Study: White Evangelicals are “cultural others” and the culture wars are getting worse

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia just released its 2020 survey of American political culture. It is titled Democracy in Dark Times. James Davison Hunter and Carl Desportes Bowman are the primary investigators/authors.

It is a very thorough study. Read it here. A few things the study tells us about White Evangelicals:

7 out of 10 “white evangelicals” believe that most opponents of Donald Trump are “socialists.”

9 out of 10 “white evangelicals” believe that the Democratic Party wants to transform the nation into a “socialist nation.”

86% of African Americans believe racism is a serious threat to America and its future. 70% of Hispanics believe this. 68% of White non-evangelicals believe this. But only 36% of “White Evangelical Protestants” believe racism is a serious threat to America and its future.

86% of African Americans believe economic inequality and poverty are serious threats to America. 68% of Hispanics believe this. 66% of White non-Evangelicals believe this. But only 37% of White Evangelicals believe inequality and poverty are serious threats to America.

91% of Blacks believe “the police and law enforcement unfairly target racial and ethnic minorities.” 60% of Hispanics believe this. 57% of White non-Evangelicals believe this. But only 17% of White Evangelicals believe this (83% disagree).

78% of African Americans favor some kind of “financial compensation to African Americans for their historic mistreatment of White Americans” (reparations). 41% of Hispanics favor reparations. 34% of non-Evangelical Whites favor reparation. But only 7% of White Evangelicals favor reparations.

The authors of the report write:

In sum, yes, there is a racial divide in America. Whites, Hispanics, and
African Americans do not share the same or even similar perspectives on
the history, experiences, and issues surrounding race, and the consequence
of this is misunderstanding, a lack of respect, and ultimately prejudice in
the everyday experience of Blacks and other minorities. But these points
of division are not equally or uniformly distributed across the population.
The deepest and most consistent racial division is found between White
Evangelicals and Blacks. Reconciliation begins with mutual understanding,
and by these lights, it is a long way off.

Here’s more:

26% of the African American community identify as “Evangelical.” According to the report, they are “entirely aligned with their larger racial community” on matters of race in America.

Black evangelicals “harbor more ‘conservative’ fears about crime and lawlessness, immigration, socialism, and the like than do secular Blacks. Even so, the two groups in our sample are not that far apart, especially in comparison with the great cultural distance between White Evangelical Protestants and White secularists.”

Evangelicals of color are nearly three times as likely as White Evangelicals to agree that “our founding fathers were part of a racist and sexist culture that gave important roles to White men while harming minorities and women.”

Evangelicals of color are twice as likely as White Evangelicals to see “Wall Street and the banking system as a very or extremely serious threat to America and America’s future.”

53% of White Evangelicals are Republicans. 35% of White Evangelicals are Independents. Only 7% of White Evangelicals are Democrats.

82% of White Evangelicals say that they are either “very conservative” or “somewhat conservative.” 15% of White Evangelicals describe their politics as “moderate.” Only 2% of White Evangelicals describe their politics as “liberal.”

The authors of the study conclude that White Evangelicalism, a movement that once was at the center of American religious and cultural life, has become a “cultural other” in the United States.

A majority of White Evangelicals believe that the opponents of Donald Trump are “misguided and misinformed,” “close-minded,” “dangerous,” and “arrogant and pretentious.”

Read the entire report here. The study concludes that “nearly 30 years after Hunter’s 1991 book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America…, the country is even more deeply fractured by ideology, religion, race, and income.”

Some quick and very preliminary thoughts on the evangelical vote in 2020

The best exit polling we have right now comes from Edison Research. The Washington Post summarizes it here. According to Edison, 76% of white evangelical voters chose Trump. 23% of white evangelical voters chose Biden.

In 2016, roughly 81% of white evangelicals chose Donald Trump and 16% voted for Hillary Clinton.

If the Edison research is correct, the white evangelical vote is fairly similar to the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections.

I don’t see much difference between the white evangelical vote for Trump in 2016 (76%) and 2020 (81%). In Believe Me, I explained why so many white evangelicals voted for such an immoral president. The reasons they did it again in 2020 are generally the same. I think the number is slightly lower this year because a small percentage of white evangelicals just grew disgusted by Trump’s character, handling of COVID-19, and his failures on race.

But why are Biden’s numbers in 2020 9% higher than Hillary Clinton in 2016? I see two related reasons:

First, Biden is not Hillary Clinton. Evangelicals are not supposed to hate, but they hate Clinton. Some white evangelicals who would never vote for Hillary were comfortable voting for Biden.

Second, there were no legitimate third party candidates. No Evan McMullen. No Gary Johnson. So more anti-Trump evangelicals, for reasons I mentioned above, voted for the Democratic candidate.

We will see if the work of sociologists and political scientists bear this out.

This is not some kind of white evangelical shift to the Democratic Party. Biden got roughly the same amount of white evangelical votes as Barack Obama and John Kerry. In other words, the narrative remains the same: an immoral and incompetent president, running for a second term, got a lot of white evangelical votes. Little has changed. This is the story historians will tell.

Faith leaders call for a “free and fair election”

Here is the statement:

We join together as leaders of faith across political, religious, and ideological differences to affirm our commitment to a free, fair, and safe election. The values of our faith traditions inform our dedication to this cause. All of the constitutional freedoms that we enjoy, including our religious freedom, depend on the integrity of our elections—the foundation of American democracy. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and other national challenges this election season, we express our support for the following commitments and call on all public officials, civic leaders, and all people in a position of power across the country to commit to the same:

  • Our leaders must ensure a free and fair election in which all eligible Americans can safely cast their votes without interference, suppression, or fear of intimidation.
  • Leaders and election officials must count every vote in accordance with applicable laws before the election is decided, even if the process takes a longer time because of precautions in place due to COVID-19.
  • Leaders should share timely, accurate information about the election results and resist and avoid spreading misinformation.
  • Leaders must actively and publicly support a peaceful transition of power or continuation of leadership based on legitimate election results.

The commitments outlined above are central to a functioning and healthy republic and they are supported by the vast majority of Americans, yet they are being challenged in unprecedented ways in the 2020 election. America is only as strong as its people’s commitment to our democracy and the freedoms and rights it ensures. We invite our neighbors of all beliefs and backgrounds to join us in this urgent commitment to support free and fair elections, especially at this crucial moment for our democracy.

Most of the signers are progressive or liberal faith leaders. Conservative faith leaders must not believe in a “free and fair election” or else they were not asked to sign. Or maybe they refused to sign because they did not want to be associated with liberals.

There are some notable evangelical and evangelical-friendly voices who signed this statement including:

Bishop Claude Alexander of The Park Church, (Charlotte, NC)

Manfred Baruch, Palmer Theological Seminary

Stanley Carlson-Thies, Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance

Galen Carey, National Association of Evangelicals

Shane Claiborne, Red Letter Christians

Walter Contreras, National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Richard Foster, Renovare

Justin Giboney, The AND Campaign

Roberta Hestenes, PCUSA Church

Dennis Hollinger, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Joel Hunter, Community Resource Network

John Inazu, Washington University

Walter Kim, National Association of Evangelicals

Mark Labberton, Fuller Theological Seminary

Samuel Logan, The World Reformed Fellowship

JoAnn Lyon, The Wesleyan Church

Walter McCray, National Black Evangelical Association

Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary

Napp Nazworth, freelance writer

David Neff, former editor of Christianity Today

Gabriel Salguero, National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Ronald Sider, Christians for Social Action

Boz Tchividjian, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment

Jim Wallis, Sojourners

Michael Wear, Public Square Strategies

Are you looking for some pre-election (or post-election) reading on religion and politics?

Election Day is a week away, but the subject of religion and politics is not going away anytime soon. Now is the time to contact Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books so you are prepared for the post-election reality.

Here is a taste of Borger’s latest newsletter:

I saw two yard signs yesterday, one that made me chuckle and the other that made me smile and then shake my head, just short of an eye roll. The more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me.

The first looked just like the ubiquitous, red, white, and blue ones and it looked so real. It read, “Giant Meteor 2020.” Another version out there says, underneath, “Just end it already.” Ha.

The other one that made me glad for a moment also looked real, but was no joke. It said, “Jesus 2020: Our Only Hope.” That’s true and good news, but, in a way, it frustrated me. Let me explain.

Beside the obvious quip that Jesus isn’t running in 2020, this beautifully well-intended sign says, by announcing this true truth — Christ is our only hope, a truth I hold as dear now as I ever have — as an alternative to the signs about which candidates to support, seems to imply that somehow we who believe in Jesus are above the fray. That because we know the ultimate hope and believe in the good news the Bible proclaims we are somehow exempt from the messy choices to be made this side of the new Jerusalem.

(Insofar as it serves as a timely reminder that neither party can provide ultimate hope and resists the overstatement of near messianic claims from the parties and candidates, I’m glad.)

As an evangelical myself, I’m always happy when people bear witness to the salvation offered by the cross, blood, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the true King. I mean that. (As long as the witness happens in a context of care and dignity, sensibly and kindly shared, of course.) So the sign made me smile, glad for a family that wanted to use the opportunity of putting out yard signs to put one out to point others to Jesus. I get it.

But, in the context of this custom of putting out political yard signs it seemed to maybe carry an implied message that this political stuff isn’t all that important, that Jesus is all that matters. It almost seemed to encourage political disengagement, poking at those who care about Biden or Trump or any number of local folks running. At least the cynical meteor one was a joke.

In the early ’70s we had a saying, inspired by a powerful gospel song by the late, great Andre Crouch. His song was “Jesus Is the Answer” and, like the “Jesus 2020” sign, it speaks true truth.

But then I learned another, harder, question, a necessary reply. It came from a black evangelist who marked my life in life-changing ways, Tom Skinner. Skinner cried, “If Jesus is the Answer, What Are the Questions?” That is, our faith dare not be reduced to cliches or slogans or inspirational bromides, no matter how pious or true. Like the way Jesus Himself is God incarnate in the world, we, too, have to live out God’s Answer in the world. Incarnational faith answers the question, “so what?” It offers real answers to real questions. Saying Jesus is the answer just isn’t enough.

In a way, that was part of the conflict between Jesus and the super-religious faith leaders of the first century. You study the Scriptures, he says to them, but don’t even know what they mean. You sound all religious, but don’t get the point. You want Messiah to come but you ignore me and my teachings. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus explained to these religious right leaders of his day what they were missing, the “weightiest matters of the law” — justice and mercy and fidelity.

Look it up if you don’t believe me. And then ask how the modern day religious leaders who lead people into voting for a white supremacist sexual abuser not known for honesty, let alone justice or mercy, might reply to Jesus. I guess their desire to take over the courts and “own the libs” is more important than hearing Matthew 23:23.

Read the rest here.

Western Michigan pastor resigns over Trumpism in his congregation

Another story about what Trumpism is doing to American Christianity. Here is Mitchell Boatman at the Holland Sentinel:

HOLLAND — Keith Mannes has given his life to the Christian Reformed Church, serving as a pastor for more than 30 years. He’s done so happily and thankfully.

But on Sunday, Oct. 11, Mannes gave his last sermon and walked away from ministry among increasing political tension and divisiveness.

Put simply, he stepped away due to the CRC’s broad support of President Donald Trump.

While Mannes loves the congregation he served at East Saugatuck CRC for the past four years, he says the church as a whole has “abandoned its role” as the conscience of the state in support of Trump, leading Mannes to step away.

“There’s a quote from Martin Luther King where he said, ‘The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state,’” Mannes said. “That just hit me hard because I think, broadly, the white evangelical community in our country has abandoned that role.

“The question of the church largely and how it’s functioned in this moment has been really disturbing. That’s been troubling enough that I need to lay it all down.”

Read the rest here.

A veteran pastor on evangelical support for Trump

For nearly three decades Jim Abrahamson has been a teaching pastor of the Chapel Hill Bible Church near the campus of the University of North Carolina and Duke University. He was instrumental in starting this congregation in 1971 with a group of about 20 students and young faculty. The ministry grew to include some 2000 individuals. The church has a reputation of being broadly evangelical in its theology, nondenominational in its affiliation, open minded in its learning style, lay centered in its ministry, and ecumenical in its community involvement. Jim is retired and no longer the lead pastor of the congregation. In the piece below he offers some thoughts on evangelicals, Donald Trump, and the coming election. This article reflects the thoughts of Jim Abrahamson and does not represent the official position of the Chapel Hill Bible Church or its staff.–JF

Brene Brown writes, “We’re tired of the national conversation centering on “What should we fear? and Who should we blame?” Our greatest challenge is not the pandemic, racial injustice, economic stress or climate change. I believe that the greatest challenge we face in our country at this time is leadership.

In my three decades of pastoral ministry as an evangelical Christian pastor I have learned that it is not circumstances that shape our lives going forward but rather how we respond to them. The majority of my evangelical friends believe that our current President is the clear choice in the upcoming election. Realizing that evangelical Christians will not be comfortable with everything in a particular party’s platform, we have got to decide what issues are most important. I am asking Evangelical Christians to reconsider what they believe to be most important based on the following scriptural principles.

Political involvement: My priorities with respect to my life as a US citizen are shaped by principles formed by Christian Scriptures. Jesus, in response to a poll tax to support the Roman Empire, instructed his followers to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). In the USA we have a government “of, by, and for the people,” which means we are called to be involved in politics. Our vote, voice, and virtue are not optional but a part of what it means to “render to Caesar.” For many it is surprising to note that Jesus seemed to have no problem paying taxes to support the corrupt Roman Empire. This challenges me to rethink what is most important in our political agenda as American Evangelical Christians. This leads to a second point.

Expectations: An important Biblical passage comes from St. Peter, “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (1 Peter 1:13). The Christian’s striving for social justice and peace is an important witness to a kingdom of God that is coming, but not expected to appear in this age. As Christians, our ultimate hope is not to produce a perfect society in this age. Our hope is in the return of Christ at the end of history. As the late Richard John Neuhaus put it, “We cannot expect the kingdom of God before its time and without its King.”

Jesus saw a distinction between our responsibilities to the Roman Empire, “rendering to Caesar” and imposing the principles of God’s kingdom,  “render to God the things that are God’s.” Civic virtue should not be ignored but Christians must decide where and  how to promote it.  When our vision to “Make America Great Again” is to make it our customized version of the kingdom of God, we misunderstand the Kingdom and lose credibility as witnesses for it’s Gospel. So what should Christians strive for as aliens in a “secular society”? This leads me to a third point.

Peacemaking: Evangelical Christians are to promote order, civility and good will as peacemakers. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). We are called to promote civil peace so that we can show and tell the Gospel’s hope to the world. The Gospel is about peacemaking – with God, our selves, and our neighbors, in that order. Christ does not call Christians to impose on the secular state, the same spiritual goals and moral boundaries that are expected of the Christian church. We are to invite individuals to be a part of Christ’s family. The civic protocol of our republic was shaped by the European Enlightenment, Classic GrecoRoman structures, and a generic, Biblical moral worldview.  The architects of our constitution did not frame America as a distinctly “Christian nation” and Christ did not seek to influence the world through political, military or economic power. His kingdom was to emerge, not through controlling people from the top down, but by from the bottom up, changing hearts one by one. A key characteristic that we as evangelical Christians should look for in our president is the ability to be a peacemaker so that we can effect change through the popular support of “we the people.”

Character in leadership makes a big difference in peacemaking, and “promoting the general welfare.” Leaders must promote respect for our civic institutions (like the presidency and the press), model common values of our republic (like truthfulness and compassion), and be both civil with others and a servant of the people. We need a president who is a wise, healthy, adult who possess characteristics that mark him or her as an effective political peacemaker displaying characteristics like:

  • Truthfulness – Respecting common facts of reality, and transparency, not deceptiveness
  • Trust – Respecting others, dependability, earning other’s respect
  • Tolerance – Forbearing with diversity and differences
  • Tenderness – Empathetic, compassionate, gracious
  • Toughness – Perseveres wisely with courage, and stamina, not as a childish bully but after the manner of a true civil servant.

I am concerned as I observe President Trump unashamedly sow fear rather than trust, build walls rather than bridges, and foster vitriol rather than compassion and empathy. He seems too comfortable with lying, focusing on optics rather than reality, and self-interest rather than the “general welfare.”  If this is allowed to continue we will survive as a nation but the credibility of evangelical Christian’s witness will be so damaged by their association with Trump, that any superficial gains will not be worth the losses incurred.

As citizens, we dare not overlook the character defects of our President and we must ask ourselves, does Donald Trump exemplify the traits necessary to lead us through this stressful period of our history in bringing us together? In contrast, Joe Biden has a long and consistent pattern of personal strength in these areas. He has a track record as an empathetic bridge builder with strong family values, a sound faith, and a history of perseverance through many personal trials. Noting Jesus’ encouragement to “seek the truth” and “fear not,” I have concluded that Biden is better suited to lead our nation than Trump.

In the Kingdom of God, the means are a part of the ends. When the devil tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:8-10) he offered him “the world’s kingdoms and their glory” if he would only give up the means, and Jesus  said “no.” However, many evangelicals are saying “yes.”

Faith leaders for Biden

Faith-2020-Overlay

As I said last night, I was eager to see the list of 350+ faith leaders who will be voting for Joe Biden in November. Last night I finally got a chance to see the list. I don’t recognize most of the names, but here are a few that caught my eye:

Lisa Sharon Harper, Joshua DuBois, Amy Butler, Gene Robinson, Serge Duss, Rob Schenck, Brian McClaren, David Gushee, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, John Pavlovitz, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, and Diana Butler Bass.

350 faith leaders will endorse Joe Biden

sider_horz

Ron Sider endorses Joe Biden

Here is Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service:

More than 350 faith and community leaders are planning to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris this week, adding their voices to the campaign as it ramps up its engagement with religious groups.

According to a list shared exclusively with Religion News Service by organizers, the mass endorsement will come from a diverse slate of religious leaders, many of whom are backing a candidate publicly for the first time.

The Rev. Fred Davie, a Presbyterian minister and executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, was the chief organizer of the endorsements. “Our country is at an historic inflection point and in desperate need of moral leadership,” he said in a statement to RNS. “This election presents a stark moral contrast between the common good values of the Biden-Harris agenda and the divisiveness of the current administration.”

Davie is also chair of the multi-religious advocacy group Faith 2020.

Other endorsers — most of whom organizers said are acting as individuals and not on behalf of their affiliated organizations — include a number of liberal-leaning voices, such as the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, an author and Lutheran pastor; David Gushee, an author and Christian ethicist; David Beckmann, president emeritus of the Christian organization Bread for the World; Diana Butler Bass, author and historian of religion; Rabbi Jack Moline, head of Interfaith Alliance; Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action; the Rev. Jacqui Lewis, pastor at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City; Rabbi Sharon Brous, head of IKAR Jewish community in California; Valarie Kaur, Sikh activist and head of the Revolutionary Love Project; Anju Bhargava, former member of Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and board member of the Hindu American Seva Communities; Imam Talib Shareef of Masjid Muhammad, also known as “The Nation’s Mosque”; Greg M. Epstein, Humanist chaplain at Harvard and MIT; and Brian McLaren, Christian author and activist.

Read the rest here.

Nothing new here. What I really want to see is a list of white evangelicals who will be endorsing Biden. As far as I know, Ron Sider is the only person mentioned in this article who identifies as an evangelical. Of course there could be others. I am eager to see the entire list.

Night four at the 2020 DNC convention

Biden nominee

It was a great night for the Democratic Party. I don’t think they could have done this convention any better. Frankly, it may have been more effective than a traditional arena convention. The GOP has a tough act to follow.

Below are a few thoughts, based on some of my live-tweeting.

Let’s start with the segment on Biden’s Christian faith:

A few thousand white evangelicals from Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona might decide this election:

But here is a way that Democrats can keep more white evangelicals after November 2020:

Delaware Senator Chris Coons gave a good speech that echoed yesterday’s Fox News op-ed on Biden’s faith. But Coons did not address anything I wrote about in the tweets above. If Biden can address these issues between now and November he could win a record number of white evangelicals. He could easily connect his platform to a real conversation about abortion. The religious liberty stuff will be a little more difficult without offending the left-wing of the party.

Let’s move on to history.

I am still waiting for someone to tell me when the last time a historian spoke in a prime time slot at a political convention.  Jon Meacham was excellent:

So please take the following tweet in that context:

My historian students–both at Messiah University and the Gilder-Lehrman
“Princeton Seminar”–know that the roots of the United States are located in more than just the British settlements.

And as long as we are talking about history:

You can also do a lot of other things with a history major.

The segment with Biden’s Democratic primary rivals was amazing. I could have watched another hour of this conversation. As Cory Booker said, it was like the show with all the contestants “voted off the island” on “Survivor”:

A quick thought on Michael Bloomberg’s speech:

Not all evangelical celebrities support Donald Trump:

Biden gave a great speech. I appreciated his call to find one’s “purpose” in life.

The exact quote was: “As God’s children each of us have a purpose in our lives.”

And the following:

I was also pleased to see this speech seasoned with the words “hope,” “humility,” and “history.” I feel like I’ve heard those words before. 🙂

Here is the Seamus Heaney quote from “The Cure at Troy” that Biden used in the speech:

History says,

Don’t hope on this side of the grave,

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme

The next verse (which Biden did not use in the speech) reads:

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracle

And cures and healing wells.

Read Biden’s entire speech here.

Mark Silk: “Trump’s 2020 religious attack on Biden harks back to 1800”

NO GOD

Here is Mark Silk at Religion News Service:

In case you hadn’t heard, last week President Donald Trump attacked his presumptive Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, on religious grounds. “No religion,” declared Trump. “No anything. Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God.”

It’s been 220 years since the religion card was played so bigly in an American presidential campaign. The precedent is more apt than you might think.

The election of 1800 pitted the incumbent president, John Adams, against his old-friend-turned-bitter-rival Vice President Thomas Jefferson. In the two-party system that had emerged in the 1790s, Adams was the Federalist, Jefferson the Democratic-Republican. The Federalist case against Jefferson centered on charges that he was a “Jacobin,” a radical on the order of the French revolutionaries he had admired since serving as American ambassador to France in the late 1780s.

In a series of newspaper articles published in 1798, Alexander Hamilton attacked those revolutionaries for trying to “undermine the venerable pillars that support the edifice of civilized society,” not least by “the attempt … to destroy all religious opinion, and to pervert a whole people to Atheism.”

Hamilton claimed that Jefferson was, like them, an atheist who, with the help of fellow American Jacobins, would pursue the same agenda if elected. In the words of another Federalist writer, the choice was clear: “GOD—AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT … [or] JEFFERSON AND NO GOD.”

And this:

Unlike Trump, John Adams did not himself attack Jefferson for irreligion. And unlike Biden, who called Trump’s attack “shameful,” Jefferson did not publicly respond to the attacks. As he wrote to James Monroe, “As to the calumny of Atheism, I am so broken to calumnies of every kind … that I entirely disregard it.”

Read the entire piece here.

The analogy is not perfect, but there are certainly similarities. Trump’s words about Biden play upon white evangelical fears over the decline of “Christian America.” Similarly, anxiety over the secular assault on America’s Christian political institutions played a predominant role in the presidential election of 1800. Adams was a New England Federalist who defended the idea that republics only survive when built upon the moral foundations of Christianity. Jefferson, Federalists believed, was most responsible for allowing infidelity to flourish in America.

Jefferson had the support of frontier, largely uneducated, evangelicals–such as Methodists and Baptists–who shared his commitment to religious liberty. It is noteworthy that the religious liberty-loving ordinary farmers supported that supposed “anti-God” candidate.

The Federalists, mostly members of the educated classes, called attention to Jefferson’s heretical beliefs: Jefferson did not believe in the Trinity, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the divine inspiration of the Bible. He was not the kind of leader who should be the president of a Christian nation, the Federalists said, and they were prepared to stage an intense political campaign to discredit him before the American people.

The attacks on Jefferson’s supposed godlessness were relentless. William Linn, a Federalist minister from New York, chaplain of the House of Representatives, and a former president of Queens College (today Rutgers University), opposed Jefferson’s candidacy because of the vice-president’s “disbelief in the Holy Scriptures…his rejection of the Christian religion and open profession of Deism.” Linn feared that under Jefferson’s rule, the United States would become a “nation of Atheists.” Linn made clear that “no professed deist, be his talents and acquirements what they may, ought to be promoted to this place [the presidency] by the suffrages of a Christian nation.” He even argued that the act of “calling a deist to the first office must be construed into no less than rebellion against God.” For Linn, the evangelical choice was clear. If the people were to choose “a manifest enemy to the religion of Christ, in a Christian nation,” it would be “an awful symptom of the degeneracy” of America.”

Upon hearing that Jefferson was elected, frightened New England evangelicals thought that the new president’s henchmen would soon be coming to their towns and homes on a mission to take away their Bibles.

The faith of Kamala Harris

Kamala

Yonat Shimron has some initial reporting on Joe Biden’s running mate at Religion News Service. A taste:

Few, if any, vice presidential candidates have had as much exposure to the world’s religions as Kamala Harris, the 55-year-old senator from California whom Joe Biden just picked as his running mate.

Harris’ ethnic, racial and cultural biography represents a slice of the U.S. population that is becoming ascendant but that has never been represented in the nation’s second-highest office.

Here are five faith facts about Harris:

She was raised on Hinduism and Christianity.

Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was from Chennai, India; her father, Donald Harris, from Jamaica. The two met as graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her name, Kamala, means “lotus” in Sanskrit, and is another name for the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. She visited India multiple times as a girl and got to know her relatives there.

But because her parents divorced when she was 7, she also grew up in Oakland and Berkeley attending predominantly Black churches. Her downstairs neighbor, Regina Shelton, often took Kamala and her sister, Maya, to Oakland’s 23rd Avenue Church of God in Oakland. Harris now considers herself a Black Baptist.

Read the rest here.

Joe Biden pushes back on Trump’s “hurt the Bible, hurt God” comment

BIden 3

Get up to speed here.

Here is The Washington Post‘s Election 2020 blog:

In a late-night statement, Biden criticized the president for suggested that Biden hates the Bible.

“For President Trump to attack my faith is shameful,” Biden said in a statement. “It’s beneath the office he holds and it’s beneath the dignity the American people so rightly expect and deserve from their leaders. However, like the words of so many other insecure bullies, President Trump’s comments reveal more about him than they do about anyone else.”

“My faith teaches me to love my neighbor as I would myself, while President Trump only seeks to divide us. My faith teaches me to care for the least among us, while President Trump seems to only be concerned about his gilded friends,” Biden wrote. “My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump teargassed peaceful protestors so he could walk over to a church for a photo op.”

Read the rest here.

Joe Biden’s National Faith Engagement Director is an evangelical Christian

DicksonHis name is Josh Dickson. He was a leader in Campus Crusade for Christ during his undergraduate days at the University of Michigan. Many of his relatives attended Moody Bible Institute. His Christian faith led him to a job as a teacher in the poor neighborhoods of the South Side of Chicago. He voted for George W. Bush in 2004, but was inspired to become a Democrat by reading Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope.

Here are some quotes from Michael Gryboski’s recent Christian Post piece on Dickson:

Dickson believes some evangelicals are moving toward supporting Biden. An example of this, he said, is seeing evangelical leaders’ embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We have seen evangelicals marching in the streets, we have seen evangelicals talking about Black Lives Matter and speaking and praising Black Lives Matter,” said Dickson. “We’ve seen a tremendous response from individual pastors who have large followings who have marched in the streets. We’ve seen leaders, elected leaders who have marched in the streets from evangelical backgrounds.”

This level of support leads Dickson to conclude that “the real religious issue in this election is fighting systemic racism.” Biden, he said, has an advantage in handling that issue.

I appreciate Dickson’s arguments here. I hope he is right. But I don’t think many evangelicals believe systemic racism is “the real religious issue” in this election.

If the number of white evangelicals who vote for Trump in November 2020 drops below the 81% that he received in 2016, it will be because evangelicals are just tired of Trump’s lies, disgusted with his tweets, and upset with his handling of the coronavirus. They may not like Trump’s racism or his handling of Floyd protests either, but I am not sure they are going to vote for Biden (or not vote for Trump) because they want to fight systemic racism.

Here is more from the article:

When asked by CP about concerns over Biden’s stance on abortion, religious liberty, and similar issues, Dickson responded that “there’s room for disagreement” on these matters.

“I know that not everyone is going to agree with him on everything. We’re a big tent party as Democrats. Joe Biden is someone who is putting forward a vision that is inclusive,” said Dickson. “We want to be working with as many people as possible.”

“I see the values that Joe Biden lives by. I see the values that have been reflected in the history of his involvement in public life. And I see the ways in which he’s going to lean into this moment right now where our country is hurting.”

If Dickson wants to get white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 into the Biden camp he is going to have to do better than this. He needs to get his candidate to say something concrete about the reduction of abortion in America. The numbers of abortions in the country are on the decline and he needs to show how he will sustain this downward trend.

Dickson needs to convince Biden to connect his policies on poverty and systemic racism to the reduction of abortion. If systemic racism is indeed “the real religious issue” in this campaign, then why not bring up the fact that addressing this problem has the potential to lower the number of abortions in America? In other words, Biden should articulate the connection between racism, poverty, and abortion. This will not win over most white evangelicals, but it could secure votes from those who are looking for any good reason to vote for Biden.

Dickson also needs to convince his candidate that our democracy is better when faith-based institutions such as schools, colleges, hospitals, and social service agencies are allowed to uphold their deeply-held religious beliefs about marriage and abortion. Rather than going after faith-based institutions in order to appease the left of the Democratic Party, Biden can win the hearts and minds of many white evangelicals by articulating a more robust vision of pluralism.

Read the entire Christian Post article here.

Court Evangelicals and “Court Protestants”

Trump at St. Johns

Over at a website devoted to “contemporary evangelical perspectives for United Methodist seminarians,” Mark Gorman, a Methodist pastor and theology professor, has expanded the idea of “court evangelical” beyond evangelicalism.

Here is a taste of his piece, “Court, Evangelicals, Court Protestants“:

It does not take a cynic to wonder whether some of the outrage directed at the forty-fifth president should be redirected toward the churches and denominations that have spent decades, or even centuries, fostering the kind of conditions that result in a congregation proclaiming itself the “church of the presidents.”

I say “churches and denominations” because I know full well how United Methodists, and our predecessor denominations, have insinuated ourselves into a similar position as St. John’s and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. We have welcomed with open arms presidents and other figures of great political power, regardless of their moral character or the consistency of the policies with Christian teachings, and we have been sure to let the world see this casual familiarity.

In so doing we have tried to convince ourselves, and others, that we might somehow influence these figures, might redirect their efforts to the benefit of all. Historian John Fea has aptly identified prominent evangelical supporters of the current president “court evangelicals,” but (United) Methodists, Episcopalians, and other mainline denominations could just as easily be called “court Protestants” of presidential administrations in general.

Read the entire piece here.

I told the story of this kind of “court Protestantism” (although, of course, I did not use the phrase) in the latter chapters (covering the first half of the 20th century) of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

Trump’s Profanity

Trump Bible St. Johns

20th-century German Catholic moral philosopher Josef Pieper has been the gift that keeps on giving for me this week as I try to make sense of everything going on. Today, I want to call your attention to Pieper’s 1969 essay “The Sacred and Desacralization.” It provides some theological guidance as we try to make sense of Donald Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church yesterday.

Pieper starts with a story:

Frankfurt, Germany; the end of May 1948. St. Paul’s Church has been restored, in the midst of a city which still lay in ruins, for the centennial celebration of the founding of the German National Assembly. The German Writers’ Association, which had just been founded, was also holding a little festivity inside the bright, mottled sandstone rotunda. People left the radiant morning behind them and strolled into the building, engaged in lively discussions and moderately curious. A number of them, quite unabashed, continued smoking until they had finished their cigarettes, or started to light another. But then they were told, “Please don’t smoke, we’re in church!” The man next to me looked up in surprise: How could this be considered a church? I agreed with him in the sense that the form of a building alone is not enough to make it a church. After a while my neighbor went on: “And even if it were a church, a real church, why, after all, should one not be allowed to smoke?….” One year later in Berlin-Treptow, a district of East Berlin, once again people were instructed to obey the prohibition against smoking, this time when they entered the giant memorial park for the fallen solders of the Red Army…And a short time ago, in Israel–in a discreet but very firm tone–the same injunction was issued, in the restaurant at my hotel, when some Americans guests at a nearby table had finished their dinner and were taking out their cigarettes: “No smoking please!” “But why not?” This time the reason was not the place but the time. It was Friday evening and the Jewish Shabbat had begun.

Some of my evangelical friends might resist the lesson of this story. But though they may not smoke in church, they do indulge in other things during religious services. Most evangelicals do not have a very robust view of sacred space. As a result, they may not have much of a problem with what Trump did yesterday.

Pieper continues:

Clearly in none of these cases is the prohibition of smoking motivated by any practical consideration or obstacle, as it would be in auditorium or an operating room; nor is it motivated by any fear of the danger of fire…Nor does the prohibition imply any condemnation of smoking in general, any intimation that smoking is an activity in which it is really improper for people to engage. Instead it is clearly designed to call people’s attention to a boundary, to the border line separating a particular place or a particular, unusual span of time from all other, ordinary places and times, and to point out the contrast between them. The person who crosses the threshold into this “other” domain, is expected to behave in a way different from his normal behavior.

When Donald Trump used the property at St. John’s Church for his Bible-toting, violence-endorsing, race-baiting photo-op, he was engaging in profanity in the truest sense of the word. He was soiling a sacred space. I think there is a lesson here for all evangelical leaders who want to bring political speech–the language of the profane–into their churches.

Pieper elaborates further:

The purpose of the rules is the expression of reverence and respect. Respect for what? It must be for something which demands and deserves homage and veneration. If the stranger then asks what is the exact nature of this thing which is worthy of veneration, probably the answers he would receive could not so easily be reduced to a single common denominator. In any case, he would inevitably be told that this thing was in some sense “holy” (or ought to be “holy”) to human beings…

Pieper reminds us that the word “sacred” in English means “set apart.” There are certain places that “stand out from that which is everywhere and all the time, and which thus possess a peculiar and exceptional worth.”

Here is Pieper on profanity:

The “profane” is the realm of the commonplace, of that which is not endowed with this [that of sacred space] exceptional character.  By no means is “profane” necessarily synonymous with “unholy,” although of course there is also such a thing as the expressly unholy, which at the same time constitutes something in the highest degree profane.

Pieper one more time:

And regardless of whether the members of a religious congregation regard themselves as parochia (from the Greek paroika), ” a group of strangers or sojourners” (whence our word “parish”), or whether they consider themselves the citizens of the coming Kingdom, they draw a boundary line between themselves and the normal, everyday way of life, as it is lived by the citizens of an ordinary community. They may celebrate their liturgy in a makeshift church in the suburbs; in the dancehall of a village where the Diaspora has driven them into exile; in a cathedral whose costly hall is filled with stained-glass windows symbolizing the Heavenly Jerusalem; or in a concentration camp where, for a few minutes, a living wall of bodies creates a makeshift sanctuary and screens it from the grip of executioners. All these places have one thing in common: They stand out, by their poverty as much as their splendor and prodigality, from the dwelling places of everyday existence, from their death penury as well as from their deceitful luxury and comfort.

And nothing seems more natural to a man, when he is inside such an enclosure, than to behave “differently” than he behaves in other places such as a sports arena or a place of business. Naturally, in this sequestered place one continues to speak a human language, and yet it is “different” language–different in character, in intonation, in vocabulary, in gesture.

When Donald Trump moved from the Rose Garden to St. John’s Church he was moving, at least in terms of the Christian faith (as opposed to, say, American civil religion), from a profane space to a sacred space. When he arrived, he committed an act of profanity at a sacred or holy place.

The Problem With Providence

c7789-trump

Over the last year I have received a lot of critical e-mails questioning my faith because I am not willing to assert that Donald Trump is God’s anointed servant to save America from the liberals (mostly Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama).

In the last couple months, I have also received e-mails from Christian anti-Trumpers who write to tell me that COVID-19 is God’s punishment on the United States for electing Donald Trump.

Even if you believe in the Christian doctrine of providence,  as I do, both of these positions are theologically problematic.

Does it make theological sense to invoke providence in political debates? Should we build our approach to politics and government on this doctrine? How do we reconcile providential claims–and the sense of certainty that comes with them–with St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  The Christian scriptures teach that God is the “blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” who “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1 Tim. 6:15-15). And let’s not forget Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,/ neither are your ways my ways,’ / declares the LORD.’ / ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, / so are my ways higher than your ways / and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

St. Augustine is helpful here. In book 20 of The City of God against the Pagans, he reminds us what Christians can and cannot know about God’s work in the world. History will end with the glorious triumph of the Son of God. But as we live with this hope, we must be cautious about trying to pinpoint the specific plan of God in history. We must avoid trying to interpret what is hidden from us or what is incomprehensible, because our understanding is so limited. As Augustine writes,

There are good men who suffer evils and evil men who enjoy good things, which seems unjust, and there are bad men who come to a bad end, and good men who arrive at a good one. Thus, the judgments of God are all the more inscrutable, and His ways past finding out. We do not know, therefore, by what judgment God causes or allows these things to pass.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who had a strong view of God’s providential ordering of the world, warned us about trying to get too specific in explaining the ways in which God’s work manifests itself in the world. In his book, American Providence, the late theologian Stephen Webb notes, Barth went so far in “advising restraint, modesty, and caution in the use of this doctrine that he nearly undermines his own insistence on its importance.”

The great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was also clear about what Christians can and cannot know about the will of God in human history. Luther always erred on the side  of mystery: God is transcendent and sovereign; humans are sinful and finite. During the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther was quite candid about the human quest to understand God’s purposes in the world. “That person, Luther wrote, “does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.”

When it comes to politics, Christians would do better to embrace an approach to citizenship with a sense of God’s transcendent mystery, a healthy dose of humility, and  a hope that one day soon, but not now, we will all understand the Almighty’s plans for the nations. We should again take comfort in the words of Augustine: “When we arrive at that judgment of God, the time of which in a special sense is called the Day of Judgment,…it will become apparent that God’s judgments are entirely just.” The will of God in matters such as these often remain a mystery. As theologian Charles Mathewes notes, “The lesson of providence is not that history can be finally solved, like a cryptogram but that it must be endured, inhabited as a mystery which we cannot fully understand from the inside, but which we cannot escape of our own powers.

I like to season any providential invocations with words like “perhaps” or “maybe” or “might.” Or as theologian N.T. Wright has argued, “When Christians try to read off what God is doing even in their own situations, such claims always have to carry the word perhaps about with them as a mark of humility and of the necessary reticence of faith. That doesn’t mean that such claims can’t be made, but that they need to be made with a “perhaps” which is always inviting God to come in and say, ‘Well, actually, no.'”

Has Cardinal Timothy Dolan Compromised His Moral Clarity?

Dolan Trump

John Gehring, the Catholic Program Director for Faith in Public Life, thinks so.

Here is a taste of his piece at the New York Daily News:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and other prominent Catholic bishops should ask themselves whether their moral clarity is compromised after a recorded phone call between President Trump and members of the hierarchy surfaced earlier this week.

During the call, which took place on Saturday and was first reported by the Catholic news outlet Crux, Trump declares that he is “best [president] in the history of the Catholic Church,” and describes himself as the most committed anti-abortion president in history. While the call covered a range of issues, including support for Catholic schools, the president’s efforts to end abortion and his reelection prospects became a focal point.

“I hope that everyone gets out and votes and does what they have to do,” the president implored some 600 Catholic educators and a number of leading bishops who dialed in to the call, including Dolan, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Trump warned that if he is defeated in November, “You’re going to have a very different Catholic Church.”

None of the Catholic leaders challenged the president’s cruelty toward immigrants, denial of climate change, cuts to food assistance or his pattern of racist demagoguery. This was a missed opportunity to speak truth to power.

Catholic teaching can’t be reduced to a single issue. Pope Francis is unequivocal that the “lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute” are as “equally sacred,” in his words, as the unborn in the womb.

At times, the call exuded the bonhomie of an old boys club. The president praised Cardinal Dolan as a “great friend,” adding that he always respects what the cardinal “asks for.” Dolan responded that “the feelings are mutual sir,” joking that the two speak so frequently that his elderly mother complains “I call you more than I call her.”

And the court evangelicals garnered a reference in Gehring’s piece:

To be clear, Catholic bishops have at times issued strong statements challenging the Trump administration’s actions impacting immigrants and have objected to how the administration’s tax policies favor the wealthy. Compared to the circle of evangelical flatterers Trump surrounds himself with to convey religious support, Catholic leaders are far more critical of the president than white evangelicals. But if bishops in particular want to avoid becoming the Catholic version of what the religious historian John Fea calls “court evangelicals,” they can start by recognizing the dangers that come with cozying up to a president who consistently makes a mockery of Christian values.

Read the entire piece here.