “Go With God

John Henry Newman, “What is a University?

Ernest L. Boyer, “Retaining the Legacy of Messiah College

Genesis 1-2

James Weldon Johnson, “The Creation

Bruce Birch, “The Image of God

J.R.R. Tolkien, “Leaf by Niggle

Alice Walker, “In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens

Exodus 19-20

Matthew 5-7

 Acts 1-4

Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed

Harold Bender, The Anabaptist Vision (excerpt)

Alabama Clergyman, “A Call for Unity” and Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone

Augustine, Confessions (excerpts)

Robert Frost, “Mending Wall

Luke 10:25-37

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Desmond Tutu, “God Believes in Us

Plato, “The Allegory of the Cave” (excerpt)

Albert Schweitzer, “I Resolve to Become a Jungle Doctor

Henri Nouwen, “Adam’s Peace

Jerry Sittser, “Distinguishing Between Calling and Career

Jerry Sittser, “What We’re Supposed to Do”

Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?

I will probably blog about these texts as the semester moves forward.  Feel free to read or follow along.

The Use of Biblical Typologies for Political Gain

trump_cyrus_coin_jim_bakker_twitter

Over at Baptist News Global, Rob Sellers, professor of theology and missions emeritus at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, Texas, offers a nice overview of the way that Trump’s evangelical supporters use biblical typologies (King Cyrus, King David, Caesar, Jesus) to advance their political agenda.  (Click here for some background on the image above.  For some reason Bob Smietana’s byline is on this article).

Here is a taste of Sellers’s piece:

Efforts to give Trump the standing of Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan are strained, if not nonsensical, yet they don’t come close to matching the illogical contortions required to compare the president to positive, or even heroic, models in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. This growing tendency should concern all Americans who claim to revere the Bible and desire to live into its vision.

These biblical comparisons to Trump fall into two categories. One, not surprisingly, is those human figures who in their lifetime were a king, emperor or even a queen. Is it only coincidental that all of these counterparts are elite, wealthy and powerful royalty? Where are the ordinary, middle-class citizens, much less the impoverished, marginalized and powerless commoners, with whom this president is identified?

As if to correct the perception that Trump can only reflect the “top one percent” of ancient society, the other, much more startling typology is Jesus himself – a suffering servant “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3), yet whose person and work were acclaimed in messianic phrases, both confessional and laudatory. These references especially satisfy Trump, who sees himself, especially during the impeachment proceedings, as a persecuted victim who is absolutely worthy of adoration and praise.

Read the entire piece here.

The New King Cyrus Wants to Bomb the Old King Cyrus’s Tomb

Cyrus tomb

The tomb of Cyrus the Great is located in Iran

Back in March 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared Donald Trump to Queen Esther, the Queen who persuaded the king of Persia not to destroy the Jews.  Watch this:

It now looks like the new Queen Esther may want to obliterate the tomb of the original Queen Esther.

Some of you may remember that Donald Trump recently threatened to destroy Iranian cultural sites.  Here is his tweet:

Today at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron reports on the cultural sites in Iran that may some interest to American evangelicals.  One of those sites just happens to be the tomb of Esther.  Here is Shimron:

Located in Hamadan, the tomb is believed by some to house the remains of the biblical Queen Esther and her cousin (or by some accounts, uncle) Mordechai. It is the most important pilgrimage site for Jews in the country.

Esther, as described in the Bible, was the Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus. In the Book of Esther, Mordechai informs her of a plot to kill the Jews, and together they work to save Jews throughout the Persian Empire from annihilation.

The exact date of the 50-foot-tall brick dome’s origin is disputed. An outer chamber holds tombs of famous rabbis. The interior chamber features Hebrew writing along the walls and holds two carved sarcophagi, with the two burial plots for Esther and Mordechai.

Back in November, a court evangelical by the name of Jim Garlow, seemed to claim that Trump was another Daniel, the prophet who refused to compromise his Jewish faith during the Babylonian captivity.

Well, it looks the new Daniel wants to bomb the tomb of the old Daniel.  Here is Shimron:

There are many places that claim to be the traditional burial place of the biblical prophet Daniel, but this one, in Susa, Iran, is the most widely accepted. According to the biblical book by the same name, Daniel was taken to Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem. There, he was rescued from lions with the aid of the prophet Jeremiah. The apocalyptic genre of the Book of Daniel is important to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Above the mausoleum of Daniel is a conical-shaped building.

But wait!  This gets better.  Many evangelicals believe that Donald Trump is the new King Cyrus.  Some of them even sell Cyrus prayer coins.

Well, it looks like Trump wants to bomb the tomb of the old King Cyrus.  Here, again, is Shimron:

Many evangelicals have compared Trump to King Cyrus, who became the first emperor of Persia. Cyrus is celebrated multiple times in the Bible for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon — an act some consider to have made him anointed by God. Cyrus died in 530 B.C. and is buried in Pasargadae, an archaeological site about 56 miles from the modern city of Shiraz. According to literary sources, more than two centuries later, Alexander the Great ordered his tomb to be restored.

 

Christian Uses and Representations of Judaism and the Old Testament in Reformation Europe

ASCH logoRalph Keen is writing for us this week from the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History in New York City.  Keen is Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation Chair of Catholic Studies and Professor of History at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 2018 he was president of the ASCH.

In a session on uses and representations of Judaism in the Reformation era, Samuel Dubbelman (Boston U) described Johann Matthesius’s role as the source of a legend in which a Polish Jew named Michael of Posen tried to assassinate Luther with poison; Erik Lundeen (Baylor) uncovered new points in John Foxe’s sermons (on the occasion of a Jew’s conversion to Christianity) that reveal a deeper ambivalence toward Judaism than previously recognized; and Brian Hanson (Bethlehem College, MN) examined pre-1560 Tudor sermons for their use of examples from the Prophets. Thomas Becon as Elijah, Robert Crowley on the role of a shepherd—both adopting Biblical personas in their rhetoric. All three papers uncovered nuances in these Reformers’ attitudes to Judaism, the Jewish rejection of “idolatry and superstition” providing a basis for an affinity with the anti-Catholic rhetoric and tempering the anti-Judaism usually associated with early Protestantism.

Matthew Henry: “Advancement to authority will divulge the ambition and selfishness of men’s hearts”

White House

This morning a historian friend shared devotional writer Matthew Henry‘s commentary on Ezekiel 19:1-9.  Henry writes:

When professors, [as in those who affirm a faith in or allegiance to something], of religion form connexions with ungodly persons, their children usually grow up following after the maxims and fashions of a wicked world. Advancement to authority discovers [i.e., will divulge] the ambition and selfishness of men’s hearts; and those who spend their lives in mischief, generally end them by violence.

Ezekiel 19:1-9:

“Take up a lament concerning the princes of Israel and say:

“‘What a lioness was your mother
    among the lions!
She lay down among them
    and reared her cubs.
She brought up one of her cubs,
    and he became a strong lion.
He learned to tear the prey
    and he became a man-eater.
The nations heard about him,
    and he was trapped in their pit.
They led him with hooks
    to the land of Egypt.

“‘When she saw her hope unfulfilled,
    her expectation gone,
she took another of her cubs
    and made him a strong lion.
He prowled among the lions,
    for he was now a strong lion.
He learned to tear the prey
    and he became a man-eater.
He broke down[a] their strongholds
    and devastated their towns.
The land and all who were in it
    were terrified by his roaring.
Then the nations came against him,
    those from regions round about.
They spread their net for him,
    and he was trapped in their pit.
With hooks they pulled him into a cage
    and brought him to the king of Babylon.
They put him in prison,
    so his roar was heard no longer
    on the mountains of Israel.

Thoughts on Rick Perry’s Claim that Donald Trump is the “Chosen One”

96716-perry

In 2006, while serving as governor of Texas, Rick Perry was asked whether non-Christians will spend eternity in hell. “I don’t know that there’s any human being that has the ability to interpret what God and his final decision-making is going to be,’ Perry said.  He added: “That’s what the faith says. I understand, and my caveat there is that an all-knowing God certainly transcends my personal ability to make the judgment black and white.”

I am not sure if Perry really believed this, or if it was just a fancy piece of political footwork to avoid making him look intolerant, but his answer revealed a certain degree of humility and an affirmation of the mystery of God.

Last month Perry did an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.  He told the story a Christian “prophet” who  prophesied in 2011 that Perry would one day be in the Oval Office with his grandson. Perry assumed that this meant he would be elected President of the United States.  “If you want to make God laugh,” Perry told CBN, “tell Him your plans.”  (Around the time of this interview Perry and his grandson got a picture taken with Trump in the oval office. This moment, Perry believed, was the real fulfillment of the prophecy).

Again, Perry’s answer reveals his belief that human beings do not know the will of God in every circumstance.  God’s plans are not our plans.

For a man who, at least in these two cases, appealed to the mystery of God and the inability of humans to understand His will, Perry seems pretty certain about God’s will when it comes to the presidency of Donald Trump.

Many of you by this point have seen Perry’s interview with Fox News in which he describes Donald Trump as “the chosen one” and rehashes what is now a common Christian Right talking point about how God uses flawed vessels to carry out His will.

Most Christians, to one degree or another, believe that God orders the world according to His purposes.  In the Fox interview Perry says that “God is very active in the details of the day to day lives of government.” I agree. But Perry seems to know exactly what God’s activity in government looks like.  Perry arrogantly believes that he knows why Donald Trump was elected.  In the interview he suggests that Trump was chosen by God to advance the Christian principles upon which the nation was founded and uphold the moral values that have defined the Christian Right for the past four decades. There are other evangelicals who have used the same belief to suggest that demonic forces are driving Trump’s political opponents.  (I am guessing that Perry believes this too).

For Christians who believe in divine providence, politics present a conundrum.  As believers, we want to know God’s will for our lives. We spend time in prayer and meditation trying to discern what He is calling us to do in the circumstances of our lives.

So if we try to discern providence in our spiritual lives, what is wrong with trying to do the same in the realm of politics?

Rick Perry and others who seem to think that Christians should rally around Donald Trump because he is “the chosen one” must be willing to reconcile their certainty about Trump with St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.”  Perry offers a simple and direct reading of providence in American life that assumes an understanding of the secret things of God, things that sinful men cannot fathom outside of the scriptures.  Appeals to providence in public life not only lead to bad politics in a pluralistic society, but they also represent bad theology.

St. Augustine is helpful here.  In Book 20 of The City of God Against the Pagans, he reminds us what Christians can and cannot know about God’s work in the world.  The Scriptures teach us that history will end with the glorious triumph of the Son of God.  Christians put their hope in Christ’s return.  But as we live with this hope, we must be cautious about trying to pinpoint the specific plan of God in history.  We must avoid trying to interpret what is hidden from us or what is incomprehensible because our understanding is so limited.  As Augustine writes:

There are good men who suffer evils and evil men who enjoy good things, which seems unjust, and there are bad men who come to a bad end, and good men who arrive at a good one.  Thus, the judgments of God are all the more inscrutable, and His ways past finding  out. We do not know, therefore, by what judgment God causes or allows these things to pass.

Perhaps Ambrose Bierce best described Perry’s brand of providential politics when, in his Devil ‘s Dictionary, he defined providence as an idea that is “unexpectedly and consciously beneficial to the person so describing it.”  Indeed, I didn’t hear many on the Christian Right talking about how Barack Obama or Bill Clinton were God’s “chosen ones.”

Maybe God has put Donald Trump in his position of power.  My weak-kneed Calvinism leads me to at least entertain such an idea.  But I also reject Christian’s ill-conceived propensity for trying to discern with certainty the purposes of a sovereign God and then use such conclusions to serve political or cultural ends.  I am reminded of the words of Valparaiso University moral philosopher Gilbert Meilaender in his book The Way That Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life:

What God is accomplishing in that period stretching from the time of Christ to the final judgment is largely hidden from us.  Our task ,then, is less to look for signs of the times than to be patient, to wait for God–and, along the way, to carry out our duties faithfully.

What does it mean to “carry out our duties faithfully” in the age of Trump? Part of our responsibilities as Christians is to live and speak prophetically.  For believers, God’s will has been revealed to us through the scriptures.  The Bible has much to say about the poor, the refugee, the widows, and how we must treat those who do not share our race or ethnicity.  When our leaders blatantly lie to us, we must stand firm on the side of truth.  We are called to defend life and the dignity of human beings.  We must speak out against those things that harm the witness of the Gospel in the world.

Perry and the rest of the Trump evangelicals would do better to approach their understanding of politics with a sense of God’s transcendent mystery, a healthy dose of humility, and a hope that one day soon, but not now, we will all understand why Donald Trump was President of the United States.  We should again take comfort in the words of Augustine: “When we arrive at that judgment of God, the time of which in a special sense is called the Day of Judgment…it will become apparent that God’s judgments are entirely just.”

Two final thoughts on Perry’s statement:

1. Perry says he gave Trump a one-page sheet describing three Old Testament kings who God used despite their flaws:  Saul, David, and Solomon.  Indeed, God did use these flawed men to serve His purposes in the ancient world.  But if you are going to play the “God uses sinful men” card, then you also need to tell the entire story.

For example, when God’s decided to give the Israelites a king in the person of Saul, he was making a compromise with His people by offering a solution to their problems.  It was an imperfect solution. There was a price to pay for such a compromise, as God warned that there will be a day when “you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Sam. 8:18).  The Israelites believed Saul would be more effective than God (or his prophet Samuel) in protecting them from their enemies.  Saul sought political power over the will of God. Consider 1 Samuel 13, the passage in which Saul does not wait for the priest Samuel to arrive at his camp at Gilgal to make a sacrifice and instead makes the sacrifice himself.  In a fascinating study of the Book of Samuel, legal scholars Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes offer an insightful take on this important scene in the book.  According to these authors, the scene teaches us what happens when religion mixes with power: “What the author of Samuel conveys by this striking episode is how religion, even when sincerely believed, can be instrumentalized in power struggles and how political rivals can shed moral qualms about treating the sacred as just another weapon to be opportunistically deployed in a competitive struggle for prestige and power.” Sometimes it is better to obey than to sacrifice.

Or consider King David’s sin with Bathsheba.  Evangelicals like to stress how David repented of his sins in Psalm 51 (something Trump said he does not do), but it also worth remembering that David’s failure had serious consequences for his family and the nation of Israel.  Remember what the prophet Nathan said to David after he confronted the King about his affair with Bathsheba and ordered the death of Bathsheba’s husband: “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own. ‘This is what the LORD says: “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.””  (2 Samuel 12:10-14).  Read 2 Samuel 17-24 to see what happened.

And then there was David’s son Solomon.  He was a man of great wisdom, but his “heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel.” 1 Kings 11 says that Solomon “loved many foreign women.” Despite the Lord’s specific admonition forbidding Solomon to enter “into marriage with them,” Solomon did it anyway.  “There the Lord said to Solomon, ‘since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statues that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.'”  Following the reign of Solomon, Israel would be divided into two kingdoms and begin a downward slide toward Assyrian and Babylonian captivity.

Of course the United States of America is not Old Testament Israel and it is almost always a bad idea to apply Old Testament passages to contemporary American politics. But even if we accept for the moment Perry’s practice of using the stories of Old Testament kings to prop-up Donald Trump, it is clear that the analogy he makes between our current president and these kings does not go far enough.  If we carry Perry’s analogy to its logical conclusion we must say that the sins of leaders have consequences for the future of the national communities in which they lead. In other words, the United States is in big trouble.

2.  As I told The Washington Post today, there are many members of the clergy who claim that Donald Trump is anointed by God to restore America to its Christian roots. But Perry is a member of the president’s cabinet.  The belief that Donald Trump is carrying out God’s will like an Old Testament king has now made its way into the rhetoric of those who hold power in this country.  If what he said in the Fox interview is true, Perry is preaching this message to the president himself.  I imagine that these themes are discussed regularly in the Wednesday morning cabinet Bible study attended by Perry, Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Sonny Perdue,  Alex Acosta, and others.

I’m Confused. Is Trump the New King Cyrus, Queen Esther, or Daniel?

Court evangelical Jim Garlow, who recently co-authored a book with GOP activist David Barton, posted an image of Donald Trump in a lion’s den with the words: “Sometimes one picture says it all.”  He posted it on both Facebook and Twitter.  (I think he may have removed the pic from Twitter since I can’t seem to find it).

Garlow Lion

So I am really confused.

Is Trump the new King Cyrus?

Is Trump the new Queen Esther?

Or is he the new Daniel?

Who will be next?  Any predictions?

Yes, There are Evangelicals Who Believe the Jerusalem Embassy Is a Bad Idea

Jerusalem

Back in December, when Trump first announced that he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, evangelical theologian Gary Burge (Wheaton College and now at Calvin Theological Seminary) wrote a piece at the Atlantic titled “You Can Be an Evangelical and Reject Trump’s Jerusalem Decision.”  The piece is worth revisiting today.

A taste:

The key to understanding this perspective is to recognize that these conservative evangelicals are building a bridge from ancient biblical Israel to the modern secular State of Israel. So, promises made almost 4,000 years ago to Abraham apply to the modern Israeli state. “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you,” God says in Genesis 17:8. For these evangelical interpreters, a verse like this one is not just something ancient; it provides a political mandate for Israel’s privileges today. And Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse,” originally intended as a word of protection for Abraham’s tribe, now can become a mandate for anyone living today. We are obligated, the argument runs, to bless modern Israel. In the U.S., blessing Israel means recognizing its sole ownership of Jerusalem.

These evangelicals’ perspectives stem partly from a high regard for the Bible and its story about the fate of the Israelites, which has led to an outsized fascination with Judaism. They believe that Israel has a unique place in history as God’s special people, so Israel deserves deferential treatment—and Jerusalem deserves the same. For some, Israel enjoys an exceptionalism that sets it apart from the entire world. There are even evangelicals who believe that promoting the importance of Jerusalem is one more building block in the fulfillment of prophecies that sets the stage for the Second Coming of Christ. The average conservative evangelical is filled with a tangle of commitments that are often tough to sort out. She just knows that if Israel wants something—in this case, Jerusalem—Israel deserves to have it.

Numerous evangelicals like me are less enamored of the recent romance between the church and Republican politics, and worry about moving the U.S. embassy. For us, peacemaking and the pursuit of justice are very high virtues. We view the ethical teachings of the scriptures as primary, and recognize that when biblical Israelites failed in their moral pursuits, they were sorely criticized by the Hebrew prophets and became subject to ejection from the Holy Land. Amos 5:24 shows that even the use of the Jerusalem Temple can be problematic to God: “Take away from me [God] the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Many of us look at modern Israel today and see a country that Amos would barely recognize. How, we wonder, can anyone build a bridge from ancient Israel to modern Israel today? Amos would hardly recognize in Tel Aviv a city based on biblical ideals.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Donald Trump, King David, and Stormy Daniels

David

First there was the King Cyrus defense.  Now there is the King David defense.

Here is a taste of Jane Coaston’s piece at VOX:

To ignore or excuse the Daniels saga, some evangelical Christians are even using a biblical comparison to explain their continued support for Donald Trump: the story of King David. As one conservative talk show host put it, Trump and King David were both men “after God’s own heart.”

The story of King David, a sinner who remained beloved by God and favored by his people, has been a favorite of evangelical Christians who support Donald Trump, even during the Republican primaries. Their reasoning is that like King David, Donald Trump has committed adultery, and like King David (or President Franklin Roosevelt, as one columnist wrote), Trump can be a great (and moral) leader even after having committed adultery….

Dennis Prager, a conservative columnist and Trump supporter, wrote in October 2016, “If God shouldn’t be ashamed for supporting King David, Christians shouldn’t be ashamed for supporting Donald Trump, given the far more corrupt and destructive alternative.”

And in August 2017, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said to a television interviewer, “I tell people from time to time … you know the good lord used King David the best I can tell, King David wasn’t perfect either. But he was the chosen man of God. Let’s go make America great again.”

Read the entire piece here.

OK, let’s play this game for a second.

The Old Testament teaches that “the good lord” did use King David after his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah.  But there were also consequences to this sin that shaped the rest of Israel’s history and David’s life.

Here is 1 Samuel 12: 7-15

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[a]the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.

By these standards, America is in big trouble.  Maybe God is using Donald Trump.  If we employ the same logic and rules of biblical interpretation used by Trump’s evangelical supporters, we might argue that God may be is using Trump to punish America for its sins.

 

The Court Evangelicals and “Vessel Theology”

cyrus-and-trump

Vox writer Tara Isabella Burton has coined the phrase “vessel theology” to describe the evangelical supporters of Donald Trump who believe that he is a new King Cyrus.  Here is a taste of her piece: “The biblical story the Christian right uses to defend Trump“:

While Cyrus is not Jewish and does not worship the God of Israel, he is nevertheless portrayed in Isaiah as an instrument of God — an unwitting conduit through which God effects his divine plan for history. Cyrus is, therefore, the archetype of the unlikely “vessel”: someone God has chosen for an important historical purpose, despite not looking like — or having the religious character of — an obvious man of God.

For believers who subscribe to this account, Cyrus is a perfect historical antecedent to explain Trump’s presidency: a nonbeliever who nevertheless served as a vessel for divine interest.

For these leaders, the biblical account of Cyrus allows them to develop a “vessel theology” around Donald Trump, one that allows them to reconcile his personal history of womanizing and alleged sexual assault with what they see as his divinely ordained purpose to restore a Christian America.

“I think in some ways this is a kind of baptism of Donald Trump,” says John Fea, a professor of evangelical history at Messiah College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “It’s the theopolitical version of money laundering, taking Scripture to … clean [up] your candidate.”

This framing allows for the creation of Trump as a viable evangelical candidate regardless of his personal beliefs or actions. It allows evangelical leaders, and to a lesser extent ordinary evangelicals, to provide a compelling narrative for their support for him that transcends the mere pragmatic fact that he is a Republican. Instead of having to justify their views of Trump’s controversial past, including reports of sexual misconduct and adultery, the evangelical establishment can say Trump’s presidency was arranged by God, and thus legitimize their support for him — a support that has begun to divide ordinary evangelicalsand create a kind of “schism.”

Read the entire piece here.

Reinhold Niebuhr on the Court Evangelicals

Graham and Nixon

Niebuhr died in 1971, but he certainly understood the court evangelical phenomenon.  In 1969, the 77-year-old theologian and cultural critic was appalled at the way religious leaders flocked to the court of Richard Nixon.  Billy Graham led the way.

Here is Niebuhr’s Christianity and Crisis piece “The King’s Chapel and the King’s Court“:

The founding fathers ordained in the first article of the Bill of Rights that “Congress shall pass no laws respecting the establishment of religion or the suppression thereof.” This constitutional disestablishment of all churches embodied the wisdom of Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson — the one from his experience with the Massachusetts theocracy and the other from his experience with the less dangerous Anglican establishment in Virginia — which knew that a combination of religious sanctity and political power represents a heady mixture for status quo conservatism.

What Jefferson defined, rather extravagantly, as “the absolute wall of separation between church and state” has been a creative but also dangerous characteristic of our national culture. It solved two problems: (1) it prevented the conservative bent of established religion from defending any status quo uncritically, and (2) it made our high degree of religious pluralism compatible with our national unity. By implication it encouraged the prophetic radical aspect of religious life, which insisted on criticizing any defective and unjust social order. It brought to bear a higher judgment, as did the prophet Amos, who spoke of the “judges” and “rulers of Israel” who “trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end (Amos 8:4).

As with most prophets, Amos was particularly critical of the comfortable classes. He warned: “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory, and stretch themselves on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp “(Amos 6:4—5). It is significant that Amaziah, a court priest of Amos’s time also saw the contrast between critical and conforming types of religion. However, he preferred the conventional conforming faith for the king’s court and, as the king’s chaplain, he feared and abhorred Amos’s critical radicalism.

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to Jeroboam, King of Israel saying: “Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to hear all his words. For thus Amos saith: Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.’” Also Amaziah said unto Amos ‘ 0 thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there. But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel and it is the king’s court” (Amos 7:10—13).

We do not know the architectural proportions of Bethel. But we do know that it is, metaphorically, the description of the East Room of the White House, which President Nixon has turned into a kind of sanctuary. By a curious combination of innocence and guile, he has circumvented the Bill of Rights’ first article. Thus, he has established a conforming religion by semiofficially inviting representatives of all the disestablished religions, of whose moral criticism we were naturally so proud. Some bizarre aspects have developed from this new form of conformity in these weekly services. Most of this tamed religion seems even more extravagantly appreciative of official policy than any historic establishment feared by our Founding Fathers. A Jewish rabbi, forgetting Amos, declared: I hope it is not presumptuous for me. in the presence of the president of the United States, to pray that future historians, looking back on our generation may say that in a period of great trial and tribulations, the finger of God pointed to Richard Milhous Nixon, giving him the vision and wisdom to save the world and civilization, and opening the way for our country to realize the good that the century offered mankind.

It is wonderful what a simple White House invitation will do to dull the critical faculties, thereby confirming the fears of the Founding Fathers. The warnings of Amos are forgotten, and the chief current foreign policy problem of our day is bypassed. The apprehension of millions is evaded so that our ABM policy may escalate, rather than conciliate, the nuclear balance of terror.

35ad1-niebuhr

When we consider the difference between the Old World’s establishment of religion and our quiet unofficial establishment in the East Room, our great evangelist Billy Graham comes to mind. A domesticated and tailored leftover from the wild and woolly frontier evangelistic campaigns, Mr. Graham is a key figure in relating the established character of this ecumenical religion to the sectarian radicalism of our evangelical religion. The president and Mr. Graham have been intimate friends for two decades and have many convictions in common, not least of all the importance of religion.

Mr. Nixon told the press that he had established these services in order to further the cause of “religion,” with particular regard to the youth of the nation. He did not specify that there would have to be a particular quality in that religion if it were to help them. For they are disenchanted with a culture that neglects human problems while priding itself on its two achievements of technical efficiency and affluence. The younger generation is too realistic and idealistic to be taken in by barbarism, even on the technological level.

Naturally, Mr. Graham was the first preacher in this modern version of the king’s chapel and the king’s court. He quoted with approval the president’s inaugural sentiment that “all our problems are spiritual and must, therefore, have a spiritual solution.” But here rises the essential question about our newly tamed establishment. Is religion per se really a source of solution for any deeply spiritual problem? Indeed, our cold war with the Russians, with whom we wrestle on the edge of the abyss of a nuclear catastrophe, must be solved spiritually, but by what specific political methods? Will our antiballistic defense system escalate or conciliate the cold war and the nuclear dilemma?

The Nixon-Graham doctrine of the relation of religion to public morality and policy, as revealed in the White House services, has two defects: (1) It regards all religion as virtuous in guaranteeing public justice. It seems indifferent to the radical distinction between conventional religion — which throws the aura of sanctity on contemporary public policy, whether morally inferior or outrageously unjust — and radical religious protest — which subjects all historical reality (including economic, social and radical injustice) to the “word of the Lord,’ i.e., absolute standards of justice. It was this type of complacent conformity that the Founding Fathers feared and sought to eliminate in the First Amendment.

(2) The Nixon-Graham doctrine assumes that a religious change of heart, such as occurs in an individual conversion, would cure men of all sin. Billy Graham has a favorite text: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” Graham applies this Pauline hope about conversion to the race problem and assures us that “If you live in Christ you become color blind.” The defect in this confidence in individual conversion is that it obscures the dual and social character of human selves and the individual and social character of their virtues and vices.

If we consult Amos as our classical type of radical nonconformist religion, we find that he like his contemporary Isaiah, was critical of all religion that was not creative in seeking a just social policy. Their words provide a sharp contrast with the East Room’s current quasi-conformity. Thus Amos declared: I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream (Amos 5:21, 23—4).

Amos’ last phrase was a favorite text of the late Martin Luther King. He used it in his “I Have a Dream” speech to thousands at the March on Washington. It is unfortunate that he was murdered before he could be invited to that famous ecumenical congregation in the White House. But on second thought, the question arises: would he have been invited? Perhaps the FBI, which spied on him, had the same opinion of him as Amaziah had of Amos. Established religion, with or without legal sanction, is always chary of criticism, especially if it is relevant to public policy. Thus J. Edgar Hoover and Amaziah are seen as quaintly different versions of the same vocation — high priests in the cult of complacency and self-sufficiency.

Perhaps those who accept invitations to preach in the White House should reflect on this, for they stand in danger of joining the same company.

I learned about Niebuhr’s piece from Richard Fox’s excellent biography of Niebuhr.  Kevin Kruse also has a nice piece on Nixon’s church service here.

What Can 2 Kings 16 and Isaiah 7 Teach Christians About Politics?

assyrian-empire-to-sennarcherib-1950x1360x300

While I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (pre-order here), I did a lot of reading in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  (On Monday, I wrote some thoughts on 1 Samuel).  While my interpretation of these biblical chapters did not make the final cut, I found them to be helpful in my thinking about Christianity and politics.  What follows are some thoughts on King Ahaz in 2 Kings 16 and Isaiah 7.

In these passages we find Ahaz, the King of the southern Kingdom of Judah from 735-715 B.C., in a difficult political and diplomatic situation.  The northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) has formed an alliance with its northern neighbor Syria as a defense measure against the mighty Assyrian Empire threatening them.  Israel and Syria and are pressuring Ahaz and the Kingdom of Judah to join in their pact.

God speaks to Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7) to trust him: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart grow faint.”  Isaiah tells Ahaz to be firm in his faith. He promises him that the Lord will help him conquer the Syrians and the Kingdom of Israel.  Ahaz, however, has other ideas.  Rather than trusting God to get him through his diplomatic problems, Ahaz makes an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser III, the Assyrian king.  “I am your servant and your son,” he tells the gentile ruler, “come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel who are attacking me.”  After presenting Tiglath-Pileser with gold and silver from the temple, the alliance is sealed, and the Assyrian king invades the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Fear can lead people–even kings and political leaders–to make strange decisions.  Most historians and biblical scholars agree that the threat posed to Ahaz by Syria and Israel was not great. Yet Ahaz’s foreign policy was built on these exaggerated fears.  Ahaz made this alliance with Assyria despite the fact that the Lord also promised to protect him through his crisis.  As biblical theologian Walter Bruegemann writes in his commentary on this passage: “The world looks very different when the observer is consumed by fear.”  Ahaz lacked faith.  He did not trust God’s plan in this situation.  “Faith,” Brueggeman writes, “is…a matter of…practical reliance upon the assurance of God in a context of risk where one’s own resources are not adequate.  It means to entrust one’s security and future to the attentiveness of Yahweh—to count God’s attentiveness as adequate and sure, thereby making panic, anxiety, or foolishness unnecessary and inappropriate.”  Ahaz chose to put his faith in the strong man of Assyria rather than God.  There would be future consequences.

What Can 1 Samuel Teach Christians About Politics?

MosheWhile I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (pre-order here), I did a lot of reading in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  While my thinking about these chapters did not make the final cut, I found these Old Testament books to be helpful in my thinking about Christianity and politics.  1 Samuel was particularly helpful.

Very early in 1 Samuel the Israelites find themselves in a battle with the Philistines at Mizpah. It is not going well, they are afraid, and they turn to the prophet Samuel for help.  Samuel responds to their fear, makes an offering to God, and cries out to the Lord on behalf of Israel.  The Lord responds and Israel wins the battle. (1 Samuel 7:7-14).

Shortly after their victory, Israel asks Samuel for a King to “go out and fight our battles.”  Samuel brings their request to God who responds by saying “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:5-20).  Indeed, by requesting a King, the people of Israel have chosen to place their trust in a military leader rather than God.  In essence, the people of Israel are committing idolatry.  As biblical scholar Stephen B. Chapman interprets the request: “henceforth, until the Exile, the Israelites will be unable to confess resolutely that God alone is king over Israel—apart from any human victory or partners.  This sad loss of ultimate spiritual loyalty at the expense of a more pragmatic national politics is the profound point of 1 Samuel 8.”

In a fascinating interpretation of the politics of 1 Samuel titled The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel, authors Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes describe the book as “one of the most penetrating accounts ever written of the internal workings of human politics.”  When God decides to give the Israelites a king in the person of Saul, He is making a compromise with His people.  He offers them a solution to their military problems, albeit an imperfect one.

But there is a price to pay for such a compromise, as God warns that there will be a day when “you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Sam. 8:18).  For believers like the Israelites, Halbertal and Holmes write, “politics is…an overpowering human necessity that can never fully escape a potentially self-defeating betrayal at its very core.”  The Israelites believe that Saul will be more effective than God (or his prophet Samuel) in protecting them from their enemies.  They now have a ruler, who Halbertal and Holmes describe as a man who will “wield…authority in the service of power as an end in itself” and “convert such ends as love, loyalty, the sacred, and moral obligations into mere means for eliminating dangerous rivals and staving off the loss of power.”

Consider 1 Samuel 13, the passage in which Saul does not wait for Samuel to arrive at Gilgal to make a sacrifice and instead makes the sacrifice himself.  Once again Halbertal and Holmes use the text to offer insight into what happens when religion mixes with power: “What the author of Samuel conveys by this striking episode is how religion, even when sincerely believed, can be instrumentalized in power struggles and how political rivals can shed moral qualms about treating the sacred as just another weapon to be opportunistically deployed in a competitive struggle for prestige and power.”

Sometimes it is better to obey than to sacrifice.

I will try to work up more posts like this in the next couple of weeks.

“Court Evangelicals” and Daniel, Joseph, and Cyrus

Cyrus

Cyrus, King of Persia

As I posted earlier today, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council criticized my recent Washington Post piece.  In the course of the critique, he made his own biblical argument against my “court evangelical” idea.

Perkins wrote:

John Fea, a professor at Messiah College, took aim at the president in a Washington Post column earlier this week called “Trump Threatens to Change the Course of American Christianity.” He starts by labeling the White House’s religious base as “court evangelicals,” his term for “a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.” When I hear the phrase “court evangelicals,” I think of Scripture’s Daniel, Joseph, and others who brought their faith into the presence of the king — people who God strategically placed to influence leaders for the benefit of an entire nation. But Fea doesn’t mean it as a compliment. 

I am getting some nice feedback on Perkins’s use of these Bible characters.

Here is one comment I received:

I find it fascinating that Perkins references Daniel, a captive in a hostile government’s court and Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers as forerunners to today’s evangelical sycophants. Neither chose to live in the court of the king but rather had the experience thrust on them. Daniel didn’t kowtow to the norms of the kingdom but rather and put his life on the line for what he believed was right before his God. Daniel spoke truth to power with words and actions.

Here is another:

…Daniel and Joseph didn’t set out to gain power or turn the government to make Egypt/Persia worship Jehovah. And neither Daniel nor Joseph (or Moses, Nehemiah, etc.) gave their bosses the impression that they were blessed. No sycophantic praises sung in those courts.

And another:

Daniel also offers the single most important prayer of repentance found in Exilic literature, then counseled non-resistance to imperial violence; bizarre, though I guess it fits for their Babylonian sensibilities which led many of these CE’s to describe DT as Cyrus

The Cyrus comparison is interesting.  Richard Mouw referenced it in his recent post at Religion News Service titled “Comparing Trump to two biblical kings.”

And even if we discount Trump’s professions of religious faith,  we still have the Cyrus example to consider. The Persian ruler was one of the few pagan rulers in the Bible to get high praise. The Bible even refers to him as God’s “anointed” servant….

And what we know about King Cyrus is that he purposely undid the brutal policies that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, instituted against the captive Jewish people, a minority group in his kingdom. The prophet Daniel had given clear instructions to Nebuchadnezzar about what God required of a pagan ruler: “Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged” (Daniel 4: 27).

But Nebuchadnezzar refused to listen, and instead he engaged in some self-aggrandizing boasting: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” (Daniel 4: 30).  So, as the biblical story goes, God punished Nebuchadnezzar and later raised up Cyrus. And Cyrus got it right.

Mouw also writes: “… is [Trump] living up to the standards set by the pagan King Cyrus?… The time is ripe now for evangelicals to conduct a job performance review in this regard. I have my Bible handy whenever Mr. Trump’s evangelical supporters are ready to get started!”

The Cyrus example was also brought to my attention recently by a pastor of a church affiliated with the Charismatic Movement.  Apparently the prophecies of a man named Kim Clement (he died on November 23, 2016) is getting a lot of traction among charismatics and, according to this pastor, may be behind some of Trump’s support in this community.  As the story goes, Clement predicted a Trump presidency in 2007. Read all about it here.  (Bill Gates is also part of Clement’s prophetic message).

Another charismatic leader, Lance Wallnau, has made direct references to Trump as Cyrus.  Glenn Beck’s new website The Blaze covered Wallnau’s views here.  Wallnau posted this video to his Facebook page in October 2015.  Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network also covered Wallnau.

Many of these charismatic court evangelicals follow a Facebook page called “The Elijah List.”

We need to do more work here, but I wonder how much these prophecies have influenced some of the Court Evangelicals.  I am sure there are scholars out there who are working on this community.  I would love to hear from them.