One of the court evangelicals is featured.
In just under 6 minutes:
- Jeffress claimed that “our nation was founded on a love for God and a reverence for His word.” Is this correct? I am wrestling with this question all weekend @johnfea1 and at #ChristianAmerica?. We are posting every 30 minutes during Fourth of July weekend. Or you can just go get a copy of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. This Christian nation stuff never goes away. Christians (the followers of David Barton and his ilk will not listen to non-Christians) need to offer an alternative narrative to this way of thinking about American history. We are here, but we don’t have the resources or the funding.
- Jeffress dabbles here in American exceptionalism. He sounds like a 17th-century Puritan delivering a jeremiad calling the new Israel back to its spiritual roots. Jeffress asks “Has God removed his hand of blessing from us?” Earlier today someone on Twitter reminded me of a 2012 statement from Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was writing about the idea that the United States is a Christian or chosen nation. Anderson said “The Bible only uses the word ‘Christian’ to describe people and not countries.”
- Jeffress suggests that Donald Trump is a messianic figure who God raised up to save Christian America from despair. He says, “but in the midst of that despair came November the 8th, 2016 (wild applause) and that day represented the greatest political upset in American history. Because it was on that day, November the 8th, that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were going to choose the next President of the United States. And they chose Donald Trump” (more wild applause). I think November 8, 2016 just became part of the Christian calendar at First Baptist Church–Dallas.
- Jeffress reminds us that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump. He says they “understood that [Trump] alone had the leadership skills necessary to reverse the downward death spiral our nation was in” (wild applause). Jeffress claims that people are more excited now about Trump than they were on election day because Trump “has exceeded our every expectation.” OK. Those expectations must be pretty low. (By the way, I am still waiting for Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals to condemn the Morning Joe tweets).
- Jeffress claims that Trump has done more to protect religious liberty than any POTUS in U.S. history. Really? More than Jefferson? More than Madison?
- Jeffress says that “millions of Americans believe that the election of President Trump represented God giving us another chance, perhaps our last chance, to truly make America Great Again.” Apparently God wants to give us another chance to return to the 1950s or the 1980s.
Trump’s speeches to evangelicals are always the same. They are getting old. I am pretty sure his speech writers have exhausted everything they know about evangelicals. But why should they think more deeply about faith and public life when they can just have Trump throw out catchphrases and talking points about religious liberty or “the wall” or ISIS and have the crowd go wild.
Trump railed against the fake media and gets rousing cheers from an audience that I assume was made up of parishioners of First Baptist Church in Dallas. I am inclined to give this cheering a pass because it is not occurring on a Sunday morning in a church sanctuary, but it is still disturbing to watch my fellow evangelical Christians put their hope in a strongman and do so with such zeal. For example, when Trump says that “in America we do not worship government, we worship God,” the audience starts chanting “USA, USA, USA.” Something is wrong when a reference to the worship of God triggers nationalist chants.
A few final points:
Someone needs to tell Trump’s speechwriter that there was no public prayer at the Constitutional Convention. Ben Franklin suggested it, but it did not happen.
And let’s also remember that his Executive Order on the Johnson Amendment accomplished nothing. The Johnson Amendment is still in the tax code. It can only be changed by Congress.
I remain part of the #19percent!
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
Where are the Court Evangelicals today?
Paula White: Silent
James Dobson: Silent
Mark Burns: Silent
Franklin Graham: Silent (He’s actually tweeting about air-traffic control today)
Robert Jeffress: Silent. He’s hanging out with Pence today:
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) June 29, 2017
James K.A. Smith gets it right:
Congrats on your Supreme Court justice, white evangelicals! And what a deal! It only cost you your dignity, integrity, and witness. https://t.co/vmpEqXtQou
— James K.A. Smith (@james_ka_smith) June 29, 2017
Here is a taste:
(RNS) According to Merriam-Webster, a “court” is “a sovereign’s formal assembly of councilors and officers.” A court is made up of “courtiers,” which the dictionary defines as “one in attendance at a royal court” or “one who practices flattery.”
We can debate whether to call Donald Trump’s circle of advisers a court, but the president of the United States certainly has his fair share of courtiers. Many of them are evangelical Christian leaders. These Court Evangelicals have sacrificed the prophetic voice of their Christian faith for a place of power and influence in the current administration.
The Court Evangelicals were on full display last week in the White House. On the eve of the National Day of Prayer, these Christian leaders dined with Trump and received an insider tour of the second floor of the White House. The Christian Post reported that Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory team, told his congregation the Court Evangelicals were “reduced to being like little children” when Trump took them into the Lincoln bedroom. Evangelicals used to save phrases like that for their encounters with God during worship.
The following day, many of the Court Evangelicals were in attendance as Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty. The order was little more than a symbolic gesture meant to appease evangelicals and secure their support.
Trump’s executive order did not end the so-called Johnson Amendment, a clause in the tax code that forbids churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This is because the president does not have the authority to change the tax code. That job belongs to Congress.
Moreover, Trump’s executive order did not secure religious liberty for Christian institutions in jeopardy of losing federal funds for upholding conservative positions on reproductive rights and marriage.
A lot of evangelicals voted for Trump because he said he would deliver on these religious liberty issues. On the day the executive order was released, Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism, ran an article on its website titled “Trump’s Religious Liberty Order Doesn’t Answer Most Evangelicals’ Prayers.”
Christianity Today was not alone in its critique. A National Review columnist said the executive order was “worse than useless.” One blogger wrote that conservatives were groaning and the ACLU was snickering. A Princeton University professor tweeted: “the executive order is meaningless.”
The Court Evangelicals were not fazed by these criticisms. Like all good courtiers, they remained loyal. They took to Fox News and other conservative news outlets to inform their constituents of all that was accomplished by one stroke of the president’s pen. Their defense of Trump’s executive order was just as strong as their defense of Trump in the wake of the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape.
Read the rest here.
If you want to understand one of the few female Court Evangelicals, check out Jillian Kay Melchior’s piece at Heat Street on prosperity preacher Paula White, pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Florida.
(By the way, she is married to the guy who helped write this song).
Here is a taste:
The most politically influential Christian in America is a controversial Florida preacher many evangelical Republicans may never have heard of: Paula White, a Florida televangelist.
“Inside this little blond Barbie package is a pit bull!” White recently said of herself. And that pit bull, who has known Donald Trump for about 15 years, is now chair of the president’s Evangelical Advisory Council—a powerful board of Christian leaders advising the administration on everything from political appointments and judiciary nominees to legislative priorities.
White has led prayers at both the Republican National Convention and the inauguration. When Trump met in February with prominent conservatives to discuss appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, White sat at the president’s immediate right. She also opened a Rose Garden ceremony last week and stood behind the president as he signed an executive order on religious liberty.
White rose to this prominent position despite decades-long concerns from Christian leaders, religious watchdogs and journalists.
Those critics claim White uses her pulpit to emotionally and spiritually manipulate her congregants, who are mostly black and low- to middle-income, aggressively pressuring them to donate to the church. Congressional investigators have also looked at her lavish lifestyle, which includes million-dollar properties, fancy cars and frequent travel.
Unlike the Obama Administration, Trump will not release visitor logs, so it’s unclear how frequently White has met with the president and his staff. But in January, she described herself as “a person that can walk into [Trump’s] office pretty openly and freely and pray over him.” Last week, on the eve of the National Day of Prayer, White sat at Trump’s table at an intimate private dinner with religious leaders, also presenting the president with a framed page of the King James Bible from 1611 A.D., a gift from the Museum of the Bible.
White has insisted her behavior is ethical, saying disgruntled former employees slandered her. But she did not seem to want Heat Street looking into these allegations.
In response to my questions, White turned to the law firm of Martin Singer, a bare-knuckles lawyer whose A-list clients have included Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen and Bill Cosby. In a letter, White’s lawyers threatened a lawsuit against not only Heat Street and Dow Jones but also “Ms. Melchior, personally,” writing that “all those involved will be liable for tens of millions of dollars in damages.”
Read the rest here.
Not all evangelicals who voted for Trump are what I am describing as “court evangelicals.” I am going to use this phrase from now on to describe Trump’s inner circle of evangelicals who think it is a good idea for ministers to endorse candidates from the pulpit, have bowed a knee to the political power of the presidency, think Trump is a “baby Christian,” believe evangelicals have found their “dream president” in Trump, and regularly show up at the White House whenever Trump wants to say something about religion. The court evangelicals sacrifice their prophetic voice to political influence. The court evangelicals have put their faith in a political strongman who promises to alleviate their fears and protect them from the forces of secularization.
As I wrote earlier today, the backlash to Trump’s recent executive order on religious liberty was fierce. It fails to deliver on what Trump promised evangelicals on this front during the campaign. But you won’t hear the court evangelicals complain.
I described some of these court evangelicals the other day. The list includes:
The evangelical community’s response to Donald Trump’s recent executive order on religious liberty has been largely negative. As I wrote yesterday: “I don’t think Trump cares about religious liberty. But he is very good at saying the kinds of things that will keep conservative evangelicals on board the Trump train.”
First, Trump’s executive order does not repeal the Johnson Amendment. Despite what the POTUS says, the IRS still has the right to remove the tax-exempt status of a church that has a pastor who endorses or opposes a political candidate.
Second, the order does nothing to “exempt some religious organizations” from the Obamacare contraception mandate.
Third, it says nothing about the threats to religious organizations that uphold traditional views on marriage.
As veteran religion reporter Terry Mattingly informs us, the American Civil Liberties Union thought the order was so void of meaning that it felt there was no need to file a lawsuit against it. Here is a taste of the ACLU press release:
After careful review of the executive order covering the Johnson Amendment signed by President Trump today, the American Civil Liberties Union has determined not to file a lawsuit at this time.
American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero issued the following statement:
“Today’s executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome. After careful review of the order’s text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process. The order portends but does not yet do harm to the provision of reproductive health services.
“President Trump’s prior assertion that he wished to ‘totally destroy’ the Johnson Amendment with this order has proven to be a textbook case of ‘fake news.’
As I have been writing here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, there are internal divisions in the Trump White House over religious liberty. Mike Pence is on the conservative evangelical side. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are on the other side. This executive order suggests that the Ivanka/Kushner camp has the upper hand.
Princeton University professor and defender of religious liberty Robert George agrees:
The religious liberty executive order is meaningless. No substantive protections for conscience. A betrayal. Ivanka and Jared won. We lost. https://t.co/Xn94KWTKPX
— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) May 4, 2017
And then there are all of the court evangelicals–the men and women swayed by the power of the presidency.:
Robert Jeffress believes that “religious liberty is now protected, not assaulted.”
And there is more:
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) May 4, 2017
Thankful for answered prayer & His goodness!! A landmark day when POTUS signed an Executive Order on Free Speech & Religious Liberty! pic.twitter.com/iBJvCGzJyM
— Paula White-Cain (@Paula_White) May 4, 2017
Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. told Fox News Radio that the executive order “proves to me President Trump’s a man of his word.” (Did he read it?). He also suggests that he can now speak politically on behalf of Liberty University and doesn’t always have to preface his remarks by saying that he is only speaking as an “individual” and not as a representative of the institution he presides over.
There is a very good chance that Trump is duping the likes of Jeffress, White, and Falwell Jr. Trump needed evangelical support to win the election and he will need evangelical support in 2018 and 2020. This executive order keeps some evangelicals in the fold.
Some might say that the order is symbolic of Trump’s sensitivity to evangelical concerns about religious liberty. Maybe. But it seems more likely that the order is symbolic of Trump’s political savvy and the willingness of some evangelicals to fall for it as they continue to genuflect on the altar of political power.
On the eve of the National Day of Prayer and Trump’s executive order on religious liberty, the POTUS had dinner with his evangelical support team. The guest list included Paula White, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Michele Bachman, Mark Burns, Ralph Reed, Mike Pence, Karen Pence, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Reince Prebius, and Steve Bannon.
You may recall some of these evangelical leaders.
Paula White led Trump to Christ
Robert Jeffress was one of the first evangelicals to endorse Trump. He preached an inauguration day sermon comparing Trump’s border wall to the Old Testament story of Nehemiah. He invokes the Civil Rights movement from the pulpit of a church with a long history of segregation. And he doubled-down on his support for Trump after the Access Hollywood tape.
In a prayer at the GOP convention last summer, Mark Burns asked God to defeat the “liberal democrats” and thanked the Lord that the GOP was the “conservative party under God.”
Ralph Reed shows up wherever there is an opportunity to sit at the feet of political power. He has been doing this his entire career.
And we could go on…
Over at Time, Elizabeth Dias gives us the inside scoop on this private dinner.
Here is a taste:
The evening, guests say, was more a celebration of their victories so far than a discussion on future policy. Trump took photos with the guests in the Red Room, Graham kick off festivities with a prayer, and a dinner of shrimp scampi with parsley butter, red wine braised short ribs, and wild ramp gnocchi was served. White presented Trump with a gift on behalf of the group from the Museum of the Bible, a framed page of an original King James Bible from 1611 A.D., “a Bible which as you know was commissioned by a political leader in service to the church,” she said.
Acclaimed evangelical musician Steven Curtis Chapman performed his songs “Be Still and Know” and “The Lord’s Prayer.” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, gave a benediction, and Trump then invited everyone up to the residence for a brief after party, complete with a tour of the Lincoln bedroom and the Truman balcony, before shaking hands again.
“It was a reunion more than anything,” Bachmann says. “For people of faith, there was so much trepidation about what would happen in this election. They really felt that if Mrs. Clinton had prevailed it would have spelled a diminution of the nation, the nation would have morally suffered.”
Read the rest here.
It is apparently prosperity preacher Paula White.
Here is Dobson’s statement:
Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart. I can only tell you what I’ve heard. First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ. Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can’t say that I do. But there are many Christian leaders who are serving on a faith advisory committee for Trump in the future. I am among them. There are about 45 of us that include Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Ben Carson, James Robison, Jerry Johnson, and many others whom you would probably know. We’ve all agreed to serve. How will that play out if Trump becomes president? I don’t know. It is a good start, I would think.
If anything, this man is a baby Christian who doesn’t have a clue about how believers think, talk and act. All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. Hillary scares me to death. And, if Christians stay home because he isn’t a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years. The very thought of that haunts my nights and days. One thing is sure: we need to be in prayer for our nation at this time of crisis.
White helped to organize last week’s meeting with evangelicals in New York.
Here is White praying with Trump last year.
Notice what White prays here. (She is third person to pray–standing to Trump’s immediate right). “That no weapon formed against him will be able to prosper and any tongue that rises against him will be condemned according to the word of God.” In one fail swoop she casts the judgment of God on anyone who opposes Trump.
The laundering of Trump continues.
Earlier this evening I wrote a post on James Dobson‘s claim that Donald Trump has become a born-again Christian. Dobson’s news comes in the wake of Trump’s meeting on Tuesday with evangelicals. Shortly after that meeting the Trump campaign announced that it has established an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. Apparently this board will eventually lead a larger, yet-to-be-established, “Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee.”
Here are the members of the committee:
- Michele Bachmann – Former Congresswoman
- A.R. Bernard – Senior Pastor and CEO, Christian Cultural Center
- Mark Burns – Pastor, Harvest Praise and Worship Center
- Tim Clinton – President, American Association of Christian Counselors
- Kenneth and Gloria Copeland – Founders, Kenneth Copeland Ministries
- James Dobson – Author, Psychologist and Host, My Family Talk
- Jerry Falwell, Jr. – President, Liberty University
- Ronnie Floyd – Senior Pastor, Cross Church
- Jentezen Franklin – Senior Pastor, Free Chapel
- Jack Graham – Senior Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church
- Harry Jackson – Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
- Robert Jeffress – Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dallas
- David Jeremiah – Senior Pastor, Shadow Mountain Community Church
- Richard Land – President, Southern Evangelical Seminary
- James MacDonald – Founder and Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel
- Johnnie Moore – Author, President of The KAIROS Company
- Robert Morris – Senior Pastor, Gateway Church
- Tom Mullins – Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship
- Ralph Reed – Founder, Faith and Freedom Coalition
- James Robison – Founder, Life OUTREACH International
- Tony Suarez – Executive Vice President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
- Jay Strack – President, Student Leadership University
- Paula White – Senior Pastor, New Destiny Christian Center
- Tom Winters – Attorney, Winters and King, Inc.
- Sealy Yates – Attorney, Yates and Yates
The best analysis of this group can be found at Christianity Today. I encourage you to read its post. It is excellent. (I am also encouraged to see that one of my former students, Morgan Lee, contributed to the piece).
I am not familiar with all of the people on Trump’s committee, but I do think it is fair to say that it is dominated by two types of evangelicals.
Some of the members of the committee are operating with the 1980s and 1990s playbook of the Christian Right. As I wrote earlier today, this is “an approach that assumes that the United States was once a ‘Christian nation‘ (although that phrase now seems to be replaced with the mantra of “religious liberty”) and the only way to save it from falling into the abyss is to cozy up to national politicians.” These are veterans of the culture war who long for the glory days of the Reagan era. Most of them remember the 1990s and thus really do not like Hillary Clinton
The evangelicals on Trump’s committee who represent this group include: Michelle Bachman, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Ronnie Floyd, Jack Graham, Robert Jeffress, David Jeremiah, Richard Land, and Ralph Reed. (Christianity Today notes that there is a Southern Baptist subset in this group that includes Floyd, Jeffress, Land, and others). These folks are mostly white males. According to my rough estimate, they average just over 64 years of age.
I will call the other major group the charismatic/faith-healing/prosperity/entrepreneurial wing of American evangelicalism. The evangelicals on Trump’s committee who represent this group include John Mark Burns, Kenneth Copeland, Gloria Copeland, Robert Morris, James Robison, Jay Strack, and Paula White. This group is only slightly younger and slightly more diverse in terms of race and gender. This groups is eclectic, but many of them are probably attracted to Trump’s business acumen and wealth.
If you read this blog you know what I think about the practice of evangelical leaders cozying up to political power.
Let’s also remember that these evangelicals only represent a some American evangelicals.
Donald Trump needs help on the religion front. Many of you have seen this:
Unlike some of his opponents, including Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and especially Ted Cruz, Trump sounds very awkward whenever he talks about religion.
I think we have finally found his kryptonite.
If he wants to continue to be taken seriously he is going to need to learn to speak “evangelicalese.” But this language is not easy to learn for non-natives such as Trump. And it is hard to fake.
Take this interview with CBN’s David Brody, for example:
In this interview Trump says that he always goes to church on Christmas and Easter. I think Trump thinks that this answer is going to help him win votes among the viewers of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. He couldn’t be more wrong. Evangelicals, you see, are very good at distinguishing themselves from other Christians (mostly mainline Protestants) by pointing out that they are not the kind of people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.
Anyone who has listened to an evangelical testimony is familiar with this part of the conversion narrative. It goes something like this: “As a young man or woman I went to church on Christmas and Easter, took communion, and tried to live good moral lives. I always thought I was a Christian. But then I found Jesus and realized that I was just ‘playing church.’ Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not about religion, it is about relationship.”
Evangelicals have always identified the quality of this born-again experience–this new “relationship” with Jesus–by how often one attends Sunday church, mid-week Bible studies. “small groups,” and other congregational events.
Trump is a smart politician. He is hoping to find an antidote to the negative effects that this form of kryptonite will have on his campaign. As a result, he is turning to televangelist Paula White.
According to this article in The Wall Street Journal, Trump has made a previous appearance on the Paula White television show. Warning: There is some heavy theology in this video. (That is sarcasm):
So who is Paula White? She is the pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in the Orlando area. She was formerly the pastor of the Without Walls International Church in Tampa, a congregation she founded with her ex-husband “Bishop” Randy White. She has been married three times and just recently married the guy who wrote the the song “Don’t Stop Believing.” (Yes, you read that correctly).
Charity Carney has a nice piece on her theology at Religion in American History. Here is a taste:
Where is Kate Bowler when we need her?