People of Praise and South Bend, Indiana

Over at Politico, Adam Wren writes about the relationship between People of Praise and the city of South Bend, Indiana. Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court has brought attention to this small Catholic community.

Here is a taste of Wren’s piece, “How Amy Coney Barrett’s Religious Group Held Shape a City“:

What’s difficult to understand outside South Bend, however, is just how deeply integrated this group is into the local community. Though the group has only a few thousand local members, and keeps a low profile as an organization, its influence and footprint in the city are significant. That influence, and its resistance to liberal changes in the wider culture, are likely to arise as issues in her Supreme Court nomination hearings, expected to begin Oct. 12.

People of Praise includes several prominent local families, including realtors and local financial advisers, who act as a sort of professional network for families in the group and provide considerable social capital to its members. In South Bend mayoral elections, campaigns have been known to strategize about winning over People of Praise as a constituency, given the fact that they live close together in several neighborhoods. The group runs Trinity School at Greenlawn, a private intermediate and high school that is considered by some to be the best—and most conservative—school in South Bend. Families from Notre Dame and elsewhere, even unaffiliated with the group, pay $14,000 to attend grades 9-12 and $13,000 for grades 6-8. Barrett served on its board between 2015 and 2017, and her husband Jesse, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is now a partner in a law firm here, advised the school’s nationally recognized mock trial team.

As industry receded in South Bend with the closure of the automaker Studebaker in 1963, People of Praise has grown to occupy some of the city’s most storied institutions. The group’s original home was the nine-floor, 233-room Hotel LaSalle, a Georgian Revival structure from the 1920s, one of the most prominent buildings in downtown South Bend. When the group moved into the building in 1975, after it was bought by Charismatic Renewal Services, Inc.,a closely affiliated nonprofit, it cleared out one floor to serve as a communal daycare, and used a former ballroom for its meetings, where members spoke in tongues and practiced healing. Some members lived there.

Trinity School occupies a sprawling mansion situated on a sylvan property on the east side of town that was formerly owned by the Studebaker family, whose factory once employed 30,000 workers. The group’s main meeting hall, which isn’t listed on Google Maps, is a former bowling alley and indoor soccer complex 10 minutes from downtown, near the Trinity sports fields.

Read the entire piece here.

I blogged about People of Praise here.

As I read Wren’s piece, I thought about all the small evangelical experiments in communalism associated with the Jesus People and the evangelical Left. See Shawn Young, Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock; Larry Eskridge, God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People; and David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.

I know these communities well. In fact, I became an evangelical in a similar community in West Milford, New Jersey. This community was theologically and socially conservative, but active in helping the poor and serving its neighbors. And yes, it did have authoritarian tendencies. One day I will write more extensively about my seven or eight year experience in this community.

I am guessing that Barrett’s adoption of black children from Haiti has a lot more to do with her Christian faith as expressed through the People of Praise community than it does her efforts to cover up some inherent racism. Of course these two explanations can be connected, but it also worth noting that human beings often act in this world in ways that cannot always be reduced to race.

And as long as we are at it, let’s keep Barrett’s kids out of it.

This is what racism looks like

And it comes from the Donald Trump campaign:

Yes, that is the voice of white evangelical vice president Mike Pence saying “you want be safe in Joe Biden’s America” as Biden kneels with parishioners at a black church.

Here is Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service:

President Donald Trump’s campaign released a digital advertisement late Wednesday (Sept. 9) extending its argument that Americans “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” with images of angry or violent protest. Set to dramatic music, the commercial bombards the viewer with footage of flaming police cars, protesters confronting law enforcement personnel and explosions.

But the ad, titled “Meet Joe Biden’s Supporters,” ends not with an image of violence, but with slow-motion footage of former Vice President Biden kneeling in a Black church in front of a row of Black leaders. A moment later, words appear on the screen reading “stop Joe Biden and his rioters” as Mike Pence declares “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” 

The church footage appears to be from shortly after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a policeman in Minneapolis, when Biden visited Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, to discuss racial injustice and police brutality before praying with those assembled.

Asked whether the ad meant to suggest there was something unsafe about Black churches or meeting with Black leaders in a church, Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager replied, “That’s absurd and it’s shameful to even make the allegation.”

When Religion News Service followed up to ask what, exactly, footage of the church visit was meant to imply, Zager did not respond.

Read the rest here. White identity politics is all Trump has left.

Jeh Johnson speaks at Liberty University

Jeh Johnson was Barack Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security. Today he spoke to Liberty students about character and leadership. Though he didn’t mention Donald Trump, much of this speech was about Donald Trump (and perhaps Jerry Falwell Jr.) During the Q&A he tells campus pastor David Nasser that he believes racism is a systemic problem.

Watch:

Good leaders, Johnson argued:

  1. Tell people the truth
  2. Build consensus (and do not merely find consensus).
  3. Surround themselves with people willing to offer hard truths
  4. Never ask someone to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. (Like separating immigrant children from their parents).
  5. Live by the Golden Rule

Click here for Politico‘s story on Johnson’s visit.

Two days earlier, campus pastor David Nasser spoke about race in America and on the Liberty campus. He still seems skeptical about systemic racism and believes that a religious revival will solve everything, but before you say he doesn’t go far enough, please try to understand his speech in context. Nasser is trying to address important issues and understands his audience. These are worthwhile steps. Nasser says he is getting some blow-back on campus for his efforts.

People on the Christian Right are noticing what Nasser is doing at Liberty and they are not happy about it. The right-wing Christian website Capstone Report is upset about a recent event on Liberty’s campus:

Here is a taste of the Capstone Report’s post:

According to the source, a Liberty University dean promoted a Christian study of the book The Heart of Racial Justice. The book study is an attempt to radicalize young nursing students in the Social Justice rhetoric, we were told by worried conservatives at Liberty.

The book promotes what are now common tropes among the Critical Race Theory-Intersectionality and Social Justice Wokevangelical movement. Namely, that American Evangelical Christianity is defective, individualistic and promoted evil power structures.

On page 209, the authors assert that the Christian West has used its power to preach an “individualistic gospel” over true forms of Christianity. Instead some type of communitarian form of Christianity is promoted and preferred.

And on pp. 88-89, the authors preach an anti-corporate message claiming that White Americans “must face what people of their ethnicity have done to others” and that “Western government and corporations are the world champions of spin doctoring and spin control” and that the West pursues economic and military conquest of others around the globe.

If this book were written in 1979 instead of 2009, everyone would recognize the Marxist roots of that critique.

The core of the book teaches white people enjoy white privilege and have exploited other people groups historically. There is no nuance in this view showing the historical reality that every people group in history has done something like the authors allege—it is what the pages of history continue to show—whether the Islamic invasion of Europe reversed only by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours or the vast invasion of the West by the Great Khans of the Steppes.

On the day (Thursday) between Nasser’s remarks and Johnson’s visit, the Falkirk Center, Liberty’s culture war wing and public voice, held a conference on campus. The folks at the Capstone Report sound just like what I heard yesterday at the Falkirk event. Liberty University is trying to address racism on campus, but their public image, as represented the Falkirk Center, remains the same. As might be expected, the university is in the midst of a post-Falwell identity crisis and we are seeing it all play out on YouTube and online.

Out of the Zoo: Building Bridges

Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about her church’s journey toward racial reconciliation—JF

On June 14, 2020, I logged into my laptop and connected it to my family’s living room television for our weekly Sunday morning church live stream. Nibbling on my strawberry toaster strudel and trying not to drip the icing on the journal I use for sermon notes, I watched the pre-service announcement slides cycle-through on the screen. My parents settled into their usual spots on the couch as we waited for the five-minute countdown to reach zero. I was still in my pajamas. It seemed like a regular Sunday.

The break from normalcy came after the first worship set came to close. Pastor Bryan Tema took the stage, but the typical table he usually uses during sermons was replaced by two armchairs. “Today is a very unique day in that we are going to have a conversation,” he explained. Pastor Michael Brown, the CEO and President of the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, would be joining us to talk about what’s been going on in the news–but not about politics or the coronavirus pandemic. Pastor Brown, Tema explained, would be leading the congregation in a conversation about race.

Pastor Brown had given sermons at gracespring before, but this time he spoke words I never expected to hear at my church in the middle of Michigan suburbia. He talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, explaining that using the term “All Lives Matter” is like spraying a fire hose on a whole neighborhood when only one house is burning. Pastor Brown shared his own weariness, expressing that people of color in the United States are just plain tired of the way they’ve been treated. He pointed out that in order for meaningful change to take place, we’re going to have to shake things up. We’re going to have to leave our comfort zones.

At the end of the service, Pastor Tema offered a next step. Whoever was interested in learning more about racial reconciliation was invited to participate in a virtual book club led by my old youth pastor, Kenneth Price and his wife Monica. I signed up the very next day. Over the next several weeks, we progressed through Latasha Morrison’s book, Be the Bridge. Like during Pastor Brown’s sermon, in the book club I heard words–like “white privilege,” “microaggressions,” and “whitewashing”–that I never thought would be uttered at church. Three generations of congregants gathered over Zoom every Wednesday night to learn how to lament our nation’s racist past, confess our own stereotypes and complacency, repent and seek reconciliation. We learned how to build bridges of racial reconciliation and even talked about how our church, our “family” as Kenneth puts it, can continue to build more bridges in the weeks, months, and years to come. 

This is what the Church is supposed to look like. Brothers and sisters in Christ coming together with open hands and open hearts, ready to listen and learn. Believers seeking justice instead of passively accepting injustice. Christ-followers refusing to shy away from conversations because they’re uncomfortable or because the work of reconciliation is too hard. Family members celebrating diversity, seeking understanding, and spurring one another toward love and good works.

Ten weeks later, my Be the Bridge book club has finally come to an end. I actually finished the last two weeks of the study from the basement of Messiah University’s Harbor House. I’m not sure what my next major steps will be on this journey, but until I do I’ll keep studying history and reading The Hate U Give. I’m not sure what the future holds for gracespring either, but I pray this summer will prove a catalyst for a family-wide journey towards racial reconciliation.

A “progressive evangelical thinker” responds to the Eric Metaxas punch

Apparently, I am now a “progressive evangelical thinker.” Perhaps this may restore my reputation among some in the academic profession. 🙂

Here is Samuel Smith at The Christian Post:

While some on social media, including at least one progressive evangelical thinker, have been critical of Metaxas in the wake of the video, evangelical author Rod Dreher appears to defend Metaxas in a blog post published by The American Conservative. 

Read the entire piece here. For our coverage of the Metaxas punch, click here, here, and here.

Metaxas made an appearance on Tucker Carlson last night and joined the Fox News host in some standard court evangelical fearmongering:

I doubt Carlson or Metaxas watched the entire mass. Here it is:

A conservative Lutheran college in Wisconsin withdraws a speaking invitation to Mike Pence

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Mike Pence was scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Wisconsin Lutheran College, a theologically conservative school affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The school withdrew the invitation to speak at the August 29th event after “careful consideration of the escalating events in Kenosha.”

Here is a taste of Devi Shastri’s and Bill Glauber’s piece at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Pence’s appearance had already caused some controversy.

When the college announced it last week, it said the selection was not an endorsement of a political party and “cannot” be viewed as a political event.

“We believe it is possible within our context to leave partisan politics at the door and to celebrate America, our freedoms, Christian servant leadership and our graduates’ immense accomplishments,” the statement said.

But more than 100 students and alumni signed a letter calling the invitation “blatantly inappropriate.” 

“The mere invitation of a Vice President of an incredibly divisive and controversial ticket to speak in a swing state months before an election is ignorant and deceptive,” the letter said. “Speaking to young adults months before an election is a political move and not one that WLC can decide is apolitical.”

Read the rest here.

Court evangelicals on night 3 of the GOP convention

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Here is what the Bible-believing, born-again Christians who support Donald Trump are saying today:

Let’s start with the Liberty University Falkirk Center crowd:

Charlie Kirk believes that the Democrat concern over racial unrest and racial justice is politically motivated:

He is still denying the existence of systemic racism. How many more incidents have to happen before he sees a pattern?:

The NBA players boycotting for racial justice are morons:

And this:

Can Jenna Ellis point to one “God-given right” enshrined in the Constitution? The Constitution never mentions God:

As I wrote earlier today, Pence actually “stands firm” on the heretical fusion of Christianity and American nationalism:

Here is Sebastian Gorka of the Falkirk Center:

And this:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody has a partial list of court evangelicals who will be at Trump’s acceptance speech tonight:

The list includes Johnnie Moore, Jenetzen Franklin,Paula White-Cain, Tim Clinton, Greg Laurie, Samuel Rodriguez, Eric Metaxas, Gary Bauer, Jack Graham, Harry Jackson, Cissie Graham Lynch, and Ralph Reed.

Trump hasn’t even given his speech yet and Robert Jeffress is already calling it “historic”:

As expected, Jeffress was pretty excited about Mike Pence’s speech last night:

Johnnie Moore, the court evangelical who describes himself as a “modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” wrote a piece at Religion News Service in defense of Trump.

Mike Pence tried to quote the New Testament Book of Hebrews last night. He replaced “Jesus” with “Old Glory. Pastor Jack Graham loved the VP’s manipulation of the Bible for political gain:

Ironically, earlier in the day Graham tweeted this:

Yes, but is Franklin Graham proud of his niece Jerushah?

Night four of the RNC convention begins very soon.

What are the court evangelicals saying about Kamala Harris?

COurt Evangelicals

Let’s start with the folks associated with Jerry Falwell Jr.’s and Charlie Kirk’s Falkirk Center. Yes, these are the Christians who represent Liberty University in the public sphere:

Eric Metaxas says Harris has “no core values” and is only driven by ambition and power. What an ironic thing for a Trump supporter to say.

OK. Now that we are done with the Liberty University crowd, let’s move on to some other court evangelicals. The Christian Right warriors are out in force.

Ralph Reed:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody:

Pastor Darryl Scott:

Pastor Scott on the previous tweet:

I think the Christian pastor just “went there.”

Gary Bauer:

Tony Perkins is getting nervous:

Franklin Graham:

Onward Christian soldiers!

What happened when an evangelical university created a scholarship named after George Floyd

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On August 3, 2020, Bethel University, a Christian school in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced the George Floyd Scholarship.

The scholarship, named after the Black man killed by police during a May 2020 arrest in Minneapolis, is open to “incoming African American and Black students in all Bethel’s schools.” The scholarship was established “to invest in the future of diverse leaders.”

Bethel president Ross Allen, who attended Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis, wrote: “The deaths of George Floyd, Philando Castille, and so many others are evidence of the pain and persistence of racism…as followers of Christ, we are called to seek Jesus by seeking justice–and we will do so imperfectly yet consistently, until the inherent worth of all people is respected, cherished, and protected.”

Over at the the Clarion, the Bethel student newspaper, Emma Harville reports that the response to the George Floyd Scholarship has been mixed.  Here is a taste of her article:

Bethel University received support, but mostly criticism, from alumni and community members on social media following its Monday announcement of a George Floyd Memorial Scholarship for incoming African-American and Black students. 

Most comments criticized Floyd’s criminal history, claiming Floyd was a drug addict, felon and “not a man to look up to.” A couple even questioned why white students could not apply for the scholarship, too. 

“Shame on you Bethel…The Lord is removing His hand from you!” Bethel alum Linda Koblish wrote under Bethel’s Facebook post announcing the scholarship. 

Bethel junior S.I. Washington said he and a couple of his Black friends from Bethel met over FaceTime after they found out about the negative comments circulating Twitter and Facebook. To them, Floyd’s death was something that “brought all of us together.” 

“They’re so focused on [Floyd’s] life,” Washington said. “But his death meant everything to us. Yes, his life wasn’t amazing. But his death was everything.” 

Read the rest here.

The announcement at the Bethel University Facebook page currently has 66 comments. I think it’s fair to say that this a pretty good cross-section of how evangelicals are thinking about race in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Here are a few of those comments:

–As an alum, I am also looking forward to the ways that Bethel will announce how it will not just get black students through the door, but will fundamentally care for those student while they are there by making major policy, theological and environmental shifts by committing and ensuring students thrive by being protected, supported, centered, seen, and listened to – moving beyond perforative actions and into true repentance and transformation.

–I’m proud of Bethel’s actions in creating this scholarship in the name of George Floyd. As many have also expressed, I’d be interested and excited to hear more about additional and forthcoming anti-racism measures–especially those that focus on supporting BIPOC students throughout the years they attend. #BLM

–This is an amazing first step. As Christians it is our job to stand up and fight for those who are marginalized, serve them , love them, walk beside them the way Jesus did. This scholarship opens a door and I hope that bethel continues to do so in supporting our students of color during their time there too !

–As a Converge pastor, I find this to be virtue signaling and pandering and I can’t in good conscience recommend a school that is going to do this. I could support a scholarship, but it should not be named after a career criminal who was high, passing counterfeit money, and resisting arrest when he died. What I could support was something that would actually help our black brothers and sisters. Like addressing broken families, doing something to help with money management, sponsoring a charter school in at risk communities to give better education options (maybe connecting that with a scholarship), doing something to improve training of officers, etc.

I’m proud of my university for creating such a scholarship–this, and more scholarships like it, are a good first step toward making Bethel a place that can both reflect and honor the true diversity of the body of Christ. I hope, at the same time, we can keep working on Bethel’s *culture* to make it a place where BIPOC folk can feel entirely at home in the community, down to the level of each everyday interaction. That’s going to take a lot of intentional work from everyone.

Sounds like you’re joining the race to the bottom of the Woke Sea. An AA scholarship program sounds fantastic, but too bad you couldn’t pick from the myriad options of unbelievable historical black contributors to the nations history.

–Bethel could have and should hang their scholarship hat on a more deserving individual. His criminal past does not warrant the honor even if he was murdered. Better to name it after one of the children murdered in Chicago during the protests.

–George Floyd used to be a thug. He once held a gun to a pregnant womans stomach. Bethel University, bad idea. This is your role model? He indeed should never have been killed but still there is a lot to consider.

–I just lost all respect for Bethel. It is not the college we used to love! With many grandchildren coming of age to pick their college…Bethel will not be one of their options. You are supporting terrorism and a drug addict, felon and Covid-19 positive person who didn’t care who he spread the virus to. Everyone should be welcome…and if you are presenting the Christian faith…you should not distinguish between any race…rather you should be promoting that in Christ we are all one race and one body! Shame on you Bethel…The Lord is removing His hand from you!

–Thank you for acknowledging the persistence of racism. Looking forward to seeing Bethel make more steps in the direction of change!

–So proud of being Bethel University Almuni💪💪💪#BLM

–Thank you for creating this scholarship. This is a good first step, I will be anxiously waiting for what comes next.

Engaging with the latest stuff on race and the founders coming from Liberty University’s Falkirk Center

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Not all Christian colleges are the same. Some of you may recall a post in which I compared Messiah University to Liberty University. If you have a child considering a faith-based college I encourage you to read that post.

Liberty University recently established something called the Falkirk Center. In previous posts I called it a “think tank,” but after watching this organization develop over the last several months I now think it is more of a propaganda machine for Christian Trumpism.

In the last few days, the Falkirk Center Facebook page has been posting on race in America.

Here is a post from last night:

Woke Christianity is a manipulation of the Gospel. It intentionally twists the Bible to accommodate and achieve leftist political aims and purposes. This has been evidenced in past cries of “Jesus was an illegal immigrant!” Or “Jesus was a socialist!” Now, it is shifting to an idea that Jesus would have praised and been part of the Black Lives Matter organization. The Gospel is the free offer of salvation based on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the cross at Calvary. The Gospel tells us we are all sinners and we will all likewise perish unless we repent and believe in Christ. As Christians, we must preserve the Gospel and proclaim the truth until his coming. We must also speak out against heresy both inside and outside the church which includes Woke Christianity, Social Justice, Critical Theory and Intersectionality.

Thoughts:

  • There is no such thing as “woke Christianity.” The Christian scriptures do not endorse a particular political program–Left, Center, or Right. The Christian scriptures do not endorse capitalism or socialism. Fair-minded Christians around the world have used the scriptures to argue for both of these economic systems.
  • Would Jesus have been a member of Black Lives Matter? I have no idea. But Jesus would have certainly endorsed the idea that black lives matter. Do you see what the politically-charged Falkirk Center is doing here? They focus all of their attention on the official Black Lives Matter movement as a way to avoid talking about why black lives matter. If they can convince everyone that Black Lives Matter is a direct and immediate threat to our democracy they can get Trump re-elected and advance their political agenda. Don’t let Jerry Falwell and Charlie Kirk manipulate the teachings of Jesus for political gain. Don’t let them take the New Testament and filter its teachings through a Christian Right lens. It’s all politics.
  • The Falkirk Center says, “As Christians, we must preserve the Gospel and proclaim the truth until his coming.” Amen. So how does a belief in the proclamation of truth relate to the Falkirk’s support for the pathological liar in the Oval Office? How can an organization with a platform such as Liberty Univeristy fail to speak out about this? How long will evangelicals send their tuition money to a place whose leadership remains silent on this most basic moral issue? The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love, justice, and compassion. The citizens of this kingdom–the scriptures call them a royal priesthood– are in the business of announcing the arrival of this Kingdom to those in power.
  • Don’t be fooled by all these references to “Woke Christianity,” “Social Justice,” “Critical Theory,” and “Intersectionality.” They are big words used to scare ordinary Christians. Followers of Jesus Christ, as citizens of his Kingdom, will always fight for justice in the world. They will oppose both individual acts of injustice and systemic acts of injustice. They will fight for the poor and oppressed. American history teaches us that there white people have always oppressed Black people and stomped on their human dignity. This oppression is now embedded in our social institutions and it must be considered when Christians think about how to engage the world.  We can uphold these things without necessarily embracing every dimension of “critical theory” or “intersectionality.” Frankly, I think these words are just distractions. They prevent Christians from getting-on with the business of building the Kingdom. But let’s remember that they are meant to be distractions.

Here is another Falkirk Center post from yesterday:

The founding fathers worked tirelessly to create the most just and free nation in human history. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their ingenuity. Rather than be grateful for America and appreciate her system of government, however, the left has chosen to spite the founding fathers and all that they created, showing no appreciation for the price that has been paid for them to live in America and use their very freedoms to destroy the country that protects them. Leftist thinking is detrimental to a free and just society and is rotten at its core. We must do everything in our power to preserve the true story of the founding fathers, the noble history of America, and teach future generations of the sacrifices necessary to preserve, protect, and defend freedom and liberty in America.

  • The nation that the founders created in 1776 was not just. It was built upon universal Enlightenment principles such as “liberty,” but these principles were not applied to all people. In this sense, it is very difficult to say that the founders wanted to establish some kind of “Christian nation.”
  • The nation’s founders left a legacy of freedom and liberty that was eventually applied to most citizens. But by the time American leaders got their act together and started applying these ideals to African Americans and others, certain systemic injustices were already baked in the national cake, the product of decades of failure.
  • All of this has led to much debate among historians. No good historian would reject the idea that the founders were products of their time. The debate is over how rapidly the ideals of the white male American Revolution found their way into the mainstream of national life. Some say that the American Revolution was “radical” because it set the stage or prepared the way for women’s rights, the emancipation of slaves, civil rights, etc. Others argue that the Revolution was not radical because it failed to apply these ideas immediately. The founders made deliberate choices to keep injustice in place when they could have chosen the opposite course.  These debates are good for American democracy.  Let’s keep having them. Neither of them should be “canceled.”
  • This is our country. Let’s tell the story honestly.

And then there is this from a day or two ago:

Unfortunately, the faith that used to unite our country and carry it through its darkest hours, is now viewed as superstition and a detriment to society. Secular leftists are working, daily, to to infringe on religious liberty by prohibiting religious exercises or expressions and forcing groups to hire people whose beliefs do not align with that group’s religious convictions. As Christians- now more than ever- we must be attentive to and engaged with political and cultural events. Failure to do so is an abandonment of our duty to be good citizens of our country and it leaves the liberties this country was created to protect at risk of being taken away by those whose end goal is tyranny.

  • The first sentence presumes that the founders were trying to found a nation united by Christian faith. This is a problematic assumption that I have spent the better part of my career as an American historian trying to address. Start here.
  • Many white evangelicals are very upset that governors are shutting down churches due to the prevalence of COVID-19. These evangelicals believe that these local officials are curbing their right to worship. Is the prevention of Christian worship in a time of pandemic a violation of the First Amendment? That is an issue for the courts. But many of the founders thought that republics survived when people were willing to occasionally sacrifice their “rights” for the greater good of their neighbors. This is one of those moments when Christians can lead by example. Instead, many evangelicals, like the Falkirk Center, have chosen to mount a rights-based attack on masks, social distancing, and science that most of the founding fathers would fail to recognize. I don’t think the first-century church would recognize it either. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: “In the right confrontation with the world, the Church will become ever more like to the form of its suffering Lord.”
  • I am sympathetic to some of the religious liberty concerns mentioned in this post. I hope the Supreme Court will continue to defend religious institutions to hire according to their deeply-held theological convictions.  This, it seems, is a mark of a healthy pluralism.

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism, is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

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There are many white evangelicals who believe that a spiritual revival will solve the problem of racism in the United States. When God transforms a human heart, the argument goes, the inclination to perform racist acts will subside. So we should pray for revival to “heal our land.”

As an evangelical Christian, I believe that God moves in the lives of his human creation and can change their hearts. But racism runs deep in American culture. It is systemic and structural.

The failure of white Americans to consistently and immediately apply Western ideals of liberty and freedom to African Americans is why we have systemic racism in this country. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments came around it was too late. White supremacy was baked in the American cake. (It was actually baked in the cake of Western Civilization well before 1776 because westerners failed to apply the universal values of the Enlightenment to the cause of racial difference). Neither did the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s end racism in America.

These reform efforts were important steps toward a new birth of freedom, but none of them were able to pull racism out by the roots. The roots were too deep.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this about court evangelical Robert Jeffress:

Jeffress thinks that racism will “evaporate overnight” if people just turned to God. Again, he fails to see that the sin of racism is structural–it is deeply embedded in our all of our institutions.  I recall the argument of  James Davison’s Hunter‘s book To Change the World”: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In that book, Hunter argues that individual transformation is not the best way to change the world. True change does not happen through some kind of Protestant populism, but rather by the “work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life.” Such change takes generations and it can only “be described in retrospect.” Individual spiritual transformation can bring about good ends, but it does not change the “moral fabric” or “DNA of a civilization.” I think Hunter’s words are an important reminder that the eradication of systemic racism is going to take a long time and a lot of work.

Other evangelicals are also calling for religious revival as a means of healing the nation of its racial divisions (and other divisions).

Here, for example, are court evangelicals Greg Laurie and Jack Graham:

If there is a spiritual revival, and it actually does do something to curb systemic racism in America, this would be a relatively new development in our history. I was reminded of this as I read David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was a slave at a time when a great religious revival moved through America. Some historians call this revival the “Second Great Awakening.” This spiritual awakening made considerable headway among the Methodists of the Delmarva peninsula. (See William Williams’s The Garden of American Methodism and John Wigger’s Taking Heaven by Storm).

Here is Blight on Douglass’s view of his owner Thomas Auld:

In August 1833, Frederick attained a special insight into Auld’s character when his master Blightallowed him to attend a religious revival at Bay Side, some eight miles from St. Michaels. This classic country Methodist camp meeting left indelible images in Douglass’s fertile memory. People came from all over Talbot County; two steamboat loads of pilgrims also arrived from Baltimore. The gathering lasted a week, and slaves relieved of work for a few days could hardly resist the excitement of hundreds of campfires roasting meat, a veritable tent city with a preacher’s stand in the middle and a “pen” marked off for “mourners” to enter and make their confessions, embrace the Lord, and be saved. A recent convert himself to Christian faith, although now struggling to understand whether God intended any justice on earth, Frederick witnessed the spectacle of master Thomas’s wrenching emotional breakdown and confession in that pen. Blacks were not allowed in the pen, nor in front of the preacher’s performances, but Douglass tells us that he imposed his way close enough to hear Auld “groan,” and to see his reddened face, his disheveled hair, and a “stray tear halting on his cheek.” Here festered the dark heart of the moral bankruptcy of slaveholders that the future abolitionist would make his central subject.

Douglass converted this memory into angry condemnations of the religious hypocrisy of the entire Christian slaveholding universe, especially the little microcosm of Auld’s household, where the young slave now had to listen daily to loud praying and testifying by the white family, and to participate in hospitality extended to local preachers who were sometimes housed at Auld’s home, all the while enduring the good Methodist’s verbal and physical cruelty. For Douglass, the proof of any sincerity in Auld’s “tear-drop” manifested in his actions. In his deeds and his glances, wrote Douglass, it was as if the pathetic master had concluded, “I will teach you, young man, that, though I have parted with my sins  , I have not parted with my sense. I shall hold slaves, and go to heaven too.” Such a vow, imagined by Douglass from the memory of his owner’s cowardly eyes, might serve as an unspoken motto of the Christian capitalists who ruled the antebellum South.

In his 1855 memoir, My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass says this about Thomas Auld:

It was not merely the agency of Master Thomas, in breaking up and destroying my Sabbath school, that shook my confidence in the power of southern religion to make men wiser or better; but I saw him all the cruelty and meanness, after his conversion, which he had exhibited before he made a profession or religion. His cruelty and meanness were especially displayed in his treatment of my unfortunate cousin, Henny, whose lameness made her a burden to him. I have no extraordinary person hard usage toward myself to complain of, against him, but I have seen him tie up the lame and maimed woman, and whip her in a manner most brutal, and shocking; and then, with blood-chilling blasphemy, he would quote the passage of scripture, “That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

Douglass thought the Methodist revival taking place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore during the 1830s was morally bankrupt because it gave white people a spiritual justification to continue their cruelty.

If a spiritual revival leads to more Christian Trumpism is it really a spiritual revival? Or is it something else?

David Barton’s appears with an African-American conservative who once “thanked God” for slavery

JesseLeePeterson

Jesse Lee Peterson is an African-American evangelical who hosts a radio program.

Peterson:

As part of his self-proclaimed “White History Month,” Peterson recently had David Barton on his radio show. Barton is the pro-Trump GOP activist who uses the past to make political points in the present.

Barton thinks “white history month” is “fun.” At the same time, he seems very uncomfortable with the whole thing.

Watch:

It’s the usual stuff:

  • Columbus was a Christian hero.
  • Juneteenth is bad and it should not be a federal holiday.
  • Public schools should not open in the Fall because they indoctrinate students to hate history. This is a great moment to strengthen the home-school lobby.
  • Barton says public schools don’t teach students how to “think.” I am sure there are thousands and thousands of teachers who might disagree with him here. And many of these public school teachers are Christians. For Peterson and Barton, any students who learn to “think” they become members of the Christian Right.
  • Barton defends Confederate monuments, including a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest. He confuses statues with history education. For Barton, history is just a big morality play.
  • Barton wants to talk about free blacks who owned slaves and Native Americans who owned black slaves. He says that Native Americans were the “highest black-owning group in America.” Read this please.
  • Barton has obviously never set foot in a public school history classroom. He seems to think that history teachers are just cherry-picking facts to serve a political agenda. There are probably some Howard Zinn disciples who do this, but most teachers know that effective history teachers are in the business of teaching their kids how to detect bias through close readings of primary sources. This whole discussion is ironic coming from a guy who has been debunked by virtually every professional American historian for his manipulation of the past to serve his own present-day political agenda. There is a reason why Barton edged out Zinn for the “least credible history book in print.”
  • I know I’ve pointed this out a  few times, but I wonder what Barton would think about the tearing-down of this statue?
  • Barton condemns white evangelical pastors for supporting racial reconciliation.
  • In a convoluted argument, Barton seems to suggest that white people are “licking the boots” (Peterson’s phrase) of Black people because white people don’t know how to rise-up and defend their race like African Americans and Hispanics. It sounds like Barton is saying that white people are “taking a knee” to Black people because they never learned how to defend their whiteness. I wonder if Barton knows that he just made an argument in favor of white identity politics. This is Trump, Steven Miller, Breitbart News, and alt-Right stuff.

I’ll end with this:

Folks need to stop tearing down monuments. It just gives fodder to people like Barton and Peterson. It allows them to spread fear to their evangelical followers and claim that America is under spiritual attack. This is one of the two or three things left that still might get Trump re-elected in 2020. Let’s have a conversation about monuments and race in America, but tearing-down U.S. Grant or George Washington doesn’t help.

Are white evangelicals equipped for a conversation on race?

Black Lives

Robert Vischer is dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis. His piece at Religion News Service is titled “Will the death of George Floyd sway white evangelicals on race?” I like this piece because Vischer points to the intellectual deficiencies within white evangelicalism that lead many evangelicals to reject systemic racism.

Here is a taste:

In his 1994 book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” evangelical historian Mark Noll explained that evangelical culture encourages “intense, detailed, and precise efforts … to understand the Bible.” White evangelicals have not made a parallel effort “to understand the world or, even more important, the processes by which wisdom from Scripture should be brought into relation with knowledge about the world.”

When the Gulf War broke out in 1991, Noll recounted, evangelical publishers quickly produced, and evangelicals bought in bestselling numbers, books reading the crisis as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy signaling the end of the world.

These books, said Noll, “shared the disconcerting conviction that the best way of providing moral judgment about what was happening in the Middle East was not to study carefully what was going on in the Middle East,” but instead to draw “attention away from careful analysis of the complexities of Middle Eastern culture or the tangled 20th-century history of the region toward speculation about some of the most esoteric and widely debated passages of the Bible.”

Has white evangelical culture changed enough since Noll wrote these words to encourage a meaningful exploration of how American laws and policies have shaped the lives of our Black brothers and sisters since our nation’s founding? Will evangelical churches have the courage to host uncomfortable conversations that don’t pretend our nation’s history of racism stopped with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954?

If they look to their Bibles, they might. Recognizing the reality of structural racism is squarely in line with evangelical theology, which recognizes that human beings often sin corporately; the nation of Israel does so repeatedly in the Old Testament. “Sin corrupts every institution and every system because, one way or another, sinful human beings are involved,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. has said. This means that “laws, policies, habits, and customs are also corrupted by sin.”

Evangelicals have recognized legalized abortion as a structural injustice afflicting American society since Roe v. Wade was issued in 1973. Are they ready to recognize the extent to which the structural injustice of racism continues to afflict our country?

Read the entire piece here.

Monday night court evangelical roundup

Court Evangelicals at Table

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

James Robison does not like the “anti-God” mindset in our country:

I am guessing here that Robison does not see any direct connection between the POTUS he supports and the “father of lies” mentioned in this tweet. How could a man with decades of ministry experience be so deceived?

Jentezen Franklin is preaching about honor. One of Merriam-Webster’s definition of honor is “a keen sense of ethical conduct: integrity.

Shouldn’t church leaders be concerned about coronavirus spreading in churches as well as beaches and open-air demonstrations? My Pennsylvania evangelical church is requiring masks. Jeffress’s church is “strongly encouraging” masks.

Eric Metaxas is once again hosting John Zmirak, a writer at James Robison’s website The Stream. Zmirak is equating Black Lives Matter to the Antichrist and claiming that God gave him this idea. Metaxas wastes no time invoking Godwin’s law.

Charlie Kirk of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center still doesn’t understand the purpose of masks. By the way, he gets paid a lot of money to write tweets like this:

Lance Wallnau is really excited about Trump’s pardon of Roger Stone.

This will be the last daily court evangelical roundup for a while. I need a break.

When the *imago Dei* gets politicized

I Am a Man

Striking members of Memphis Local 1733 hold signs whose slogan symbolized the sanitation workers’ 1968 campaign.

I have noticed a lot of conversation of late about the Judeo-Christian idea that human beings are created in the “image of God” (imago Dei). In his speech at Mount Rushmore last weekend, Donald Trump said “Every child, of every color–born and unborn–is made in the holy image of God.”

What do Christians mean when they say that men and women are created in the image of God?

Genesis 1:26-27 teaches Jews and Christians that humanity is created in the image of God. The Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, as New Testament scholar Scot McKnight shows us, translates the word behind “image” with the word eikon.  Icons are paintings, statues, or figures that aid us in our devotion to God. Genesis 1 teaches us that we are living eikons. Much in the same way that monuments try to help us understand more fully what happened in a particular historic place, the creation story teaches us that our lives are monuments–eikons that should point people toward a deeper understanding of God.  We are image bearers. Genesis 1 and 2 will always remind Christians of their true identity.

We are created in the image of God and called to pursue relationships with God and His “good” creation. But Genesis 3 teaches us that we are also sinners who have abused the human freedom God has given to us. “Sin,” theologian Birch writes, “is the word we use to describe how shalom, wholeness, gets broken.” Or to use McKnight’s phrase, we are “cracked eikons.”

Today I am hearing Christians on the political Right invoking “the image of God” to argue against Black Lives Matter and systemic racism generally. They say “all lives matter” because “all lives” are created in God’s image. This is theologically true, but it is impossible to understand American history without thinking about the imago Dei in the context how sin has disrupted God’s shalom. For over four-hundred years, white Christians have not treated African-Americans as fellow image-bearers. As a result, racism pervades many of our institutions.

I think the violence needs to stop. It was wrong during the time of the American Revolution when it was mostly white patriots involved, and it is wrong now. There has been too much collateral damage. And I am not talking here about monuments, I am talking about human lives. But the peaceful protests, the righteous anger, and the many demands for racial justice are all, at some level, defenses of human dignity.

Those Christians who reference the imago Dei to fortify their “all lives matter” mantra  need to read more American history, develop a deeper understanding of the pervasiveness of human sin, and pray for empathy. In the meantime, stop politicizing this foundational doctrine.

Monday night court evangelical roundup

TrumpJentezenprayer1

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

Greg Laurie is still suggesting that the United States was “born out of a revival.” I addressed the many problems with this view here. In fact, religious attendance and membership was at an all-time low during the Revolution.

Johnnie Moore, who calls himself a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” loves Trump’s idea for a “National Garden of American Heroes.”

I wrote about this proposed garden here.

Moore also believes that “primary sources” exist in a vacuum. Most first-year history majors can debunk this approach to reading:

Ralph Reed, as always, is sticking to the playbook:

David Barton and his son Tim are on the Jim Bakker Show talking about monuments. For years, Barton ignored the parts of American history that did not fit with his Christian nationalism. Now he is talking about how we need to see the “good, the bad, and the ugly” of American history. At one point, David Barton compares himself and his son to the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha. He praises Tim for training young people to go to their campuses and convince their professors to reject “cultural Marxism” and “cancel culture.” I have now said this several times–the small number of people who are tearing down non-Confederate monuments are providing fodder for this kind of stuff.

Any history teacher who watches this video, and hears the Bartons attack the “dumb” and “stupid” ideas being taught in schools, should be offended. I wonder how many times either David or Tim Barton have set foot in a public school history classroom.

This video is a clear example of the Barton’s Christian nationalist mission. And they are well-funded.

The Bartons came back for a second day on the Jim Bakker Show and basically told viewers that if they don’t vote for Trump the United States will become socialist. The fear-mongering continues. In this interview, they double-down on the idea that anyone who does not vote for Trump is not “thinking biblically.” According to Tim Barton, only about 10% of self-professed Christians are actually “thinking biblically.” The rest “love Jesus” but are ignorant.

Eric Metaxas is still playing to the extremes in order to scare his listeners. Most people in the United States are not engaged in the tearing down of monuments. Most local governments are not trying to remove non-Confederate monuments or erase history.  He plays to these extremes because he wants Trump re-elected and he needs to keep his show on the air. This is what cultural warriors do.

Metaxas keeps pushing his seriously-flawed book If You Can Keep It. He says that the American history kids are getting in schools today is making them ignorant. As I said above in relation to David and Tim Barton, this is a sad attack on hard-working history teachers who are teaching students how to read primary sources, weigh evidence, detect bias, think contextually, appreciate complexity, and grasp how things change over time. When was the last time Metaxas talked with a K-12 history teacher or visited a history classroom?

The fear-mongering continues with Metaxas’s guest John Zmirak. Their discussion of the history of the French Revolution takes so many liberties with the facts that I am not sure where to begin with my critique. Perhaps a European historian can listen to this and comment. Zmirak then refers to political scientist Mark David Hall’s book defending a Christian founding. I haven’t read this book, but you can see a discussion of it here.

The Metaxas-Zmirak conversation moves to a full-blown rejection of systemic racism and a defense of Robert E. Lee monuments. The kind of hate that is now propagated on the Eric Metaxas Show–a show on “Christian” radio–looks nothing like the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don’t understand how Metaxas could have read so much Bonhoeffer and still engage in this garbage. I’ll stick with Charles Marsh on Bonhoeffer: here and here. I would also encourage you to read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and compare his words with what you hear on the Eric Metaxas Show.

In one of the more ironic lines of this episode, court evangelical Metaxas criticizes the Democratic Party for refusing to “stand against the madness.”

That’s all for today. Until next time.

What happened in Gettysburg this weekend?

 

Gettysburg Race 1

Jimmy, a friend of friends who works in a local ministry to drug and alcohol abusers, was in Gettysburg this weekend. Here, in his own words, is what happened:

Over the last 2.5 years, I have been in a group called “Be the Bridge.” The goal of the group was to have meaningful conversations about race, racism, systemic racism, the Church’s response to race, and racial reconciliation. My Dad and I (along with 2 other white guys) met with 4 Black guys each month to talk through these issues.

It was eye opening. It was challenging. I learned a lot about my own biases. I learned about the part I play in propping up systems that benefit white people. I learned about the systemic racism that plagues the U.S (throughout history and present day). I learned about what it takes to make important personal changes and become aware of my own cultural preferences. And, I learned about the strong theological basis for justice and racial reconciliation.

It left me with a strong desire to find tangible, everyday ways to fight for racial equality.

Yesterday, my Dad and I went down to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial to meet with the Black guys from our group. The goal was to talk about how important it is to tell the truth about many of the Confederate monuments and to keep a clear focus on the goals of the Confederacy (which was the preservation of slavery).

We held some signs at three different monuments: North Carolina, Robert E. Lee, and Mississippi. These are important statues.

The North Carolina statue was made by a staunch supporter of the KKK, Gutzon Borglum (he also did Mount Rushmore). He famously said of the KKK, “I would do anything to serve them…”

Robert E. Lee’s statue was chosen because of the “hero status” he embodies. But, Robert E. Lee was in charge of his wife’s 189 slaves, beat and whipped them, and said of slavery, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”

Mississippi was also chosen because of their article of succession. If you haven’t read it, please read it here. The opening several lines are most key.

Scott (one of the members of our group and a history professor at a local College) led most of these discussions. Scott believes that the Confederate Monuments should remain at Gettysburg, but should tell the full story of the monuments and those represented. This is the reason we were in Gettysburg yesterday. This is important and worth reiterating: We were there to tell this critical part of history, so it wouldn’t be forgotten or swept under the rug.

While we all remained civil, we were met with much hostility. At the Robert E. Lee statue, we arrived and were met by more than a dozen men in full tactical gear, holding AR-15s (none were park rangers or police). Several others were open carrying. As they surrounded us, many shouted racial slurs at Scott. These people said some of the following, “Go back to Africa!”, “Why don’t you just go back on welfare?”, “F@&k you guys,” “Have you ever picked cotton?”, “You need to forget about slavery,” “you’re one of the dumbest people,” and, to me and my Dad specifically, “You kind of white people make me sick.” There were many more things said, as well as the “N” word.

At the end of our time, about 15 bikers pulled up to our group at the Mississippi statue and began circling our group (you can see this picture below). We decided it was safest to leave. These bikers followed us out of the battlefield, through Gettysburg, all the way until we got to a police barricade. While we were sitting at a red light, the bikers motioned to some guys (who had a confederate flag in the truck) and they came over to my car and told us to “Get the f&%k out of here” and motioned with their finger.

I share this experience because I think it’s important to talk about these issues. That racism is still alive and well in our country. That the story of America has a lot of good parts and some really terrible ones, but we must tell it fully. That the church must be at the center of racial reconciliation. And we must stand up for and with those who have been marginalized and oppressed. It’s a critical part of the gospel and following Jesus.

Gettysburg Race 3

Gettysburg battlefield, July 4, 2020 (photo by Jimmy)

Please don’t tell me that there is not a connection between Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday night (or at the very least his general defense of monuments since the George Floyd protests) and what happened to Jimmy and his friends at Gettysburg this weekend. In fact, Jimmy said in a private exchange that much of the hostility came from self-professed “Christians” with Trump 2020 swag.

Gettysburg Race 2

Gettysburg battlefield, July 4, 2020 (photo by Jimmy)

 

 

Peter Carmichael, the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, also visited the Gettysburg battlefield this weekend. If I understand things correctly, a member of his group carried a sign that read:”10,000 Black Slaves In Lee’s Army #BlackLivesMatter.”

Carmichael Poster

Carmichael and his group were confronted by what appears to be a white militia organization. Watch:

 

For what it’s worth, I agree with everything Scott Hancock says in this interview with CNN’s Michael Smerconish. It is worth your time:

Hancock, a professor of History and Africana Studies at Gettysburg College, is becoming an important voice right now.  Listen to our interview with him in Episode 70 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

What about the Gettysburg monuments? A local take.

Lee at Gettysburg

Some of you have listened to Episode 70 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast featuring Gettysburg University historian Scott Hancock. In that episode, I talked with Scott about racial injustice in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

In today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Scott brings the discussion to bear on Confederate monuments at the Gettysburg National Military Park. Here is a taste of Peter Smith’s piece:

Mr. Hancock said he can understand having historical markers for where regiments fought and soldiers died. 

“I would identify myself as a follower of Christ and a Christian,” Mr. Hancock said. “All human life is made in the image of God and valuable, whoever they were fighting for. The loss of life is tragic.

But, he added, “The state monuments fall into a different category.”

Read the entire piece here.