The GOP is Trying to Win the Amish Vote for Trump

Amish vote

Over at The Washington Post, Julie Zauzmer reports on the “Amish PAC,” an attempt by Republican operatives to get the Pennsylvania Amish to vote for Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

Amish PAC aims to win more votes for Trump in 2020 in a state both the president and the Democrats are desperate to win. Amish people tend to align strongly on policy with Republicans, who share their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But making voters out of the Amish, who forgo technology like television and the Internet and who believe fiercely in the separation of their religious community from government intrusion, may be a steep goal.

On a farm where eight Amish children in their traditional clothing were playing baseball, a young woman said sternly of those who would ask the Amish to vote: “We don’t really appreciate that.”

While she skillfully snapped lima bean pods off the bushes at her farm, another woman said about voting: “My husband never did; I never did.”

The same answer at market stall after market stall, where Amish farmers sell their wares: Never voted. Never wanted to vote.

But Ben Walters, who co-founded Amish PAC, says the tide is turning. He heard from more Amish people willing to vote in 2018 than in 2016; in 2020, he thinks, the numbers will be still higher. “Their votes would be so important, and there’s a lot of them,” he said. “Since 2016, every single year, it gets a little bit easier. We’re seeing more and more signs of progress. I think behaviors are finally changing”…

At Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Kyle Kopko and Steven Nolt — two of the foremost experts on the Amish — are studying the results of the PAC’s efforts. Nolt said he is skeptical the PAC can make much of a dent. “For a group like the Amish PAC, the key is — to what extent could a group like Amish PAC take that civic identity that’s here, and leverage that into registering to vote and actually voting?” he said. “There’s not a prohibition, [but] there would be a fairly strong, strong religious and cultural bias against [voting.]”

Read the entire piece here.

Steven Nolt probably knows more about the Amish than anyone else alive.  If he thinks that this effort will not “make much of a dent” it is likely that this effort will not make much of a dent.

Jim Wallis: “Trump is operating in the spirit of the anti-Christ”

Wallis with politicians

Jim Wallis with John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama

Jim Wallis, the progressive evangelical leader of Sojourners, recently said in an interview with Publishers Weekly that Donald Trump “is operating in the spirit of anti-Christ.” (Wallis was discussing the themes of his new book Christ in Crisis : Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus).

I like Jim Wallis. I have never met him, but over the past two decades I have heard him speak at Messiah College.  I agree with him on many social issues and I share his evangelical faith.  I have written for Sojourners magazine.

At times, however, I think Wallis falls into the trap of mixing religion and politics.  Too often he wants to merely replace the power of the Christian Right with the power of the Christian Left.  I tend to follow University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter on this point.  Check out his chapter on the evangelical left in To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  A taste:

When [Wallis] accuses Falwell and Robertson of being “theocrats who desire their religious agenda to be enforced through the power of the state,’ he established the criteria by which he and other politically progressive Christians are judged the same.  In its commitment to social change through politics and politically oriented social movements, in its conflation of the public with the political, in its own selective use of scripture to justify political interests, and in its confusion  of theology with national interests and identity, the Christian  Left (not least the Evangelical Left) imitates the Christian Right.  The message is obviously different, their organizational scale and popular appeal are different, and their access to media outlets are different, but in their framework, method, and style of engagement , politically progressive Christians are very similar to their politically conservative counterparts.

There is another point of similarity.  It is found in their relationship with the party system and the Democratic Party in particular.  With all sincerity, they aspire to broaden and deepen the values people bring to the political process.  But influence is never unidirectional in any relationship.  Given the resources of the Democratic Party and the special interests that drive it, there is little question that progressive Christianity is instrumentalized (or used as a means to an end) by the Democratic Party in its quest for power, just as conservative Christianity has been used for quite some time by the Republican Party. (p.147-148).

Over at The Anxious Bench, David Swartz, a historian of progressive evangelicals, shows us that Wallis’s strong criticism of Trump is fitting with much of his career as an evangelical activist.  Here is a taste of his piece:

It’s hard not to notice similarities in style between these radical evangelicals and the religious right. Both groups blurred lines between faith and politics. Indeed, this was precisely the point—to tie the sacred to the temporal so closely that the two were indistinguishable. Did Wallis and his comrades, who moved so contentiously into politics nearly a decade before the Reagan revolution, prefigure the political style of the religious right?

That’s probably going too far, but it does seem clear that Wallis’s most recent invocation of the anti-Christ is not a promotional ploy. It is an authentic and deeply grounded application of a profoundly felt theology that has been with him since the 1960s. It’s an attempt, as he notes in his twelfth book Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus, to ensure that “one’s identity in Christ precedes every other identity.”

Wallis’s rise to prominence was smoothed by his willingness to tamp down Manichean language. But during times of crisis—Watergate in the early 1970s, the rise of the religious right and the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s, and the Iraq War debacle and Islamophobia in the early 2000s—this more radical strain resurfaces. As Trump and white evangelicalism combine and self-destruct, there’s no question that we’re in another such moment now.

Read the entire piece here.

Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith

Lee University campusI will be at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee this weekend to give a plenary talk at the Lee Symposium: Conversation on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  This year’s theme is “Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith.”

Here is the program:

Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith

Lee University, October 4-5, 2019

Friday, October 4

2:00 pm

Registration

3:00 pm

Welcome and Opening Remarks

3:30 pm

Presenter: John Fea, Messiah College

Responder: Lisa Clark Diller, Southern Adventist University

5:45 pm

Dinner

7:00 pm

Presenter: Ana Shippey, Lee University

Responder: Richard Follett, Covenant College

Saturday, October 5

9:00 am

Presenter: Wilfred McClay, University of Oklahoma

Responder: David Broersma, Lee University

11:00 am

Presenter: Christa Bennett, Community Well

Responder: Mark Scully, Lee University

1:00 pm

Lunch

2:00 pm

“Summing Up: What Have We Heard?”

Presenter: Jason Ward, Lee University

 

The Politics of the “Chosen One”

Trump inauguration

My daughter was quick to tell me that “Antichrist” was trending on Twitter today.  Then I got a call from Emily McFarland  Miller, a reporter for Religion News Service, to talk about the meaning of words like “Antichrist” and “Chosen One.”  Here is a taste of Miller’s piece (co-authored with Jack Jenkins and Yonat Shimron):

Somebody had to take on China on trade, Trump told reporters Wednesday.

“I am the chosen one,” he said, glancing heavenward with outstretched hands.

Supporters have excused that comment as a joke.

Others used words like “blasphemy” and “idolatry.”

Bass tweeted that the phrase refers to Isaiah 42:1: “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.” Christians understand the Bible verse as a prophecy referring to Jesus.

“The chosen one” isn’t necessarily a biblical concept, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College. It also has been used to refer to everyone from basketball star Lebron James to fictional wizard Harry Potter.

But in the context it’s difficult to ignore, Fea said.

“The phrase ‘chosen one’ is probably part Christianity, part science fiction, part myth, part fantasy, part Harry Potter,” Fea said. “But at the same time, there is embedded within that phrase this idea that God chooses certain people — and evangelicals will believe this — that God chooses certain people for particular moments in time to serve his purposes.”

Read the entire piece here.

Will Trump-Supporting Evangelicals Learn Anything from the Graham-Nixon Relationship?

Graham and Nixon

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,  I wrote:

[Billy] Graham’s relationship with Richard Nixon brought him closer to the world of presidential politics than he had ever been before.  The two stayed in close contact during the years following Nixon’s loss to Kennedy in the election of 1960 and the evangelist continued to speak positively about the politician in public venues.  In a 1964 interview in McCall’s magazine, Graham expressed his bafflement that he often heard people say  “I just don’t like Nixon.”  According to Graham, the former vice president was “one of the warmest and most likeable men I have ever known.”  Nixon claimed that Graham encouraged him  him to run for president again in 1968, and Graham, in turn, suggested that Nixon’s second change at the nation’s highest political office was part of God’s providential plan.  During Nixon’s years in the White House (1969-1974) , Graham made regular visits to the president, served as an unofficial surrogage (without formally endorsing him), advised Nixon on policy decision, and publicly thanked God for his presidency.  [Historian Steven] Miller goes as far to suggest that there were times when “Graham’s [religious] services or appearances seemed to double as Nixon rallies.”  Nixon used Graham to win evangelical votes, especially in the South. where Nixon needed the votes of white southern Christians–his so-called “Southern strategy”–and Graham believed that Nixon was a moral statesman, God’s man to lead a Christian nation.

But Graham would quickly learn that Richard Nixon was one man in Graham’s presence and quite another when operating in the cutthroat world of presidential politics.  During the Watergate scandal, Graham stood by the president.  During the 1972 election campaign, he chided Nixon’s opponent, South Dakota senator George McGovern, for saying that the Nixon administration was up to something sinister.  In one letter to President Nixon, Graham quoted Psalm 35:11-12, where the psalmist writes: “They accuse me of things I have never heard about.  I do them good, but they return me harm.”  [Historian Grant] Wacker says that Graham “continued to defend Nixon long after most Americans smelled a rate.”  In December 1973 , the evangelist told Nixon that he had “complete confidence” in his “personal integrity.”  When transcripts of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations (which included Nixon’s strongly anti-Semitic language) proved that the president was ultimately responsible for the Watergate break-in, Graham seemed more concerned about Nixon’s profanity on the tapes than the fact that the president was using his power to cover up his crimes.  When Graham read excerpts of the tapes in The New York Times, he claimed to feel “physically sick.”  Years later, Graham admitted that his relationship with the disgraced former president had “muffled those inner monitors that had warned me for years to stay out of partisan politics” and, as Wacker notes, “he urged young evangelists to avoid his mistake.”

There are a lot of similarities between Graham’s relationship with Nixon and the court evangelicals‘ relationship with Donald Trump.  Have the court evangelicals learned anything from Billy Graham?  Over at The Washington Post, Anja Maria-Bassimir and Elesha Coffman offer a revealing look into the way evangelical magazines responded to Graham’s relationship with Nixon during the Watergate scandal.  Here is a taste:

While Graham enjoyed private chats in the Nixon White House and urged his fellow citizens to rally around the flag at Honor America Day, another prominent evangelical, then-Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), warned that a bad graft between religion and politics was turning gangrenous. “We would always rather hide our wounds than heal them,” he said at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Chicago in May 1973. “It is always more comfortable to believe in the symbols of righteousness than to acknowledge the reality of evil. This is especially true in our national political life. And we have become adroit at manipulating religious impulses in our land to sanctify this political life.”

People in power, such as Hatfield, had to work even harder to resist such craven impulses. He noted: “When we are given a position of leadership, it becomes almost second nature to avoid admitting that we may be wrong. Confession becomes equated with weakness. The urge toward self-vindication becomes enormous, almost overpowering. A politician faces this temptation in a very special way, for somehow it has become a political maxim never to admit that one is wrong. Now, that may be wise politics. But it’s terrible Christianity.” These sentiments earned Hatfield a place on Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” and a concerned letter from Graham, according to the book “Lonely Walk.”

As revelations about the Watergate break-in and subsequent coverup accumulated in 1973 and 1974, many evangelicals vacillated between Hatfield’s warnings and Graham’s reassurances. At first, only Hatfield’s allies in the small but vocal evangelical left sounded the alarm. Hatfield’s speech echoed the rhetoric of his friend Jim Wallis, who regularly hit these ominous notes in his radical magazine, the Post-American (later renamed Sojourners). Then, the far-from-radical magazine Eternity chimed in, as columnist Joseph Bayly wrote: “Whether we like it or not, a major problem we face as evangelical Christians today is the identification in the popular mind of the religious position we represent with the Nixon administration and its actions. We are ‘middle America,’ the group sector that gave President Nixon his ‘mandate.’ We are the war party, the white backlash (if not racist) party, the Watergate scandal party.”

Finally, the more staid Christianity Today — the magazine founded by Billy Graham — came around. It had printed Hatfield’s speech in June 1973, but also Graham’s “mistakes and blunders” comments several months later. Appearing reluctant, in June 1974, an editorial argued for Nixon’s impeachment. Authors acknowledged that “evangelicals can point to some in their ranks whose private or public conduct is disgraceful, perhaps even worse than that displayed by the Watergate participants.” Ten years later, Graham told the magazine: “I came close to identifying the American way of life with the kingdom of God.” He said he had learned his lesson. And near the end of his life, he said: “I also would have steered clear of politics.”

Read the entire piece here.

Mainline Protestants for Trump

Bethel Lutheran Church ELCA, Willmar

When it comes to Christians supporting the Trump presidency, evangelicals get all the attention.  But as Chris Gehrz notes in his recent Anxious Bench post, mainline Protestants are not immune to Trump love.  I don’t know of any “court mainliners,” but it seems like a pro-Trump sentiment is alive and well among Lutherans.  Here is a taste:

Consider the largest Protestant denomination in my part of the country: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). At its annual meeting earlier this month, the ELCA not only passed statements condemning patriarchy and white supremacy, but made national news for declaring itself a “sanctuary church body.” Hundreds of delegates joined Lutheran activists in marching a mile to the Milwaukee office of the federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where they held a prayer vigil and posted 9.5 theses on care for refugees and other immigrants. “We put the protest back in Protestant,” proclaimed some of the signs held by protestors. (And I don’t think they meant it like one of our blogging neighbors does.)

As religion reporter Emily McFarlan Miller had predicted, the 2019 ELCA assembly offered “a window into the issues important to many progressive Christians across the country.” But how many of the ELCA’s 3.5 million members are actually (politically) progressive?

Consider some of the numbers that political scientist Ryan Burge has been crunching from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), which surveys over 64,000 Americans every two years. Not only do 49% of ELCA respondents in the 2018 CCES identify as Republican (vs. 42% as Democrats), but even more approve of Donald Trump: 52% of those Lutherans, 35% strongly. When Burge drilled down to look at religious behavior, he found that ELCA support for Trump was strongest among those who attended church most often and weakest among those who show up just once or twice a year.

Read the entire piece here.

The Church as the “GOP Farm Team”

Liberty U

Over at The Week, Bonnie Kristian has a brief piece chronicling the role that evangelicals are playing in propping-up the Republican Party.  She writes in the wake of this event at Liberty University.  Here is a taste:

That such an event would exist, and that it would be hosted at Liberty, is hardly surprising. But, as I feel I am constantly saying about the intersection of religion and politics in America these days, what does not surprise still should shock. Pastors and Pews may be the natural evolution of the religious right, the logical next step in Republican politicians’ use of church infrastructure for political ends, but that makes it no less worthy of protest.

This is not the point of church.

This is not why we gather together. This is not how we grow the kingdom of heaven. This is not how we incarnate the new reality started at the cross. This is not a way to spread the hope of Christ.

The Republican Party platform is not the Gospel. No politician of any party can, in that sense, offer good news. Seeking political power is not a pastor’s job. And to thus subvert church into a partisan political resource is to make it cease to be the church, to take that third temptation — “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” — where Jesus turned it down. It makes Christianity a means to a far lower end.

Read the entire piece here.

Pete Buttigieg and Proverbs 14:31

Buttigieg 3

Some of you may recall that Pete Buttigieg quoted scripture on Monday night during the Democratic debate.  He said: “So-called conservative senators right now in the Senate are blocking a bill to raise the minimum wage when Scripture says that whoever oppresses the poor taunts their maker.” Buttigieg was quoting from Proverbs 14:31, which says “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt asked some evangelical leaders about whether or not Buttigieg used this verse correctly.  Most believed that he did use it correctly, but also could not resist mentioning (or implying) that he is pro-choice and gay.

Here, for example, is Shellnutt on Andrew T. Walker‘s response to Buttigieg:

Andrew T. Walker, senior fellow in Christian ethics at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), tweeted his opposition to Buttigieg’s line: “It never fails to baffle how progressives can appeal to the Bible to arrive at an exact minimum wage ($15, according to Buttigieg), yet ignore, reject, or plead ambiguity on the Bible’s teaching on marriage and abortion.”

This is a strange response.  I don’t think Buttigieg was using the Bible to “arrive at an exact minimum wage” of $15.  He was simply articulating a biblical principle.

Read Shellnutt’s piece here.

Christians Issue a Statement Against Christian Nationalism

Christian NAtionA group of Christians have written a statement opposing Christian nationalism, or the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and continues to be a Christian nation.  Such a view, as I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introductionhas a long history.  Today this idea drives much of the political agenda of the Christian Right.

Here is the statement, which I have signed:

As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy. Today, we are concerned about a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy — Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

 As Christians, we are bound to Christ, not by citizenship, but by faith. We believe that:

  • People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.

  • Patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions.

  • One’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community.

  • Government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.

  • Religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other religious institutions and families.

  • America’s historic commitment to religious pluralism enables faith communities to live in civic harmony with one another without sacrificing our theological convictions.

  • Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

  • We must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad.

Whether we worship at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, America has no second-class faiths. All are equal under the U.S. Constitution. As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.

Most of the original endorsers are affiliated in some way with the Christian left: Tony Campolo, Michael Curry, Melissa Rogers, Jim Wallis, and the leaders of several mainline Protestant denominations.

But where are the thoughtful moderate and conservative evangelicals?  Where do they disagree?  I read the names of every signer and see very few evangelical names that I recognize.

National Cathedral: “Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous”

national-cathedral-exterior-credit-flickr-user-photophiend

The spiritual leaders of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. have had enough.  Here is their recent press release titled “Have We No Decency?:  A Response to President Trump:

The escalation of racialized rhetoric from the President of the United States has evoked responses from all sides of the political spectrum. On one side, African American leaders have led the way in rightfully expressing outrage. On the other, those aligned with the President seek to downplay the racial overtones of his attacks, or remain silent.

As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral ¬– the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?

As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history:

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

That was U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, when he confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy before a live television audience, effectively ending McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation. Until then, under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration, McCarthy had free rein to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.

In retrospect, it’s clear that Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?

We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.

This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?

Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.

These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.

When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.

As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.

There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

That remains our prayer today for us all.

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar BuddeBishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean of Washington National Cathedral
The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas
Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral.

*The Economist* Covers the Growing Rift in the Evangelical Camp

Believe Me 3dEarlier this week I had a great phone conversation with The Economist writer Bruce Clark about my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of how how Clark wrote it up:

…Admittedly, evangelicals have never been a monolith. As behoves people who take their spiritual destiny seriously, they argue perpetually about many things: for example over whether the fate of a human soul is predetermined, or how exactly a believer can be redeemed from the “total depravity” which is, in the view of John Calvin (1509-1564), the natural state of humanity. Debates which raged between Europe’s 16th-century reformers are rumbling on in America’s influential seminaries.

But according to a new book, “Believe Me”, by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, all these theological disagreements are being transcended by a more salient issue: whether or not to support Mr Trump wholeheartedly and therefore overlook his character flaws. These days, by far the most important distinction is between what Mr Fea calls “court evangelicals”, who stridently support the president and are rewarded with access to him, and every other kind of evangelical. As a new coalition lines up to fight next year’s election, some of the battle formations which formed in the 2016 contest are coming back into view, with even sharper spears.

Among those who inhabit the court, Mr Fea discerns three main groups: first, a section of the mainstream religious right whose origins go back to the 1980s; second, a cohort of independent “charismatics” who claim the gifts of the Pentecostal tradition (visions, miracles and direct revelations from God) but do not belong to any established Pentecostal group; and third, advocates of the “prosperity gospel” who resemble the second category but put emphasis on the material rewards which following their particular version of Christianity will bring. What defines all these “courtiers” is an insistence that loyalty to Mr Trump must be unconditional. In their world, the president is presented not just as the least-worst political option whose merits outweigh his flaws, but as a man assigned by God to restore America to its divinely set course, and therefore almost above human criticism.

To get round the problems posed by Mr Trump’s ruthless business career, messy personal life and scatological language, they use several arguments, of which one is a comparison with Persia’s King Cyrus, who liberated the Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to return to Israel. From the Jewish or Christian point of view, Cyrus was a pagan, not a worshipper of the one God, but he was still an instrument of God’s purpose. Likewise Mr Trump can be regarded as a divinely ordained ruler, regardless of any personal flaws. Indeed, as Mr Fea notes, the more strongly people believe in a divine hand in history, the more open they are to the idea that God can choose anybody at all to serve his inscrutable purpose.

Read the rest here.

David French Elaborates on Evangelical Fear

 

Believe Me 3dWe covered this last week after several folks e-mailed me to ask if I sent David French a copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Read that post here.

David French and Jon Meacham were on “Morning Joe” this morning:

In this interview, French does say that this fear has been present before 2016.  (I challenged him to think historically in the post to which I linked above).

Both evangelical “fear” and the evangelical pursuit of “power” are mentioned in this interview.  Of course these are the main themes of Believe Me.

Kristen Gillibrand’s Wacky Pro-Choice Theology

Gillibrand

Recently New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kristen Gillibrand claimed that laws against abortion are “against Christian faith?”  This should raise a host of red flags for people who know something about Christianity.  Most American evangelicals, who the last time I checked were Christians, oppose abortion.  Roman Catholics also oppose abortion.  The Orthodox Church also opposes the practice.  So do many mainline Protestants.

So why does Gillibrand believe that a pro-life position on abortion is anti-Christian?  She claims that Christianity teaches “free will” and, as a result, laws preventing a women’s choice to abort a baby are not Christian.

Wow.  I just read a draft of this post to my eighteen-year-old daughter and she gave me a puzzled look before saying, “Wait, that’s not how it works.”

Most of the Christian bodies I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post also believe in free will.  Yet they oppose the practice of abortion because a person’s free will is always understood in the context of other principles–like the common good, the preservation of life, and duties to others, including the unborn.  When one becomes a Christian they are called to deny self for the life of others.  There are times when individual choice must be subordinated to larger moral issues.

Please note that this post is not an endorsement of the Alabama bill.  I have argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is not the best way to reduce the number of abortions.  Rather, this post is a plea to politicians to stop doing theology.

Let Me Repeat: Democrats Have Been Appealing to Religion for a Long Time

Obama compassion

Obama talks about his Christian faith at the Messiah College “Compassion Forum” in 2008

I appreciate the Pacific Standard calling attention to religion and the race for the Democratic nomination, but Chayenne Polimedio’s piece makes it sound as Democratic candidates talking about religion is a new thing.  Granted, Hillary Clinton could have done more to make religious appeals, especially to moderate evangelicals, but the religious left has been around for a long time.  I wrote about this here and here.

Here is a taste of Polimedio’s piece:

Democrats seem to have finally caught on to the fact that national elections can be hard to secure with purely secular campaigns. This is a wise observation: Faith plays a large role in the lives of millions of Americans, and religious values drive the voting choices of many of them. In this election cycle, Democratic hopefuls like Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro, who’ve not only embraced their faith but also made it a pillar of their political platforms, are telling of potentially larger shifts within American society and politics.

This evolution of how faith is discussed in the public realm and who gets to lead that discussion is, in part, due to America’s changing religious identity: The evangelical church is graying and losing members, religious “nones” are on the rise, and growing Latino and Asian populations mean that religion in the United States is becoming less white and more diverse. These are all factors that, at least ostensibly, work in progressives’ favor. In fact, the 2020 election cycle is, in some ways, poised to be one in which the Christian right won’t have a monopoly on the role of religion in public life, with some progressive politicians determined to close the “God Gap” once and for all.

Read the entire piece here.

Pete Buttigieg’s Faith: What’s All the Fuss About?

Buttigieg

Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s excellent Washington Post piece on Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg‘s progressive Christianity is getting a lot of attention.  I think its cool that Guttigieg studied early American religious history in college. But his progressive approach to religion and politics is nothing new.  Here is a taste of Bailey’s piece:

Now Buttigieg wants a “less dogmatic” religious left to counter the religious right, an unofficial coalition of religious conservatives that for decades has helped get mostly Republicans into office.

“I think it’s unfortunate [the Democratic Party] has lost touch with a religious tradition that I think can help explain and relate our values,” he said. “At least in my interpretation, it helps to root [in religion] a lot of what it is we do believe in, when it comes to protecting the sick and the stranger and the poor, as well as skepticism of the wealthy and the powerful and the established.”

He thinks President Trump has found favor among many white evangelicals and white Catholics because of his opposition to abortion, he said. But Buttigieg said he believes the president is behaving “in bad faith” and said there’s no evidence that he doesn’t favor abortion rights deep down.

“I do think it’s strange, though, knowing that no matter where you are politically, the gospel is so much about inclusion and decency and humility and care for the least among us, that a wealthy, powerful, chest-thumping, self-oriented, philandering figure like this can have any credibility at all among religious people,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

I am not sure there is anything new here beyond the fact that Buttigieg is gay.  He seems to be following some pretty well-established progressive/liberal/Democratic Christian political candidates, including George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Joe Lieberman (if you move beyond Christianity), Hillary Clinton and, of course, Barack Obama.  I might even put my former Senator Bill Bradley in this group.

Perhaps it is time that we stop getting so excited about Democratic candidates who can talk about religion.  They have been around for a long time.

Even White Evangelicals Oppose Trump’s Bible-Signing

Trump BIbles

Check out journalist Joanna Piacenza piece at Morning Consult.  According to a Morning Consult poll, most white evangelicals think that Trump’s signing of Bibles at an Alabama Baptist church earlier this month was “inappropriate.”  U.S. adults, Republicans, Christians, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants also think Trump’s signing of Bibles was “inappropriate.” The only identity group that thinks the president’s signing of Bible is appropriate are Trump voters, but only by a 43% to 42% margin.

Read the piece here.  I was happy to help Piacenza with her story.

A Morning with Christian College Provosts and Student Life Leaders

Giboney

Justin Giboney of the AND Campaign.

I was in St. Petersburg, Florida yesterday with the provosts and student development administrators from schools affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).  I spoke at a session titled “Christian Colleges in the Age of Trump: Challenges and Opportunities.”  Thanks to CCCU Vice President Rick Ostrander for the invitation.

At some point I might post or publish my lecture, but here is a taste:

As Rick mentioned, in June 2018 I published Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In that book I tried to explain why white evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Trump in 2016.  I argue that they preferred Trump for three reasons.  First, they privileged an approach to public life defined by fear over an approach to public life defined by hope.  Second, and somewhat related, they privileged the pursuit of political power as a means of bringing change to American society over an approach to civic engagement characterized by humility.  And third, white evangelicals privileged an unhealthy nostalgia for a Christian golden age that is never coming back, or may have never existed in the first place, over a hard, honest, and difficult look into the past.

I have been spending a lot of time on the road with Believe Me, mostly at independent bookstores and college and university campuses.  When I visit these places, I usually make my case for a few minutes and then sit down to listen to people’s stories. Folks tell me why they think Trump is good for America.  Others talk about the spiritual and emotional wounds they have suffered from Trump-supporters in their churches.  My wife tells me that listening is not one of my strong suits, but as I tried my best to overcome this social deficiency in places like Lynchburg, Virginia, Charleston, West Virginia, Louisville, Kentucky, and Columbus, Ohio, it brought more nuance to some of the arguments I made in the book.  At the same time, my experience with readers in these places and others like them also convinced me that the book’s central message is right.  (Not all reviewers agreed!)

We are now two years into the Trump presidency.  My task this morning is not to revisit my arguments in Believe Me.  Donald Trump is now the President of the United States.  I will focus instead on what Trump’s administration has wrought–and how Christian colleges might respond in the next two years and beyond.

Like any good evangelical jeremiad—I have three points.

First, Donald Trump has exacerbated a longstanding American propensity for conflict and incivility. And Christian colleges are ideally suited to enter the breach.

Second, in the Trump administration truth, evidence, and critical thinking are under attack.  But Christian colleges must be places where these things are central to our missions.

Third, Christian colleges must not neglect the church.

I shared this session with Justin Giboney, a co-founder of the AND Campaign, an organization committed to educating and organizing Christians for civic and cultural engagement that “results in better representation, more just and compassionate policies and a healthier political culture.

Giboney unleashed a jeremiad of his own.  One observer said that he had never seen a standing ovation before at a morning session of chief academic officers! As Thomas Jefferson said about his debate with Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton: The Musical, Giboney “brought the thunder.”

GIboney slammed those evangelicals who claim that the Bible does not teach social justice.  He pointed out that we all believe in social justice, especially when it affects us and our loved ones.  In other words, the problem is not a belief in social justice, but the failure to apply social justice equally.

He challenged Christians to engage public and political life, but to resist making politics “an ultimate thing.” The political Right claims to be about truth.  The political Left claims to be about love.  But the choice between truth and love is never a choice that a Christian should be forced to make.  It is time to “disrupt” the political arena for the sake of a better Gospel witness in the public square.

Giboney added that attempts to be always conservative or always liberal on all issues is “intellectual lazy.”  We cannot be “ideological zombies.”  For Christians, “partisan loyalty” is not “Gospel loyalty.” Christians must always be on the right side of history–“redemptive history.”

Finally, Giboney criticized the “mob mentality” that he sees in American politics today.  Mobs, he argued, always judge people on group identity.  They are successful when they demonize the enemy.  Mobs do not want to reconcile with the other side because they believe the other side will never change.   Mobs must always be judged by clear thinking and reason.

Check out more of Giboney’s work at the AND Campaign.  I would encourage you to invite him to speak on your campus.

As for me, I am back home for a couple days. Then it is a quick visit to Southern California for a lecture at USC before coming back to Messiah College to enjoy our annual Humanities Symposium!

Trump is Down 13% With White Evangelicals

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Here are the results of the latest National Public Radio/PBS/Marist poll:

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds Trump’s approval rating down and his disapproval rating up from a month ago. He currently stands at 39 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove — a 7-point net change from December when his rating was 42 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove.

And the movement has come from within key portions of his base. He is:

  • Down significantly among suburban men, a net-positive approval rating of 51-to-39 percent to a net-negative of 42 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. That’s a net change of down 18 percentage points.
  • Down a net of 13 points among white evangelicals, from 73-to-17 percent approve to 66-to-23 percent approve.
  • Down a net of 10 points among Republicans, from 90-to-7 percent approve to 83-to-10 percent.
  • Down marginally among white men without a college degree, from 56-to-34 percent approve to 50-to-35 percent approve, a net change downward of 7 points.

Read the rest here.

*BUNK* Picks “Evangelical Fear Elected Donald Trump” as Best American Religious History Read of 2018

BUNK is a history website founded by award-winning American historian Ed Ayers and edited by Tony Field.  It is published by the University of Richmond.  Read more about it here.

Today I learned that BUNK chose my Atlantic Monthly piece  “Evangelical Fear Elected Donald Trump” as the best American history read of 2018.  (Of course, if you want the extended argument, get a copy of my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

This means a lot to me, especially in light of the other winners.

Here are the winners:

Narrative History
The Train at Wood’s Crossing [Brendan Wolfe, brendanwolfe.com]
The long-forgotten story of a Charlottesville lynching is unearthed in a lyrical and deeply researched piece of writing that twists together strands of personal, local, and national history.

Honorable Mention:
The Counterfeit Queen of Soul [Jeff Maysh, Smithsonian Magazine]

Local History
As Goes the South, so Goes the Nation [Imani Perry, Harper’s]
A Thanksgiving trip home to Alabama occasions this tour de force through the state’s twisted past.

Honorable Mentions:
The Little Mayors of the Lower East Side [Laurie Gwen Shapiro, Lapham’s Quarterly]
In the Hate of Dixie [Cynthia Tucker, Bitter Southerner]

Legal History
Black Lives and the Boston Massacre [Farah Peterson, The American Scholar]
Do you know the story of Crispus Attacks, the black man who was the first American casualty of the Revolutionary War? If so, it’s probably incomplete. In this compelling essay, a law professor explains why, and what the omissions have to do with the struggle for racial justice today.

Honorable Mentions:
Separation of Power [William Hogeland, Lapham’s Quarterly]
No Law Without Politics (No Politics Without Law) [Jedediah Purdy, Law and Political Economy]

Religious History
Evangelical Fear Elected Trump [John Fea, The Atlantic]
Fea, a scholar and practitioner of evangelical Christianity, offers a nuanced take on four centuries of people “failing miserably at overcoming fear with hope, trust, and faith in their God.”

Honorable Mention:
The Fight to Define Romans 13 [Lincoln Mullen, The Atlantic]

Reported History
We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage [Christine Kenneally, Buzzfeed News]
A devastating longread based on years of interviews with alleged survivors of systematic abuse.

Honorable Mentions:
Payback [Natalie Y. Moore, The Marshall Project]
A Cool Dip and a Little Dignity [Erin E. Tocknell, Bitter Southerner]

Labor History
A Culture of Resistance [Charles Keeney, Lapham’s Quarterly]
The teachers’ strikes that sprang up around the country last year caught many observers off-guard. Here, Keeney explains why labor activism in red-state West Virginia is not the anomaly it may seem to be.

Honorable Mention:
Where Did it All Go Wrong? [Gabriel Winant, The Nation]

Watery History
In the Dismal Swamp [Sam Worley, Popula]
As is the case with each of the honorable mentions below, this piece defies the terra firma of historiographical categorization, combining currents of environmental, cultural, political, and local history into a profound exploration of what it means to “drain the swamp.”

Honorable Mentions:
The Water Next Time? [Danielle Purifoy, Scalawag]
The First Floridians [Jordan Blumetti, Bitter Southerner]

Historical Reenactment
Natural History in Two Dimensions [Whitney Barlow Robles, Common-Place]
Another fascinating genre-buster that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know?—?and then some?—?about the lost art of fish-flattening.

Honorable Mention:
Revisiting an Explorer’s Northwest Passage ‘Disappointment’ After Nearly 230 Years [Brian Castner, Atlas Obsura]

Museum Review
Real Museums of Memphis [Zandria Felice Robinson, Scalawag]
A gut-punching portrait of Memphis by a daughter of the city, written from the shadows of the National Civil Rights Museum on the occasion of MLK50. “[W]e have to keep track of how our memories and experiences are being gentrified in a notion of progress that has no meaningful proof or original referent.”

Honorable Mention:
Our Nukes, Ourselves [Kelsey D. Atherton, The New Inquiry]

Debunk
How Social Media Spread a Historical Lie [Jennifer Mendelsohn & Peter A. Shulman, Made by History/Washington Post]
When an erroneously captioned photo of a KKK march went viral, the authors sprung into action, correcting the record and explaining how Google, Wikipedia, and other digital platforms amplify the falsification of the past.

Honorable Mentions:
The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant [Anna Flagg, The Marshall Project]
We’re Never Going to Have Our “Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?” Moment [Rebecca Onion, Slate]

Obituary
An Obituary for Orange County, Dead at Age 129 [Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times]
A clever use of the form to give historical context to L.A.’s midterm election results. “The death shocked everyone who hadn’t bothered to pay attention for decades.”

Honorable Mention:
Larry Eisenberg, 99, Dead; His Limericks Were Very Well Read [Margalit Fox, New York Times]

Reputation Revision
Living With Dolly Parton [Jessica Wilkerson, Longreads]
Wilkerson grew up in East Tennessee idolizing the region’s most famous native daughter. Now a historian, she sets out in this lyrical, personal piece to more fully understand Parton’s enduring appeal in the post-industrial South.

Honorable Mentions:
Why Tamika Mallory Won’t Condemn Louis Farrakhan [Adam Serwer, The Atlantic]
Paul Bremer, Ski Instructor: Learning to Shred With the Bush Administration’s Iraq War Fall Guy [Aaron Gell, Task & Purpose]
My Fellow Prisoners: On John McCain [George Blaustein, n+1]

Origin Story (Culture)
Bad Boys [Tim Stelloh, The Marshall Project]
A fascinating piece that chronicles the unlikely story of ‘Cops,’ one of television’s most successful, influential, and polarizing shows ever.

Honorable Mentions:
How Auto-Tune Revolutionized the Sound of Popular Music [Simon Reynolds, Pitchfork]
The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty [Walt Hunter, The Atlantic]
My Dad Painted the Iconic Cover for Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung,’ and It’s Haunted Him Ever Since [Robert Silverman, The Outline]

Origin Story (Trumpism)
How Do We Explain This National Tragedy? This Trump? [T.J. Stiles, Zyzzyva (via Lithub)]
There was no shortage of contestants to this category in 2018. And while no single account can do justice to all the factors responsible for our current moment, I especially appreciated Stiles’ personal, wide-ranging, and not altogether pessimistic approach to the question.

Honorable Mentions:
Trumpism Before Trump [Robert L. Tsai & Calvin Terbeek, Boston Review]
The Religion of Whiteness Becomes a Suicide Cult [Pankaj Mishra, New York Times]
The Roots of Trump’s Immigration Barbarity [Daniel Denvir, Jacobin]

Origin Story (Plastic)
American Beauties [Rebecca Altman, Topic]
Before Americans had to learn to reuse their grocery bags, they had to learn to thrown them away. Behold one of my favorite pieces of the year, chronicling the rise and fall (hopefully not in a tree near you) of the plastic bag.

Honorable Mention:
Disposable America [Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic]

Commentary (Reconstruction’s Legacy)
Today’s Voter Suppression Tactics Have A 150 Year History [Gregory Downs, Talking Points Memo]
There was a ton of terrific writing this year about Reconstruction, but this one stood out. It widens the lens on the story of disenfranchisement, explaining that “though rebels perfected the art of excluding voters, it was yankees who developed the script.”

Honorable Mention:
Citizens: 150 Years of the 14th Amendment [Martha S. Jones, Public Books]

Commentary (Historic Preservation)
The Archivists of Extinction [Kate Wagner, The Baffler]
The said archivists are none other than the contributors to a Flickr page devoted to images of defunct Kmarts. If that seems intriguing to you, I promise you that it is. Come for the Kmarts, stay for the withering critique of capitalist destruction.

Honorable Mention:
The Death and Life of a Great American Building [Jeremiah Moss, New York Review of Books]

Commentary (80s Movies)
In the Dark All Katz are Grey: Notes on Jewish Nostalgia [Samuel Ashworth, Hazlitt]
With what is probably the finest opening line of any on this list, this piece is a poignant meditation on nostalgia, the Borscht Belt, and why Dirty Dancing is actually a Jewish horror film.

Honorable Mention:
Brett Kavanaugh Goes to the Movies [Marsha Gordon, The Conversation]

Commentary (Covert Operations)
Did You Know the CIA ______? [Malcolm Harris, n+1]
In this review of Errol Morris’ latest miniseries, Harris examines the inability of Americans to confront the crimes that have been committed in their name. “If cold war is the name for the third world war that didn’t happen, what’s the name for what did?”

Honorable Mention:
The U.S. Needs to Face Up to Its Long History of Election Meddling[Peter Beinart, The Atlantic]

Commentary (Statue of Liberty)
Sentinel [Francesca Lidia Viano, Places]
To read about the Statue of Liberty’s origins is to become ever more aware of the contradictions baked into America’s most cherished symbols. I highly recommend chasing this read with the Slate piece below, which pushes the story forward into our crazy modern times.

Honorable Mention:
Who Does She Stand For? [Paul A. Kramer, Slate]

Commentary (Futility of War)
A Hundred Years After the Armistice [Adam Hochschild, New Yorker]
A standout in a year full of WWI retrospectives. Among other things, Hochschild tells us that more soldiers were killed after the Armistice had been signed than would die on D-Day in Normandy 26 years later. They died, in other words, for no political or military reason whatsoever.

Honorable Mention:
Remembrance of War as a Warning [Christopher Preble, War on the Rocks]

Commentary (Country Music)
Canon Fodder [Shuja Haider, Popula]
Another fun read from Popula, on policing the genre boundaries of popular music. If you’ve ever winced to hear somebody say that they like all kinds of music ““except rap and country,” then this one’s for you.

Honorable Mention:
Agriculture Wars [Nick Murray, Viewpoint]

Periodical Single Issue
Boston Review, “Fifty Years Since MLK” [Forum V (Winter 2018)]
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, Boston Review published a knockout of an issue that was, in many ways, the perfect antidote to Dodge’s Superbowl ad from a few weeks earlier. Every article is a must-read.

Honorable Mention:
The Baffler, “Tramps and Millionaires” [Issue ?42]

Recurring Series
Overlooked [New York Times]
An ongoing effort by the Times’ obituaries desk to remember the lives of notable women who were left out of the paper of record the first time around.

Bibliography
Confederate Monuments Syllabus [Kevin M. Levin, Civil War Memory]
If there’s one person up to the challenge of keeping track of the latest skirmishes in the Confederate monument wars, it’s Levin. He recently compiled this wide-ranging collection of online resources in an effort to help teachers and students make sense of it all.