Linker: Evangelicals are “Dreaming Small”

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

American evangelicals, according to Damon Linker at The Week, are on the defensive.  Here is a taste of his piece “The Dwindling Ambition of the Religious Right“:

The conservative evangelical Protestants who have long been the foot soldiers of the religious right may be thrilled with President Trump’s judicial appointments (and so willing to overlook his mountain of personal moral failings), but that excitement has nothing to do with ambitions to take back the country in the name of traditional moral values. On the contrary, evangelicals and their conservative Catholic allies today engage in politics from the position of a defensive crouch, anxiously hoping sympathetic judges will protect them from bullying at the hands of an administrative state empowered by anti-discrimination law to stamp out various forms of religiously grounded “bigotry.”

To see the change, ask yourself when you can last recall hearing a major figure on the religious right propose a major reform of American public life. (And no, restrictions on abortion don’t count, because supporting the placement of limits on abortion-on-demand doesn’t require affirming traditional religious views; one need only believe in the existence of human rights and recognize that a fetus on a sonogram is a human being.) Since Bush’s failure to reverse the rapid advance of gay marriage in the United States, the religious right has been playing defense and even entertaining withdrawal from active engagement in politics at the national level.

 

Read the rest here.  This is what happens when evangelicals are motivated less by hope than by fear.

 

“Christian Politics?”: Week Three

Faith-and-Politics-760x395

Yesterday I taught the third of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Read my summary of Week One here and Week Two here.

Last week I ended class by asking: What might evangelical politics look like if we replaced fear with hope, power with humility, and nostalgia with history?  This week we began to formulate an answer to this question.

We began by examining what the Bible says about “fear” and “hope.”  I concluded that fear is a natural emotion, but as Christians we must not allow fear to fester or try to build a political philosophy around it.  Instead, we must be people of hope.   I argued:

  1. A politics of hope is different than a politics of progress or optimism
  2. A politics of hope must be built on a Christian understanding of history.
  3. A politics of hope is limited in what it can accomplish due to human sin.  We see through a glass darkly (I Cor. 13:12).
  4. A politics hope is paradoxical: It requires waiting on God and acting (for truth, love, and justice) in history.

We then examined the difference between a politics of power and a politics of humility.  A politics of humility requires:

  1. An acknowledgement that Christian politics will always be limited in what it can accomplish due to sin (see point 3 above).
  2. An acknowledgement that Christ’s death on the cross was a political act in the sense that it ushered in a new kingdom–the Kingdom of God–that is not of this world.
  3. Some kind of pluralism based on the dignity of all human beings.  A belief in human dignity should result in listening, debate, conversation, and dialogue.
  4. An acknowledgement that we may suffer.  Political suffering, like all human suffering, can draw us closer to God and makes us more sensitive to his call on our political lives.

Finally, we examined the difference between a politics driven by nostalgia and a politics informed by history.

  1. Nostalgia is often linked to fear.  It provides an island of safety in times of trouble.
  2. Nostalgia leads us to look backward, not forward in hope.  History allows us to move forward with an understanding of where we have been.
  3. Nostalgia is an inherently selfish way of looking at the past.  It focuses entirely on our own experiences of the past and not on the experience of others who may not have experienced the past in the same way.
  4. History allows us to better understand the neighbors we are called to serve in politics.
  5. History teaches us that the belief that America was founded as a Christian nation is at best a complicated and problematic assertion and at worst a form of idolatry.

We did a lot more, but this was the general outline.

My class drew heavily from these books:

Glenn Tinder, The Political Meaning of Christianity

Ron Sider, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics

John Fea, Why Study History?

Next week we will explore James Davison Hunter’s idea of “Faithful Presence.”

What Can 2 Kings 16 and Isaiah 7 Teach Christians About Politics?

assyrian-empire-to-sennarcherib-1950x1360x300

While I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (pre-order here), I did a lot of reading in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  (On Monday, I wrote some thoughts on 1 Samuel).  While my interpretation of these biblical chapters did not make the final cut, I found them to be helpful in my thinking about Christianity and politics.  What follows are some thoughts on King Ahaz in 2 Kings 16 and Isaiah 7.

In these passages we find Ahaz, the King of the southern Kingdom of Judah from 735-715 B.C., in a difficult political and diplomatic situation.  The northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) has formed an alliance with its northern neighbor Syria as a defense measure against the mighty Assyrian Empire threatening them.  Israel and Syria and are pressuring Ahaz and the Kingdom of Judah to join in their pact.

God speaks to Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7) to trust him: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart grow faint.”  Isaiah tells Ahaz to be firm in his faith. He promises him that the Lord will help him conquer the Syrians and the Kingdom of Israel.  Ahaz, however, has other ideas.  Rather than trusting God to get him through his diplomatic problems, Ahaz makes an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser III, the Assyrian king.  “I am your servant and your son,” he tells the gentile ruler, “come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel who are attacking me.”  After presenting Tiglath-Pileser with gold and silver from the temple, the alliance is sealed, and the Assyrian king invades the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Fear can lead people–even kings and political leaders–to make strange decisions.  Most historians and biblical scholars agree that the threat posed to Ahaz by Syria and Israel was not great. Yet Ahaz’s foreign policy was built on these exaggerated fears.  Ahaz made this alliance with Assyria despite the fact that the Lord also promised to protect him through his crisis.  As biblical theologian Walter Bruegemann writes in his commentary on this passage: “The world looks very different when the observer is consumed by fear.”  Ahaz lacked faith.  He did not trust God’s plan in this situation.  “Faith,” Brueggeman writes, “is…a matter of…practical reliance upon the assurance of God in a context of risk where one’s own resources are not adequate.  It means to entrust one’s security and future to the attentiveness of Yahweh—to count God’s attentiveness as adequate and sure, thereby making panic, anxiety, or foolishness unnecessary and inappropriate.”  Ahaz chose to put his faith in the strong man of Assyria rather than God.  There would be future consequences.

“Christian Politics?”: Week Two

Falwell

Yesterday I taught the second of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Read my summary of Week One here.

If you recall, in Week 1 I explained five ways in which Christians have thought about politics–past and present.  We discussed Anabaptism, Lutheranism, the African-American Church, Calvinism, and Catholicism.

This week we asked: “How have American evangelicals practiced politics, especially in the last fifty years?

We began by defining evangelicalism using the Bebbington Quadrilateral: Biblicism, Crucicentrism, Conversionism, and Activism.  This proved to be a very fruitful conversation.  I taught about 120 people this morning (in 2 sections) and nearly all of them believed in the theological tenets of the Bebbington Quadrilateral.  But only a small percentage ( roughly 25%?) use the word “evangelical” to describe their faith.  In both hours I had people ask me to distinguish between an “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.”

I then offered a quick history lesson focused on why so many conservative white evangelicals in the 1970s began to worry about the decline of Christian culture.  We touched on the separation of church as defined by the Supreme Court in 1947Engel v. Vitale (1962), Abington v. Schempp (1963), changes to American immigration policy (Hart-Cellar Act of 1965), the relationship between segregationism and evangelical libertarianism, Roe v. Wade (1973), Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), and the religious liberty debates of the last twenty years (“Merry Christmas,” Johnson Amendment, Ten Commandments in courthouses, etc.).

I then introduced the political playbook devised by the Religious Right in the 1970s to deal with these social and cultural changes.  The playbook teaches:

  1. America was founded as a Christian nation
  2. America’s status as a Christian nation is in jeopardy
  3. We must “reclaim” or “restore” America to its Christian roots
  4. We must do this through electoral politics by electing the right people who will, in turn, pass the right laws and appoint the right judges
  5. We will win back the culture for Christ
  6. If this happens, we’re not really sure what we will do next, but we do know that God will once again be happy with the United States.

When I talked about #6 above I emphasized how evangelicals have not thought very deeply about politics.  Many evangelical leaders have no idea what they will do if the proverbial dog catches the proverbial bus.  This, as Ronald Sider described it, is the “scandal of evangelical politics.”

Here is what I told the class they could expect in Week Three:

  1. The current evangelical political playbook, as written over the course of the last fifty years, privileges fear over hope, power over humility, and nostalgia over history.
  2. We will then ask: “Are these healthy or biblical ideas (fear, power, nostalgia) from which to build a truly evangelical approach to politics?

Stay tuned.

What Can 1 Samuel Teach Christians About Politics?

MosheWhile I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (pre-order here), I did a lot of reading in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  While my thinking about these chapters did not make the final cut, I found these Old Testament books to be helpful in my thinking about Christianity and politics.  1 Samuel was particularly helpful.

Very early in 1 Samuel the Israelites find themselves in a battle with the Philistines at Mizpah. It is not going well, they are afraid, and they turn to the prophet Samuel for help.  Samuel responds to their fear, makes an offering to God, and cries out to the Lord on behalf of Israel.  The Lord responds and Israel wins the battle. (1 Samuel 7:7-14).

Shortly after their victory, Israel asks Samuel for a King to “go out and fight our battles.”  Samuel brings their request to God who responds by saying “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:5-20).  Indeed, by requesting a King, the people of Israel have chosen to place their trust in a military leader rather than God.  In essence, the people of Israel are committing idolatry.  As biblical scholar Stephen B. Chapman interprets the request: “henceforth, until the Exile, the Israelites will be unable to confess resolutely that God alone is king over Israel—apart from any human victory or partners.  This sad loss of ultimate spiritual loyalty at the expense of a more pragmatic national politics is the profound point of 1 Samuel 8.”

In a fascinating interpretation of the politics of 1 Samuel titled The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel, authors Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes describe the book as “one of the most penetrating accounts ever written of the internal workings of human politics.”  When God decides to give the Israelites a king in the person of Saul, He is making a compromise with His people.  He offers them a solution to their military problems, albeit an imperfect one.

But there is a price to pay for such a compromise, as God warns that there will be a day when “you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Sam. 8:18).  For believers like the Israelites, Halbertal and Holmes write, “politics is…an overpowering human necessity that can never fully escape a potentially self-defeating betrayal at its very core.”  The Israelites believe that Saul will be more effective than God (or his prophet Samuel) in protecting them from their enemies.  They now have a ruler, who Halbertal and Holmes describe as a man who will “wield…authority in the service of power as an end in itself” and “convert such ends as love, loyalty, the sacred, and moral obligations into mere means for eliminating dangerous rivals and staving off the loss of power.”

Consider 1 Samuel 13, the passage in which Saul does not wait for Samuel to arrive at Gilgal to make a sacrifice and instead makes the sacrifice himself.  Once again Halbertal and Holmes use the text to offer insight into what happens when religion mixes with power: “What the author of Samuel conveys by this striking episode is how religion, even when sincerely believed, can be instrumentalized in power struggles and how political rivals can shed moral qualms about treating the sacred as just another weapon to be opportunistically deployed in a competitive struggle for prestige and power.”

Sometimes it is better to obey than to sacrifice.

I will try to work up more posts like this in the next couple of weeks.

Court Evangelical Johnnie Moore “Walks the Line”

Check out Michelle Boorstein’s and Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s Washington Post piece on court evangelical Johnnie Moore.  The thirty-four-year-old political operative says on his webpage that people think he is “one of the world’s more influential young leaders” and a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” Boorstein and Bailey describe him as the “gatekeeper” for the court evangelicals.  He has to “walk the line” between his Trump-love and his Christian integrity.

Here is a taste of the piece:

That Moore said this sitting in the luxurious Trump International Hotel lobby, which serves as an unofficial office for him during his frequent trips to the District, while being served hot popovers by the constantly present waitstaff, is exactly the kind of irony his critics note. Moore presents himself as an advocate for religious freedom, they note, even as he serves Trump, who hesitated to criticize Nazis after the violent rally in Charlottesville in August and called for a ban on Muslims coming to America.

This contrast is at the heart of the controversy around Trump’s evangelical advisory group. While informal and ad hoc, it is the president’s only known religious advisory body, and is homogenous in its makeup — no other faith groups are represented. While there was a specific evangelical advisory board of around 25 people during the campaign, since the election its membership has been fluid, and Moore says hundreds of evangelicals have been brought into the White House for group meetings on topics from Israel to mental health.

It’s difficult to gauge the group’s real power, but there is no question that the members have regular access and that their political opinions and friendship are sought by the White House. The leaders are understood to be Moore, Florida megachurch pastor Paula White and Tim Clinton, head of the world’s largest association of Christian mental health counselors.

Read the entire piece here.

Is Evangelicalism Experiencing a Lutheran Moment?

luther

Back in 1992, Mark Noll published a piece at First Things titled “The Lutheran Difference.”  In that piece he made the following observations:

  • Despite the popularity of Garrison Keillor, Lutherans have always appeared to be “on the fringe of American life”
  • Lutherans are “remarkably unremarkable.”  They are “pretty ordinary” or “ho-hum.”  Unlike evangelicals, for example, they do not have “spectacular stories of conversion.”
  • The history of Lutherans in America is very interesting.  It needs more attention.
  • Lutherans have much to offer Americans if they contribute to the culture “as Lutherans.” Lutherans can offer “resources” to Americans, especially other Protestants,” that “would be an incalculable benefit.”
  • Lutherans have always insisted history is important for the faith, while other American Protestants, especially evangelicals, have “proclaimed that the past is pollution.”  It was Lutheran Jaroslav Pelikan who wrote “tradition is the living faith of the dead” and “traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”  Noll writes: “American liberals, who want to fix things by themselves and right away, both need to learn from Lutherans that God’s concern extends over decades and centuries as well as over days, weeks, and months.”
  • Lutherans have much to offer in thinking about Christian political involvement.  Noll writes: “The dominant pattern of political involvement in America has always been one of direct, aggressive action modeled on Reformed theories of life in the world.”  He adds: “there have been only occasional examples of what could be called ‘Lutheran irony.’ In religious terms, this irony is the sense that precisely when Christians mount their most valiant public efforts for God, they run the greatest risk of substituting their righteousness for the righteousness of Christ, and thereby subverting justification by faith.”

I have been thinking about this piece (and Lutherans) a lot lately.  Evangelicalism may be experiencing (or perhaps should be experiencing) a “Lutheran moment” right now, at least in terms of political engagement.

Let’s remember that Luther believed the purpose of the secular government is to restrain evil, protect citizens, and promote justice. In other words, Lutheranism rejects the idea, made popular by Thomas Aquinas, that government plays a positive role in society by promoting the common good.  God redeems and justifies us in the kingdom of redemption, but government is part of the kingdom of creation.  In other words, government is necessary, but it cannot be redeemed.  Government cannot help in promoting the Kingdom of God.  Most Lutherans call this “2 Kingdom Theology.”

So why might we be having a Lutheran moment right now?  Let me suggest two reasons.

  1.  Many evangelicals who support Donald Trump have justified their vote based on something akin to Lutheranism. (Although they never reference it this way).  They argue that we should not expect government to do anything beyond protecting us and giving us liberty.  Government, for example, is not required to conform to the Sermon on the Mount or other teachings of Jesus.  This is the approach to government I hear most often from court evangelical Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  And while I think Jeffress misrepresents Lutheranism in several ways, his view of church-state relations seems closer to Luther (and Augustine?) than it does to Calvin or Aquinas.  As long as Trump is protecting us (building a wall, keeping Muslims out of the country, giving us religious liberty, etc.) then he deserves our vote despite his character.  (Of course even this theory does not explain everything, because many evangelical Trumpers voted for Trump because they believed he was a Christian.  I unpack some of this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. (Pre-order here).
  2.  Lutherans always remind us that there is a difference between the kingdom of redemption–the place where we are saved–and the kingdom of creation–the place where government resides.  Evangelicals always need to be reminded of this so they don’t confuse the two kingdoms.  Court evangelicals like Jeffress say that the character or policies of the president do not matter as long as he is protecting us. But they don’t usually behave this way.  Their behavior suggests that they REALLY believe that government should be active–very active.  It should be active in promoting their Christian agenda.

“Christian Politics?”: Week One

Faith and Politics

This morning I taught the first of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg.  We spent most of our time defining politics and examining five Christian approaches to political engagement.

I began with Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder’s definition of politics. Tinder writes: “Politics is the activity through which men and women survey the historical conditions they inhabit.”  I like this definition because it challenges us to think about politics beyond electoral politics and political parties.  According to Tinder, political engagement requires us to be “attentive” and “available.”  People who are attentive ask: “What are people in this world doing, suffering, and saying?”  Attentiveness moves from mere curiosity to politics when we make ourselves available.  People who are available ask” “Is there anything I can do about it?”

After we played around with this definition, I moved into a brief discussion of Christianity before and after Constantine.  I noted how Christian politics changed drastically after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.

We spent the bulk of our time discussion five approaches to Christian political engagement: Anabaptism, Lutheranism, the African-American Church, Calvinism, and Catholicism.

Since we had a lot of background work to do today, the discussion was limited.  I plan to allow more time for this in coming weeks.  I did get some really interesting questions though:

  • When did the idea of the “separation of church and state” develop?
  • Too what extent with the first-century Christians “atheists?”  (In other words, the Romans saw them this way because they did not worship the Roman gods)
  • Of the five Christian views of politics, which one was most influential at the time of the American founding?
  • In what way do pro-Trump Christians justify their vote using Lutheran theology?

Next week we will consider the following question: “How have American evangelicals practiced politics?”  We will try to unpack this question with three related questions:

  1. What is an Evangelical?
  2. What has Evangelical political engagement looked like in the past fifty years?
  3.  To what extent have Evangelicals drawn upon these historic models to craft their approach to politics?  In what way have they crafted a unique approach to politics?

We meet at 9:00am and 10:45am in room 202 at the church.

Christian Politics?: A 4-Week Class at West Shore Evangelical Free Church

westshoresign

Tomorrow at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania I will be leading a 4-week course titled “Christian Politics?”

Here is a description:

Christian Politics?

How should Christians engage in politics?  We will examine the historical roots of Christian participation in politics today as well as some popular approaches to Christian political activity.  We will think together about how we can be Christian citizens in a way that replaces fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia for the past with a healthier view of changes taking place in the moral life of the United States

Rooms 200-202.  9:00 and 10:45

I am still developing the course, but tomorrow we will be discussing different Christian approaches to politics:  Reformed, Lutheran, Anabaptist, African-American, and Catholic.

Quote of the Day

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism of the Pacifism as a part of his religion.  Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important.  Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the state at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…Once [he’s] made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing 

–Screwtape to Wormwood in C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996; originally published 1942), 34.

A Christian Nation or a Nation of Liberty? (You Can’t Have it Both Ways)

More from Glenn Tinder:

When Christians accept liberty they accept the possibility–a possibility that is almost certain to become a reality–of a world unformed and ungoverned by faith.  The natural inclination of faith is to build a sacred order–to reconstruct the world in its own image.  In granting liberty, it abandons that spontaneous project  It acquiesces in secularism–life unrelated to God and unstructured by faith.  Acknowledging the right of human beings to be free, it allows for a repudiation of faith…Granting liberty is making way for sin.

The Political Meaning of Christianity, p. 102.

ADDENDUM:  Several readers who are not familiar with my work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home seem to think that Tinder is arguing on behalf of a Christian nation.  Actually, Tinder is arguing for liberty rooted in the human dignity of all human beings and, as a result, a kind of pluralism.

Here is more context:

…when Christians commit themselves to liberty there follows an enormous complication of Christian morality; they deliberately refrain, in some measure, from resisting evil.  They allow the tares to grow with the wheat.

Did Lincoln’s Reliance on “Providence” Make Him an Incompetent President?

a0d2a-lincoln

This semester my Civil War class is reading Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIt is, without peer, the best book on Lincoln’s intellectual and religious life.  Others seem to agree.  In 2000, Guelzo’s biography received the prestigious Lincoln Prize for the best film or book about the Civil War era.  Last night we discussed chapter 8: “Voice Out of the Whirlwind.”

Guelzo argues that Abraham Lincoln, at least in his adult life, was never a Christian, but he did spend a lot of time reflecting on big questions about free will and determinism and their relationship to a force or supreme being that governed the world.  Lincoln, in his pre-presidential years, believed in what he called the “Doctrine of Necessity.”  He wrote: “I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the “Doctrine of Necessity”–that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control…”  Guelzo compares Lincoln’s view here to the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s “philosophical necessity,” a believe “that human beings possess neither free will nor the moral responsibility for the right or wrong actions that is supposed to follow the exercise of free choices.” (p.117).

During his presidency, Lincoln’s “Doctrine of Necessity” took on a more religious flavor.  He began to use the word “providence” to describe this “power, over which the mind has not control.”  He came to embrace a “divine personality” that intervened in human affairs. (p.328).

Guelzo argues, and quite convincingly I might add, that the Civil War led Lincoln to apply his view of “providence” to the political decisions he made as POTUS.  This was particularly the case in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.  The Proclamation was issued days after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam.  In a cabinet meeting following the battle, Lincoln uttered what Guelzo calls “the most astounding remarks any of [the members of his cabinet] had ever heard him make.”  Lincoln told the cabinet that he had become convinced that if the Union won at Antietam he would consider it an indication of the “divine will and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation.” (p.341).  He added, “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.”  Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation changed the course of the war.  The Proclamation made it a war that was less about preserving the Union and more about freeing the slaves.  It could be argued that it was the turning point of the Civil War.  And Lincoln made his decision by somehow interpreting (with much certainty) the providence of God.

After class, a student asked me if I thought a United States President could get away with this kind of presidential leadership today.  What if George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump made a republic-altering decision and said that it was based upon his reading of God’s providence? (Bush came close on numerous occasions).  There would be many evangelicals who might love such a claim.  But most Americans, including many evangelicals who believe in the providence of God but do believe we can know God’s will in every matter on this side of eternity, would think that such a decision-making process might be the height of presidential incompetence.

Jane Calvert on John Dickinson

The University of Kentucky is running a great piece on Jane Calvert, the planet’s foremost expert on John Dickinson.  As many of you know, Dickinson was the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767-68), a response to the Townsend Acts.  Though he was the primary author of the Articles of Confederation, he refused to sign the Declaration of Independence.  It’s a great story from revolutionary America and Calvert tells it well.

Read the piece here.

Or watch:

 

Trump Led Among GOP Evangelicals From the Moment He Came Down the Escalator

Republican U.S. presidential candidates Carson and Trump talk during a break at the second official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley

According to CNN polling and this excellent chart in Philip Bump’s recent piece at The Washington Postwhite evangelicals flocked to Trump from the moment he entered the race in June 2015.  With the exception of two months during Fall 2015, he led all GOP candidates among self-proclaimed white evangelical voters.

When Trump entered the race, evangelicals were leaning heavily toward Ben Carson and Scott Walker, but by July 2015 Trump had taken the lead among these values voters.  As Bump points out, this was precisely the time when Trump was scaring voters by talking about Mexican immigrants crossing the border and raping and killing American citizens.

Trump held his ground with white evangelicals through the summer before he was passed in September and October by Carson.  It is hard to fully understand why Carson surged among evangelicals during these months, but it is worth mentioning that during these two months the former brain surgeon:

The surge did not last. By the end of October 2015, Trump has recaptured his lead among evangelicals.  On October 28, he trashed Carson’s 7th Day Adventist faith.  By December, media outlets were questioning details of Carson’s life story and his ability to handle foreign-policy issues in the wake of the Paris shootings.  Carson was done.  By the second week of December, Ted Cruz had passed him among evangelical GOP voters.

Read Bump’s piece here.  It would have been nice if Bump included Marco Rubio’s support among white evangelicals in his analysis.

The Origins of “Judeo-Christian Values”

trump-evangelicals

Last week Donald Trump told conservatives at the Values Voter Summit that he will end “attacks on Judeo-Christian values.”  Over at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz is curious about the origins of the phrase “Judeo-Christian.”  (Some of you may recall that we have wondered about this as well).

Here is a taste of Gehrz’s post:

On Friday, President Trump told participants in the Values Voter Summit that “We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values.”

Now, critics found it hard to take the “Judeo” part seriously, given that Trump immediately followed that line with another version of his pledge to restore “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” And it’s highly problematic for an American president to defend a religious label that doesn’t describe almost 30% of the population. One wonders how Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and the fast-growing non-religious segments of the population feel about the president’s commitment to “Judeo-Christian” values.

But as a historian, I’m also interested in the origin of that phrase. In his critique of Trump’s speech, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin argues that “Judeo-Christian” is a creation of the Cold War, “an elegant way of saying ‘We are believers; the Russians aren’t.’” (And “a bone that America threw to the Jews, letting us think that our religious faith was an equal partner in American life…. But, in fact, this was never the case.”)

Read the rest here.

More on Judge Roy Moore

MooreRoy Moore is going to keep people like me busy.  If he wins the Alabama Senate seat in December he will go to Washington and continue to make his historically misinformed Christian nationalist claims.  But in terms of politics, I don’t think it really matters that Moore is probably going to the Senate instead of Luther Strange.  Both men will vote the same way on most issues.

Here is a taste of Rachel Chason’s Washington Post piece on Moore’s brand of Christian politics:

Roy Moore’s reading of the Bible has long informed the way the former chief justice of Alabama interpreted the law, and it promises to continue to do so now that he has won the Alabama Republican primary.

Moore, unlike any other Senate candidate in recent history, made his belief in the supremacy of a Christian God over the Constitution the cornerstone of his campaign.

“I want to see virtue and morality returned to our country and God is the only source of our law, liberty and government,” Moore said during Thursday’s debate with incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was backed by President Trump and the Republican establishment.

The central argument of Moore’s campaign, The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer reported, is that removing the sovereignty of a Christian God from the functions of government is an act of apostasy, an affront to the biblical savior as well as the Constitution. He even carries a pocket pamphlet that he published with a legal theory of God’s supremacy.

Read the entire piece here.

“Faith Facts” on Roy Moore

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

He may be the next senator from Alabama.  Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron provides five quick “faith facts” about Roy Moore:

  1. He is a Christian nationalist
  2. He was removed twice as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because of conflicts between his religious convictions and the law
  3. He is a Southern Baptist
  4. He believes Islam is a “false religion.”
  5. He does not believe in evolutio

See how Shimron unpacks these points here.

I was happy to contribute background to Shimron’s piece, especially on point #1 above.

Alabama Republicans May Have Just Sent a Christian Nationalist to the Senate

Judge_Roy_MooreIf Judge Roy Moore is able to defeat his Democratic opponent in December, his ticket to the United States Senate will be punched.  Last night Moore defeated Luther Strange in an Alabama special election to fill Jeff Sessions’s old Senate seat.  The election has been getting a lot of attention because Donald Trump backed Strange, the GOP “establishment” backed Strange, and most of Trump’s supporters in Alabama supported Moore.  But let’s also remember that Moore believes that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a Christian nation.

Moore made national headlines in 2001 when he was removed from his position as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because he refused to take down a monument of the Ten Commandments.  Moore was elected to Alabama’s highest court again in 2013, but was suspended in 2016 when he told probate judges under his authority to continue to enforce the state ban on same-sex marriage.  He resigned in April 2017 and soon after started his Senate campaign.

In August 2017, VOX reporter Jeff Stein interviewed Moore about his God and country beliefs.  Here is a taste of that interview:

Jeff Stein:

…Where should the limits be between religion and public life if you could?

Roy Moore:

You have to understand what religion is — the duties you owe to the creator.

And then it starts there first. You have to understand it was the duty of the government under the First Amendment, according to Joseph Story who was there for 37 years and wrote the stories on the Constitution.

It was the duty to foster religion and foster Christianity. He said at the time of the adoption of the Constitution that “it was the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America that Christianity ought to be favored by the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience.”

Read the entire interview and Stein’s accompanying article here.

Progressive Values, Secular Values, Religious Values

Coons

Over at The Atlantic, Delaware Senator Chris Coons is the latest Democrat to urge his party to embrace religion.

Here is a taste:

A pro-life church can still work with progressive groups to defend and welcome immigrants. An environmental organization that wants to fight climate change can team up with a faith-based organization that shares that goal, even if their members disagree on other issues. Jews, Muslims, and Christians can unite with Americans who practice no faith to march against a discriminatory ban on refugees.

The Democratic Party has to recognize that progressive values can’t be just secular values. It needs to see that we can only solve our nation’s most urgent problems and shape a more equitable America if we trust each other, listen to each other, and engage with those who are traveling along secular and scriptural paths.

Democrats welcome and celebrate our differences. Whether it’s race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation, we are fighting for a country that is open, tolerant, and accepting—and we shouldn’t yield an inch in that fight.

But we also need to recognize when we aren’t living up to our own admirable standard. We need to acknowledge when our own disagreements or beliefs keep us from engaging and working with those who might see the world differently.

Social progress is not a zero-sum game. Democrats can open our arms to new allies even if we don’t share all of their views. If we do, I suspect we won’t just move our party closer toward achieving our policy goals—we’ll move our nation closer to the promised land of civility, compromise, and progress.

Read the entire piece here.