Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress: Trump Should Not Apologize for Charlottesville Statements. “He Did Just Fine”

Here is court evangelical Robert Jeffress on Fox Business News last night.

He rightly condemns racism, as he has been doing all along.  This is good.  But he also defends the POTUS,  saying that Trump wants to condemn “all racism.”  I’m not sure what he means here by “all racism.”  Is he somehow referring to “racism against whites?”  Is he suggesting that there was racism on both sides in Charlottesville?

Jeffress again takes on the “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, Republicans, and the “religious establishment”) that wants to “take this president down for various reasons.”

Then he begins suggesting (with the help of the host) that the members of this “axis of evil” want to erase American history and the “Judeo-Christian foundations of this nation.”  He repeats the historically dubious claim that “no president in history has done more to stand of for religious liberty than Donald Trump.” (See my comments on this claim here).

Finally, he advises Trump not to apologize for his handling of Charlottesville.  According to Jeffress. “he did just fine.”  It looks like we are finally getting a sense of what the court evangelicals are whispering to Trump in those secret meetings.

“He did just fine.”

A.R. Bernard, Ex-Court Evangelical, Speaks Out: “I Wanted More Than a Photo-Op”

Earlier we reported that A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, has resigned as an evangelical adviser to Donald Trump.

Shortly after our post, Bernard went on Don Lemon’s show on CNN to talk about his resignation.  No video yet.  I will post it tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are my tweets.

This Is Not “Distancing”

Trump Graham

Yesterday the Charlotte Observer ran a piece proclaiming “Franklin Graham appears to distance himself from Trump remarks on Charlottesville.”

Here is a taste:

Just days after coming to President Donald Trump’s defense in the wake of Charlottesville, Franklin Graham sent out a new Facebook post Thursday in which he appeared to distance himself from the embattled president’s continued attempts to say blame for the violence in Charlottesville should be shared by white supremacists and by those who showed up to protest their presence in the university town.

In the new post, the North Carolina-based evangelist didn’t mention Trump and he also didn’t single out the KKK or neo-Nazis by name. But he quoted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has emerged as a more forceful figure than the president in condemning the violence by white racists. Sessions early on called it domestic terrorism and quickly announced a federal civil rights investigation.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions is exactly right – ‘in no way can we accept and apologize for racism, bigotry, hatred, violence and those kind of things that too often arise in our country.’ One race is not superior over another. … The venomous hatred we saw displayed in #Charlottesville should repulse all Americans….”

…But in his Thursday post, Graham sounded like his father Billy Graham, the Charlotte-born evangelist who got death threats in the 1950s for speaking out against racism and refusing to preach at segregated events.

“God created mankind in His image and He loves us. The Bible tells us that, ‘He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth,’ and ‘God does not show partiality.’ … (Charlottesville) should take us to our knees in prayer for hearts to be changed.”

I applaud Graham for all of this.

But Graham will truly “distance” himself from the President when he condemns the POTUS’s decision to draw a moral equivalency between white supremacists in Charlottesville and people protesting white supremacy in Charlottesville.  Graham is good at naming the name of Jesus.  Now he needs to name the name of Trump.

A Court Evangelical Speaks

Court evangelical dinner

Many of the court evangelicals gather for dinner in the White House on May 4, 2017 (whitehouse.gov)

Below is a statement from Johnnie Moore, one of Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisers. It was written for ABC News and tweeted by Mariam Khan, a reporter and producer with ABC.

From what I understand, Moore speaks for many of the court evangelicals, but it is not clear which ones.  You may recall that recently Moore spoke for the court evangelicals in their attempt to get a meeting with Pope Francis.  So while there may not be an official evangelical advisory council, there is certainly a group of evangelical advisers that seem to have some level of organization and pay Moore, who embraces the title “a modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” to speak for them.

Here is the statement:

Many of us have done too little for too long when it comes to racial unity in this country.  So, in terrible and dark moments like the one this weekend, there are not bonds of trust to rest upon.  Building those bonds of trust is increasingly the focus of many of us.  This is especially important given American history on these issues.  I can tell you that politics has been the last thing on the mind of most Christian leaders these days, including myself. We have been almost exclusively focused on the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’

But, make no mistake, Evangelicals unquestionably abhor racism, anti-semitism, white nationalism, and white supremacism.  We believe racism is evil, and we oppose it in every form and every incidence.  Theologically, it is a direct offense to God himself for it opposes the Imago Dei (“image of God”) in every human being.  God hates racism, and we hate racism.  Countless ones of us have made that clear once again in recent days and we stand by those statements.  I do not know a single evangelical leader who is a racist.  I do know evangelicals who struggle to build bridges of understanding for various reasons.

I also believe the way that some in the media and in the administration as well as other politicians and also activists–republican and democrat, liberals and conservatives–have handled the Charlottesville incident has at times been unhelpful, too emotional and insenstive.  We all must condemn bigotry and hatred in pursuit of national healing and unity without exacerbating further conflict.

Because of this, we now face a moment of national reckoning where every American needs to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what they are going to do [to] help bring our nation together while addressing the persistent blight of racism.

It’s on all of us.

Evangelicals consider the Gospel responsibility we have been given by God to serve our fellow man to be our most sacred one.  That remains our primary focus.  As part of that we appreciated the deep relationship we have with the administration and the listening ear they have given to us and continue to give to us.  We take this seriously, and we feel our responsibility to fulfill our spiritual and national duty.”

A few thoughts:

  • As an evangelical Christian, I applaud Moore’s stand against racism.  All of the court evangelicals, with the exception of Jerry Falwell Jr., have made similar statements. There is nothing new here.
  • Who does Moore represent?  Why does he feel a need to make this statement? Has he become some kind of spokesperson for evangelicalism?  If so, nobody informed me about it. He used to work for Jerry Falwell Jr.  Does he continue to speak for the Liberty University president?  According to reporting from Time‘s Elizabeth Dias, Moore represents Paula White, Jack Graham, Samuel Rodriguez, Tim Clinton, and Ronnie Floyd, among others.
  • I am not sure what Moore is trying to say in the third (and fourth) paragraph of this statement.  Yes, technically it is “on all of us.”  But such a statement has no moral teeth.  Why not call out the POTUS directly? Name his name.  GOP politicians are doing it.  Manufacturing leaders are doing it.  Why be so vague?
  • In the last paragraph, Moore seems to imply that Trump has given an ear to him and the court evangelicals (or at least the mysterious group of court evangelicals that he represents).  Should we assume from this veiled statement that Moore and the court evangelicals ARE telling Trump that his statements after Charlottesville were inappropriate and lacking in moral clarity? As Mark Silk wrote today: “no one is actually asking the evangelical advisers to reveal what they are pouring into the administration’s listening ear.  They are asking the evangelical advisers to respond publicly to presidential behavior that has cause shock and dismay throughout the country and around the world.” Silk continues:

This suggests that what the evangelical advisers have actually been telling the administration and maybe even the president is, like, keep up the good work. Which makes you ask what Donald Trump would have to do to get the likes of Moore and Falwell to react the way the business advisers reacted. (Italics are mine).

The answer, I think, is that he would have to stop inviting them to the White House to discharge their spiritual and national duty by sharing their thoughts with, and laying their hands upon him. As long as that deep relationship persists, they’ll be standing by their dear leader.

If Moore thinks this statement somehow takes Trump’s evangelical advisers off the moral hook he is sorely mistaken.  The bottom line remains:  Corporate America has broken with Trump for moral reasons and Trump’s evangelical advisers–the court evangelicals–have not.

The Consumers Of Manufactured Goods vs. The Consumers of the Court Evangelical Message

First_Baptist_Church_of_Dallas,_TX_IMG_3043

First Baptist Church, Dallas

As the CEOs of major corporations are leaving Trump today, I wonder about what is really motivating them.  I want to take them at their word when they say they have serious ethical problems with Trump’s choice to morally equate white supremacists in Charlottesville with those who came to Charlottesville to oppose them.  But as I listen to the news today, several commentators are pointing out that these CEOs are under pressure from their customers and stockholders to repudiate Trump.  In other words, their decision to leave Trump’s manufacturing council was a business decision.

 

I am guessing that both conscience and profits played a role in their resignations.

While we are at it, let’s compare the manufacturers to the court evangelicals. The manufacturers have left Trump’s council.  The court evangelicals have yet to leave Trump’s council.

Two points:

1. The manufacturers resigned out of conscience because they did not want to work with a man who is incapable of condemning what happened in Charlottesville without talking about “both sides.”  The court evangelicals have not been pricked by conscience to resign from Trump’s council in the way that the manufactures have done.  They are happy to stay and work with Trump to advance his agenda.

2.  The manufactures resigned because they were being pressured by their constituencies to abandon Trump.  So far the court evangelicals seem to feel no pressure from their constituencies– the American evangelicals who attend their churches and follow their ministries.

The Prophetic Witness of American Evangelicals

wheaton-il

Ed Stetzer, the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, gets it right in his recent piece at Christianity Today.  According to Stetzer, “if you are unable to critique a president, you’ve lost your prophetic witness.”

Here is a taste:

This is key, and the point of my article today. These events don’t call people’s loyalty into question, they expose the loyalty they already have in their hearts. And that’s concerning when the Rorschach test exposes where their hope truly lies…

I don’t think everyone needs to speak up on everything, but I’m talking about those who defend that which Trump saw that he needed to correct—with him (finally) condemning racism in this instance.

Christians have a prophetic witness, but we can lose that witness when we are unable to see (or speak to) the errors or failings of leaders. And if Christians feel the need to defend even an obvious and divisive mistake (and my Twitter feed is filled with those people), they hurt the church’s witness and tie it too closely to a person, not the truth.

Now, if that’s your job in the White House, I get it. You sometimes have to defend even the errors. But if Christians do the same, it shows the world that our loyalty is to the person in the White House rather than the Person who said He is the Truth.

If you are a Christian, you should be able to speak out against error, injustice, and the depraved strategy of silence. Many did, some said nothing, but some went to the defense of something, ironically, the President two days later felt the need to correct.

If you’re a Christian who acts like President Trump can do no wrong, you’re giving the message that he’s the savior. He’s not. He is fallible, human, and makes mistakes that we, as responsible Christians and members of Christ’s household, should not be afraid to address.

So, rather than defending his error, which he himself felt the need to correct today, search your heart and ask, have I become too connected to a secular leader?

Read the rest here.

Five CEOs Resign from Trump’s Manufacturing Council. Zero Clergy Resign From Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council

Trump Jeffress

In light of Trump’s failure to directly address white supremacy in Charlottesville on Saturday, five CEOs have resigned from his “American Manufacturing Council.”  The latest, Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, just tweeted: “I’m resigning from the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative because it’s the right thing for me to do.”

Earlier, Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck, resigned because he needed to “take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich said yesterday:

…I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing. Politics and political agendas have sidelined the important mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base.

I have already made clear my abhorrence at the recent hate-spawned violence in Charlottesville, and earlier today I called on all leaders to condemn the white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence. I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them. We should honor – not attack – those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values. I hope this will change, and I remain willing to serve when it does.

Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, tweeted: “We remain resolute in our potential and ability to improve American manufacturing…However, Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”

So let’s summarize:

“Politics have sidelined the…mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base.”

“Innovation and sports, not politics.”

“The right thing for me to do.”

“Politics have sidelined the mission of the church and God’s witness in the world.”

“The Gospel and the Kingdom of God, not politics.”

“The Christian thing for me to do.”

Just to be clear, the last three lines were never uttered.  I made them up.  I had to make them up because these are things that the court evangelicals would never say in the context of the Trump presidency.

While America’s manufacturing giants take principled moral stands against white supremacy and Donald Trump’s failure on Saturday to renounce racists by name, none of the members of his “Evangelical Advisory Council“–the so-called court evangelicals–have resigned their posts.  Apparently in the United States it is the manufacturers, not the evangelical clergy who advise the POTUS, who now deliver moral messages to the White House.

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt has covered the court evangelical response to Charlottesville.  To be fair, many of the court evangelicals condemned the white supremacist groups that came to Charlottesville last weekend.  (Jerry Falwell Jr. was silent).  But none of them criticized Donald Trump for not speaking out more forcefully on Saturday.  In fact, Franklin Graham and Mark Burns both defended Trump.  Here is Graham:

Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in #Charlottesville, VA. That’s absurd. What about the politicians such as the city council who voted to remove a memorial that had been in place since 1924, regardless of the possible repercussions? How about the city politicians who issued the permit for the lawful demonstration to defend the statue? And why didn’t the mayor or the governor see that a powder keg was about to explode and stop it before it got started? Instead they want to blame President Donald J. Trump for everything. Really, this boils down to evil in people’s hearts. Satan is behind it all.

Could you imagine Billy Graham saying these things?

Burns made a video.

I don’t expect resignations coming any time soon.

How Did Your Church Respond To What Happened in Charlottesville?

People's_Union_Church

Yesterday I was proud of my largely white evangelical church.  My pastor took time to condemn the racists who came to Charlottesville on Saturday and reminded us that “God grieves” at such behavior.  He asked us to pray for the victims and their families.  He asked us to pray for changed hearts among the white nationalists and repent of our own sins of racism.  He read from Ephesians 2.

Did your church acknowledge what happened in Charlottesville yesterday?  If it did, I would love to hear about it.  Feel free to comment below, at Facebook, or at Twitter.

Emma Green has a nice piece at The Atlantic on how some churches have responded.

A Black Southern Baptist Pastor Stays in the Southern Baptist Convention

Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

Rev. Gabriel C. Stovall, the senior pastor of the Butler Street Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, responds to Lawrence Ware, the African American Southern Baptist minister who recently announced in The New York Times that he was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention due to its failure to fully address racism.  Read our post on Ware’s op-ed here.

Stovall has a different view.  In a recent article at the website of The Biblical Recorder he explains why he is staying in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Here is a taste:

In mid-July I read an article published in The New York Times by a black brother in the gospel named Lawrence Ware, titled, “Why I’m leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.”
 
As I read it, I recognized many of his feelings of frustration, angst and disgust, particularly at what I considered to be needless semantical gymnastics around that much-publicized resolution at the SBC annual meeting against the racist Alt-Right movement.
 
I identified with his struggle to walk away from the convention. I’ve been a part of Southern Baptist life for almost eight years now. I serve as a part-time state missionary in Georgia for church planting and as a part-time campus ministries pastor for one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the state. I planted a church as a Southern Baptist pastor and have recently led my new congregation to connect with the convention.
 
But I’ll admit that the way some white evangelicals caped for President Donald Trump – despite so many reasons to leave his candidacy in the dust, as they would’ve done for a Democratic candidate with some of the same issues hovering over his/her head – and the selective, loud silence some have given to issues important to me as a black believer, black Southern Baptist and black father raising a black son, I have spent much time in prayer asking God to show me if I’m truly in the right place.
 
I was drawn to the convention because of its emphasis on ministry and missions. The substance over style approach to ministry was, and still is, refreshing.
 
And even despite its still predominantly white makeup, I saw and worked with diversity that I’d never had the privilege of working with before.
 
Like the Egyptian couple I consulted who were planting a church in a primarily Arabic-speaking part of metro Atlanta. Or a Hispanic mission that wanted to partner with my church plant to help us reach Spanish-speaking people in our context.
 
Or even the white pastor who opened his doors for my church plant, free of charge, and invited me to the table with a Vietnamese and Hispanic congregation, along with his own ethnically mixed membership, to create a Vacation Bible School-style sports camp that reached a rainbow of ethnicities in a culturally diverse Atlanta suburb.
 
Every time I was tempted to make that call and say, “I’m done,” or to just walk away quietly, it was those images – and more – that crept into my spirit, speaking what I believe to be the words of God in answer to my inquisitive prayers, telling me, “You can’t go. I’ve got more work for you here.”

Read the entire piece here.

An African American Minister Renounces His Ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention

Ware_tall

Lawrence Ware

Earlier today in a piece at The Washington Post, I suggested that Donald Trump’s presidency is threatening to change the course of American Christianity.

At the same time my piece appeared, The New York Times published a piece from an African American clergyman who is leaving the Southern Baptist Convention because he believes it is “complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right.”

Here is a taste of Rev. Lawrence Ware‘s piece:

To be sure, many prominent convention leaders have opposed Mr. Trump and the alt-right. Indeed, one of them, Russell Moore, went so far as to voice his criticism before the election.

But not enough has been done to address the institutional nature of white supremacy in the convention. Many churches are still hostile to the Black Lives Matter movement, and even more were silent during the rise of Mr. Trump and the so-called alt-right. For all of its talk about the love of Jesus Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention’s inaction on the issues of racism and homophobia has drowned out its words.

I’ve discussed my concerns with many other black ministers my age, and virtually all of us have questioned our membership. At least five of them have quietly left the convention over the past year. (To be sure, I will still remain a minister in the Progressive National Baptist Convention, a liberal black Baptist organization, founded in 1961 by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

Read the entire piece here.  Indeed, as I wrote this morning,

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

The Author’s Corner with Mary Beth Mathews

mary beth mathews Mary Beth Mathews is an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Mary Washington. This interview is based on her new book, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars (University of Alabama Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Doctrine and Race?

MM: When I wrote my dissertation (which became my first book, Rethinking Zion: How the Print Media Placed Fundamentalism in the South), I kept wondering why white fundamentalists tended to be displaced southerners. Men like John Roach Straton, William Bell Riley, and J.C. Massee all grew up in the south and moved north to promote their theology. As I researched them, I realized that I couldn’t answer that question and that there was a more important question staring me in the face: how did white fundamentalists interact with African American evangelicals. By all rights, there should have been a common theological bond between these two groups, but there was no real contact between them. That became the narrative of Doctrine and Race

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Doctrine and Race?

MM: Doctrine and Race argues that African American evangelicals were excluded from participation in the emerging fundamentalist movement in the early twentieth century, yet they adhered to many of the same doctrinal and social views as white fundamentalists. Black evangelicals were not welcome at the fundamentalist table, in large part because white fundamentalists had created a racial definition of fundamentalism, one that depended on white interpretations of theology, culture, and religion, but these same black evangelicals turned that definition against white fundamentalists, arguing that no one who was a racist could claim the identity of Christian. 

JF: Why do we need to read Doctrine and Race?

MM: Doctrine and Race illuminates the racial tensions within evangelical Christianity, tensions that continue to this day. Many American historians and pundits have tended to lump all evangelicals into a single category—one that is white by default. By examining the similarities and differences between white and black evangelicals and by tracing the exclusion of African Americans from larger discussions about theology and culture, we can better understand African American evangelicals, their political thinking, and current debates over religion and politics in the U.S. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MM: That’s a tough question to answer, since my doctorate is in Religious Studies but with a focus on American and European Religious History. I’ve been interested in history since childhood, but my passion for the subject of American religious history really took off when I was an undergraduate and took a class with David L. Holmes at the College of William and Mary. I declared a religion major and never looked back, except for a stint working on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant.

JF: What is your next project?

MM: I’m finishing up an article on the American Baptist Theological Seminary, a joint venture started in the 1920s by the black National Baptist Convention and the white Southern Baptist Convention. This project grew out of the research I did for Doctrine and Race but never quite fit into the book itself. I’m also looking at taking some of the questions I asked in Doctrine and Race and applying them to emerging Pentecostal traditions in the early twentieth century. 

JF: Thanks, Mary!

Russell Moore Channels Jess Moody: A Southern Baptist Story

Dr._Russell_D._MooreHe was one of the Trump’s strongest critics during the presidential election, but it was just too much for the Southern Baptist Convention.

Over at CNN’s STATE, Chris Moody tells Moore’s story and compares it to the story of his grandfather, a Southern Baptist preacher who criticized the Convention for upholding segregation. It’s worth your time.

Here is a taste:

Nearly 50 years ago, my grandfather found himself in a very Moore-esque situation. At the 1969 Southern Baptist Pastors Conference, he railed against racial segregation, which was still enforced at some churches.

Questions of race have long dogged the Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed in 1845 over the issue of slavery, on which the Southern Baptists were on the wrong side of history. Even well into the twentieth century, the denomination did not take a leadership role in speaking against civil rights abuses and Jim Crow.

“I’ve been loyal to this convention for the past 25 years and I intend that every breath I take of God’s free air will be a Baptist breath,” Moody said in 1969. “But you listen. It takes the black and the white keys to play the Star Spangled Banner. And you can’t do it without both. We must solve the problem of racial hatred within the next ten years or prepare to become the dinosaurs of the twenty-first century. I for one do not believe that God intended this denomination to be a humorless relic in the museum of tomorrow.”

My grandfather is 91 now. His sermon, which also excoriated fellow Christians who supported the ongoing Vietnam War, was met with faint applause.

The denomination grappled internally over racial issues throughout the twentieth century and finally issued a formal apology for its past racist policies in 1995.

But when Southern Baptists gathered in 2017, they still found themselves scratching at the scars of the past. And, in an interesting twist, Moore was on hand to help confront them.

Read the entire piece here.

Scholars Tackle White Supremacy and American Christian History

Good_Citizen_Pillar_of_Fire_Church_July_1926

Alma White founded the Pillar of Fire Church in 1901.  She was associated with the KKK and anti-Catholicism.  This is a 1926 issue of the church’s magazine (Wikipedia Commons)

The Religion & Culture Forum is running a series of posts on the history of the relationship between white supremacy and Christianity in modern America.  A taste:

The June issue of the Forum features Kelly J. Baker’s essay, “The Artifacts of White Supremacy.” Discussions about racism—and white supremacy in particular—tend to treat it as a matter of belief, while there’s considerably less talk of how racialized hate becomes tangible and real. And yet, we know the Ku Klux Klan, the oldest hate group in the U.S., by their hoods and robes. Artifacts signal (and often embody) the racist ideology of the Klan, along with their particular brand of Protestantism and nationalism. Robes, fiery crosses, and even the American flag were all material objects employed by the 1920s Klan to convey their “gospel” of white supremacy. The Klan’s religious nationalism, its vision of a white Protestant America, became tangible in each of these artifacts, and each artifact reflected the order’s religious and racial intolerance. Nationalism (or “100% Americanism”), Protestant Christianity, and white supremacy became inextricably linked in these material objects. Examining the historical artifacts of white supremacy helps us to better understand how white supremacy manifests today and might also help us better identify and analyze the presence and effect of racism in American life and politics.

Over the next few weeks, scholars will offer responses to Baker’s essay. We invite you to join the conversation by sharing your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.

Responses:

Fred Clark, aka Slacktivist, has written a nice post on the forum.  Read it here.  I was particular struck by his use of a quote from Randall Stephens’s response to Baker.   Here it is:

In the 1920s, America’s most famous crusading fundamentalist, Billy Sunday, made some efforts to keep his distance from the Klan. But Klansmen tended to see the revivalist as a kindred spirit. Without cozying up too much to the organization, Sunday found ways to praise the robed terrorists. Other traveling preachers like Bob Jones, Alma White, B. B. Crimm, Charlie Taylor, and Raymond T. Richey lauded the white supremacist groups in their sermons and publications. Billy Sunday’s ardent prohibitionism, biblical literalism, and nativism made him particularly attractive in the eyes of Klan members. In 1922 a South Bend, Indiana, newspaper cracked a bleak joke about their mutual affection. “Down in West Virginia the other day,” an editor noted, the Klan “slipped Billy Sunday the sum of $200. With Sunday’s O.K., that ought to put the K.K.K. in good standing with old St. Peter.” Sunday returned the favor with kind words about Klansmen who lent a hand in police vice raids. The revivalist would accept other larger-than-average donations from the Klan at revivals in Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana between 1922 and 1925. In Richmond, Indiana, Klansmen showed up to give him their donation decked out in all their full regalia. Fittingly, in 1923 a Klan-supporting editor in Texas rhapsodized: “I find the preachers of the Protestant faith almost solid for the Klan and its ideals, with here and there an isolated minister … who will line up with the Catholics in their fight on Protestantism, but that kind of preacher is persona non grata in most every congregation in Texas.”

Again, check out the entire Religion & Culture Forum series here.

When Removing Monuments Strengthens Our Knowledge of the Past

St. Paul

Earlier this week we posted on Kate Shellnut’s Christianity Today article on the way that churches in the South are dealing with their Confederate legacy and monuments.

Since I wrote that post I learned about similar efforts at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, the so-called “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”  Jefferson Davis was a member of this church.  Robert E. Lee worshiped there during the Civil War.

In recent years the church has formed the “History and Racial Reconciliation Initiative” to deal with Confederate symbols in the church, including Confederate battle flags. According to this article at Episcopal News Service, some of these symbols have been removed. Others have not, but the church continues to have conversations about what is appropriate.

Some of the comments on the Episcopal News Service piece have not been pretty.  Here are a few:

Historical “censorship” and revisionism as demonstrated above, is intellectually dishonest, spiritually counterfeit and an anathema to freedom. Actions like these, as innocuous as they appear, are small steps on the path to totalitarianism.

What seems to be lost in all of this is that History is important. We don’t need to be erasing it, we need to learn from it! If we destroy all of the symbols of periods of history we do not like, what have we accomplished? Nothing except a little misguided “feel good” for those in favor of the destruction of the symbols. The same symbols that people want to destroy provide us with a chance to explain how we have resolved those issues, grown as a Church and as churchmen, and understand and respect the journeys of those who lived though those times struggled with their own faith. What can be wrong with that? Have we not learned from the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and from the Civil Rights Movement? Should we destroy the Holocaust Museum, etc.. I hope not.

The confederacy is a part of our history. It is wrong to glorify it, but I think we need to remember it so that we don’t let this happen again. Sweeping things under the rug don’t make them go away, compassion and justice keep them from happening again. I was born and raised in Miami. My family lived in Key West and had slaves and freed them but still provided for them as long as they lived. It is our history, we can’t make it go away – we need to remember.

Political correctness has gone too far when it results in the re-writing of history. It’s our past and we all live with it. The USSR was the last regime in my lifetime to attempt to re-write history. I am saddened the U. S. is going that way.

One of the leaders of the History and Racial Reconciliation Initiative is public and religious historian Christopher Graham.  (He is mentioned in the article).

Graham has turned to his blog “Whig Hill” to address some of the negative comments. He argues that the history conversations at St. Paul’s have actually led the members of the congregation to have a better understanding of their shared past.

Here is a taste of his post:

To the main point; I’ve heard this charge often—that pulling down monuments is erasure; that we’ll know less and be deprived of the opportunity to learn and be inspired—even if by the transcendence of error. Never have had an adequate response to it until now.

What has happened at St. Paul’s is a rebuke to the assertion that we’re erasing the past. Since removing a small number of Confederate icons from the sanctuary, St. Paul’s now knows more about its own history than it ever has.

Even at this early stage of the HRI process, the people at St. Paul’s are able to articulate:

  • Who congregants were in the 1850s and how they fit into Richmond’s slave based economy.
  • How their faith reconciled slaveholding with Christianity, and how they enacted that faith to shape the racial-religious landscape of Richmond.
  • How sharing wartime anxiety, adrenaline, and grief (and yes, faith in the Confederacy’s ultimate cause) tied the church’s identity to the Confederate nation and its leaders.
  • How the narrative of racial difference forged in slavery continued to shape Episcopalian practice in Virginia (and beyond) for a century after 1865.
  • How the stories this church told itself with its memorials contributed to the “Lost Cause” explanation of the Confederacy—and in doing so constructed a history of race and slavery that reinforced efforts to disfranchise and marginalize African Americans in political, economic, and social life in Richmond in the twentieth century.
  • Who among its parishioners that supported the movement toward legal segregation in the 1902 Constitution, the 1912 and 1914 city segregation ordnances, the 1924 Racial Integrity Act, and the 1926 Massenberg Bill. (Most, likely, at the first, but a decreasing number by the last.)
  • Who among its parishioners and clergy (Bowie, Munford, Tucker, Carrington) that tirelessly and passionately opposed the adoption of these laws, and promoted anti-lynching and anti-Klan legislation, even if we recognize that they did so because of their racial paternalism.
  • How churchmen and churchwomen of St. Paul’s—along with the rest of Richmond’s elite—challenged and shaped the geography and culture of segregation that dominated the twentieth century and that we still see the vestiges of today.

These are just a small and incomplete sampling of the points upon which we’re developing a new narrative about our own past.

We haven’t erased history. Indeed, the removal of a small number of tablets has served as a catalyst for knowing more. And that may be my key takeaway in this particular moment: whether you alter a memorial landscape or not, the action can’t be the only thing, but just one point in a larger process of discovery and re-inscription. Moving things may not even be the most important element of that process in the end.

I can’t say (because nothing has been decided) what will become of the items removed, or those that remain. In fact, this process and the discussions around it have ranged far beyond the location of memorials. But I do know that the knowledge that we’re beginning to carry about our past, present, and future, feels far more consequential right now.

Read Graham’s entire post here.  This is a wonderful model for how to bring good history to bear on the life of religious congregations.  I am glad that Graham is involved in this initiative.

I wonder what it might look like to have a similar conversation in a church that places an American flag in the sanctuary.

What Is Happening at Grace College?

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Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana fired three white employees when they posed for a mock rap album cover.

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Three Grace College and Seminary employees were fired this month after a work-sanctioned photo drew criticism and accusations of racial insensitivity, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The photo, which drew attention after it was posted on an employee’s Facebook page, shows five white employees posing for a mock rap album cover. It was taken as part of “wrap day,” a themed day for the college’s marketing team that also benignly included wrap sandwiches at lunch.

In the photo, one employee appears to be wearing an Afro wig, and another has “Thug Life” written across his knuckles, as well as a fake tear-drop tattoo. Other employees are wearing hoods, chains and backward baseball caps. In the corner, text spells out “N.G.A.” — shorthand for students and staff that means “not Grace appropriate.”

Evan Kilgore, one of the employees fired and the school’s former special projects director, said the term “N.G.A.” is used jokingly on campus to refer to behavior that the private religious institution deems inappropriate.

“When we named our fake album, we never were implying that how we looked or what were dressed like was ‘not Grace appropriate,’” he told the Star.

Read the entire post here.  This is unfortunate.  I have spoken at Grace and have friends who teach there.  It is a fine institution of Christian higher education.  Of course I don’t know all the details of what happened here, but if the reporting is accurate I am willing to say that the behavior of these employees does not represent the culture of the school on matters related to race.

What happened at Grace, an evangelical institution, reminds me of what happened recently at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.  At Grace, the employees were fired.  At Southwestern, the employees (all members of the preaching faculty) were not fired.

Churches and the Legacy of the Confederacy

Lee Episcopalian

R.E. Lee Memorial Church, Lexington, VA

As we reported last week, the Southern Baptist Convention stumbled, but eventually managed to get its act together and condemn racism and the Alt-right at its annual convention last week.  The Southern Baptist Church is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.  It was founded in 1845 by Baptists in the South who defended slavery.

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut reports on how historic Southern congregations of all denominations are dealing with their monuments to the Confederacy.

“Few public Confederate monuments have been changed, moved, or razed since 2015,” USA Today reported, estimating 700 to 1,000 such monuments remain across 31 states. “While flags can be lowered, songs censored, mascots switched, and schools renamed, monuments are the most tangible and least mutable memorial symbols.”

The debate over such markers inevitably involves the church buildings that housed—and the many more that later memorialized—the history of the Confederate States of America. The most striking example may be St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, nicknamed the Cathedral of the Confederacy.

Over the past two years, the historic church, where Jefferson Davis learned that the war was coming to an end, decided to remove plaques honoring Lee and Davis and place them in an exhibit. Gone are the kneelers with the Confederate flag in needlepoint. The church will retire its coat of arms. Leaders are now discussing how to move forward with presenting a history that acknowledges racism and slavery in its past.

“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to turn the tide against racism. Why did it take the murder of nine black people in a Bible study for some people to finally reject the racism associated with the Confederate emblem? Why do people have to literally be killed before we confront racial prejudice?” asked Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network. “Christian leaders should be able to challenge racism in the midst of the church without waiting for a public disaster as an entry point to conversation.”

Read the entire piece here.

Southern Baptists Get It Right

SBC

It looked like they were going to blow it again, but the members of the Southern Baptist Convention got their act together yesterday and condemned the Alt-Right.   Kate Shellnut reports at Christianity Today:

The most-talked-about resolution at this year’s annual meeting of Southern Baptists initially didn’t even make it to the floor.

But after some late-night scrambling the night before, about 5,000 denominational leaders voted Wednesday to explicitly condemn the alt-right movement.

Earlier in the day, a wave of tweets from the biggest names in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), from Washington pastor Thabiti Anyabwile to Houston Bible teacher Beth Moore, made their convictions on the issue clear. They know what’s at stake. Such a resolution could send a powerful message on their Christian opposition to hatred and bigotry; skipping over such a proposal could do the opposite.

For years, Southern Baptists have grappled with their denomination’s past history of racism, and continue to work towards racial reconciliation. Failing to take the chance to condemn white supremacy could imply to outsiders—and the growing non-white minority within the SBC—that America’s largest Protestant group won’t speak out against the racists of today.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner With Douglas Thompson

RichmondDouglas Thompson is Associate Professor of History in the College of Liberal Arts at Mercer University.  This interview is based on his new book Richmond’s Priests and Prophets: Race, Religion, and Social Change in the Civil Rights Era (University of Alabama Press, 2017)

JF: What led you to write Richmond’s Priests and Prophets?

DT: I never intended to write this book. A lot of the research for this project had been done for a dissertation. When I completed the Ph.D., I already had a job in a teaching university so publishing a book, particularly turning a dissertation into a book, did not register on my radar. Once I abandoned the “dream” of being a dean because it took me away from the classroom, I sketched out a research agenda that included a project on how automobiles transformed the American South. When I applied for a sabbatical, the plan was to begin the research on that project and develop an article for publication to float the idea for the larger project. Every time I sat down to work on the car project, however, I kept thinking about the Richmond research. Just before my sabbatical I pulled out the dissertation and began tearing it apart.

After a feverish month I had a chapter written and drafted out the reimagined book. I sent the chapter off to two people I trust—one a specialist in religious history and one who is not—and told them to decide whether I should pursue the book on Richmond. Both readers encouraged me to write it, so I spent the sabbatical covering some new research and writing the book. The peer review draft went to the University of Alabama Press as I came off sabbatical.

JF: In two sentences what is the argument of the book?

DT: Outside the glare of the 1960s spectacles of marches, kneel-ins, and sit-ins Richmond’s ministers and congregations provide a compelling story about how white Christians wrestled with social change. Without overstating the findings, their variety of responses shed light on Christianity as an agent of change in social movements.

JF: Why do we need to read Richmond’s Priests and Prophets?

DT: I wrote the book for a middle ground between academics and practitioners of Christianity. While I dislike the term microhistory, the narrow focus helps us see how events on the ground both looked like the larger civil rights narrative but also how people disrupted that story.  My hope is that people will read about how folks tried to make progress and used denominational mechanisms to bring about change but also to impede change in desegregating schools and congregations. Chapter one addresses an idea found initially in Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma and repeated since then that the church is not the church unless its functions in its ideal form. Even as Myrdal praised black congregations for conserving cultural identities within African American communities, he blamed white Christians for failing to condemn segregation and racism. In fact, the same forces that help black congregations sustain cultural norms also inform how white congregations might resist desegregation.

In Richmond, I found lots of Christians doing what Myrdal called for but I also found other people attempting to maintain segregation in churches. A good example of this is when white Presbyterians opened a two-week desegregated summer camp in 1957 and maintained the practice through the end of the decade and beyond, but First Presbyterian Church, Richmond spent three years trying to undo that work. The traditional way to interpret this episode is that the progressive move to desegregate was prophetic and that FPC had a conservative reaction. The problem with that simple reading is that it misses two points about desegregation. First, the presbytery had created at least two black congregations so there were children within the presbytery who would not be able to attend and it could not afford a separate camp. Second, the arguments for desegregation were not forward thinking but backward glancing. Presbytery leaders took seriously the command in the Torah, emphasized in prophets like Amos, and taught in Jesus’ treatment of the neighbor that the stranger is a son or daughter of God. The nature of the prophetic voice is not politically progressive although we tend to think about it that way. Richmond’s religious newspaper editors, ministerial association, as well as Methodists and Presbyterians present an array of approaches to desegregation. Their stories can help us understand social change and churches in our present day.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DT: I am still coming to terms with that one. There was a day not long into my sabbatical when I had written something and realized that idea was all mine. A few weeks later someone asked what I did and I responded “I am an historian” for the first time, usually I would say teacher or professor.

The other way to answer that question is to tell the story of my first semester in seminary. I had Bill Leonard—Baptist historian now at Wake Forest—for church history. Since Southern Baptist Theological Seminary did not have an official advising program, I asked Bill if he would be my adviser. Within a few weeks of the start of the relationship while visiting in his office, he asked what I was going to do with an MDiv. I said I wanted to be a campus minister. Given our conversations up to that point and the rapid changes taking place in Southern Baptist circles, he said something like “you’ll never get hired.” Talk about existential angst. In hindsight, he was correct. I drifted through classes for the next couple of weeks wondering what I was doing in seminary. Shortly before the end of the term and sitting in one of his lectures, I thought, “I want to do that.” The Ph.D. program at Virginia tweaked that idea a little more and a teaching fellowship at Mercer landed me doing what I do today.

JF: What is your next project?

DT: I have a contract with University of Georgia Press for a book tentatively titled “A Journey of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam War, and the Struggle for the Soul of America.” I am also in the early stages of a project on Wendell Berry. The car project is always with me.

JF: Thanks, Doug!

 

The *The Wall Street Journal* Weighs-In on the Duke Divinity School Controversy

Duke

I just came across Peter Berkowitz‘s commentary at The Wall Street Journal on the recent controversy over racial sensitivity training at Duke Divinity School.  Also check out the more than 500 comments.

I think religious-affiliated institutions, such as Christian colleges and divinity schools, are actually more prone to these kinds of controversies than secular institutions because there is a temptation to bless or Christianize identity politics as a non-negotiable part of the institutional mission.

Any discussion of the Duke Divinity School situation should begin with the fact that most Christian institutions do not uphold academic freedom in the way that the secular academy defines it.  At my institution, Messiah College, I am not free to be an atheist.  If my intellectual journey should lead me down that road, I think it would be fair for the administration to ask me to leave.  I teach at Messiah College because I do not have a problem with my academic freedom being bound by the teachings of orthodox Christianity.  In fact, I welcome such boundaries.

Paul Griffiths also seems to understand that academic freedom is limited at Duke Divinity School. In his e-mail to his faculty colleagues he writes: “We here at Duke Divinity have a mission. Such things as this training are at best a distraction from it and at worst inimical to it. Our mission is to think, read, write, and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession.”

If this is indeed the mission of Duke Divinity School, then it makes sense that those who do not uphold a belief in the “triune Lord of Christian confession” would not be welcome on the faculty.  But does a faculty member who has a legitimate critique of racial sensitivity training or does not embrace identity politics as a way of addressing race on campus, but still upholds the theological and confessional mission as stated above, still have a place in such a Christian institution? And if they do have a place in the institution, will it be a marginalized one?

So when I say that religious-affiliated institutions are more suspect to controversies over academic freedom I am referring to the potential of undermining academic freedom within the Christian tradition.

Don’t get me wrong–Griffiths did not handle this well.  But I do think that his views on racial sensitivity training should not be out of bounds at a Christian college, nor should his opposition to this training imply that he somehow doesn’t care about racial injustice on campus.