Discrimination Against Evangelicals and the Evangelical Victimization Narrative

Evangelicals 2

Earlier this month I was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the Boston area for a panel discussion with Dartmouth religion scholar Randall Balmer on “Evangelicals and Politics.”  Mark Massa of Boston College’s Boisi Center served as the moderator.

Massa asked us if evangelicals had a “distinctive political style.”  I suggested, as I did in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, that much of evangelical politics is defined by fear, power, and nostalgia.

Balmer summarized evangelical’s political style in one word: “victimization.”  I thought about his answer again after reading Griffin Paul Jackson’s recent piece at Christianity Today: “Half of Americans Say Evangelical are Discriminated Against.”  Here is a taste:

Though evangelical Protestants remain the largest faith group in the country, as clashes over their beliefs turn up in the public square, half the country has come to believe evangelicals face discrimination in the US.

A new report from the Pew Research Center reveals that Americans see discrimination on the rise or holding steady across demographic groups, with evangelical Christians and Jews experiencing a significant uptick over the past few years.

Fifty percent of US adults agree that evangelical Christians are subject to discrimination, up from 42 percent in 2016. One in five (18%) say that evangelicals—about a quarter of the population—face “a lot” of discrimination.

Read the rest here.

Evangelicals only represent about 25% of the American population.  This means that a lot of non-evangelical Americans also believe that evangelicals face discrimination.  As the readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of the victimization narrative that defines much of political discourse on the Christian Right.  Balmer is right.  But I also think some of the discrimination of evangelicals is probably real.  Perhaps we brought it upon ourselves, but it is nonetheless real.  I wrote about this a few years ago at Aeon.

A Visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Gordon Conwell

I spent Monday night at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts (Boston-area).  Thanks to Gordon-Conwell president Dennis Hollinger for the invitation and Mary Ann Hollinger for her hospitality.

The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life sponsored conversation on evangelicals and politics that included Boisi director (and Jesuit theologian) Mark Massa, Dartmouth historian of American evangelicalism Randall Balmer, and yours truly.

A few takeaways:

  1. Gordon-Conwell is a seminary founded by mid-century evangelical stalwarts Billy Graham, J. Howard Pew and J. Harold Ockenga.  Over the last fifty years it has been an institutional fixture on the evangelical landscape.  During the course of the evening I did not meet a single Trump supporter.  This is the first time that I have been at a self-identified evangelical institution where I did not meet someone who wanted to make the case for Trump.
  2. I talked with several pastors-in-training (MDiv students) who wanted advice about how to deal with Trump supporters in their future congregations.  My advice:  preach the Gospel in season and out of season.   I hope they will avoid bringing politics into the pulpit, but rather preach in a positive way about what the Bible teaches regarding truth and lying, welcoming the stranger, caring for the “least of these,” loving neighbors,” the dignity of human life, and the pursuit of holiness.  I encouraged them, to borrow a term from Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter, to be “faithfully present” in the congregations and communities where God calls them to serve.
  3.  All of the evangelical millennials I chatted with were fed-up with Trump and the Christian Right.  It seems like a sea-change is coming.
  4.  During the formal conversation, Gordon-Conwell theology and missions professor Peter Kuzmic talked about how his fellow evangelicals in Eastern Europe were appalled that American evangelicals supported Trump.  I asked him publicly if the evangelical support of Donald Trump was hindering the work of the Gospel in Eastern Europe.  He did not miss a beat in saying “yes.”  This is tragic.  It is the case I have been making during the Believe Me book tour.  I told Kuzmic that I would like to take him with me on the road.  His testimony was a powerful one.  While court evangelicals continue to take victory laps over securing an originalist judiciary that might overturn Roe v. Wade, the witness of the Gospel is becoming more difficult, especially for missionaries.
  5. We talked a lot of about “fracture” within the evangelical community.  The days of a unified neo-evangelicalism (if there ever was such a thing) are over.  George Marsden once said that an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.  Well, Billy Graham is now dead and there will be no one to replace him.  This is not a statement about whether or not there are any potential heirs to Graham.  It is rather a statement about the current state of American culture, a state that Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers has called the “Age of Fracture.” I want to write more about this.
  6. It was an honor to share the stage and the evening with Randall Balmer, a scholar who has taught me so much about evangelicalism.

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

I am happy to contribute to this video posted today at The New York Times.

Retro Report spent over an hour interviewing me at Messiah College back in August.  I was apparently not as engaging as Cal Thomas, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Randall Balmer since I only got a quick soundbite.  (They even made me go home and change my shirt because it had too many stripes and did not look good on the camera!)

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece:

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006182547

Randall Balmer on Bishop Michael Curry

Curry

This past weekend we did a quick post on Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding.  Yesterday at The Washington Post, American religious historian Randall Balmer offers a more extended take on the sermon.  Here is a taste:

Curry, a cradle Episcopalian (his father was an Episcopal priest), is often mistaken for a Baptist. His preaching style draws on the long and venerable tradition of black preachers dating to the days of slavery. At St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on Saturday, he opened his sermon in measured tones, beginning with a reading from the Song of Solomon. This was to be a sermon about love, one appropriate to the marrying couple, but also — and here Curry demonstrated his artistic mastery — to the gathered audience and to the world at large. “There is power in love,” he said. “Don’t underestimate it.”

As he developed his argument, Curry drew from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, pointing out that Jesus summarized all the law and the prophets as love for God and love for your neighbor as yourself. And here, in the classic African American tradition of preaching, the bishop’s pace began to quicken; his tone grew more insistent and his gestures more expansive. Curry quoted King and Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, and added his own touches of humor.

Markle, the bride, sat transfixed from the beginning; Harry’s expression suggested skepticism. The cutaways to the other royals suggested that they, too, were not sure why this stem-winding African American preacher had been invited to participate.

Read the entire piece here.

Randall Balmer on Billy Graham

Graham and Nixon

Last week I was giving a lecture on American evangelicalism to the members of the Board of Trustees of a Christian college.  I told them that some future historian of American evangelicalism is going to write an article about how the election of Donald Trump influenced the first wave of articles about the legacy of Billy Graham.  It will make a great little project.

There have been a lot of glowing things written about Graham’s legacy.  There have also been a lot of really critical things written about Graham’s life and his legacy.

Randall Balmer does not fall into either category.  I appreciate his even-handed approach in this piece at New Hampshire’s Valley News.  A taste:

The burden of this very long prologue is to say that I approach the question of Graham’s place in history with an enormous reservoir of good will. I think he was a remarkable man, a person of integrity and rare talent.

To take one tiny example, anyone who has looked into a television camera knows how difficult it is to deliver one’s lines, even if they are prepared and memorized; to do so extemporaneously — and flawlessly — is an achievement. When I’m asked by reporters who will be the next Billy Graham (a favorite question), my answer is unequivocal: no one. Graham came to prominence at a unique moment in history, when new media were emerging. He and his associates exploited those media brilliantly to create the 20th century’s first religious celebrity.

No, there will never be another Billy Graham.

If I were to offer a “Yes, but” on Graham’s legacy, it would center around his political machinations. And here, in the interests of transparency, I should probably confess that I have never quite forgiven Graham for endorsing Nixon over George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election, even though Graham himself apologized to McGovern for his comments during the heat of that campaign.

Read the entire piece here.

Indeed, Graham was the original court evangelical and that is how I treat him my forthcoming Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Randall Balmer on the Christian Right’s Changing Code of Ethics

Trump court evangelicals

Randall Balmer, a lifelong observer of American evangelicalism, reflects on the “flexible” values of the Christian Right.

Here is a summary of Balmer’s sense of the “new” Christian Right ethical code:

  1. “Lying is all right as long as it serves a higher purpose.”
  2. “It’s no problem to married more than, well, twice.”
  3. “Immigrants are scum”
  4. “Vulgarity is a sign of strength and resolve”
  5. “White live matter (much more than others)”
  6. “There’s no harm in spending time with porn stars”
  7. “It’s all right for adults to date children”
  8. “The end justifies the means”

See how Balmer develops this points here.

The President of Fuller Seminary on Evangelicalism and Race

Fuller

Mark Labberton is president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.  If you have never heard of Fuller, I encourage you to read George Marsden’s history of the school: Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism.

In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, Labberton responds to Randall Balmer’s recent Times piece on evangelicals and race.   Here is a taste of Labberton’s letter:

There are white people in America who call themselves evangelical yet demonstrate complicity with a white supremacy that scandalizes the gospel — and there are other white evangelicals in America who categorically and publicly disagree.

Balmer points out what many evangelical leaders have been decrying for years and what this election made apparent: that culture sometimes overshadows the gospel in determining the evangelical political vision. Evangelicalism is a movement dedicated to the primacy of faith in the way of Jesus, so this confusion of priorities is a crisis.

The word “evangelical” has morphed from being commonly used to describe a set of theological and spiritual commitments into a passionately defended, theo-political brand. Worse, that brand has become synonymous with social arrogance, ignorance and prejudice — all antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Balmer’s claims, while not new, are deservedly painful for millions of white evangelicals who are deeply offended by racism, repelled by Trump, and who vocally deny the false theo-political brand that co-opts the faith we hold dear.

Read the entire letter here.

Randall Balmer Has My Back on Ted Cruz’s Dominionism

Cruz founders

For some folks who read The Way of Improvement Leads Home the sentiment expressed in the title of this post is a good thing.  For others it might be a bad thing.  Whatever the case, I want to thank Dartmouth’s Randall Balmer for referencing some of my stuff on Ted Cruz in his recent piece at Religion & Politics.

Here is a taste of Balmer’s “The Paradoxes of Ted Cruz“:

The paradox that most intrigues me, however, is Cruz’s ties to evangelicalism. At one level, judging by evangelical politics over the past several decades, that claim is unexceptional. As John Fea, of Messiah College, has written for Religion News Service, one of Cruz’s biggest supporters is the faux historian David Barton, who has fashioned an entire career out of arguing, against overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Although Barton and his arguments have been widely discredited—he apparently fabricated quotes to buttress his specious claims, so many that Thomas Nelson Publishers recalled one of his books—Cruz has not renounced Barton’s support. The payoff, according to Fea, is that, having asserted America’s Christian origins, Cruz can more credibly spin his campaign yarn about America’s declension from the piety of the founders, a decline that reaches its predictable nadir in Barack Obama’s presidency.

It doesn’t take much imagination to script the altar call for this declension narrative: Return the United States to its “Christian origins” and restore American righteousness by electing Ted Cruz president.

The corollary, and once again one not unfamiliar to those who have tracked the Religious Right over the past several decades, is the doctrine of “Dominionism” or “Christian Reconstructionism.” This ideology, examined nicely in Julie Ingersoll’s recent book, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, traces its lineage to the 1970s writings of Rousas John Rushdoony and aspires to replace American legal codes with biblical law. At the outer fringes of this movement, seldom articulated publicly, is the conviction that capital punishment should be administered for such biblically mandated “crimes” as blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, astrology, premarital sex, and incorrigible juvenile delinquency.

Cruz himself, of course, is politically savvy enough not to be caught articulating such specifics, but there can be little doubt that he falls within the general ambit of Reconstructionism. When he inveighs against the media or complains about the abrogation of religious freedoms, for instance, the underlying conviction is that the media are controlled by diabolical forces and that people of faith are being forced by an evil government to accommodate sinners—by providing business services to gays, for instance, or, in the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk, issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Randall Balmer Defends the Liberal Arts

92f8e-balmerAs many of you know, Marco Rubio has been spending a lot of time bashing the humanities and, more broadly, the liberal arts.  Ever since he got some traction with his conservative supporters when he disparaged philosophers majors in a GOP debate, it seems like he has been really running with this anti-liberal arts message.

In his regular column at The Valley News, Balmer welcomes Rubio to New Hampshire (Balmer teaches at Dartmouth) and then proceeds to teach him a lesson about the importance of the liberal arts.  Here is a taste:

My guess is that is a facile attempt to link liberalism with liberal arts. That’s cute, but it’s also inaccurate. The liberal arts trace their history to the medieval study of the trivium and the quadrivium. The trivium consisted of general grammar, formal logic and classical rhetoric; quadrivium included arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Together, these comprised the seven liberal arts taught in medieval monasteries, cathedral schools and universities.

Knowledge tends to be cumulative, adapting to changing times and circumstances. Today, the liberal arts encompass, as Merriam-Webster defines it, “areas of study (such as history, language, and literature) that are intended to give you general knowledge rather than to develop specific skills needed for a profession.”

I don’t deny for a moment that America needs welders — along with carpenters, plumbers, midwives, technicians and many other kinds of skilled workers. Those are all good and important, even noble, vocations. But do you seriously want to live in a nation of citizens lacking in “general knowledge,” who have no education in logic or no experience of critical thinking?

A liberal arts education provides a broader perspective. The study of history, to take one example, allows us to learn from the past — the perils of isolationism, for example, or the dangers of demagoguery. Learning a foreign language helps us to understand and to appreciate cultures other than our own. Music, literature and the arts not only have the capacity to elevate the human spirit and shed light on the human condition, they also provide a window into different societies, personalities and historical periods. And the philosophers you denigrate? They prompt us to ask the big questions — what is good or true or ethical — and they call us to account when our logic is faulty.

And Balmer can’t resist making stinging (and accurate) critique of David Barton.

Read it here.

Randall Balmer on Ben Carson’s Faith

Here is the latest piece on Ben Carson’s Seventh-Day Adventist faith.  It comes from Dartmouth religion professor Randall Balmer in the Concord (NH) Monitor.

Balmer argues something similar to what I did last week in response to statements from David Corn of Mother Jones and Donald Trump. Voters should treat Carson in the same way that they treat all the GOP candidates who apply their faith to their vision for the United States.

Here is a taste:

Do voters have anything to fear from Ben Carson’s affiliation with the Seventh-day Adventists? On balance, the answer is no. Carson’s practice of comparing everything he doesn’t like – health care, abortion, gun control – to slavery or the Holocaust may be annoying and ahistorical, but it doesn’t derive from his religious beliefs.
Seventh-day Adventists may not be part of the mainstream of religion in America, or even evangelicalism (evangelicals remain somewhat suspicious of the seventh-day worship), but this nation has a long and noble tradition of living up to the principles of its charter documents and enlarging the bounds of acceptability, albeit belatedly.
John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was deemed by many unfit for the White House because of his faith, but he won the presidency. Americans elected a divorced man in 1980, an African-American in 2008 and Mitt Romney, a Mormon, probably would have fared better in 2012 had he been willing to talk about his faith.
Carson, moreover, has indicated that he sometimes wears his faith lightly, especially some of the lifestyle expectations. He told the Des Moines Register that he veers occasionally from a vegetarian diet, although he feels sick afterward (an odd concession from a physician; as a longtime vegetarian, even I know the body loses the enzymes needed to digest meat after a time). Carson would not be the first teetotaler in the Oval Office; the most recently example is George W. Bush, who foreswore alcohol after a Colorado ski trip bender in 1986.
Although there is nothing inimical about Seventh-day Adventism, voters may want to ask a couple of questions, both relating to Carson’s claim to literal interpretation.
Read the rest here.

Quote of the Day

Scholars too often speak only among themselves, in rarefied vocabularies. I think one of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in as a society is because people who actually know something refuse to communicate that to the public. In graduate school I made a vow that I would never allow my work to become so recondite that I couldn’t communicate with a larger audience.

-Randall Balmer, John Philips Chair of Religion, Dartmouth University

When Did Divorce Become Acceptable in Evangelical Circles?

Ronald Reagan speaks before the National Association of Evangelicals-1983

My friend at KonicekLawOrlando.com sent me this originally, in an LA Times op-ed Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College has offered some historical perspective on the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.  Balmer argues that evangelical views on marriage have changed over the last fifty years and he fully expects the same thing to happen with evangelical views on marriage.  

 

Here is a taste:

 
Evangelicals like to present their position as biblical and therefore immutable. They want us to believe that they have never before adjusted to shifting public sentiments on sexuality and marriage. That is not so. Divorce — and especially divorce and remarriage — was once such an issue, an issue about which evangelicals would brook no compromise. But evangelicals eventually reconfigured their preaching and adapted just fine to changing historical circumstances.
 
When I was growing up within the evangelical subculture in the 1960s, divorce was roundly condemned by evangelicals. Jesus, after all, was pretty clear on the issue. “And I say to you,” he told the Pharisees, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
 
Anyone who was divorced was ostracized in evangelical circles. In some congregations, membership was rescinded, and at the very least the divorcee felt marginalized. Any evangelical leader who divorced his spouse could expect to look for a different job.
 
Evangelical culture began to change in the mid-to-late 1970s, when the divorce rate among evangelicals approached that of the larger population. Some studies even suggested that the divorce rate among evangelicals was higher than average, although that claim was a trifle misleading since evangelicals were more likely to marry in the first place.
 
The ringing denunciations of divorce emanating from evangelical pulpits abated. No one outright supported divorce, but it became less and less of an issue as pastors found it more and more difficult to judge individuals within their own congregations — or their own families.
 
Forced to acknowledge the reality of divorce close to home, pastors responded with compassion rather than condemnation; the words of Jesus were treated as an ideal rather than a mandate. Megachurches provided support groups for divorcees and then, later, those groups functioned for many as the evangelical equivalent of singles clubs.
 
Although evangelical attitudes changed incrementally over many years, it’s possible to identify the real turning point with a fair amount of accuracy: 1980.
 
Not long ago I surveyed the pages of Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism and a bellwether of evangelical sentiments. Condemnations of divorce, which had been a regular feature in the 1970s, ceased almost entirely after 1980.
 
More telling, the “family values” movement, which took off in 1980, largely ignored this once crucial subject. Jerry Falwell and other conservative preachers attacked abortion, feminism and homosexuality, but they rarely mentioned divorce.
 
What happened? In a word (or two words): Ronald Reagan. When leaders of the religious right decided to embrace Reagan as their political messiah, they had to swallow hard.
 
Not only was Reagan divorced, he was divorced and remarried, a clear violation of biblical teaching. As governor of California, moreover, Reagan signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce law in 1969. Having cast their lot with Reagan in the 1980 election, evangelical denunciations of divorce all but disappeared.
 
If evangelicals can alter their attitudes toward divorce, they can do likewise with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Indeed, views may soften as LGBT evangelicals come out of the closet and, like divorcees, make their communities confront their existence.
 
I am a lot less interested in Balmer’s take on gay marriage than I am on his interpretation of divorce. This leads to a a few questions:
  • Do we have a good book on the history of divorce and remarriage in evangelicalism?
  • What do other scholars think about Balmer’s argument that Reagan’s election led evangelicals to weaken their stand on divorce?  I have not heard this argument before.  
I am not sure what will happen to evangelical views on same-sex marriage.  Many evangelicals leaders have already accepted it.  Most have not.
 
But if history is any indication, evangelicals WILL accommodate to the prevailing winds of American culture. They always do.

Randall Balmer Spends an Afternoon With Jimmy Carter

Religion & Politics is running a piece by Randall Balmer describing a Sunday he spent with Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter while conducting research for his new book Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.  Here is a taste:

In the course of our interview in the pastor’s study, after church and photographs on the side lawn, Carter declared himself “honored” to be numbered among such progressive evangelicals as Charles Grandison Finney and William Jennings Bryan. Mark Hatfield, he said, “was a kind of hero of mine.” Carter characterized Hatfield as “a genuinely devout believer in Christ who sought to put Christ’s teachings into practice.” Carter also acknowledged that his own defeat in 1980 followed by Hatfield’s retirement from the Senate in 1997 had left a void, at least among elected officials. Carter lamented the “new definition” of evangelicalism that had taken hold, one associated with “rightwing Christianity.” He recalled hearing about Jerry Falwell “giving me a hard time” in 1976, but his was just a lonely voice at the time; Falwell and his associates, however, “had remarkable success in four years in making that a driving force in American political history.” When did the president have a sense of the gathering storm as he prepared for reelection? Carter remembered that his sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, “told me that there was a stirring of animosity toward me because of some of the moderate positions I had taken on human rights and so forth and that they thought I had betrayed their own definition of Christianity. But I didn’t really see it as a serious thing until the altercation arose in the Southern Baptist Convention.” After the conservative takeover in 1979, he said, he began to recognize the ramifications of the evangelical shift away from progressive evangelicalism.

See our interview with Balmer here.  For more coverage of the book at The Way of Improvement Leads Home click here and here.

Adam Parsons on Randall Balmer and the Origins of the Religious Right

Regular readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will remember the Author’s Corner interview we did in April with Randall Balmer on his new book, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.  In this book Balmer offers a new interpretation of the origins of the Religious Right.  (Actually, fans of Balmer’s work will know that he first put forth a version of this argument in his Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America).  Here is what Balmer wrote in that interview:

I’d been batting about the idea for a biography of Carter for several decades, but I always found reasons to delay, in part because I didn’t have an angle on the project. I did research at the Carter Center and the presidential libraries of Reagan and Ford. I also did archival work at Liberty University and Bob Jones University, but the most important work I did was in Paul Weyrich’s papers, which (improbably enough) are held at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. My findings there allowed me, finally, to demonstrate beyond all doubt that the genesis of the Religious Right had nothing to do with the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973
Balmer elaborated on this argument in a recent piece on the origins of the Religious Right at Politico in which he argued that the movement coalesced around the desire of Southern fundamentalists to protect segregated Christian schools, and not around the anti-abortion crusade. Here is a taste of that piece:
In May 1969, a group of African-American parents in Holmes County, Mississippi, sued the Treasury Department to prevent three new whites-only K-12 private academies from securing full tax-exempt status, arguing that their discriminatory policies prevented them from being considered “charitable” institutions. The schools had been founded in the mid-1960s in response to the desegregation of public schools set in motion by the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In 1969, the first year of desegregation, the number of white students enrolled in public schools in Holmes County dropped from 771 to 28; the following year, that number fell to zero.

In Green v. Kennedy (David Kennedy was secretary of the treasury at the time), decided in January 1970, the plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction, which denied the “segregation academies” tax-exempt status until further review. In the meantime, the government was solidifying its position on such schools. Later that year, President Richard Nixon ordered the Internal Revenue Service to enact a new policy denying tax exemptions to all segregated schools in the United States. Under the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which forbade racial segregation and discrimination, discriminatory schools were not—by definition—“charitable” educational organizations, and therefore they had no claims to tax-exempt status; similarly, donations to such organizations would no longer qualify as tax-deductible contributions.

In my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction I used Balmer’s

argument in my explanation of the origins of the Religious Right because it seemed to make sense. But I also suggested that the traditional view, that the Religious Right gained prominence in response to Roe v. Wade, was also correct.  For me it was a combination of things that brought about the rise of the Religious Right.  I was less concerned than Balmer about the exact event that got the movement started.


While I was browsing Facebook last night, I came across another take on Balmer’s thesis about the origins of Christian Right.  Adam Parsons is a doctoral student in American history at Syracuse University.  You may recall that we have featured some of his work before here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Here is his take on the Balmer Politico essay:

I started to write a comment on this piece, which I’ve seen floating around a lot recently, and decided just to share it on my own page:
I’ve said similar things elsewhere, but – as much as I usually take his side – I think Balmer’s only half-right here. He’s right, of course, that Roe v. Wade was not the catalyst people think. And in looking for another origin, he’s right to point to taxation, and right to point to segregation academies – but there’s a lot more to the story than just the academies. It’s telling, for example, that he uses Bob Jones as an example. In the very politically conservative (we sang Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the U.S.A. in Sunday morning service during the first Gulf War) but also very Northern fundamentalist and evangelical circles in which I spent my childhood, BJU was looked at as a kind of weird, inbred cousin. This view was, from what I’ve seen, shared by a large percentage of northern evangelical leaders throughout the seventies and eighties – even the most conservative of them were, by and large, Moody Press people, not BJU folks.
Those regional distinctions – broadly, between Northern/Canadian, Old Southern, and Southwestern

Adam Parsons

evangelicals – started to break down, I think, a lot later than Balmer claims. He’s right to point to taxation – it’s just that the fears were driven by different things in different regions. In the Old South, yeah, it was the segregation academies. In the Southwest, it was, I think, part of the broader regional culture of John Birch conservatism, which overlapped quite a bit with conservative evangelicalism. In the North (and to a certain extent the Ozarks), though, I strongly suspect that anti-federal/anti-tax attitudes developed among evangelicals in a widespread way as they sought to opt out of late capitalism – they saw tax burdens as a way to obligate people to participate in regularized wage labor, which tore social institutions apart. This opting-out is particularly apparent in, for example, people’s explanations for their attraction to Amway and other kinds of multi-level marketing – they overwhelmingly talk about it as a way to achieve self-sufficiency and to reintegrate work and family life. (I suspect, also, that attraction to these kinds of business enterprises reinforced preexisting negative attitudes toward taxation; anyone who’s dealt with small-business or independent contractor taxes can tell you how much more onerous the administrative, and often financial, burden is compared to simple employment taxes).

There’s a lot more to the story, of course – the whole question of the southernization of the United States, for one, but also, for example, the fracture of radical evangelicalism during the seventies and eighties. A few brief thoughts, though: first, the story of the religious right is not, for the most part, a story about evangelicals changing their minds, but a story about new and different people thinking of themselves as part of the evangelical coalition. (To that extent, it’s also a story about class and intellectual respectability). Second, it would be instructive to produce work on the apartheid controversy in the American Dutch Reformed community, given their long-standing tradition of private schooling but also their ties to the Michigan GOP and their prominence within the evangelical left (especially the Wolterstorffs).

Thanks, Adam.

Molly Worthen On Jimmy Carter

Molly Worthen of the University of North Carolina reviews two new books on Jimmy Carter.  One of them is actually written by Carter.  

They are: Randall Balmer, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter and Jimmy Carter, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.

Here is a taste:

In the early 1970s, the Christian right was not yet the political juggernaut it would become. Fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell were still wondering if activism was compatible with the Gospel. But then Paul Weyrich, a Catholic from Wisconsin who had been trying to organize conservative Christians since the Goldwater campaign, struck political gold when the I.R.S. revoked the tax exemption of whites-only Christian “segregation academies.” Conservative evangelicals felt victimized by court decisions and new regulations that policed their private schools — and they blamed the evangelical in the White House. The call to defend “religious liberty,” not the legalization of abortion, first summoned them to politics.

“Weyrich finally had discovered the issue that would persuade evangelical leaders of the importance of political activism: defense of racial segregation, albeit framed as a defense of religious expression,” Balmer writes. For all of Carter’s personal piety, he was out of touch with his fellow believers’ rightward tilt. In 1980, televangelists mobilized their media empires in the Republican cause. Balmer charges that the culturally conservative, fiscally libertarian platform of the Christian right “bore scant resemblance to evangelical activism in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

In April we interviewed Balmer as part of our “Author’s Corner” series.  Check it out here.

The New "Books and Culture" is Here

I just got my copy in the mail today.  I immediately read the following two reviews:

Eric Miller’s review of Peter Hales’s Outside the Gates of Eden: The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now.  Miller writes:

However [John] Winthrop may hover over Hales’ story, his own vision and hope are most decisively inspired by the classic Emersonian ideals: the spontaneous discovery of an inward connection to a greater reality; a harmonic convergence of self and society; above all, a religious confidence that The Self Knows, and that our true enemy is the enemy of the self.  Will these ideals be enough to save us from the mighty surges of history Hales with such acuity uncovers?  Many of us, still poised at that watchtower, listening to that howling wind, find ourselves looking for rescue from another direction.  Still: Read this book

Todd Ream and Drew Moser’s review of Randall Balmer’s Redeemer; The Life of Jimmy Carter. Ream and Moser write:

Redeemer is a biography of Jimmy Carter that has little to do with Jimmy Carter in critical places. As the story advances, it reads at times more like an account of the rise of the Moral Majority in evangelical America, with Carter cast as an almost accidental antagonist.  The book’s epigraph sketches its narrative and theological arc and its fundamentally ironic perspective: He came unto his own, and his own received him not, John 1:11 (King James Version).”  But Balmer’s irony isn’t calculated to elicit cheap sneers; it grows out of the tangle of American history.  And if his book isn’t entirely satisfying as a biography, he does succeed–in contrast to previous biographers–in rightly portraying Jimmy Carter’s Christianity as the driving force behind his political and personal life

We did an interview with Balmer last week about this book.

I am sure these reviews will appear soon on the B&C website.  Stay tuned.

I should also add that there is an ad on page 18 for the 29th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History to be held on September 25-27 at Pepperdine University.  Learn more about the conference here.  Though the ad does not provide details, and the conference program has not been released, I can spill some of the beans and let you know that the following historians/authors/friends of this blog will be speaking in various capacities over the course of the weekend: Charles Marsh, Daniel Williams, Lendol Calder, Allen Guelzo, John Wigger, Jim LaGrand, Colleen McDannel, Thomas Albert Howard, Margaret Bendroth, Beth Barton Schweiger, Jay Case, Eric Miller, Chris Gehrz, Jonathan Den Hartog, Timothy Hall, Christopher Shannon, Darren Dochuk, Mark Noll, Molly Worthen, David Bebbington, Shirley Mullen, Jana Riess, Mike Kugler, Randall Stephens, Ed Blum, Randall Balmer, Jonathan Yeager, Bill Trollinger, Tracy McKenzie, Brad Gundlach, Warren Throckmorton, Paul Contino, John Wilson, Don Yerxa, and Wilfred McClay.

See you in Malibu.

"Christian Century" Spring Book Issue: Marsden, Balmer, Schultz, and Worthen

The best reviews are behind the paywall, but it is definitely worth going to your library and looking at the hard copy for these two reviews alone:

Kevin Schultz reviews George Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment

A taste:

Among those historians who openly identify as believing Christians, George Marsden stands alongside perhaps only Mark Noll at the pinnacle of the profession. Every scholar of American history, believer or not, knows who Marsden is.
What has been so remarkable about his professional fame is the way he has blended the demands of the secular academy with his Protestant faith. By using the methods of the secular profession to answer questions provoked by his Chris­tianity, he has written transformative books on American evangelicalism, the place of Christianity in higher education, and Jonathan Edwards, his biography of whom is the definitive one on America’s greatest theologian. Marsden has won all the big awards, too, including the prestigious Bancroft Prize and even a Guggenheim, and he served as the crown jewel in the University of Notre Dame’s free-spending attempt to gather the most talented Christian scholars in all of academia.


A taste:

In the spring of 1980 when I learned the improbable news that I had been accepted into a doctoral program, two people I much admired weighed in with their reactions. My adviser, for whom I had written a master’s thesis on biblical inerrancy, warned me darkly that the people at Princeton would “come after me” on the inerrancy question. I hoped that my father, an evangelical minister, might betray even a hint of pride that his eldest son had been admitted to study at an elite university. Instead, he became very quiet before expressing his fear that my intellectual pursuits would jettison my piety.