What should we make of Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett?

In the last 24 hours several of you have asked me what I think about Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

First, I think there is nothing unconstitutional about Trump choosing a nominee in an election year.

Second, I think there are times when a president should think about the greater good of the country. (I can’t believe I actually have to point this out, but we are living in the age of Trump). This might mean holding a Supreme Court nomination until after a presidential election. At the very least, it might also mean waiting until Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried before choosing her successor. Joe Biden is right about Trump’s lack of basic human decency.

Third, GOP Senators are hypocrites. In 2016, Merrick Garland should have received a hearing and a vote. I am not convinced by any of the GOP attempts to reconcile their 2016 views with their willingness to give Trump’s nominee (Barrett) a hearing and a vote in 2020.

This Jake Tapper interview with Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is a perfect example of what I am talking about:

Cotton is just making stuff up here. He loves the founding fathers, but he seems to have no interest in their fears about political partisanship undermining the republic.

Fourth, no matter what we think about all of this, Barrett will be appointed to Ginsburg’s seat and it will probably happen before the election. If it wasn’t Barrett, it would have been another justice approved by the court evangelicals.

Fifth, Barrett is a competent interpreter of the law and a fair choice in light of what I wrote about in the previous paragraph.

Sixth, I direct you to my previous posts on Barrett’s religion. I have tried to put her beliefs in some kind of larger context.

Seventh, I take a “wait and see” approach on Roe v. Wade. Barrett has said it is unlikely that it would be overturned, but that was back in 2013. (It is unclear whether her comment represented her own personal beliefs or was simply a statement made by an outside commentator).

Moreover, as someone who does not believe overturning Roe is the best way to reduce abortions in America, I don’t have a strong opinion either way on Barrett’s anti-abortion record. I know I will be criticized by the Right and the Left for this position. The Right will criticize me for not embracing the conservative evangelical playbook on abortion. I have argued many times before why the Christian Right playbook is bad for the nation and the church. The Left will say that as a white male I don’t care about women’s health. This is a false binary. One can care about women’s health and still think abortion is morally wrong. I stand with the millions of American women who also believe this.

Eighth, I am worried more about what a Barrett appointment might mean for health care and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) than I am about what it might mean for abortion.

Ninth, I am not worried about Trump using a conservative majority on the court to steal the 2020 presidential election. I have no doubt that Trump will try to claim election fraud if he loses on November 3, but I can’t imagine the Supreme Court would allow him to get away with this.

Politically, Trump’s ongoing claims that mail-in-ballots will lead to an unfair election will ultimately work against him because it gives the Court and other officials time to anticipate his arguments and gather evidence to prove he is wrong.

The court evangelicals get another chance to execute their political playbook

For many American evangelicals, Christian witness in the political sphere comes down to overturning Roe v. Wade. This is why the court evangelicals are so gleeful about Trump getting another Supreme Court nomination. This is also why they say virtually nothing about the president’s mishandling of COVID-19 (nearly 200,000 dead), his separation of families at the Mexican border, his environmental policies that will one day make the planet incapable of sustaining life, and his racism. Look for yourself. The silence is deafening. Start your research with these names:

Franklin Graham, James Robison, James Dobson, Jenetzen Franklin, Jack Graham, Paula White, Greg Laurie, John Hagee, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, Johnnie Moore, Ralph Reed, Robert Jeffress, Eric Metaxas, Jim Garlow, Jack Hibbs, Harry Jackson Jr., Luke Barnett, Richard Land, Jim Bakker, David Barton, Steve Strang, Samuel Rodriguez, Charlie Kirk, Lance Wallnau, and Jenna Ellis.

I imagine (again, I only imagine) that some of these people were on a conference call the moment Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. They no doubt started the session with prayer for the Ginsburg’s family and perhaps even threw-out a prayer or two for those suffering through COVID-19. And then, when the pleasantries were done, they got down to strategizing about how to best support the president’s forthcoming Supreme Court nomination and the most effective ways of spinning their 2016 claims that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee–Merrick Garland–did not deserve a hearing in the Senate because it was an election year.

As I wrote yesterday, Robert Jeffress said that COVID-19 is mere “background noise” now that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead and Trump can appoint another conservative justice. Background noise? Tell that to the families who lost lives from COVID. What kind of world do we live in where a Christian pastor can say that the loss of 200,000 lives is unimportant and get virtually no push-back from his followers, all men and women who name the name of Jesus Christ?

Here is what the court evangelicals have been saying about the Supreme Court story:

Let’s start with Franklin Graham. Let’s remember that Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland about eight months before the 2016 election:

And now Graham says the country is at a “boiling point” and needs prayer. He has no clue that he is partly responsible for the divisions in the nation and the church.

Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler tries to defend Mitch McConnell’s decision to reject Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016. There is no reference to the Constitution or its interpretation. Mohler’s argument is weak, especially coming from a self-professed Constitutional originalist. I would like to see him defend this argument through a close reading of the Constitution as opposed to the weak reference to 1880 that he offers here. Mohler, who prides himself as an intellectual driven by logic, begins with the assumption that we need another conservative justice and then searches for an argument–any argument–to justify his political desires.

There is no doubt that President Trump will make a nomination to fill the vacancy, and there is now no doubt, thanks to a statement released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the Senate will move forward on a confirmation process once the nomination is announced. Indeed, Senator McConnell stated, “In the last midterm election, before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year. By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018, because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Ecclesiastes 10:1. Interesting choice of verse by Tony Perkins:

Here is Gary Bauer. It’s all about the Christian Right playbook. He actually believes that overturning Roe v. Wade will end abortion in the United States. As long as he keeps sticking to this playbook, the lives of unborn babies will remain a political football.

Hey Ralph Reed, why weren’t you making this argument in 2016?

Charlie Kirk of the Falkirk Center at Liberty University does not even want hearings for Trump’s new justice:

Kirk criticizes Ilhan Omar for being a “starter of fires” fueled by religion and skin color. Hmm…

For many evangelicals the 2020 election represents a simple choice: Trump will defend the pro-life movement, Joe Biden is pro-choice; Trump promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who will challenge–perhaps even overturn —Roe v. Wade, and Joe Biden will not. When it comes to dealing with the problem of abortion, the court evangelicals have been reading from the same political playbook for more than four decades. It teaches them that the best way to bring an end to abortion in America is to elect the right president, who, in turn, will support the right justices. Thus far, things seem to be going well: not only has Trump appointed pro-life justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanuagh, but he has appointed dozens of conservative judges to federal district courts across the country. Now, he will most likely get to appoint another conservative justice.

Still, it is not exactly clear how this strategy will bring an end to abortion in America. Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a devout Catholic, has called Roe v. Wade “settled as the law of the land.” Amy Coney Barrett, who appears to be Trump’s top pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has said publicly that it is likely Roe v. Wade will not be overturned.

And even if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, the issue will be sent back to the states. Abortion is very likely to remain legal in the so-called blue states, including California and New York, and illegal in many of the so-called red states, especially in the deep South.

State legislatures will need to decide how they will handle the abortion issue in the remaining states, but a significant number of them will probably allow abortion in some form. To put it simply, overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America. It may curtail the number of abortions, but it will bring our culture no closer to welcoming the children who are born and supporting their mothers.

The taking of a human life in the womb via the practice of abortion is a horrific practice. Modern technology shows us that a baby in the womb, especially in the last trimester, is alive. Christians should be working hard to reduce the number of abortions that take place in the United States–even working to eliminate the practice entirely.

But we have been under Roe v. Wade for long enough that several generations of Americans now believe that they have a right to an abortion. Such a belief is not going to change anytime soon. Conservative evangelicals and other pro-life advocates spend billions of dollars to get the right candidates elected because they believe that the Supreme Court is the only way to solve the problem of abortion in our society. Yet, most of these conservatives oppose “big government” and want to address social concerns through churches and other institutions of civil society. Imagine if all the money spent to support pro-life candidates was poured into these institutions.

How did we get to this place. Learn more here:

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress says the debate over a new Supreme Court justice makes COVID-19 “background noise”

It’s all about the Supreme Court for Donald Trump’s court evangelicals. Everything else, including nearly 200,000 dead from a pandemic, is just “background noise.” Here is NBC News reporter Peter Alexander.

So much for being pro-life. For Jeffress, COVID-19 is simply a political inconvenience. Of course Jeffress’s political savior, Donald Trump, believes the same thing.

UPDATE: I misses this tweet:

When Trump loses a pro-life spokeswoman

Check out Dan Silliman’s piece at Christianity Today on how some pro-life activists are fleeing Donald Trump. Here is a taste:

A pro-life spokeswoman quit her job rather than endorse Donald Trump for another term in the White House.

Trump has called himself the most pro-life president in history. But Stephanie Ranade Krider, executive director for Ohio Right to Life, decided she couldn’t support him and couldn’t keep working for the prominent pro-life group as it prepared to help him win re-election.

She resigned June 30. The next morning, she woke up and felt like she could finally breathe again.

“You learn to hold certain things in tension, and for me it came to a point where I couldn’t anymore,” Krider said. “I’ve been grateful for the things Trump has accomplished and skeptical of his pro-life views.

“Always, there has been this undercurrent where he just does not respect women and he does not like black and brown people. I can’t look at any of his behavior and see evidence of the Holy Spirit in his life. Nothing about his words or actions are kind or gentle or faithful or full of self-control.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to quit. Krider started working at Ohio Right to Life in 2009. She can still remember how thrilled she was. As a 26-year-old evangelical with a passion for politics, she was ready to advocate for the unborn. She was ready to fight the people who could look at an ultrasound and say, “That’s just a blob of tissue.” She imagined herself bringing together pro-life Republicans and Democrats with bold moral arguments and how she would say, “Women deserve better than abortion.”

Read the rest here.

Slacktivist (and Norman Geisler) on abortion

If you do not read the blog of progressive Christian Fred Clark, aka “Slacktivist“, you should. You will not always agree with him, and he will infuriate you at times, but his ideas are often worth considering. Yesterday I checked Slacktivist and was surprised to find him citing the late evangelical apologist Norman Geisler on abortion. Fred cites this passage from Geisler’s Christian Ethics:

The one clear thing which the Scriptures indicate about abortion is that it is not the same as murder. … Murder is a man-initiated activity of taking an actual human life. Artificial abortion is a humanly initiated process which results in the taking of a potential human life. Such abortion is not murder, because the embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person.

And this:

When it is a clear-cut case of either taking the life of the unborn baby or letting the mother die, then abortion is called for. An actual life (the mother) is of more intrinsic value than a potential life (the unborn). The mother is a fully developed human; the baby is an undeveloped human. And an actually developed human is better than one which has the potential for full humanity but has not yet developed. Being fully human is a higher value than the mere possibility of becoming fully human. For what is has more value than what may be. …

Birth is not morally necessitated without consent. No woman should be forced to carry a child if she did not consent to intercourse. A violent intrusion into a woman’s womb does not bring with it a moral birthright for the embryo. The mother has a right to refuse that her body be used as an object of sexual intrusion. The violation of her honor and personhood was enough evil without compounding her plight by forcing an unwanted child on her besides. … the right of the potential life (the embryo) is overshadowed by the right of the actual life of the mother. The rights to life, health, and self-determination — i.e., the rights to personhood — of the fully human mother take precedence over that of the potentially human embryo.

I had no idea that this was Geisler’s position on abortion.

Clark agrees with Geisler, but he also cares about protecting “potential” personhood:

What does that mean in practical terms? It means, for most of us, working to create a context for their choices in which they are never constrained by desperation or duress, by the market-worshipping coercion of penury, by fear or want or threat. It means working to establish a context in which financial support, vocational opportunity, human potential, human thriving and human dignity are not contingent or conditional or inconstant. It means creating a context which is hospitable to welcoming new life, and therefore a context in which the choice of hospitality is possible and promising. (If I were to choose a text for a sermon on the politics of abortion, it would be the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.)

Sometimes, when I describe this role and this obligation, those who wish only to deny subsidiarity by a top-down decree criminalizing all abortion will accuse me of just trying to change the subject. But this is the subject. Subsidiarity teaches me that what is best for “the unborn” will be what is best for their mothers. The only way to “protect the unborn” is by protecting those carrying them — protecting their health, dignity, wellbeing, financial security, agency, and freedom.

Read the entire post here.

Christianity is more than the mere embrace of a Christian Right view on abortion politics

Listen to court evangelical Robert Jeffress’s recent commentary on Fox News:

Jeffress addresses Trump’s recent claim that if Joe Biden is elected in November there will be “no religion.” He added that Biden would “hurt the Bible” and “hurt God.” As any good court evangelical must do, Jeffress defends Trump’s remarks.

Jeffress comes just short of suggesting that Biden is not a Christian. (I realize I may be too generous to Jeffress here). Why? Because Biden is “pro-choice” on abortion.

Jeffress knows that the Christian faith is more than merely the embrace of a Christian Right view on abortion, but if he can use abortion to demonize Biden by questioning the legitimacy of his faith, he will gladly do it. Let’s face it, Jeffress is not interested in developing a public theology informed by the entire message of the Bible. Neither is the Christian Right movement that he represents.

Those who read this blog know my position. I am pro-life. But I do not believe that overturning Roe v. Wade is the best way of reducing abortions. Just search “abortion” or read Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump for my views on this.

Abortions are on the decline in America. Let’s keep this downward trajectory going by electing candidates who care about poverty, systemic racism, the economic plight of families, and the health of women.

GOP: Let’s stop using “pro-life” as a political litmus test for the purpose of fundraising.

Democrats: let’s start talking again about abortion as a serious moral problem facing our society. And yes, I am referring to the Biden-Harris ticket here.

On Joe Biden’s Evangelical Outreach

BIden 3

There are many white evangelicals out there who do not want to vote for Donald Trump, but they also refuse to vote for Joe Biden because they are worried about Supreme Court justices, abortion, and religious liberty. I know these people exist because they e-mail and message me regularly–almost every day.

At some point between now and Labor Day, I will try to write a post or publish something on whether or not an evangelical case can be made for Joe Biden. Stay tuned. But in this post I am writing more as a political observer.

David Brody’s reporting on the Biden outreach to evangelical Christians recently caught my eye. You can read it here.

I am not really sure what this outreach will look like. John McCarthy, the deputy national political director for he Biden Campaign, says that white evangelicals should be “open to Joe Biden’s message.” Why? Because Biden wants to build a “more fair and just society” that includes addressing climate change, racial injustice, and immigration reform. The Biden campaign is also conducting “listening sessions” with evangelical pastors and women. So far that’s it.

As Michael Wear points out in the Brody’s piece, the Hillary Clinton campaign did very little to attract white evangelical votes in 2016. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Though Clinton would never have come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign. In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.” Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions. During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions. There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Clinton was also quiet on matters pertaining to religious liberty. While she paid lip service to the idea whenever Trump made comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, she never addressed the religious liberty issues facing many evangelicals. This was especially the case with marriage. Granted, evangelicals should not have expected Clinton to defend traditional marriage or promise to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, but she did not seem willing to support something akin to what law professor and author John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.” The question of how to make room for people with religiously motivated beliefs that run contrary to the ruling in Obergefell is still being worked out, and the question is not an easy one to parse. But when Hillary claimed that her candidacy was a candidacy for “all Americans,” it seemed like an attempt to reach her base, not to reach across the aisle. Conservative evangelicals were not buying it.

Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton. In other words, white evangelicals do not hate Biden. (Christians are not supposed to hate, but it really seems like they hate Hillary. I’ve heard this over and over again from those I met on the Believe Me book tour). Biden is now doing just as well, if not better, than Obama with white evangelicals. One could make a case that the Biden campaign does not need to have a white evangelical outreach plan. As long as he doesn’t do anything stupid (which is definitely possible for Joe) that might rile up white evangelicals, he will get more white evangelical votes in 2020 than Hillary in 2016.

But if Joe Biden’s team is interested in making serious inroads among white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016, he will need to do several things:

On abortion: Biden lost his chance to win over most white evangelicals on this issue when he reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment. But he can still win some white evangelicals, or at least make them more comfortable with a Biden presidency, if he talked openly about abortion and how his policies on poverty and racial injustice might contribute to the continued lowering of the abortion rate in America. (The high abortion rate among African Americans, for example, is directly related to systemic racism and poverty).

Right now, when Biden talks about abortion, he does so in order to convince his Democratic base that he is pro-choice. This was his strategy during the Democratic primary season. But what if he talks about abortion from the perspective of his Catholic faith and his personal opposition to the practice? This would require him to say that the number of abortion needs to be reduced in America. He could easily make such a case and still defend Roe v. Wade. Senator Bob Casey Jr. made a similar case against Rick Santorum in the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate election. Such an approach would also give Biden a chance to contrast his views on race and poverty with those of Trump. Biden should not only address abortion when people ask him about it, but he should make it a campaign issue. And yes, I know this is wishful thinking.

Biden also needs to articulate a more nuanced view of religious liberty, especially as it relates to institutions who uphold traditional views on sexuality. Most of the debate on religious liberty today lacks complexity. I would encourage Biden to read Inazu’s Confident Pluralism. He may also want to think about the Fairness for All legislation. Again I know this is a long shot. There will be too much pressure for Biden to follow party orthodoxy on this issue.

An appeal to racial justice, climate change, and immigration will attract some white evangelicals in 2020. But most of these will be the white evangelicals (16%) who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. If the Biden campaign wants to ignore my suggestions (above) on abortion and religious liberty, and focus its evangelical outreach solely on race, climate, and immigration, they will need to do a much better job connecting these issues to biblical faith. I am not confident that Biden can deliver on this front in the way that Obama and Hillary Clinton did in 2008 when they visited Messiah College and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.

Monday night court evangelical roundup

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Mike Pence’s nephew hosted a court evangelical conversation with Paula White, Johnnie Moore and Samuel Rodriguez. This is an event sponsored by the Trump campaign. Watch:

At the 5:30 mark, Moore starts out with a lie. Joe Biden does not want to prosecute people for going to church. Moore is outraged that St. John’s Church in Washington D.C. was burned during the protests earlier this month. Please spare us the sermon, Johnnie. If this was any other moment, Moore, who likes to fashion himself a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” would be attacking the rector of the church and its congregation for its liberal Protestant theology and commitment to social justice. (By the way, Bonhoeffer adhered to both liberal Protestantism and social justice. Moore’s Bonhoeffer comes directly out of the pages of Eric Metaxas’s popular, but debunked biography).

If you watch this video, you will see nothing but fear-mongering.

At one point in the conversation, Paula White says that Trump is fighting for the First Amendment and the Second Amendment. Since when was the right to bear arms a Christian concern? White claims that the Democratic Party platform says that it is a “party of the Godless.” Just to be clear, there is no such language in the platform. She also goes into what I call the “they are coming for our Bibles” mode. Here’s White: “We can basically kiss our churches goodbye, our houses of worship…we very well could be home churches at that.” As I wrote in Believe Me, this kind of fear-mongering reminds me of the Federalists during the election season of 1800 who thought Thomas Jefferson, if elected, would send his henchman into New York and New England to close churches and confiscate Bibles. (It didn’t happen. In fact, Jefferson was a champion of religious liberty). White believes that we are in a spiritual war for the soul of America. She mentions a conversation with Ben Carson in which the HUD Secretary told her that the forces of Satan are working to undermine Trump.

Moore defends Trump’s record on global religious freedom. Indeed, Trump seems to have made religious persecution abroad a priority. Only time will tell how successful this campaign has been or will be. But notice that Moore says nothing about the president’s approval of Muslim concentration camps in China. Why? Because Moore is not here to tell the whole truth about Trump as it relates to religious freedom. He is here to help Trump get re-elected. Or maybe talking about the religious persecution of Muslims in China won’t help Trump with white evangelical voters, many of whom still believe Obama was a Muslim. Most of Trump’s evangelical followers only talk about religious liberty when it relates to their own causes. Moore knows this.

Moore then attacks Democratic governors for trying to close churches during COVID-19. He has a lot of nerve. It was Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo (and GOP Ohio governor Mike DeWine, among others) who showed leadership during the coronavirus while Trump was tweeting “liberate Michigan.”

Samuel Rodriguez basically says that if you vote for Trump, you are voting against the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

OK, that was hard to stomach. Let’s move on.

Moore is also tweeting. He is upset about today’s Supreme Court decision on abortion, especially Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to join the liberal justices in blocking a Louisiana abortion law restricting abortion rights:

What does Moore mean when he says that this is the “Scalia-moment” of the 2020 campaign? Here is a passage from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Already hitting his stride with his base, [GOP presidential candidate Ted] Cruz gained a new talking point in mid-February, with Super Tuesday only a couple of weeks away. When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.

Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said. “And if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republican voters that the United States was “one justice away” from the “the Supreme Court mandating  unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”

I wonder if the modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer has learned the right lesson from 2016? Some might say that the recent Bostock decision, and today’s Louisiana abortion decision, should teach evangelicals to stop relying on the Supreme Court to “reclaim” America, especially when such an approach to “Christian” politics requires them to get into bed with a president like Trump. But, alas, Moore would never even consider such a lesson because it does not conform to the Christian Right’s political playbook.

Meanwhile, Paula White is supernaturally praying for her Twitter followers:

I’m just curious. Is there  a way to “pray” for a non-“supernatural provision?” Sorry, I had to ask.

Jentezen is also upset about the SCOTUS decision:

Tony Perkins too:

I agree with the idea that every life is valuable, including unborn babies. But putting faith in SCOTUS and POTUS is not the answer.

Robert Jeffress is still basking in the idolatrous glow of yesterday’s Lord’s Day political rally at his church. Here is his retweet of Mike Pence:

A spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center retweets Princeton University scholar Robert George. As you read this retweet, please remember that The Falkirk Center supports Donald Trump and Trump is a pathological liar:

She is also upset with John Roberts:

And this:

Sadly,  in light of what we have seen thus far from the Trump presidency as it relates to race and Confederate monuments, this “idiot activist” seems to be asking a reasonable question.

Charlie Kirk is also mad at John Roberts:

It looks like the court evangelicals are very upset about an abortion case in the Supreme Court, but they have said nothing about Trump’s racist tweet over the weekend. I guess this falls under the “I don’t like some of his tweets, but…” category.

John Zmirak, who is an editor at court evangelical James Robison’s website The Stream, is back on the Eric Metaxas Show. He is comparing Black Lives Matter to Jim Jones and Jonestown. The entire conversation, ironically, is about people blindly putting their trust in a strongman. Metaxas wastes no time in connecting Jonestown to today’s Democratic Party. A Christian Right bromance may be forming between these two guys.  Metaxas tells Zmirak: “we are so glad you are on the program today, thank the Lord.”

They also condemn Black Lives Matter. Zmirak calls BLM a “slogan, a “trademark,” and a “brilliant piece of marketing” that is “raising money off of white guilt.” Sounds a lot like another slogan, trademark and brilliant piece of marketing. This one is raising money off of white supremacy.

In another part of their conversation, Metaxas and Zmirak say that Black Lives Matter is wrong from a Christian point of view because all men and women are created in the image of God. In other words, anyone who wants to say that only Black lives matter is actually racist (reverse racism, as they say) because in God’s eyes “all lives matter.” I’ve heard this argument before. Here is a quick response:

Indeed, Christians believe that we are all created in the image of God. As the civil rights movement taught us, Christian faith offers plenty of theological resources to combat racism. Moreover, the Black Lives Matter movement is very diverse. Author Jemar Tisby makes some important points in this regard in Episode 48 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podast.

I am sure Metaxas and Zmirak are correct about some of the abuses of the Black Lives Matter movement. But notice what is going on here. Metaxas and Zmirak are really only interested in attacking the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the killing of George Floyd, Metaxas has not offered any sustained empathy or acknowledgement of the pain and suffering faced by African-Americans, either now or in our nation’s history. Yes, he had some black guests on the program, but they were invited on the show for the purpose of undermining Black Lives Matter and rejecting systemic racism. At this moment, when white evangelicals have a wonderful opportunity to think more deeply about the problems of race in America, Metaxas has chosen to divert attention away from these issues by going after the extreme fringes of a generally anti-racist movement.

In his second hour, Metaxas hosts a writer named Nick Adams, the author of a book titled Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization. He runs an organization called The Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness. Adams makes it sound like Trump has some kind of agenda to save Western Civilization. This strikes me as very far-fetched since I don’t think Trump even knows what Western Civilization is. Metaxas, of course, loves his guest’s ideas, going as far to say, in reference to World War II (Churchill) and COVID-19 (Trump) that both men carried their respective nations through their “darkest hours.”

Until next time.

The Problem With the “Reluctant” Trump Voter: A Response to Andrew Walker’s *National Review* Essay

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Yesterday several readers sent me Andrew T. Walker‘s National Review essay, “Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump.” Walker teaches Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

Walker writes in a very irenic tone as he challenges Christian anti-Trumpers to work harder at understanding why so many evangelicals will once again vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  If I understand him correctly, he seems to suggest that if evangelical anti-Trumpers like me or David French or Peter Wehner or Michael Gerson (he mentions none of us by name) would only empathize more deeply with the motivations of evangelical Trump voters they would be less critical of the their fellow Christians who support this corrupt president. Walker calls attention to the “reluctant” Trump voter.

One of the regrets I have about the hardback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump was my failure to capture diversity within the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.  The postscript I wrote for the recently released paperback edition seeks to correct this lack of nuance. Walker does a nice job of explaining why so many evangelicals, many whom despise Trump, felt the need to vote for the reality television star in 2016 and feel the need to vote for him again in 2020.  This complicates the narrative we often hear from journalists and pundits who have little understanding of evangelical political culture.

As I have noted many times before, I spend a lot of time with evangelicals of the pro-Trump variety.  I attend an evangelical church and know many Trump supporters who attend that church.  My entire extended family voted for Trump.  Fox News forms, shapes, and disciples many members of my family and other pro-Trump evangelicals I know.  I live in central Pennsylvania–Trump country.  I can’t speak for Gerson, Wehner or French, but I do not accept the premise that all anti-Trump evangelicals are out of touch with average evangelical Trump voters.  In fact, I wrote Believe Me precisely BECAUSE I understand the mind of the evangelical Trump voter.  This is why I can say that Walker does a nice job of describing them in this National Review essay.  As a historian, my job is to empathize and understand. I made every effort to do that in Believe Me.  So when I write harsh things about evangelical Trump supporters, it is because I have done the necessary work to make sense of them. In Why Study History I made the case that understanding must always proceed moral critique. In Believe Me–a work of both history and moral critique–I took my own advice.

As I see it, my effort to grasp the logic of pro-Trump evangelical voters has allowed me to argue strongly that their decision to vote for Trump has proven harmful to the church and the country.  The “if you only understood Trump voters you would be less critical” argument does not jibe with me.

Walker writes: “Those who make this calculation [to vote for Trump] are not sell-outs, nor have they forfeited the credibility of their values carte blanche. For blind allegiance does not explain the voting relationship. That religious conservatives are not progressives does.”

I think Walker is correct when he says that most evangelical Christians are religious conservatives who do not agree with the progressive agenda.  (Here Walker seems to be making the common mistake of lumping all Democrats into the “progressive” camp. This rhetorical move is quite common among the Christian Right.  It is in the political interest of the Christian Right to portray all Democrats as socialists, progressives, or members of the so-called “Squad“–people for whom evangelicals should be deeply afraid). But why are evangelical Christians religious conservatives?  Why are they so bound to this particular political ideology?  This is the deeper question I tried to raise and address in Believe Me.

Christianity and conservatism are not the same thing. Christianity and progressivism are not the same thing.  I think Walker would agree with both of these assertions.  As pastor-theologian Tim Keller has reminded us, Christianity cuts across party lines.  In my view, if you take the teachings of Christianity seriously you are going to find some common ground with conservatives, Republicans, the Green Party, democratic socialists, progressives, Democrats, and a host of other political factions, ideologies, and movements.  You are also going to reject certain tenets of these factions, ideologies, and movements.  We need to work harder to get evangelical voters to understand this.

Walker’s essay is framed by an evangelical approach to politics that I do not accept. I don’t know if Walker would see himself as a member of the Christian Right, but his piece is based on the presupposition that the Christian Right playbook, forged in the late 1970s by the Moral Majority, is the best Christian approach to politics. More on this below.

And what about the “reluctant Trump voter?”  Again, I understand why someone would choose Trump over Hillary in 2016.  I also understand why someone would choose Trump over any of the current Democratic candidates in 2020. The Christian Right playbook teaches evangelicals to vote for the president who will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices.  If you care about abortion or religious liberty, you must hold your nose and vote for Trump. But if you choose this route, and follow this playbook, please do not pretend that you are not responsible in some way for all the additional baggage that comes with such a vote–the coarsening of our moral culture, the demonizing of political opponents, the use of evangelical Christianity as a political weapon, the damage to the witness of the Gospel in the world, the racism, the nativism, the separation of children from parents, etc. etc.   That’s on you.  You have empowered Trump to do these things.

Walker writes that “reluctant” Trump voters approach politics with far more complexity and internal tension than journalists claim. He invokes Augustine: “Some religious conservatives may see the world in moral terms–right and wrong; black and white.  But there’s a long moral tradition, as far back as Augustine, that sees our world in shades of gray.”

There is definitely some truth to Walker’s appeal to Augustine here.  As I noted above, the 81% are not all the same.

But I also think Walker is giving these reluctant Trump voters too much credit for their commitment to “complexity.”

As I see it, evangelicals who vote for Trump do so because they have embraced the Christian Right playbook I mentioned above. I wrote about this playbook extensively in Believe Me.  It has great power over evangelical voters.  Thoughtful evangelicals like Gerson, James Davison Hunter, James K.A. Smith, Ronald Sider, John Inazu and others have offered Christian approaches to politics that do not rely on a playbook focused on the pursuit of power for the purpose of advancing one or two moral issues.  These alternative evangelical approaches to politics are rooted in sound biblical and theological thinking. They are worthy of consideration. But they often get little traction because the Christian Right has been so successful in shaping the evangelical political mind.

I would argue that the “reluctant Trump voter” is essentially operating under the same political playbook as the enthusiastic Trump voter.  If you drill down, there is not much difference between Robert Jeffress or Franklin Graham and the reluctant Trump voter.  Neither show a lot of complexity or “shades of gray” when they think about political and public engagement.  There is one playbook, they learned it from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and they continue to execute it.  And where has this playbook led evangelicals?  Straight into the hands of Donald Trump.

Walker also plays the “Beto O’Rourke card”:

But an event on October 10, 2019 explains the odd-couple relationship of religious conservatives and Donald Trump. That evening, during a CNN townhall on LGBTQ issues, the now-former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke proclaimed that churches failing to toe the line on gay and transgender rights would lose their tax-exempt status in his administration. O’Rourke’s comments represented a high-water mark of a culture that has jettisoned anything resembling a Christian moral ecology. Never mind that O’Rourke’s candidacy is over. It was an Overton Window–shifting moment.

When O’Rourke made these comments I roundly criticized him  O’Rourke’s comments were stupid.  Many of his fellow Democratic candidates also rejected them.

Walker is correct when he claims that O’Rourke’s remarks scared many evangelicals. But he fails to address the deeper issues at work here. Trump and the Christian Right are masters at using extreme examples to frighten evangelicals. They have convinced more rank and file evangelicals that O’Rourke’s comments, and others like them, are representative of those evil “progressives” who are trying to undermine their supposedly Christian nation.  We can’t ignore this kind of fear-mongering.  As I argued in Believe Me, it permeates every dimension of Christian Right politics today.  It is also based on half-truths.  Yes, there are some Democratic politicians who are going after churches, but most of them are not.

Trump’s policies and political rhetoric build upon such extreme, and much celebrated, cases.

Here are two examples of this:.

First, from Believe Me:

Donald Trump himself, during his 2016 campaign, [claimed] that crime was rising when it was actually falling.  He attempted to portray refugees and undocumented immigrants as threats to the American public even though the chances that an American will die at the hands of a refugee terrorist is about one in 3.6. million; the chance of being murdered by an undocumented immigrant is one in 10.9 million per year.  One is more likely to die from walking across a railroad track or having one’s clothes spontaneously catch on fire.  Yet Trump managed to convince Americans that immigrants are “imminent threats” to their safety.”

Second, let’s take Trump’s recent “guidance” on school prayer.  On January 16, 2020, Trump made a public defense of prayer in public schools.  As I wrote at the time, this proclamation changed nothing.  Students have always had the right to pray in school.  The real reason for Trump’s proclamation on prayer was political–he wants evangelical votes in 2020.

Indeed, some evangelical leaders believe that the forces of secularization are trying to remove prayer and other Christian organizations from public schools.  But is this really happening at a significant rate?  While there have been some cases in which a school district has failed to uphold the Supreme Court’s protections over prayer in schools, these cases have gained national headlines because the Christian Right and Fox News have made a big deal about them.  I wonder if these cases are representative of what is actually happening in most public schools today.

Yesterday I was talking to a student who works with a well-known evangelical youth organization that has a strong presence at public high schools.  This student told me that the local school district actually supports the work of this organization.  Similarly, my children were involved in prayer-groups and Christian organizations in their public schools that received no resistance from district administrators.

Again, I ask, are school districts really trying to stop students from praying?  And even if the answer to this question is an unqualified “yes,” is an embrace of Donald Trump really worth it in the long run?  To answer such a question, it seems one would need to think in a complex and nuanced way about the matter. Any attempt to diagnose this problem would need to recognize shades of gray.  An evangelical concerned about religious liberty might benefit from knowing more about serious legislation like “Fairness for All” or proposals such as “Confident Pluralism,” both thoughtful Christian responses to the place of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. But the Christian Right playbook offers no such nuance or complexity.  There is only one way of doing politics and any consideration of a Christian approach to politics that is not driven by fear, power, and nostalgia is off the table.  Why should evangelicals consider complexity and nuance when there are culture war battles to be won? Evangelicals may find Trump’s character and policies to be disgusting, but if he is going to help them win these battles, then he deserves their support.

And now let’s turn to abortion.  Walker writes about his friend Steve:

Steve is a white evangelical in his forties, a middle-school teacher, the father of two daughters, and a deacon at his Southern Baptist church. These are identities that media narratives depict as culprits for Trump’s ascension: White, male, Christian, middle-class, husband, father. He’s the token “white evangelical” that the media depicts as red-state reprobates.

But there is more to Steve. Steve serves the homeless, sees diversity as a pillar of God’s creation, and helped an Iraqi refugee family resettle in his own hometown. I daresay he cares more about justice in real life than those who preen about it on Twitter.

Steve voted for Trump, and will again. Why? For one, he thinks abortion is America’s Holocaust, and will not support any party that supports abortion on demand. Whatever Trump’s eccentricities are, Steve won’t vote for a progressive, even if the media tells him that to do so would save America and its institutions. For Steve, saving abstractions like “America” and its “institutions” can make America a lot less worthy of survival if abortion on demand continues apace. To the average religious conservative, in fact, saving America means saving it from the scourge of abortion.

Like Steve, I am pro-life.  I think abortion is a serious moral problem.  In Believe Me I call it a “horrific practice.” We need to be working hard to reduce the number of abortions that take place in the United States–even working to eliminate the practice entirely.  But when it comes to politics, Steve embraces a Christian Right political playbook that has taught him the only way of dealing with abortion is to overturn Roe v. Wade. Steve cares about social justice and the poor, and probably believes that the church or other non-profit organizations should have some role in helping pregnant mothers carry their babies to term, but when it comes to politics he believes that the election of a candidate who promises to appoint pro-life justices is the best way of ending abortion.

Steve knows that there are other ways of reducing abortions.  He may even know that overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America. But rather than acting with some degree of realism on this issue, or trying to think of ways of reducing abortions that do not rely heavily on electoral politics, Steve shows very little nuance or complexity in his thinking about the best way to tackle this moral issue.  Instead he follows the Christian Right playbook and it leads him, again, straight into the hands of Donald Trump.

I wish more evangelical Trump voters would see the world in shades of gray, especially in the way they do politics. I wish they were not bound by such a reductionist, “black and white,” political vision.

Bernie Sanders Seems to Reject the Very Idea of a Pro-Life Democrat

John Gehring, the Catholic Director of Faith in Public Life, recently shared this video on his Twitter feed:

And then Gehring tweeted:

And Pelosi:

A lot to think about here. I think Jimmy Carter is right.

Could Any of the Democratic Candidates Echo Trump’s Words on the Dignity of Human Life in the Womb?

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Bernie Sanders at Liberty University in September 2015

At the National March for Life, Donald Trump said

All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God.  Together, we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life…when we see the image of the baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of God’s creation…When we watch a child grow, we see the splendor that radiates from each human soul.  One life changes the world.

I have written several posts at this blog about Trump’s speech at the March for Life.  He has speech writers who know how to put the right words in his mouth at events like this.  I still believe that his appearance at the March for Life was harmful to the pro-life cause.

Do any of the Democratic candidates on the stage last night in Manchester, New Hampshire believe what Trump said in the above excerpt? And if they did agree with what Trump said about the dignity of human life, would they be willing to say something like this, regardless of their position on Roe v. Wade or a women’s right to choose, before a nationally televised audience?  Would they be willing to say that abortion is a moral problem?

Here is a taste of religion writer Terry Mattingly’s recent column:

While commentators stressed that Trump attended the march to please his conservative evangelical base, this massive event in Washington, D.C., draws a complex crowd that is hard to label. It includes, for example, Catholics and evangelicals from groups that have been critical of Trump’s personal life and ethics, as well as his stands on immigration, the death penalty and related issues.

Videos of this year’s march showed many signs praising the president, but also signs critical of his bruising brand of politics.

A Facebook post by a Catholic priest — Father Jeffrey Dauses of the Diocese of Baltimore — captured this tension. Telling pro-lifers to “wake up,” Dauses attacked what he called Trump’s “callous disregard for the poor, for immigrants and refugees, for women … This man is not pro-life. He is pro-himself.”

Meanwhile, Buttigieg — an openly gay Episcopalian — did something even more daring when he appeared at a Fox News town hall in Iowa. One of the toughest questions he faced came from the leader of a network of Democrats opposed to abortion.

“Do you want the support of pro-life Democrats?” asked Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life. “Would you support more moderate platform language in the Democratic Party to ensure that the party of diversity and inclusion really does include everybody?”

Some previous platforms, she noted, affirmed that all Democrats were welcome — even if their beliefs clashed with the party’s pro-abortion-rights orthodoxy. Now, Day added, the “platform contains language that basically says that we don’t belong, we have no part in the party because it says abortion should be legal up to nine months.”

Buttigieg refused to compromise, even though he has repeatedly stressed his credentials as a moderate Democrat striving to woo #NeverTrump Republicans and religious believers who abandoned his party in 2016.

Read the entire piece here.

As I have argued, moderate Democratic candidates like Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar have a great chance of stealing evangelical votes from Trump in 2020, but they will need to change the way they talk about abortion.  Elizabeth Warren is a Methodist, a church that still upholds a pro-life position. But I don’t see her moving in this direction.

I once tried to get Bernie Sanders to budge on abortion. Here is what I wrote about him back in September 2015:

I watched Bernie Sanders’s speech in Columbia, South Carolina on a recent night. I thought it was great. The economic populist in me was cheering. When Sanders talks about income inequality he is hitting a nerve. Sanders may not win the nomination, but he will be around long enough to make life miserable for Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic candidates running for president of the United States.

Sanders, the progressive Vermont senator, will be speaking at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia on September 14. Liberty, the school founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, has long been a defender of conservative values. In the past it has not only championed Christian morality, but it has promoted free markets and limited government. Sanders may be the most progressive person who has ever spoken — if not set foot — on the Lynchburg campus.

I am glad that Sanders is coming to Liberty. The university deserves accolades for inviting him to speak. Our democracy only works when we stop the shouting matches and start listening to the views of those with whom we differ before we condemn them.

I don’t know what motivated Liberty University to invite Sanders. The cynical side of me says that the Liberty leadership wants him to speak so that they can point out the wrongness of his progressive views. I am sure Sanders’s visit will be discussed at length in Liberty classrooms, giving professors plenty of opportunities to debunk his ideas.

The hopeful side of me says that Liberty is trying to move beyond its reputation as a bastion of the Christian Right and is looking to find at least some common ground with those on the Left.

At the end of his speech in Columbia, Sanders did an interview with CSPAN. Scott Scully asked Sanders about his upcoming visit to Lynchburg. Sanders said that he hoped to find some common ground with Liberty on matters related to wealth inequality, childhood poverty and health care.

I hope the students, faculty and administrators at Liberty listen carefully to Sanders. Inequality, poverty and health care are moral issues. They are things that all Christians should be concerned about. Perhaps Sanders might inspire some of the Liberty faithful to extend their religious outreach to areas that have not historically been part of the Christian Right’s moral agenda.

But let me suggest another possible topic of conversation that might take place on September 14th. It is a conversation that is unlikely to happen, but it should. I would love to see a Liberty student ask Sanders something about abortion.

Sanders often talks about “protecting the most vulnerable Americans.” It is one of the lynchpins of his campaign. For Sanders, this means protecting senior citizens and children in poverty by strengthening government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety nets. People might differ with Sanders’s approach to protecting these “most vulnerable Americans,” but few would argue that senior citizens and children are not vulnerable and do not need protecting.

In his speech in Columbia, Sanders said with much passion and force:

“It is not acceptable that billionaires grow richer while kids in this country go hungry. If we are a moral people, we stand with the most vulnerable people, the most defenseless people, in our society. To turn our backs on the children while billionaires get richer is not what this country is supposed to be about.”

Preach it Bernie!

But how can a progressive Democrat concerned about defending the most vulnerable members of society fail to say anything about abortion? Whatever one thinks about the recently released Planned Parenthood videos, one thing seems clear:  aborted fetuses are alive, they are vulnerable and they need protection.

If Democrats like Sanders are concerned about the dignity of human life — all human life — they will protect these helpless babies and work to reduce the number of abortions in America.

Such a position seems perfectly consistent with the progressive morality Sanders is preaching.

It would also make for a great conversation at Liberty University.

And, perhaps most importantly for Sanders, it might make Christians like me — people who are serious about economic inequality and excited about the Sanders candidacy — to translate that enthusiasm into a vote.

Former Christian Right Leader: “Trump has used the March for Life for his own ends”

SchenkDuring the 1980s and 1990s, evangelical minister Rob Schenk was at the forefront of many Christian Right initiatives. But over the last decade or so, Schenk has come to grips with the spiritual bankruptcy of the movement he once helped to lead.  He is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Armor of Light.” and the author of Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Schenk is a March for Life veteran.  But this year he decided not skip the event.  Why?  Schenk explains in his recent piece at Sojourners.  Here is a taste:

With the campaign of Donald Trump, the movement I once devoted my life to was swallowed up by a political leviathan. In Trump’s craven pursuit of power, prestige, and the adulation of the crowds, the once poster boy for a lifestyle of pleasure-seeking and self-absorption that required legalized abortion for its own preservation, offered a deal to pro-lifers: Sell out to me and I’ll sell out to you. You’ll get everything you want if you give me everything I want.

Many pro-life leaders I know entered into this Faustian pact — and that’s why they giddily cheered Trump when he took the stage at Washington’s annual March for Life. Joining him on site was one figure who, back in my day, was rarely seen at a pro-life event: Franklin Graham. I remember when my colleagues and I were furious with Graham and other national evangelical celebrities who couldn’t have cared less about the child in the womb. But at the march, Graham was feted as a hero only because of his sponsorship of Trump.

In the end, though, what really grieved me was how little this will do for the desperate women and children — born and unborn — and for the quiet, unassuming helpers who stand with them. At the same time, it will only advance Trump’s cruel agenda that includes separating families at the southern border, deporting people who have only known the U.S. as their home, cutting back social programs for the poor, and, now, interrogating pregnant women seeking tourist visas. It will also give Trump a false moral cover for his exposure during his impeachment trial. Trump’s shameless exploitation of the pro-life movement, his crass transactional abuse of the sacred, and his quid-pro-quo terms for the movement’s leaders (Give-me-religious-cover-and-I’ll-give-you-your-judges) will continue to cheapen and contaminate what was once pure, holy, and human.

Trump has used the March for Life for his own ends. The pro-life leaders who ceded the stage to him did a supreme disservice to the people for whom that stage was built. If life really is sacred, then everything around it should be kept sacrosanct.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Tony Perkins Tells Historian Tommy Kidd That He Will Need to “Give an Account” for Turning People Away from Trump

It begins at the 1:00:30 mark:

Todd Starnes:

There are still a lot of never-Trumpers out there.  I just don’t get these folks. There’s a guy named Thomas Kidd. The Ethics and Religious Commission–he’s one of their fellows.  They are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  He put out a tweet yesterday.  He said: Hopefully it will be good for Trump personally to attend the March for Life.  It isn’t good symbolically for the pro-life movement to be associated with him.’  What do you make of that?”

Tony Perkins:

I don’t get it either, Todd.  I am at a loss…I’m having this discussion with, not a lot of people, cause most people who are honest will think through this process [and] look at what this administration has done.  The evidence is irrefutable….If people can’t see that and say, alright, I was wrong, this president has been doing this, I may not like his personality, I may not like his tweets, but I have to be honest, his policies are pro-life, they’re pro religious freedom–it’s everything that people in the Christian community who have been involved in this process have looked for for years.  It might not have come in the same package or the one that we desired, but it’s getting done, and so I have to admit it. They’re unwilling to do that and quite frankly, they will have to give an account for that some day–not before me, they’ll have to give an account for trying to turn people the wrong way when it comes to this administration (Italics mine).

Tommy Kidd can defend himself, but let me say a few things here.

Perkins’s comments make perfect sense.  Why?  Because he operates with a political playbook informed by the pursuit of political power and a nostalgia for a Christian founding.  The Christian Right rarely interrogates this playbook. Many of those who have interrogated it, and brought it into the light of scriptural teaching, have trashed it. So let’s be clear–when Perkins says Trump is doing  “everything that people in the Christian community…have looked for for years,” he is referring to Trump’s willingness to execute this playbook.  I would actually change Perkins’s quote to better reflect historical reality: Trump is doing everything that people on the Christian Right–a political movement that emerged in the late 1970s as a bulwark against cultural, racial, and demographic change in America–have looked for for years.  If you follow this playbook, then Trump is the greatest Christian president of all time.  He is indeed making America great again and he deserves everyone’s support.

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I tried to show that this playbook is deeply flawed.  Fear, to quote Marilynne Robinson, is not a Christian habit of mind.  Granted, we are all afraid.  I fear what will happen to America and the church if Trump gets re-elected.  But I am not proud of the fact that I am afraid. I see it as a character flaw and a weakness in my Christian life.  The Bible tells us to “fear not.”  To dwell in fear is a sinful practice.  So I need to work harder, with the Spirit’s help, at replacing fear with Christian hope.  Tony Perkins and others are not only afraid, but they are building an entire political philosophy–the playbook I mentioned above–on fear.  Many of these fears, I might add, are not based on solid evidence. I write about this extensively in Believe Me.

And let’s talk about abortion.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am pro-life. I am supportive of the March for Life and have often thought of one day marching myself.  I also completely affirm Tommy Kidd and others who have said Trump is bad for the pro-life movement. Perkins says that “most people who are honest will think through this process.”  I try to be honest about my pro-life convictions.  And during the course of writing Believe Me I actually took some time to “think through” some of these issues. 🙂  I concluded that it is possible to be pro-life and not subscribe to the playbook of Tony Perkins and the Christian Right.  I am not going to go into detail here again about how that is possible, but I tried to make a clear case in Believe Me.

Will I have to give an account for what I have written?  Yes.  Will Tommy Kidd have to give an account?  Absolutely.  We all will. And that includes Tony Perkins and the rest of the court evangelicals.  They will need to give an account for their failure to speak truth to power.  They will need to give an account for empowering such an immoral president.  They will need to give an account for their decision to trade their Christian witness for a mess of political pottage and some federal judges.  They will need to give an account for all the young people leaving the church because of the hypocrisy that they see.  (And don’t tell me these young people don’t exist–I talk to them virtually every day).  They will need to give an account for how they have turned American evangelicalism into a laughing-stock among Christians around the world.

Yes, we will all need to one day give an account one day.

 

What Will Evangelicals Do Without Starbucks?

Starbucks

Evangelicals love to drink coffee.  Some of the larger megachurches have coffee bars and cafes.  Back in 2007 or 2008, I wrote a piece about evangelicals drinking coffee during the church service.  Back then I felt optimistic that the piece might convince people to stop raising one hand in worship God while sipping a mocha with the other hand.  But I am afraid I lost that battle.  Today  the number of fluid ounces of coffee consumed in the sanctuary far exceeds the monthly intake of sacramental wine (ahem, grape juice).

I wonder how many pro-life evangelicals know that Starbucks supports Planned Parenthood?  Julie Zauzmer reports at The Washington Post:

The Rev. Bjorn Lundberg will escort busloads of his parishioners to Washington on Friday for this year’s March for Life. They won’t be stopping at Starbucks on the way.

The coffee giant is not aligned with their cause, Lundberg says. As a Catholic priest who leads a 9,500-member parish in Winchester, Va., he stopped patronizing Starbucks when he learned the chain matches its employees’ charitable donations, including to Planned Parenthood and other nonprofit groups that support abortion access.

“You’re talking about material cooperation,” the priest said. “If someone says, ‘I want to buy a refreshment from this restaurant’ and the restaurant very publicly supports some kind of abortion thing, then I am cooperating.”

Molly Spence, a Starbucks spokeswoman, confirmed that Starbucks matches employees’ donations to most nonprofits and called that “a far cry” from promoting abortion.

Read the rest here.

If only Chik-fil-A had good coffee!  🙂

The Court Evangelical Anti-Abortion Playbook

Abortion

Court evangelical Ralph Reed’s recent tweet says so much about how the Christian Right thinks about politics:

Earlier today Adam Schiff offered ten convincing reasons why Donald Trump “put himself first” in the Ukraine scandal.  Donald Trump always puts himself first.  To suggest, as Ralph Reed does, that “protecting the unborn” is one of Trump’s “top priorities” is not supported by the facts. Trump talks about “protecting the unborn” because it is politically expedient.  Throughout his entire public life, Trump’s views on abortion have changed with the political winds.  He did not become pro-life on abortion until he ran for president.  You don’t get pro-life bona fides by showing up at the March for Life.

There is little evidence that Trump cares about human dignity after the baby leaves the womb.  His policies on immigration, health care, guns, and the environment do not suggest a commitment to life.

I am often asked how the Christian Right can support a president of such immoral character and still sleep at night.  The answer is abortion. The Christian Right privileges abortion over all other issues.  It makes perfect sense that Reed thinks abortion is the primary reason conservative evangelicals should vote for Trump in 2020.  Reed is a political operative.  He knows his audience.

Of course it is certainly possible that a person could be pro-life on abortion, and even attend Saturday’s March on Life, and still conclude that Trump does not deserve the support of pro-life & evangelical voters. I know of several anti-Trump evangelicals who will be marching for life in Washington D.C. on Saturday.

Others might believe that Trump’s appointment of pro-life Supreme Court justices is a good thing, but not good enough to tolerate the rest of Trump’s immoral administration, both in terms of policy and presidential character.

Someone else might argue that overturning Roe v. Wade will do little to end abortion in America. They might wonder why millions and millions of dollars are spent on electing the right political candidates when the money could be used to reduce the number of abortions in ways that do not require the unsavory Christian Right pursuit of political power.

Reed knows only one political playbook.  It is the one he helped write.  It has proven to be a very effective.  In 2016, it led the Christian Right into bed with Donald Trump.  For at least a generation or two, evangelical Christianity will be associated less with its Gospel witness and acts of justice in the world and more with the corrupt and immoral presidency of Donald Trump.  It is too early to tell how this will change evangelical Christianity, but I guarantee future historians will explain it to us.

An Important Piece on Abortion That Will Irritate Both Sides of the Debate

abortion

Sometimes irritating the extremes is a good thing.  Here is Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter on the eve of the March for Life:

Friday, tens of thousands of people, mostly Catholics, will stream into our nation’s capital for the annual March for Life. It is a grim irony, and implacable evidence, of the strange times in which we live that the pro-life movement simultaneously has never been closer to its stated goal of overturning the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion a constitutional right and never more threatened in its moral integrity and political efficacy. Regrettably, the Catholic left, with notable exceptions, appears largely unequal to the moment as well.

I question the moral integrity and political efficacy of the mainstream pro-life movement for a simple reason: By lashing themselves to President Donald Trump, they have morally and indelibly compromised their cause. The Susan B. Anthony List announced it will launch a $52 million campaign to reelect the president and help the Republican Party hold on to its majority in the U.S. Senate. Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, did not voice any concern about the unborn children waiting with their pregnant moms at the border, denied entry by a racist president who has turned his back on our nation’s proud history of welcoming immigrants. She did not explain how the president’s denial of climate change has retarded efforts needed to help the thousands of pregnant women in Bangladesh who are experiencing higher rates of miscarriages due to climate change. Nor did she explain why she thinks the theme of this year’s march — “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman” — is a thought that can be entrusted to a man whose misogyny is legendary. 

And here is a taste of Winters’s critique of the Catholic left:

One friend told me that I would never be in a position of having to decide to procure an abortion or not, so I really had no business telling any woman what to do. Of course, I welcomed the conviction of Gen. Ratko Mladic for war crimes, even though I am not a Bosnian and have never been a general. I am not a burglar and have never been burgled, but I am opposed to burglary. In those instances when a woman friend has contemplated having an abortion, I have done what I can to be supportive. That is simple decency. Being supportive is a moral good. Having an abortion is not.

The introduction of distinctions and nuances clarify, they do not confuse, the moral stakes. No less an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas treated abortion as manslaughter not murder, a kind of recognition of the increasing moral claims as a person advances along the continuum of development from cell to zygote to embryo to child. He never said it was morally permissible. On the other hand, pro-choice activists are quick to insist that the preborn child is a part of the woman’s body, which is undoubtedly true. Yet, is there no moral significance in the fact that the preborn child is the only part of a woman’s body that has a different DNA? Indeed, they tend to simply avoid the possibility that there is any moral significance to the sonograms they see on refrigerators. It is the same kind of denial of what science increasingly demonstrates that we witness with climate change deniers.

As a Catholic Christian, the only privileged hermeneutic belongs to the witness of the Scriptures and to the magisterium. I do not like it when pro-life activists cite scriptural verses as proof texts. Jeremiah 1:5 begins, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” and Psalm 139 echoes the idea, but proof texts are never convincing. The fact that one side of an argument is not convincing does not, ipso facto, make the other side cogent.

Read the entire piece here.

So you want some historical context on abortion in America?  Listen to our interview with historian Daniel Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

How the Democratic Presidential Candidates Can Win Evangelical Votes

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Pete Buttigieg at Jimmy Carter’s church in Plains, Georgia

Here is a taste of Elana Schor’s Associated Press piece “Democrats’ challenge: Courting evangelicals in the Trump era“:

 

President Donald Trump’s strong white evangelical support poses a challenge to Democrats: how to connect with a group of Christian voters whose longtime GOP lean makes them compelling antagonists in a polarized era.

Former President Barack Obama reached out to evangelicals in notable fashion during his White House bids, tapping well-known pastor Rick Warren to appear at his first inauguration and vowing to safeguard religious liberty as he launched a coalition of faith voters in 2012. While Obama’s efforts paid some dividends, Trump has complicated that task this year for Democrats who are balancing an appeal to religious voters with opposition to the sitting president’s agenda on issues important to evangelicals.

The value of making political space for more conservative-leaning evangelicals may be less urgent for Democrats now, amid a grueling primary where the party’s liberal base holds significant sway. But once Democrats choose a nominee, cutting into Trump’s popularity with white evangelicals — not to mention securing votes in minority evangelical communities — could make a pivotal difference come November’s general election.

To that end, multiple Democratic presidential hopefuls have talked about their faith on the campaign trail, weaving it into their approach to issues from health care to economics. Among the most vocal Democrats on that front is former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, who asserted his party’s connection to religion last week during its final primary debate before next month’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus.

Read the rest here.

Of the candidates left in the Democratic primary race, only Pete Buttigieg occasionally uses Christian language.  This commendable, but it is often hard to separate Buttigieg’s religious language from Democratic Party talking points. He will not win over many white evangelicals this way.

Over the last couple of years I have talked with a lot of Trump-voting evangelicals.  Some go to my church.  Some are in my family.  Many attended one of my events on the Believe Me book tour. Others I have encountered through social media or e-mail.

Based on this anecdotal evidence, I think there are a lot of evangelicals who will vote for Trump again. I’ve even met a few evangelicals who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016, but plan to vote for Trump in 2020 because he delivered on Supreme Court justices, religious liberty (as defined by conservative evangelicals), and Israel.

But I have also met people who voted for Trump in 2016 and are looking for a justification–any justification–to vote for a Democrat in 2020.  These evangelicals might vote for:

  1.  A Democratic candidate who speaks in genuine and sincere ways about reducing the number of abortions in America.  Preferably this would be a candidate who supports the Hyde Amendment.
  2. A Democratic candidate who recognizes the legitimate threats to religious liberty experienced by some Christian institutions.  Such a candidate might endorse something like Fairness for All or embrace something akin to John Inazu‘s “confident pluralism.”

That’s it.

If a candidate will speak proactively on both of these points he or she will steal a small number of evangelical votes away from Trump.  These votes may be all that is needed to defeat him.  But I don’t see it happening. No such candidate exists in the Democratic field.

If a candidate is not willing to part from the Democratic Party platform on these points then I see no political reason for her or him to talk about religion on the campaign trail.  Such a candidate should just take the route Hillary Clinton took in 2016– ignore evangelicals and try to win without them.  Let’s remember that such a strategy almost worked–Clinton won the popular vote by three million.

Ronald Sider on Abortion

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Ronald Sider is a veteran of the evangelical left.  He is a longtime professor of theology at Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action.  He is best known for his 1977 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.  I am also a fan of his book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.

Ron will not remember this, but we first met in the late 1990s when he spoke at The Stony Brook School, an evangelical boarding school on Long Island.  Later, he asked me to present a paper on the recent history of evangelical political engagement at a Catholic-Evangelical dialogue on faith and politics at Georgetown University  That piece was eventually published as “A Brief History of Modern Evangelical Social Engagement” in Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good: A Dialogue in a Historic Convergence.

In a recent blog post, Sider chides his fellow Democrats for failing to take seriously the reduction of abortion in the United States.  Here is a taste:

Even if you think (as I do) that on a majority of issues, Democratic proposals (e.g.,  on racial and and economic justice, healthcare, taxes, climate change) are closer to a biblical vision than that of Republicans, still the ever increasing refusal of Democrats to take seriously the pro-life concerns of Christians and others is a problem.

Former President Bill Clinton told a good friend of mine that the reason his wife Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania (and therefore the presidency) was because of her radical stand on abortion. In 2008 when she ran for the Democratic nomination, she said abortion should be” legal, safe and rare”. In 2016, she no longer said it should be rare. The head of the Democratic National Committee recently told another good friend of mine that in  his circles, one did not dare even  use the word  “reduction” when talking about abortion.

For years a number of congressional Democrats supported the Hyde amendment which prevented government using our tax dollars to fund abortions. That action respected the beliefs of pro-life people. But Democrats no longer support that provision.

There  used to be dozens of  pro-life Democrats in the US Congress who supported  some restrictions on abortion. Today only five are left.

The powerful, well-funded national association of Democratic state attorneys-general has recently announced that they will refuse to endorse anyone who does not support abortion and favor expanding abortion services. In the first national debate for Democratic candidates for president, one questioner asked if there was any circumstance where abortion should be restricted. Not a single Democratic candidate named any restriction.

This rigidity is politically foolish. The Gallup Paul repeatedly has shown that about 25% of Americans think abortion should never be legal.  25% think it should be legal in every situation. And about 50% think abortion should be legal ONLY in certain circumstances. 

One would think the Democrats would ponder the fact that Democrats very recently won the race to be governor in two very conservative states ( West Virginia and Louisiana) where Donald Trump won by  huge margins in 2016. And both successful Democratic governors endorsed a pro-life agenda that would place some restrictions on abortion.

Former Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp is right; “There are very principled people who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue  [abortion] for religious reasons and when you say you’re not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary”(New York Times, Nov. 18, p. A11). 

And politically stupid!

Read the entire piece here.

Sider echoes (or maybe I echoed him!) my argument about Hillary Clinton in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In that book I called for a reduction in the number of abortions in America, but I also argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is probably not the best way of doing this.

When a Pro-Life Democrat Wins the African-American Vote and Defeats a Pro-Trump Candidate in Louisiana

John Bel Edwards

This weekend Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards was reelected.  He defeated a Trump-supported Republican named Eddie Risponse.  Trump visited Louisiana twice in the last two weeks in the hopes of getting Risponse elected.  It did not help.

It is worth noting that John Bel Edwards greatly expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.  He also signed a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected.  And his victory was largely due to overwhelming support among Louisiana’s African Americans.

Over at First Things, Fordham University moral philosopher Charles Camosy offers some analysis of Edwards’s victory.  Here is a taste:

It would be interesting to know what white, progressive, highly educated Democrats think of all this. After all, they have been primarily responsible for the party’s turn to the kind of abortion extremism that would have doomed an orthodox Democrat in a race like this one. Mother Jones ran a piece a few days before the election with the headline, “Is There Still Room for an Anti-Abortion Hardliner in the Democratic Party?” The answer in the party platform—which claims that abortion should be unrestricted, that it should be paid for by pro-lifers’ tax dollars, and that it is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing”—is obviously in the negative.

But when faced with the prospect of a Trump-supported governor, Democratic activists changed their tune. This kind of change needs to happen more generally throughout the party, especially as we head into 2020. In 2016, Trump over-performed with African Americans and Latinos—populations which tend to be more abortion-skeptical than white Democrats. For the Democrats’ progressive leadership, which at least says all the right things about listening to voices of color, the factors behind Edwards’s reelection should be highly instructive. But the party, at least as currently constituted, is light years away from permitting a pro-life Democratic candidate from running for national office.

And this:

Despite struggling in purple states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, there is, remarkably, increased talk of the Democrats becoming a dominant party by turning big states like Texas from red to blue. But it is nearly impossible to see how this would work given their current abortion platform—which, in addition to just being politically bananas, is made-to-order for devastating pro-life messaging.

Indeed, recent studies of pro-life political advertisements in Texas found that they had the biggest impact on—wait for it—Democratic-leaning women, young voters, and Latino voters. Such ads moved them 10, 8, and 13 points, respectively. And they had real political results—pushing Governor Abbott to a whopping 44 percent approval rating with Latinos, for instance. Is it possible that the progressive, white abortion rights activists who dominate the Democratic party leadership could be marginalized in favor of those genuinely committed to listening to black and Latino voices on abortion?

One might think that Trump’s 2016 victory, coupled with the Edwards reelection, would be enough to push the party to change course. But the bubble of coastal elites (on both right and left) is a difficult one to burst. I fear that only something totally devastating—like a 2020 Trump victory—could shake up the current leadership.

Read the entire piece here.