Peter Wehner Interviews Tim Keller at *The Atlantic*

keller

Two evangelical Christians talk about faith, reason, and politics at, of all places, The Atlantic.   The Christian Right claims that the “secular media” does not respect people of faith, but stories like this remind me that such media outlets are more open to discussing issues of Christian faith than they were two decades ago.

Here is a taste of Wehner‘s piece on his conversation with Keller:

I asked Keller about the relationship of the Church, and in particular evangelicalism, to politics. The upshot of Keller’s position is that whereas individual Christians should be engaged in the political realm, the Bible makes it impossible as a Church to hitch your wagon to one political party, especially in these times. “For Christians just to completely hook up with one party or another is really idolatry,” Keller said. “It’s also reducing the Gospel to a political agenda.” (He pointed me to an address by Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University, called “The Political Captivity of the Faithful,” with which he concurs.)

Keller noted that this danger isn’t new. As is his wont, he cited a book to help me more fully understand his argument—H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism, which holds that denominationalism is primarily a social phenomenon that tends to be captured by different political and social classes. Keller observed that because Christianity properly understood is not a legalistic religion—“there is no New Testament Book of Leviticus,” he told me—it can be a part of almost any culture. In that sense, it’s a fairly flexible faith. “Christians are always more incarnate in the culture—and the danger of that is that they get captured by it. That’s always been a problem,” he said. There’s ever the danger of “cultural and political captivity.”

When I pressed the point further, Keller admitted he believes that “most Christians are just nowhere nearly as deeply immersed in the scripture and in theology as they are in their respective social-media bubbles and News Feed bubbles. To be honest, I think the ‘woke’ evangelicals are just much more influenced by MSNBC and liberal Twitter. The conservative Christians are much more influenced by Fox News and their particular loops. And they’re [both] living in those things eight to 10 hours a day. They go to church once a week, and they’re just not immersed in the kind of biblical theological study that would nuance that stuff.” Too often, he believes, there’s no relationship between a proper Christian ethic and the way it translates into political and cultural engagement. It’s not the doctrine that’s at fault, Keller would argue; it’s the way people are taught and interpret it. It’s a failure of imagination and hermeneutics.

Read the entire piece here.

Metaxas: Peter Wehner’s Article in *The Atlantic* is PREPOSTEROUS

Metaxas

Many of you have seen Peter Wehner‘s piece at The Atlantic titled “Are Trump’s Critics Demonically Possessed.”  Wehner is responding specifically to Franklin Graham’s appearance on the Eric Metaxas radio program.  Watch (or if you can’t see the tweet, click here.)

Just for the record, here is the pertinent part of the video:

Metaxas: “It’s a very bizarre situation to be living in a country where some people seem to exist to undermine the President of the United States.  It’s just a bizarre time for most Americans.

Graham: “It’s almost a demonic power.”

Metaxas: “I would disagree, it’s not almost demonic.  You know and I know that at the heart it’s a spiritual battle.”

Graham: “It’s a spiritual battle.” 

Here is a taste of Wehner’s piece:

There are several things to say in response to the Graham-Metaxas conversation, starting with the theologically distorted and confused charges that were leveled by Graham and amplified by Metaxas. They didn’t make the case that Trump critics are sincere but wrong, or even that they are insincere and unpatriotic. Instead, they felt compelled to portray those with whom they disagree politically as under demonic influences, which for a Christian is about as serious an accusation as there is. It means their opponents are the embodiment of evil, the “enemy,” anti-God, a kind of anti-Christ.

There is no biblical or theological case to support the claim that critics of Donald Trump are under the spell of Satan. It is invented out of thin air, a shallow, wild, and reckless charge meant to be a conversation stopper.

Just ask yourself where this game ends. Do demonic powers explain opposition to all politicians supported by Graham and Metaxas, or to Trump alone? Would they argue that all Christians (and non-Christians) who oppose Trump are under the influence of Satan? What about when it comes to specific issues? Should we ascribe to Beelzebub the fact that many Americans differ with Graham and Metaxas on issues such as gun control, tax cuts, charter schools, federal judges, climate change, the budget for the National Institutes of Health, foreign aid, criminal justice and incarceration, a wall on the southern border, and Medicaid reform? Are we supposed to believe that Adam Schiff’s words during the impeachment inquiry are not his own but those of demons in disguise? Were the testimonies of Ambassador Bill Taylor, Fiona Hill, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman truthful accounts offered by admirable public servants that badly hurt the president’s credibility—or the result of demonic powers?

Eric Metaxas has responded to Wehner’s piece on Twitter.  Since Metaxas blocked me a long time ago I cannot embed the tweet here, but others have shared it with me.  It reads:

This article is PREPOSTEROUS. It claims I’ve said opponents of Trump “are under the spell of Satan  ” and other truly zany things.  I’ve written lots on this president & why I support him, but Mr. Wehner doesn’t seem overly interested in nuance. #slipshod

Metaxas should listen to his own radio program.  I am guessing that he will say there is some kind of difference between claiming Trump’s opponents are guided by a “demonic power” (as he said to Graham on his show) and claiming that Trump’s opponents are “under the spell of Satan” (which he said in the above tweet).  But I see no difference.  Neither does the average Trump-supporting evangelical. And neither does any right-minded person.  Metaxas can’t take a huge sum of money from Salem Radio (one source says he is worth $7 million) to pander to the Trump evangelical base and then claim, when intellectuals call him out on his use of words, that he is being misunderstood.  I might add that he has tried this before.  This is a man who knows that the Trump base butters his bread and yet still craves to be accepted as a New York intellectual–a man of “nuance.”

Ever since Trump has been impeached there has been an uptick in spiritual warfare language coming from the Christian Right.  If Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is correct, and Trump is indeed “the chosen one,” then opposition to the “chosen one” must mean opposition to God.  By claiming that Trump’s opponents are influenced by demonic forces, Metaxas and Graham are implying that Trump is on the Lord’s side.  And why do they believe that Trump is on the Lord’s side?  Because he is president of the United States.  And why is the POTUS always on the Lord’s side?  Because Romans 13 tells us that we must submit to government authority because such authority comes from God. (See more of our Romans 13 posts here). Moreover, America was founded on Christian principles and Trump, through his Supreme Court appointments and defense of religious liberty for evangelicals, is restoring America’s Christian heritage.

If you believe all these things, as Metaxas and Graham obviously do, then of course you will see American politics today in terms of spiritual warfare.  Ephesians 6:12 has now founds its way to the center of American political discourse.

Wehner: Republicans are “Living Within the Lie”

Jordan

Conservative public intellectual Peter Wehner reflects on today’s impeachment hearings. Here is a taste of his piece at The Atlantic:

We are facing a profound political crisis. What the Republican Party is saying and signaling isn’t simply that rationality and truth are subordinate to partisanship; it is that they have to be obliterated for the sake of partisanship and the survival of the Trump presidency. As best I can tell, based on some fairly intense interactions with Trump supporters, there is no limiting principle—almost nothing he can do—that will forfeit their support. Members of Congress clearly believe Trump is all that stands between them and the loss of power, while many Trump voters believe the president is all that stands between them and national ruin. In either case, it has led them into the shadowlands.

For those of us who are still conservative and have devoted a large part of our lives to the Republican Party, it is quite painful  to watch all of this unfold. Perhaps too many of us were blind to things we should have seen, or perhaps the GOP is significantly different now that it was in the past, when it was led by estimable (if imperfect) individuals like Ronald Reagan. Whatever the case, we are where we are—in a very precarious and worrisome place.

You can be critical of the Democratic Party and believe, as I do, that it is becoming increasingly radicalized while also believing this: The Republican Party under Donald Trump is a party built largely on lies, and it is now maintained by politicians and supporters who are willing to “live within the lie,” to quote the great Czech dissident (and later president) Vaclav Havel. Many congressional Republicans privately admit this but, with very rare exceptions—Utah Senator Mitt Romney is the most conspicuous example—refuse to publicly acknowledge it.

“For what purpose?” they respond point-blank when asked why they don’t speak out with moral urgency against the president’s moral transgressions, his cruelty, his daily assault on reality, and his ongoing destruction of our civic and political culture. Trump is more powerful and more popular than they are, they will say, and they will be targeted by him and his supporters and perhaps even voted out of office.

The answer to them is that it is better to live within the truth than to live within a lie; that honor is better than dishonor; and that aiding and abetting a corrupt president implicates the aiders and abettors in the corruption.

Read the entire piece here.

Wehner: Of course Trump betrayed the Kurds. He sees “people solely in transactional Terms”

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

Trump kissed the Kurds goodbye

Peter Wehner at The Atlantic:

For once, Republicans have forcefully spoken out against Mr. Trump. Graham said our Kurdish allies had been “shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration.” Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said Trump’s decision is having “sickening and predictable” consequences. Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran, said on Face the Nation that “leaving an ally behind … is disheartening, depressing.” He added, “The Kurds found out on Twitter, for goodness’ sake. We have left them to the wolves. And the message this is sending to our allies around the world, I think, is really going to be bad.” Senator Mitt Romney, the Republican lawmaker who has been the most willing to speak the truth about Trump, declared on Twitter, “The President’s decision to abandon our Kurd allies in the face of an assault by Turkey is a betrayal.”

Indeed it is. But betrayal is hardly new to Trump, who routinely abandons people who trust in him or the nation he leads. By now, this behavior should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

Betrayal is a leitmotif for this president’s entire life. Think of how he cheated on his wives. Think of the infant child of a nephew who had crucial medical benefits withdrawn by Trump because of Trump’s retaliation against his nephew over an inheritance dispute. Think of those who enrolled at Trump University and were defrauded. Think about the contractors whom Trump has stiffed. Think of Jeff Sessions, the first prominent Republican to endorse Trump, whom Trump viciously turned against because Sessions had properly recused himself from overseeing the investigation into whether Russia had intervened in the 2016 election. Think about those who served in Trump’s administration—Rex Tillerson, John Bolton, Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, James Mattis, and many more—who were unceremoniously dumped and, in some cases, mocked on their way out the door.

Read the entire piece here.

CNN on Franklin Graham’s Call to Prayer for Donald Trump

Trump Graham

Daniel Burke has it covered at CNN.  He talked to Franklin Graham, Peter Wehner, Warren Throckmorton, Michelle Margolis, and your truly.

The most revealing part of this article is when Burke asked Graham to respond to Christians who think Trump hurts the church.  Burke writes: “Asked how he would answer critics who say that Trump and his evangelical allies are actually a threat to the church, Graham declined to engage the question. ‘I wouldn’t even answer a person like that. I don’t think it’s valid at all.'”

This is yet another example of the current divide in American evangelicalism.  Graham is incapable of understanding that there are people who share his faith and also believe Trump is damaging the witness of the Gospel.  And if such people do exist (and they do), he seems to suggest that he has nothing to say to them because they are wrong.

Here is a taste of Burke’s piece:

Because of his charity work and family name, Graham carries immense influence over American evangelicals, said John Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

“What he says politically is going to sway how many American evangelicals vote and pray.”

But Fea is among the evangelicals critical of Graham’s pro-Trump prayer event.

The historian notes that Graham ended his Facebook post with a dark biblical warning about the array of spiritual forces aligned against contemporary Christians.

“That’s a code verse,” Fea said. “It sends a clear message to his followers that there is something at work here beyond politics. He’s saying that America is under spiritual attack and equating the attacks on Trump with that.”

Graham said he doesn’t agree with all of Trump’s policies and that God commands Christians to pray for their secular leaders. “If he’s a good President, it benefits every American of every race and gender.” Still, Graham acknowledged that Trump has been an especially attentive patron to his evangelical base, calling him the “most pro-Christian President in my lifetime.”

But other evangelicals have noted the obvious: That Trump’s actions as President have not, and likely will not, benefit everyone.

Read the entire article here.

Is Pete Buttigieg’s Religious Rhetoric Any Different Than the Rhetoric of the Christian Right?

Buttigieg

Peter Wehner makes a pretty good case at The Atlantic.  Here is a taste:

..And yet, precisely on the question of religion as an instrumental good, there is real cause for concern about Mayor Pete. His insistence that “Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction” is a bright-red flag, and ought to worry Christians regardless of their politics.

To say that Christianity points you in a progressive direction is in effect to say that Christianity and progressivism are synonymous. They aren’t. Neither are Christianity and conservatism. Christianity stands apart from and in judgment of all political ideologies; it doesn’t lend itself to being put in neat and tidy political categories. That doesn’t mean that at any particular moment in time a Christian ethic won’t lead people of faith to more closely align with one political and philosophical movement over another. But the temptation, always, is to politicize faith in ways that ultimately are discrediting.

Read the entire piece here.

Wehner’s piece is similar to the argument of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  Hunter calls out both the Religious Right and the Religious Left for turning to electoral politics to advance their missions.  He offers another way defined by “faithful presence.”

Evangelical Political Adviser Peter Wehner: Trump is “emotionally/psychologically unwell”

Peter Wehner, who served in the Reagan, Bush 1 and Bush 2 administrations and is currently a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, is calling for prayer.

Here is his tweet:

“Faith and the Faithful in U.S. Politics”

Holy Trinity

This was the title of a symposium held recently at Holy Trinity Parish in Washington.  The event was sponsored by the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service and the Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.  Speakers included John Carr (Georgetown), Jocelyn Kiley (Pew Research Center),  E.J. Dionne (Washington Post), Peter Wehner (Ethics and Public Policy Center), and Joshua DuBois (former director of White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships).

Here is a taste of an article on the symposium published by Catholic News Service:

Representing the conservative side was panelist Peter Wehner – a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of its Faith Angle Forum, and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era.

“I do think Democrats have a problem with religion,” Wehner said. “It’s a party that’s increasingly secular.”

Dionne, who often supports progressive causes in his columns, countered by saying, “Democrats are not a secular party. Most Democrats are part of a religious tradition.”

Wehner noted that the Democratic Party remains a minority party, with Republicans controlling the White House, both houses of Congress, and a majority of governorships and state legislatures, but he added that he thinks Democrats will likely take control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2018 mid-term elections.

Read the entire piece here.

Peter Wehner on the Axe Files: The “Mulligan” Defense is “Complete Hypocrisy”

Perkins

Court evangelical Tony Perkins

Peter Wehner is an evangelical Christian and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  He is a leading anti-Trump conservative.  Wehner has served under Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Check out his podcast interview with former Obama adviser David Axelrod.  He describes court evangelical Tony Perkins’s “mulligan” defense of Donald Trump as “compete hypocrisy.”

You may recall that we addressed the court evangelical hypocrisy yesterday.

Peter Wehner Calls Out The Court Evangelicals

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

Conservative evangelical public intellectual Peter Wehner has been anti-Trump from the start.  In his recent piece at Religion News Service he calls out the Christians I have called the court evangelicals and connects their rise with changes taking place in American Christianity.

Here is a taste:

We’re at a hinge moment in the public witness of American Christianity.

The evangelical Christian movement in America is being compromised and discredited by the way prominent leaders have associated themselves with, first, the Donald J. Trump campaign and now, the Trump presidency. If this is allowed to define evangelical attitudes toward political power, the public witness of Christianity will be undermined in durable ways.

I say this recognizing that the last election involved difficult choices upon which reasonable and well-intentioned people disagreed. I understand the argument of those who believed that Mr. Trump was the better of two bad options, whose policies would do less damage to the country than Hillary Clinton’s.

But the worry is that now that the election is over and there is no binary Trump-Clinton choice, many evangelical Christians have lost the capacity to hold the president accountable when he transgresses norms, violates principles and acts in malicious ways. In fact, they have become among his most prominent and reliable public defenders.

Either by their public defense of Trump or their self-indicting silence, certain prominent evangelicals — including Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed and James Dobson — are effectively blessing a leader who has acted in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with a Christian ethic.

Read the rest here.