Gordon College students hold a sit-in protest to call attention to a racist incident on campus

Students walk through campus at Gordon College during the Spring on 2016. Photo by Mark Spooner, courtesy of Gordon College

On November 1, 2020, a pro-Black Lives Matter T-shirt sitting on a Gordon College residence hall laundry room table was defaced with a racist slur. Gordon is an evangelical liberal arts college in Wenham, Massachusetts.

Michael Gryboski has the story at The Christian Post. Here is a taste:

A group of some 100 students at Gordon College held a sit-in on campus in response to a racial incident involving a defaced T-shirt, with organizers arguing that not enough is being done to ensure African American students feel safe at the Massachusetts Christian institution. 

The student group, All For Reclaiming Our Hamwe and Gordon College Student Association President Shineika Fareus, organized the sit-in protest last week at Frost Hall, which is the administrative building for the Wenham-based higher education institution with over 1,500 students. 

And this:

Gordon College spokesman Rick Sweeney told CP the school is investigating the incident and that the college’s police department “has involved the local town of Wenham police officials and are handling this as a hate crime.”

He added that the school is also investigating another incident in which someone wrote an anti-Asian message on a whiteboard near an apartment where some Asian students live.

“The investigation is ongoing and will remain so until completed. Rather than set a timetable, our goal is to bring closure on both incidents,” Sweeney said. “We have urged students with any information to contact our chief of police or a staff member in Student Life.”

Regarding the sit-in, Sweeney said that school leaders, including Lindsay, met with organizers. He told CP that the college “wanted to be responsive to student concerns.”

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with John Marks

John Marks is Historian and Public History Administrator for the American Association for State and Local History. This interview is based on his new book, Black Freedom in the Age of Slavery: Race, Status, and Identity in the Urban Americas (University of South Carolina Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Black Freedom in the Age of Slavery?

JM: The idea for this project began developing for me in graduate school. In reading widely about the history of race and slavery in the Atlantic World, I began to recognize patterns in the lived experiences of African-descended people in urban spaces that often went unmentioned. Historians of the United States almost never talked about parallels with Latin American society; Latin Americanists, for their part, often referenced older, or more abstract, examples from US histories when drawing broad comparisons. A deep engagement with current scholarship for both regions, however, revealed parallels I just couldn’t ignore: namely, the opportunity for free people of color living in cities before the end of slavery to carve out spaces of autonomy for themselves, claim a degree of distinction within their communities, and conduct themselves in ways that defied white expectation—and often the law. Recognizing major differences in law, culture, and attitudes towards racial difference across the Americas, I wanted to understand with greater precision the ways African-descended people navigated daily life in these places. As I began researching, I recognized as well that explicitly comparative history in some ways represented an unfulfilled promise of the turn to the “Atlantic World” as a perspective for analyzing the history of the United States and other American societies. Few scholars had conducted the kind of careful social history research in service of a transnational and comparative project I thought was necessary to really understand local dynamics. Once I realized such an approach could make a unique contribution to our understanding of race and slavery, there was no turning back.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Black Freedom in the Age of Slavery?

JM: Throughout the urban Americas before the end of slavery, free people of color relentlessly pursued opportunities to improve their circumstances and provide for their families, staking claims to rights, privileges, and distinctions not typically granted to African-descended people. These efforts represented part of an international struggle for Black freedom, as free Black residents in Charleston, Cartagena, and beyond subtly challenged ideologies of white racial supremacy that linked the Americas together and undermined the foundations of white authority in the Atlantic World.

JF: Why do we need to read Black Freedom in the Age of Slavery?

JM: 2020 has revealed for many Americans, especially white Americans, the degree to which racial injustice and inequality are still pervasive and pernicious features of our society. In order to fully understand the persistence of both individual racial prejudice and systemic racism, we need to understand the history of how race has operated and affected the lives of African-descended people. To fully understand that story, we need to at times look at the history of race and slavery from an international perspective.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, free people of African descent in the United States, Colombia, and throughout the Americas had to confront broadly shared notions of white supremacy among the country’s ruling classes in order to advance efforts to provide for themselves, their loved ones, and their communities. Today, anti-Black racism and a wide range of persistent racial inequalities are pervasive from Canada to Chile and everywhere in between. When demonstrations against systemic racism and police violence erupted this summer, they extended to places like Puerto Rico, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia, in addition to across the United States. These international demonstrations were not just in solidarity with the US, they were protests against the particular, local histories of white supremacist violence and injustice.

Linking the histories of race and slavery in these places, exploring how and when racial dynamics were the same and different, offers new perspective on the histories of the United States, Latin America, and the Atlantic World, and I hope offers some insight into how we should understand efforts to combat white supremacy in the present.

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

JM: High school was the first time I really recognized that I had an uncommon interest in (and knack for) reading and writing about the past, but it wasn’t until college that I realized it could be a career. As an undergrad at Lynchburg College (now University of Lynchburg), I had the opportunity to pursue several locally-focused research projects, and I grew to enjoy the archive, the search for material, and the process of putting a puzzle together when you’re not really sure if you have all the pieces. As a New Jersey native researching race and slavery in Virginia, I also became keenly aware of regional differences in present-day racial dynamics, and I wanted to know more about how understandings of race developed over time. Moving forward through graduate school and now a career in public history, the way I think about what it means to be an American historian has certainly changed. But I’m as committed as ever to using research, writing, and engagement with the public to better understand the past and think through how it can help us solve problems in the present.

JF: What is your next project?

JM: I’ve got a couple things kicking around that I hope to be able to say more about soon. In both my scholarship and my day job (for the American Association for State and Local History), I’ve been thinking a lot about anniversaries and how historians can use them as opportunities to expand, challenge, and learn from the public’s understandings of history. 2022 will mark the 200th anniversary of the Denmark Vesey conspiracy in Charleston, and 2026 represents the 250th anniversary of the United States. I know planning is underway already for both commemorations, so I’m interested in using those events to think in new ways about the history of race, slavery, and freedom—whether for books, articles, public history projects, or other endeavors.

JF: Thanks, John!

Tonight’s debate

Some thoughts on the final debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.

On the format:

The mute button definitely worked. Kristen Welker did a solid job as moderator. Trump was under control. He started-out very mellow:

Symbolic gestures are important, especially in a pandemic:

This continues to be the essence of Trump’s approach to the coronavirus:

I have no idea what Trump meant when he criticized Biden for “selling pillows and sheets”:

Trump focused on Hunter Biden’s laptop, Burisma, and Biden’s houses (he owns two). No one cares unless you watch Fox News:

Seth Cotlar gets it right:

When Trump attacked Biden’s family, Biden did not get into the mud. (There is a lot of material about the Trump family he could have used). Instead, he appealed to American families:

When Biden talked about American families and their “dinner table” concerns, Trump accused him of being a “typical politician.”:

Trump kept pushing lies about Biden’s positions on health care and fracking:

In one the better moments of the debate, Biden said that Trump was confused about the identity of his opponent in this election, especially as it relates to health care. Biden does not support socialized medicine. He actually won the Democratic primary against the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who do favor socialized medicine. He reminded the viewers who Trump was running against:

The moderator, Kristen Welker, asked Trump about how his administration manage to lose the parents of 545 immigrant children. Trump claimed that they these children were brought to the country not by their parents, but by “coyotes.” Biden pushed back hard, saying that these children came to the United States with their parents and they were separated. Trump’s failed to exercise any degree of empathy for these children. It was painful to watch.

As a side note, I had interesting exchange on Twitter on this issue with court evangelical and GOP operative Ralph Reed:

I am not holding my breath about Reed’s decision to revisit this issue 10 days before an election.

Welker asked Biden and Trump about “the talk” African-American parents give their children about the dangers they will face in a racist society. Bruce Springsteen summarized this well in his song “American Skin”:

Here is the lyric:

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

Biden responded to this question with a clear statement about systemic racism, lamenting that such a “talk” is necessary in the United States of America. Trump never answered the question. Instead he said this:

Trump claimed he was the “least racist” person in the room. Then he backpedaled a bit, saying he couldn’t be entirely sure that he was the “least racist” person in the room because the lights were too bright and he was unable to see everyone.

Trump then went after Biden for his role in drafting the 1994 Crime Bill. This bill was controversial because it increased incarceration in an attempt to stop crime. It led to more prison sentences and aggressive policing that hurt people of color who are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated.

Biden has said that his support of the 1994 bill was a mistake and he regrets it. He said the same thing last night. But what confuses me is why Trump always criticizes him on this front. Wouldn’t a “law and order” president like Trump who does not believe in systemic racism be in favor of such a bill? After Trump’s response to racial unrest this summer, one might think he would have been chomping at the bit to support such a bill. Biden lost a chance to point this out.

New York Times columnist David Brooks weighed-in on the debate:

Biden said that he wanted to phase out the oil industry because it is bad for the environment. Trump implied that Biden’s statement alienated people in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Ohio. Perhaps it did, but Biden stood his ground. Historian Andrew Wehrman put it succinctly:

Biden’s claim to be the president of all Americans reminded me of Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address:

Trump did fine. As CNN’s Dana Bash put it, the “bar was very low” for Trump and he managed to clear it.

Biden did fine as well. He had some nice moments.

I don’t think the debate changed much, especially since Trump is probably going to stay some more stupid stuff tomorrow and everyone will forget about last night’s debate.

“I hope this person believes this. Some days I am not even sure I do.”

Like most people, I sat down early Tuesday evening, November 8, 2016, to watch election returns fully expecting that, by the time I went to bed, Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president.

Instead, I saw my home state of Pennsylvania fall to Trump, followed by the Clinton “firewall” states of Michigan and Wisconsin. I was shocked. I was saddened. I was angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the large number of my fellow evangelicals who voted for him.

Five days later–the Lord’s Day–I took my seat in the sanctuary of the central Pennsylvania megachurch where I had worshipped with my family for the last sixteen years. As I looked around at my fellow worshippers, I could not help thinking that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every ten people in that sanctuary–my brothers and sisters in my community of faith–had voted for the new president-elect. This seemed to reflect deep divisions in how we understand the world, and it was deeply distressing.

I still attend that church, but I have not visited in person since the outbreak of COVID-19. I wish I could say that COVID-19 is the only reason I haven’t returned. It’s been four years since that post-election Sunday and there are days when my anger and disappointment are still raw. This is not an indictment of the pastoral staff at my church or most of the members–past and present–of the church elder board. They are serious Christians who have been doing their best to navigate this season without dividing the church. I appreciate the work they are doing and I can tell when they are trying to bring biblical faith to bear on the times without naming names or “getting political.” I do not attend a pro-Trump church.

But I also get the sense that my church is keeping me at arms length. This is probably a smart move. I am a divisive figure. I have tried to use my voice and platform to criticize a morally corrupt President of the United States and the conservative media infrastructure, including the Christian media, that props him up.

Some of my fellow churchgoers have read Believe Me and have sent me wonderful notes of encouragement and support. Others have made it clear that I am a negative influence in the Christian community. When I taught a Sunday school class on Christianity and politics (a class in which I don’t think I ever mentioned Trump), I got a lot of positive feedback. I also got some pretty strong negative feedback.

Why am I bringing this all up right now?

Today I had an emotional conversation with a Christian I love. This person does not understand how friends, family, and fellow Christians can support Donald Trump. Tuesday night’s debate really set this person off. How could Christians vote for a man who refuses to condemn racism, lies endlessly, and lacks basic empathy? This person is considering giving-up on church and the Christian faith generally. She/he is trying to hold together her/his friendships with Trump supporters, but does not know how to do it and still be true to her/his deepest convictions.

We both had tears in our eyes. I didn’t know what kind of advice to give this person, but I certainly understood. Over the last four years I have had old friends cut me off because of my strong criticism of the president. I have had present friends pull back. I have had dozens and dozens of people tell me that they have stopped going to church (COVID-19 has become a convenient excuse). People who I have not communicated with in over thirty years have come out of the woodwork to condemn me in public forums.

I don’t want this person to give-up on Christianity. I encouraged this person to lean into our shared faith and not pull away. Current events have led me to read the Bible with new eyes, pray in different ways, and rethink how I live my Christian life. It is all a work of progress, but I feel like I have started a new spiritual journey of sorts. I shared all of this with this person. We must continue to live as people of hope and try not to let the anger overwhelm us. I hope this person believes this. Some days I am not even sure I do.

Many Americans do not see this as an ordinary election between two candidates committed to basic principles of decency, civility, truth, science, reason, and human dignity. This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (2008) or Al Gore and George W. Bush (2000) or Bill Clinton and Bob Dole (1996). This is an election between one man who believes that the president should be a steward of democracy and another man who is a racist, nativist, and narcissist willing to undermine democracy with almost every word he speaks.

And the majority of white evangelicals, whether they love Trump or held their nose and voted for him, are complicit. I know that statement will anger a lot of people. But how long will evangelicals support–either directly or indirectly through their silence– this immoral president?

When Trump is gone, I hope and pray I will be ready to participate in the healing work that needs to be done. But right now the cancer at the heart of the republic must be cut out. Americans have the chance to do this on November 3rd. As I have said before at this blog, let’s remember that Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (“bind up the nation’s wounds” and “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace”) occurred after the Northern victory over the slave-holding Confederacy was all but secured.

UPDATE: I wish the President and First Lady well as they deal with COVID. I am praying for them and for all who are struggling with this terrible virus.

Trump is a racist. There is just no way around it.

You’ve all seen it by now:

A lot of people are going to say Trump misspoke or Chris Wallace set him up. Trump’s supporters are doing everything possible to defend him. But how can we interpret Trump’s words as something other than racism? Consider some of his previous comments:

The Atlantic has an oral history of his racist statements.

Vox has a timeline running from 1973-2020.

There is even a Wikipedia page on Trump’s views on race.

Read our coverage of Charlottesville 2017 here.

I try to get my history students to think contextually. The work of placing Trump’s comments on race in the historical context of his previous statements on the subject gets us closer to understanding the meaning of his words on Tuesday night. There is a definitely a pattern here and because of this context I feel comfortable calling Trump a racist.

And the day after the debate, Trump continued with the race baiting in Minnesota.

More court evangelical responses to the first presidential debate

See my earlier post here. Here is the latest:

For reasons that are unclear to me, James Robison felt moved to tweet the First Amendment during the debate:

James Dobson on his Facebook page: “Consider this as you watch tonight’s debate.” The “this” is this.

Jack Graham spoke at an event sponsored by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition. Does this mean that last night Trump was fighting a battle for the Lord?

Graham said these words at a Faith and Freedom event that included Mike Pence:

“Whether America remains America.” What does this mean?:

On the day after the debate, Pence is standing alongside Trump. Of course he is:

Biden does not want to defund the police. But if the lie works, why not keep suggested that he will:

Actually, I think you can work for criminal justice reform and still be a racist. Last night is a perfect example.

Yes Jentezen, it just may be the most important election of our lifetime:

John Hagee is ready for the fight:

Gary “Character is Destiny” Bauer had a long statement on his Facebook page. Here it is:

I’m not at all surprised that the president was a little “hot” last night. I suspect that any of us would be eager to defend ourselves and set the record straight if we had been subjected to similar treatment. We would also be furious over what had been done to us.

My friends, don’t forget what President Trump has had to endure the last four years.

Many leftists refused to accept the results of the 2016 election.

The “resistance” rioted during his inauguration.

The Deep State spied on his campaign and undermined his presidency.

His friends and supporters have suffered all kinds of harassment, investigations and prosecutions.

Democrats impeached him over a phone call, and they are threatening to impeach him again.

The left has viciously smeared him time and again. (More on that below.)

Anyone so upset about the president’s style that they are thinking about not voting or voting third party needs to seriously think about whether their frustration with Trump outweighs their love for our country and our values.

Joe Biden is no moderate. And you don’t have to take my word for it. He is running on a platform written by Bernie Sanders and well to the left of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Quick response:

  1. Whatever Trump has had to “endure” was of his own making.
  2. Bauer seems to be supporting Trump’s claim that he will not accept the election results if he loses.
  3. The Deep State is a useful conspiracy theory for people like Bauer.
  4. Trump did nothing wrong with his “perfect call” to the Ukraine
  5. Joe Biden is not a socialist or a man of the left and he made that clear multiple times last night in the debate.
  6. Nothing here about Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy.

This is a perfect example of how the Christian Right uses Twitter to spread misleading information without any larger context. This is why contextual thinking is absolutely essential if we want to restore democracy. Social media is destroying us and Charlie Kirk is contributing to this.

Jenna Ellis loves Rudy:

Unlike other conservatives, Jenna just can’t admit Trump blew it. Nope, this evangelical Christian and fellow at the Liberty University Falkirk Center is defending Trump:

She also retweeted Trump’s racist tweet about blacks coming into the suburbs:

33 more days

We deserved last night’s debate. We didn’t deserve last night’s debate.

Last night the nation got the debate it deserved.

Last night a nation suffering through coronavirus deserved better.

I think both of these things can be true at the same time.

The first 2020 presidential debate was a disaster. It was a perfect representation of the current state of our political culture. I think theologian Keith Plummer got it right when he tweeted:

Biden’s performance wasn’t great, but he hung in there. Historian Amy Bass nailed it:

Biden didn’t need to kill it last night. He is leading in all the polls. Trump did nothing to widen his base. The debate changed very little.

At one point in the debate Biden told Trump: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.” We will let future historians decide this, but right now it is hard to argue with Biden’s assessment. Here is presidential historian Jon Meacham:

As most of you know by now, Trump refused to condemn “white supremacy” and “racists”:

Here is Christian writer and editor Katelyn Beaty:

And then Trump empowered a neo-Fascist group by telling them to “stand back and stand by.” It is worth noting that the Proud Boys immediately made “Stand Back. Stand By” part of their new logo. Yes the President of the United States told a white supremacist militia group to “stand by.” This implies they he may need them at some point in the immediate future.

Actually, this whole Proud Boys thing sets me up nicely for my Pennsylvania history class today:

This may have been the first presidential debate in American history in which one candidate called another candidate a “racist.”

Trump did nothing to win women voters tonight. Here is historian Heather Cox Richardson:

A few odds and ends:

  1. Trump refused to say that he would concede the election if he loses.
  2. Trump interrupted Biden to attack his son Hunter at the precise moment Biden was talking about his dead son Beau.
  3. In the middle of a discussion on COVID-19, Trump attacked Biden’s intelligence. He also mocked Biden for attending “Delaware State” university. Actually, Biden attended the University of Delaware. Delaware State is a historical black university. One would think Trump would know this since he likes to brag how much he has done for HBCUs.
  4. I don’t want to see another debate. This was a waste of time. Let’s just vote in November and move on as a nation.

A few random tweets from the night:

Before the debate court evangelical Robert Jeffress was praying for unity:

I support national unity. I even support praying for national unity. One of the best speeches on national unity was Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Here’s Sean Hannity being Sean Hannity:

CNN commentators saw things differently:

Is this King George or Vladimir Putin?:

Even the Fox News moderator Chris Wallace was having problems making sense of Trump’s words:

I am hearing all kinds of stories about parents letting their kids watch this debacle. Here is Yahoo News writer Jon Ward:

Here is Amy Bass:

Hey, but at least Donald Trump did this:

34 more days.

Trump doubles down on the racism, nativism, and unhealthy nostalgia in Pittsburgh

Watch Trump on September 22, 2020 in the Pittsburgh area:

Trump is talking about Ilhan Omar, a Black Muslim congresswoman who represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. She won nearly 78% of the vote in her district in 2018.

Trump is playing both a racist and nativist card here. “She’s telling us how to run our country,” Trump says. Who is “us?” What does Trump mean by “our country?” He then makes a remark about “where she came from.” For the record, Omar is was born in Somalia and has lived in the United States twenty-five years. She has been a United States citizen for twenty years. Who is the divisive one here?

But Trump doesn’t stop there. After saying that Omar is destroying our country, he then illustrates perfectly the close connection between “Make America Great Again” and racism. Trump says: “From ten years ago it’s like a different world and we want to keep our world the way it was.” It is as if the racial unrest plaguing American cities this summer never happened. In the context of his previous comments on Omar, this is blatant racism.

And then there are the Trump followers cheering all of this.

The kind of nostalgia Trump is peddling here can be a powerful political tool. A politician who claims to have the power to take people back to a time when America as “great” stands a good chance of winning the votes of fearful men and women.

The practice of nostalgia is inherently selfish because it usually focuses on one own’s experience of the past and not the experience of others. For example, people nostalgic for the world of Leave it to Beaver may fail to recognize that other people, perhaps even some of the people living in the Cleaver’s suburban “paradise” of the 1950s, were not experiencing the world in a way that they would describe as “great.” This kind of nostalgia gives us tunnel vision. Its selective use of the past fails to recognize the complexity and breadth of the human experience–the good and bad of American history.

Who’s afraid of critical race theory?

Donald Trump has turned Critical Race Theory (CRT) into a campaign issue in the hopes of winning white evangelicals and other conservatives who fear that an academic theory that they know little about is somehow threatening American democracy. Between his attacks on CRT and the 1619 Project, he just might win back a few 2016 voters who were contemplating pulling the lever for Biden or another candidate in November.

On Friday night, September 4, 2020, Russell Vought, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget, released a memo demanding that the Executive Branch stop teaching CRT as part of required “training” sessions for federal employees.

Vought’s memo condemns seminars that expose employees to the idea that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or “benefit from racism.” All programs that include discussions of “white privilege” or the notion that the United States is an “inherently racist or evil country,” the memo states, must immediately “cease and desist.”

Trump may have learned about CRT from a segment on Fox News. On September 2, 2020, Fox host Tucker Carlson interviewed Chris Rufo, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank best known for its advocacy of the “intelligent design” view of creation. After studying CRT for six months, Rufo concluded the theory has become the “default ideology of the federal bureaucracy” and is being “weaponized against the American people.” He described CRT as “a cult indoctrination” and demanded that Trump bring an end to it immediately. The president was apparently listening.

So what should we make of CRT? Like all academic theories, we ought to engage it thoughtfully. Critical race theory is one way of helping us come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups based on the color of their skin.

In their helpful introduction to CRT, scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Sefancic identify five major themes of this theory.

First, CRT affirms that racism is an “ordinary” or “common” part of everyday life. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice against people of color, it is a system of discrimination built into American institutions, especially the law.

Second, CRT affirms that since White people benefit from such systemic racism, they will not have the incentive to do anything about it. Shock events such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha might alert White people to racial injustice, but it is unlikely such tragedies will lead to a sustained anti-racism.

Third, CRT affirms that race is “socially constructed.” This means that the racial categories we use are not biologically determined but invented by human beings. There is nothing inherent about any race that should lead to its oppression. Racism is thus best explained by a close examination of American history to see how men and women in power “constructed” the idea of racial difference and promoted bigotry based on those differences.

Fourth, CRT affirms, to quote Delgado and Sefancic, that “no person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.” For example, I am a male, white, a product of the American working class, and a Christian. These different identities are often mutually dependent on one another and when taken together make me a whole person. CRT uses the technical term “intersectionality” to define the way these different identities overlap and intersect.

Fifth, CRT affirms that Black people and other people of color “are able to communicate to their White counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know.” At the heart of CRT is storytelling. This is the primary way that people of color can explain the racism that they encounter daily. It also implies that people of color are more equipped to talk about the plight of the racially oppressed than White people.

Critical race theorists are often suspicious of liberalism, both the Left and Right variety. As a product of the Western intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, liberals champion universals—the things that we hold in common as human beings regardless of race. CRT celebrates what makes human beings unique and different. The appeal to the universal values of the Enlightenment, its adherents argue, always favors the White people who have defined and benefited from those values.

Much of CRT sounds a lot like some of the things I learned in college, seminary, and graduate school. Back then we studied these things under the rubric of “American history” and “Christianity.”

For example, I don’t remember reading anything about CRT while working toward my Ph.D in American history. But I did not need these high-falutin academic theorists to see how racism was embedded in the history of the republic. All I needed to do was study the documentary record with my eyes open. One cannot ignore the long history of White people oppressing Black people. White people have had advantages–privileges even–that Black people and other people of color have not. To acknowledge white privilege is to be a good historian.

It is also difficult to study American history and not see continuity between the past and present. The legacies of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy are still with us just like the founding fathers’ ideas of liberty, freedom, and individual rights are still with us. Indeed, racism is “ordinary” and “common” in American life. It is not some kind of aberration practiced by a few “bad apples” who make occasional appearances in the narratives we teach about the past.

A few weeks ago I was teaching the students in my U.S. history survey course about seventeenth-century Virginia. This colonial society passed laws that defined Black men and women as slaves for the purpose of quelling disgruntled poor whites (former indentured servants) who had a propensity for social and political rebellion. The codification of race-based slavery in Virginia law resulted in the social, economic, and political advance of these marginalized White colonials.

Were there individual acts of racism in colonial Virginia? Of course. But what the Virginia government did was systemic–its leaders embedded racism in the culture of the settlement. While this is an early example of systemic racism, we can point to many other instances in American history where White people were able to achieve something called the “American Dream” on the backs of slavery and other oppressed and marginalized people.

Trump’s decision to root-out CRT will inevitably win him points with his Fox-News-watching Christian conservative base, but is CRT something Christians should fear?

As an undergraduate and seminary student at evangelical institutions, I learned that Christians should not be surprised by injustice and evil in this world. Rather, we should expect it. The world is a fallen and broken place. My professors drilled this into my head through a reading and re-reading (occasionally in the original Hebrew language) of Genesis 3. Sin manifests itself in both individual lives and cultural systems.

Since Christians believe in human sin, we should have no problem embracing CRT’s affirmation of systemic racism. At the same time, we should always be ready to offer hope–rooted in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and the promise of resurrection—as a means of healing a world that is broken. We may never overcome the damage of systemic racism on this side of eternity, but we cannot ignore our call to be agents of reconciliation.

Is it true that White people have no incentive to do anything about racial injustice because they benefit from it? American history certainly bears this out. The story of our nation is filled with White men and women who witnessed racism on a regular basis and did nothing to stop it. Some of them knew it was wrong but lacked the courage to do anything about it. Others simply did not care.

Christian critics of CRT celebrate abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wilberforce, or William Lloyd Garrison, but these courageous activists were the exceptions to the rule in 19th-century America. The “heroic man” or “heroic woman” view of the history of moral reform does not account for the long record of White Christian complacency on racial injustice. In the end, any Christian who takes a deep dive into the American past will find heroes to emulate, but they will also find that most White people were complicit in sustaining a system of white supremacy.

What about the social construction of race? When Thomas Jefferson said in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781) that Africans were “inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind,” he was degrading the human dignity of Black people, men and women created by God in His image. Racism entered the world when sinful human beings forged communities that privileged some and excluded others.

Christians can also agree, to an extent, with the idea of intersectionality. We all possess different social identities and there are times when we face injustice that stems from those identities—injustices that our legal system fails to address.

Our urge to downplay the identities that define us as human beings is understandable and, in many cases, good. A flourishing society will always be built upon the things we hold common as human beings. A thriving Church will always be built upon the knowledge that one day White Christians and Christians of color will share together in the new heavens and new earth promised in the Book of Revelation. A central message of the Book of Acts and Pauline epistles is summed-up best in Galatians 3:38: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all one in Christ.”

But God has also made us different. We are products of history. Our faith will always be understood and navigated through the circumstances that have shaped us and provided us with multiple identities in this world. While we all want to be one in Christ, and should always be about the work of reconciliation and unity as Jesus reminded us in John 17, we must also remember, as theologian Miroslav Volf writes, that God notes not only our “common humanity,” but also our “specific histories.”

Finally, CRT’s emphasis on storytelling is something Christians should value. The Christian tradition is full of men and women telling stories of suffering, sin, and redemption. When Black people tell their stories of encounters with racism it should provoke empathy in the hearts of White Christians. We understand the power of testimony.

Of course, stories can be manipulated for selfish or political ends. And personal experience does not always translate to expertise on a subject such as African American history or literature. But those who dwell on these matters miss an opportunity to cultivate a more just democracy through compassion and understanding. It is time to exercise some humility. This means we need to stop talking and start listening to the stories African Americans are telling us.

In the end, if critical race theorists can teach me something I don’t know about how I may have benefited from white oppression (even if I may not commit overt acts of racism) or how to have greater solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, why wouldn’t I want to consider it?

As a Christian, I want to see the world through the eyes of my faith. I want my “theory” to be the teachings of the scriptures and the Christian tradition. This may mean that I embrace parts of CRT and reject other parts. I know very few academics—Christian or secular—who adopt theories in toto.

There is much truth in CRT, and all truth is God’s truth. We have nothing to fear.

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.

Trump wants to save the suburbs

Everyone knows what this means. But if you want more information I encourage you read these posts. Here and here.

So how should we think about Trump’s call to save the suburbs in the light of American history?

Today I came across a few newspaper articles:

Thu, Aug 15, 1957 – Page 9 · The Salem News (Salem, Ohio) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Apr 1, 1959 – 1 · The Messenger (Madisonville, Kentucky) · Newspapers.com

Wed, Sep 2, 1970 – Page 3 · Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

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.

How textbooks taught white supremacy

Historian Donald Yacovone of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research is writing a book titled “Teaching White Supremacy: The Textbook Battle Over Race in American History.” Here is a taste of Liz Mineo’s interview with Yacovone at The Harvard Gazette:

GAZETTE: How did you start examining history textbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries?

YACOVONE: I had begun a different book about the legacy of the antislavery movement and the rise of the Civil Rights era. I had spent several months at the Houghton Library before it closed down. When I was nearly finished with one particularly large collection, I wanted to take a break and find out how abolitionism had been taught in school textbooks. I thought this was going to be a quick enterprise: I’d go over to Gutman Library at the Graduate School of Education, take a look at a few textbooks, and keep going. Imagine my shock when I was confronted by a collection of about 3,000 textbooks. I started reviewing them, and I came across one 1832 book, “History of the United States” by Noah Webster, the gentleman who’s responsible for our dictionary. I was astonished by what I was reading so I just kept reading some more.

In Webster’s book there was next to nothing about the institution of slavery, despite the fact that it was a central American institution. There were no African Americans ever mentioned. When Webster wrote about Africans, it was extremely derogatory, which was shocking because those comments were in a textbook. What I realized from his book, and from the subsequent ones, was how they defined “American” as white and only as white. Anything that was less than an Anglo Saxon was not a true American. The further along I got in this process, the more intensely this sentiment came out, I realized that I was looking at, there’s no other word for it, white supremacy. I came across one textbook that declared on its first page, “This is the White Man’s History.” At that point, you had to be a dunce not to see what these books were teaching.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Trump and critical race theory: What is really going on?

In case you missed it, Donald Trump discovered critical race theory over the weekend. Here is Friday’s memo from Russell Vought, the director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget:

September 4, 2020

M-20-34

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

FROM: Russell Vought
Director

SUBJECT: Training in the Federal Government

It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date “training” government workers to believe divisive, antiAmerican propaganda.

For example, according to press reports, employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or where they are required to say that they “benefit from racism.” According to press reports, in some cases these training have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.

These types of “trainings” not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce. We can be proud that as an employer, the Federal government has employees of all races, ethnicities, and religions. We can be proud that Americans from all over
the country seek to join our workforce and dedicate themselves to public service. We can be proud of our continued efforts to welcome all individuals who seek to serve their fellow Americans as Federal employees. However, we cannot accept our employees receiving training
that seeks to undercut our core values as Americans and drive division within our workforce.

The President has directed me to ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions. Accordingly, to that end, the Office of Management and Budget will shortly issue more detailed guidance on implementing the President’s directive. In the meantime, all agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil. In addition, all agencies should begin to identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these unAmerican propaganda training sessions.

The President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in the United States. The President has a proven track record of standing for those whose voice has long been ignored and who have failed to benefit from all our country has to offer, and he intends to continue to support all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or creed. The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.

Trump has been tweeting about this:

And here are a few of Trump’s retweets this weekend:

So what is happening here?

What is critical race theory? You can learn all about it here.

Critical race theorists believe that racism is a systemic problem in the United States. In other words, racism is more than just individual acts of prejudice executed by a “few bad apples,” but a system of injustice woven deeply into American culture.

I have read several stories on Trump’s attempt to ban critical race theory and it is still not clear to me exactly which federal training programs Trump is talking about here or how critical race theory is being taught in these programs. I think it is fair to say that Trump knows absolutely nothing about critical race theory apart from the fact that his political base is against it.

And what should we make of the fact that a memo from the Office of the President condemning a federal government training program cites “press reports” as its primary evidence? Trump’s seems to have learned about critical race theory from this segment of the Tucker Carlson Show on Fox News:

Chris Rufo, the guy who appears in this video, works for the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank. You can read his other writings here. You can learn more about others connected to the Discovery Institute here.

So what should we make of critical race theory? Like all academic theories, we should engage it thoughtfully. Critical race theory is one way of helping us come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In the United States, there has been a long history of White people oppressing Black people. As a result, White people have had advantages–privileges even–that Black people and other people of color have not.

It is hard to study American history and not see this oppression. It is also difficult to study American history and not see continuity between the past and present. The legacies of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and white supremacy are still with us just like the founding fathers’ ideas of liberty and freedom and individual rights are still with us.

This past week I was teaching the students in my U.S. history survey course about seventeenth-century Virginia. This colonial society passed laws that made Black men and women slaves in an attempt to quell disgruntled poor whites who had shown a propensity for political rebellion. The codification of race-based slavery in Virginia law resulted in the social, economic, and political advance of the former white indentured servant population in Virginia.

Were there individual acts of racism in colonial Virginia? Of course. But what the Virginia government did was systemic–its leaders embedded racism in the culture of the settlement. While this is an early example of systemic racism, we can point to many other examples in American history where White people were able to achieve something called the “American Dream” on the backs of slavery and other oppressed and marginalized people.

I have a hunch that Rufo is a Christian. And I have no doubt that Trump’s decision to root out critical race theory will win him points with his evangelical base. So what should a Christian think about critical race theory?

Christians should expect injustice and oppression in this world. The world is fallen. We learn this from reading Genesis 3. Sin pervades this world and manifests itself in both individual transgression and cultural systems. We place our hope in Jesus Christ, a suffering savior whose death for our sins initiated a new kingdom–the Kingdom of God– that will one day reach its fulfillment in a new heavens and a new earth. God redeems our individual lives and will one day redeem His creation, which Romans 8 tells us is “groaning” with “labor pains” as it awaits redemption. Until Jesus returns, citizens of God’s Kingdom are called to live justice-filled lives. And those who care about justice will privilege standing with the poor and oppressed.

So if theologians like James Cone, critical race theorists, or American historians can help me better understand oppression, the ways I have benefited from such oppression (even if I don’t commit overt acts of racism), and teach me how to have greater solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, why wouldn’t I want to learn more about it?

As a Christian, I prefer to see the world through the eyes of my faith. In other words, I want my “theory” to be the teachings of the scriptures and the Christian tradition. This may mean that I embrace parts of critical race theory and reject other parts. This might also mean that I reject the way critical race theory is applied, especially when it leads to violence. But Christian’s shouldn’t be afraid of it.

If we want to use jargon that is common in today’s political climate, I think it is fair to say that Trump is “canceling” critical race theory. Trump and his followers want open discourse, debate, and the free exchange of ideas, but only with those ideas that they find agreeable. Critical race theory appears to have become a new kind of McCarthyism. How else should we interpret Trump’s call to “please report any sightings.”

Finally, let’s acknowledge what is really going on here.

First, Trump is trying to distract us from the fact that he called American soldiers “losers” and “suckers.”

Second, Trump is trying to scare Americans, especially his white evangelical base, into voting for him in November.

Third, by attacking a theory he knows nothing about, Trump continues to engage in the subtle (but premeditated) racism that has defined his entire presidency. We saw it in Charlottesville. We saw it in Kenosha. We saw it following the Floyd murder. And we see it whenever he talks about the suburbs.

Fourth, this whole incident shows us, once again, that we have an incompetent president who watches Fox News and then impulsively tweets policy proposals based on what he has seen.

Fear and Frederick Jackson Turner: Night 4 of the GOP convention

Trump GOP convention 2

Well, it’s over. Last night Donald Trump, a president who lost the popular vote by 3 million and has never had his approval rating rise over 50%, used the White House–the “people’s house–for a political rally. Most of the sycophants in the crowd were not wearing masks and there was no social distancing.

Trump’s speech was filled with lies and misleading statements. His low energy reading of the teleprompter did not play to our hopes, it played to our fears. But this is now par for the course in the Trump administration. The president claimed that if Joe Biden gets elected, suicide, depression, drug and alcohol addiction and heart attacks would plague the country. (The only thing missing from this list is lower SAT scores). He suggested that if Joe Biden gets elected Black mobs will invade the white suburbs. Joe Biden will take your guns and abolish the police force. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

And most white evangelicals are on board. In fact, many of the court evangelicals were present at the speech.

Author Neal Gabler once said that “true religion…begins in doubt and continues in spiritual exploration. Debased religion begins in fear and terminates in certainty.” The great poet of the Jersey shore put it this way: “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black you can trust. It’ll take a God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Last night’s theme was “America: Land of Greatness.” But I don’t think court evangelical Franklin Graham got the message. Here is his opening prayer:

Graham talked about a nation in “trouble,” a nation “divided,” and a nation experiencing “injustice.” It was a good prayer. He turned to God, not Trump, for hope.

All week we have been hearing a lot about Trump as a man of empathy and compassion. He loves Black people. He loves women. He loves immigrants. Last night Trump claimed (again) that he has done more for the Black community than any president in American history (which is not true). But he failed to say anything about the plight of African Americans in this country. He ignored the family of Jacob Blake. It’s as if the real problems in America–death from coronavirus, racial unrest, and a struggling economy–do not exist in Trumpland.

I really don’t have much to say about last night that I haven’t written about many times before. Trump is a serial liar. Read NPR’s fact check here.

But near the end of the speech, Trump started riffing on the American past.

Our country wasn’t built by cancel culture, speech codes, and soul-crushing conformity. We are NOT a nation of timid spirits. We are a nation of fierce, proud, and independent American Patriots.

We are a nation of pilgrims, pioneers, adventurers, explorers and trailblazers who refused to be tied down, held back, or reined in. Americans have steel in their spines, grit in their souls, and fire in their hearts. There is no one like us on earth.

I want every child in America to know that you are part of the most exciting and incredible adventure in human history. No matter where your family comes from, no matter your background, in America, ANYONE CAN RISE. With hard work, devotion, and drive, you can reach any goal and achieve every ambition.

Our American Ancestors sailed across the perilous ocean to build a new life on a new continent. They braved the freezing winters, crossed the raging rivers, scaled the rocky peaks, trekked the dangerous forests, and worked from dawn till dusk. These pioneers didn’t have money, they didn’t have fame– but they had each other. They loved their families, they loved their country, and they loved their God!

When opportunity beckoned, they picked up their Bibles, packed up their belongings, climbed into covered wagons, and set out West for the next adventure. Ranchers and miners, cowboys and sheriffs, farmers and settlers — they pressed on past the Mississippi to stake a claim in the Wild Frontier.

Legends were born — Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Davy Crockett, and Buffalo Bill.

Americans built their beautiful homesteads on the Open Range. Soon they had churches and communities, then towns, and with time, great centers of industry and commerce. That is who they were. Americans build the future, we don’t tear down the past!

We are the nation that won a revolution, toppled tyranny and fascism, and delivered millions into freedom. We laid down the railroads, built the great ships, raised up the skyscrapers, revolutionized industry, and sparked a new age of scientific discovery. We set the trends in art and music, radio and film, sport and literature — and we did it all with style, confidence and flair. Because THAT is who we are.

Whenever our way of life was threatened, our heroes answered the call.

From Yorktown to Gettysburg, from Normandy to Iwo Jima, American Patriots raced into cannon blasts, bullets and bayonets to rescue American Liberty.

But America didn’t stop there. We looked into the sky and kept pressing onward. We built a 6 million pound rocket, and launched it thousands of miles into space. We did it so that two brave patriots could stand tall and salute our wondrous American flag planted on the face of the Moon.

For America, nothing is impossible.

I need to figure out some way to use this speech in an American history class. There was nothing in the speech about westward-moving southerners trying to find new land to spread their slave culture. There was nothing in the speech about the death of Indians or the forced surrender of  native land. There was nothing in the speech about the limits of American self-interest.

Trump said that the settlement of the West resulted in the creation of “churches and communities.” This was followed, in Trump’s view of history, by “industry and commerce.” Then came railroads, ships, skyscrapers, and victory in World War II. And finally the moon landing. I am surprised he did not use a quote or two from Rudyard Kipling.

What we heard last night was an eighteenth-century “stages of civilization” view of history, a progressive and Whig history focused on the inevitable triumph of liberty and freedom for all white Americans, and a Frederick Jackson Turner-esque story of rugged individualism. I am going to bet that the speech was written by Stephen Miller, Trump’s nativist alt-Right staff member who has spent his short career in politics celebrating the superiority and conquest of the white race.

November 3 is coming soon.

Court evangelicals on night 3 of the GOP convention

Court evangelicals prayer

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.

Desperation in Trumpland

Trump at St. Johns

Trump seems desperate after the wildly successful DNC convention. Granted, Biden and his team did not have to do any magic tricks to define themselves over and against Trump. The bar was pretty low. The Biden campaign claims to have raised $70 million during the convention.

Trump’s convention begins this week. This morning on Twitter we got a pretty good sense of what we can expect:

If there is a problem here, why isn’t Trump working with New Jersey to fix it so as many people as possible are able to vote in November? Instead, he continues to claim that mail-in ballots will lead to a “disaster.” Next week you can expect more attacks on mail-in voting. Here, again, is Barack Obama:

Well, here’s the point: this president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.

On COVID-19:

Trump is responding to this tweet from June 15, 2020:

Today he is accusing the FDA of participation in a “deep state” plot to slow clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines in order to hurt his re-election. Expect to hear more of this next week.

On the suburbs:

Two responses to this:

First, let’s remember what is really going on in this tweet. American history tells us that this is a racist dog-whistle. But it is also a bad political strategy since many white low income people, who Trump is trying to keep out of the suburbs, voted for him in 2016.

Second, Trump is working with a 1950s definition of “the suburbs.” Check out this interview with historian Thomas Sugrue.

Wisconsin is a major swing state in November. So we get this:

Trump won 28.6% of the vote in Milwaukee in 2016 (Hillary Clinton got 65.5%). Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by 22,748 votes. Right now Biden is leading Trump in Wisconsin by about seven points.

And don’t forget God:

Here is what really happened. By the way, if you are an evangelical Christian who believes that removing “God” from the Pledge of Allegiance will leave to the collapse of Western Civilization, here are a few things to think about:

First, Christian socialist Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. He was an ordained Baptist minister who worked for the promotions department of a popular family magazine called The Youth’s Companion. Writers for the magazine included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Booker T. Washington, Jack London, Willa Cather, and Winston Churchill.  The magazine asked Bellamy to prepare a patriotic program for schools in the United States as part of the 400th anniversary (1892) of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America. Here is Jeffrey Owen Jones at Smithsonian Magazine:

A key element of the commemorative program was to be a new salute to the flag for schoolchildren to recite in unison. But as the deadline for writing the salute approached, it remained undone. “You write it,” Bellamy recalled his boss saying. “You have a knack at words.” In Bellamy’s later accounts of the sultry August evening he composed the pledge, he said that he believed all along it should invoke allegiance. The idea was in part a response to the Civil War, a crisis of loyalty still fresh in the national memory. As Bellamy sat down at his desk, the opening words—”I pledge allegiance to my flag”—tumbled onto paper. Then, after two hours of “arduous mental labor,” as he described it, he produced a succinct and rhythmic tribute very close to the one we know today: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all. (Bellamy later added the “to” before “the Republic” for better cadence.)

The Youth’s Companion published Bellamy’s pledge on September 8, 1892.

Second, the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954. The bill was part of a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. Historian Kevin Kruse explains all of this in his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.

Third, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, with the phrase “under God,” on all four nights of the 2020 DNC convention. Here is Cedric Richmond Jr. before the tens of millions of viewers watching the prime time convention on Thursday night (Day 4):

Fourth, let’s remember that the fate of Christianity does not rest on whether or not we have the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Christians, don’t let Trump play you like this.

Michelle Obama’s DNC convention speech was deeply Christian

After the first night of the Democratic National Convention I tuned into Fox News. Laura Ingraham was on the air and, as might be expected, she was trashing the convention. I stopped watching after about forty minutes of analysis from Eric Trump, Ted Cruz, and other conservative pundits.

Cruz actually said that the reason the Democrats are pushing for mail-in-ballots and the funding of the United States Postal Service is because they know it leads to voter fraud.  Cruz has no evidence for this claim. Nor is there any evidence to suggest mail-in-voting leads to voter fraud. But I digress.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell was also on Ingraham’s show. He is a very patient man.

I was struck by the fact that none of the conservative, pro-Trump pundits mentioned Michelle Obama’s speech. They just couldn’t touch it.

Watch it:

Though Obama only mentioned “faith” and “God” a couple of times, this was a deeply Christian speech.

  • She talked about the inherent dignity of human beings.
  • She talked about truth.
  • She talked about the character of a leader.
  • She talked about health care.
  • She talked about care for the environment
  • She talked about racial justice
  • She talked about the evil of racism and white supremacy
  • She talked about empathy
  • She talked about caring for others
  • She talked about raising children with a strong moral foundation
  • She talked about the coarseness of our culture under Trump
  • She talked about selfishness
  • She talked about greed
  • She talked military violence
  • She talked about using the Bible for a photo-op
  • She talked about being a mother.
  • She talked about being a neighbor
  • She talked about meekness
  • She talked about confronting “viciousness” and “cruelty”
  • She talked about finding common ground based on the value of all human beings
  • She talked about the need to speak truth to power
  • She talked about family
  • She talked about compassion
  • She talked about grief

After covering Trump’s court evangelicals for the last four years, it was nice to hear such a Christian speech in this kind of public venue. I left the speech encouraged in my faith and hopeful for America’s future. Thank you Michelle Obama.

David Barton says 19th-century Christians who used the Bible to defend slavery were “the exception, not the rule”

Watch:

There are a lot of historical problems with this video, but the one of the most overt problems is Barton’s claim that most 19th-century Americans were abolitionists. Apparently Barton believes that those who used the Bible to defend slavery were the “exception to the rule.” The only way such a statement is true is if you believe that the South was not part of the United States during the era of slavery. I am sure Barton knows that the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in America today, was born out of a reading of the Bible that justified slavery. Exception to the rule?

Barton also confuses slavery and racism. (The conversation takes place in the context of a condemnation of the Black Lives Matter movement). He claims that 75% of New England clergy signed a petition condemning slavery. I don’t know if this is true, but I don’t think it would surprise any historian that 75% of New England clergy would sign such a petition. This region was the center of anti-slavery activism in the 1850s.

But even in New England, segregation and racism was present, if not dominant. Systemic racism was deeply embedded in the region’s culture. I would encourage Barton to read Joanne Pope Melish’s Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England ,1780-1860. Here is a description of the book:

Melish explores the origins of racial thinking and practices to show how ill-prepared the region was to accept a population of free people of color in its midst. Because emancipation was gradual, whites transferred prejudices shaped by slavery to their relations with free people of color, and their attitudes were buttressed by abolitionist rhetoric which seemed to promise riddance of slaves as much as slavery. She tells how whites came to blame the impoverished condition of people of color on their innate inferiority, how racialization became an important component of New England ante-bellum nationalism, and how former slaves actively participated in this discourse by emphasizing their African identity.

As some of you know, I have been reading David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. Blight notes how Douglass faced overt racism in New England following his escape from slavery. Here is just one small passage from Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom:

The distances between the young abolitionist’s private and public lives were thrown into stark contrast, which would only grow with time. Twice in September [of 1841] Douglass was insulted, accosted, or thrown off the Eastern Railroad, the second instance occurring at the Lynn depot. On September 8, Collins and Douglass had purchased train tickets in Newburyport to travel north to Dover, New Hampshire, to speak at the Strafford County Anti-Slavery Society. The two were sitting in one double seat as the gruff conductor ordered Douglass to immediately move forward to the Jim Crow car. For Douglass such constant practices of segregation were always about dignity, as much as the “mean, dirty, and uncomfortable” space of Jim Crow cars. Collins vehemently objected on behalf of his black companion….With the conductor’s “little fist flourished about my head,” Collins reported, he too was ordered to leave the car. “If you haul him out, it will be over my person, as I do not intend to leave this seat,” proclaimed Collins. The conductor brought in several of the railroad’s hired thugs to do the deed. With Collins loudly protesting this was “no less than lynch law,” five men dragged the strong Douglass over Collins’s unmoved body, “like so many bloodhounds,” and “thrust him into the ‘negro car.'” In the fracas, Douglass’s clothes were torn and Collins described himself as “considerably injured in the affray.” Not missing an opportunity to make a Garrisonian doctrinal point, Collins told of a second conductor who went into the Negro car to console Douglass with the intelligence the railroad’s policy was not so bad after all, since so many churches “have their ‘negro pews.'”

Please don’t get your American history from David Barton.