Not Since the Kennedys


It appears that Catholicism has returned to the White House.

One of the things we learned during the Trump visit to the Vatican is that Melania Trump is Catholic.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports at The Washington Post. 

A taste:

After she met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, first lady Melania Trump confirmed a little-known fact about her faith: She is Catholic. And she described the visit with the leader of the Catholic Church as “one I’ll never forget.”

While President Trump referenced his Presbyterian identity during the campaign, her faith did not come up. He and the first lady were married in 2005 in an Episcopal church in Palm Beach, Fla., where their son Barron Trump was later baptized.

The church’s rector performed a traditional Episcopal wedding service, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. “The bride walked down the aisle carrying only an ancient rosary, not to Lohengrin or Wagner, but to a vocalist singing Ave Maria in an exquisite soprano voice,” the local newspaper reported.

Her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham confirmed in an email that Melania Trump identifies as Catholic, but Grisham did not respond to questions about whether the first lady attends Mass regularly at a specific parish and whether the first family are current members of a church. The first lady, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, grew up in what is today Slovenia, which has been heavily influenced by Catholicism.

During their visit to the Vatican on Wednesday, the pope blessed the first lady’s rosary beads, and the two had a lighthearted conversation about what she feeds her husband. She spent time in front of a statue of the Madonna at the Vatican’s children’s hospital and laid flowers at its feet.

Read the rest here.


Did Benjamin Rush Believe That the U.S. Constitution Was Ordained by God?

benjaminrushIt certainly seems that way.

As Spencer McBride, the author of the newly released Pulpit & Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary Americawrites in a recent post at The Junto blog:

Rush was a Philadelphia physician, an eager student of the Enlightenment, and—during the late 1880s, at least—a devout Christian. He had signed the Declaration of Independence as a member of the Continental Congress, but left public office in 1778 to pay full attention to his medical practice. His election to the Pennsylvania ratifying convention marked his reentry into the political arena. Convention minutes recorded Rush asserting that he “as much believed the hand of God was employed in this work [of drafting the Constitution], as that God had divided the Red Sea to give passage to the children of Israel or had fulminated the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai!” To Rush, “the unanimity of the [Constitutional] Convention, the general approbation of the Constitution by all classes of people, and the zeal which appeared everywhere… from New Hampshire to Georgia,” were “reasons to believe that the adoption of the government was agreeable to the will of Heaven.” He argued that “the Vox Populi” was the “Vox Dei;” that in a republican government, God manifested his will through the people. As the convention’s secretary summarized the speech, Rush was expounding upon a “new species of divine right.”

But McBride suggest that it is more complicated than this.  He continues:

As for the ideological context of Rush’s metaphysical language, we have seen that biblical references were prevalent in American political culture at this time. But because of Rush’s religious devoutness, it is possible to view his rhetorical style as possessing a greater level of biblical literalism than we would assume in the writings of men such as Thomas Jefferson, who used biblical allusions in a far more conventional way. When Rush used religious language in his letters and speeches, it was often as a way for him to mesh his religious beliefs with his scientific and philosophical studies. He recorded many of his meditations on this subject in his commonplace book. In one such instance, he wrote that “The affairs of men are governed alternately by and contrary to their wills, to teach us both to use our Reason and to rely upon Providence in all our undertakings.” On another occasion, he wrote that “God reveals some truths to our senses and to our first perceptions,” but that “many errors are [also] conveyed into the mind through both, which are to be corrected only by reason.” As an example of such a multifarious path to knowledge, Rush explained that without astronomical inquiry and investigation, mankind might still believe that the sun revolved around the earth. For Rush, men and women did not need to choose between enlightened reason and revealed religion. As paths to knowledge, they were complementary and codependent. Accordingly, Rush sought to make sense of the Revolutionary events shaping his life by Christianizing the Enlightenment and enlightening Christianity.

It was likely in this vein of thought that Rush professed his strong approval for the Constitution. Though his use of biblical language aligned with earlier American precedents for appropriating religion for ostensibly political ends, the ideological implications of Rush’s claims went beyond mere political propaganda. It had been over a century since the divine right of kings had been a viable political theory in the British Atlantic. Constitutional thought in England, and subsequently America, had been largely shaped by the liberalism of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and others who maintained that civil society originated by social compact and not by divine appointment. By 1788, these ideas were prevalent—even commonplace—in American society. But the idea that some form of divine intervention influenced state formation had not yet vanished entirely. Rush had not been in the Constitutional Convention, but owing to his experience as a former member of Congress, he found it incredible that the framers had agreed on a system of government despite the many competing interests of the states they represented. When Rush ascribed the near unanimity of the delegates to divine intervention, he was suggesting that God still intervened in the formation of civil governments, but that such intervention occurred in more enlightened, republican ways. It was, in a sense, the divine right of republics.

Read the entire post here.

Some Quick Thoughts on Donald Trump and 2 Corinthians 3:17

Trump at Liberty 2Donald Trump is getting a lot of heat from the media for the way he pronounced 2 Corinthians 3:17.

The verse reads “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.” (Trump used the King James Version, although the same translation can be found in other versions as well).   He cited the passage by saying “Two Corinthians 3:17” instead of the more evangelical-friendly “Second Corinthians 3:17.”

A few thoughts:

  1.  Trump’s pronunciation is quite common among Christians (and evangelicals) in the United Kingdom and I have heard this pronunciation used many times by American evangelical ministers as well.
  2. Most American evangelicals would have said “Second Corinthians 3:17.” Trump’s pronunciation thus shows how little he knows about the American evangelical subculture even as he claims to understand them.  He does not speak evangelicalese.
  3. Finally, anyone who thinks that the big story of Trump’s visit to Liberty is how he cited this Bible verse is missing the bigger picture .  From a historical point of view, the Liberty response to Trump illustrates yet another case study of the close relationship between evangelicals and the GOP that began about forty years ago. From the perspective of Christians, Trump’s visit should cause serious concern, especially when Jerry Falwell Jr. holds Trump up as a Christian who follows the Golden Rule, displays Christian “fruit” (he quoted Matthew 7–“by your fruits you shall know them”–to describe Trump in a positive light), and has “radical” ideas just like Jesus did.
  4. I wonder if Trump realizes that this verse has nothing to do with political liberty.

When Did Evangelicals Re-Enter the Public Square?

As we discussed here yesterday, historians seem to be divided over the exact moment when evangelicals entered the public square. In the recent issue of The Journal of Southern Religion and in his book Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America, Randall Balmer argues that evangelicals abandoned public life following the Scopes Trial of 1925 and returned again with force in the 1970s when they forged what we know today as “The Christian Right.”  (As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, Balmer is drawing from Joel Carpenter’s work in Revive Us Again).

Other scholars–such as Daniel Williams and Darren Dochuk–have argued that evangelicals have never ceased being active in the public and political sphere.  The 1970s was certainly something new, but the Right’s activism in this decade and beyond was not without precedent in the 20th century.

Now Diane Winston has entered the fray on the side of Williams and Dochuk (she only mentions Dochuk by name) with her piece over at Religion Dispatches entitled “Tea Party, Circa 1930s: A Response to Michael Kazin.” Winston chides Kazin’s recent New York Times op-ed on three fronts. 

First, she argues that Kazin fails to take religion seriously in this piece.  (In his defense, Kazin has taken religion seriously in the past.  I am thinking here of his excellent A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan.)

Second, she argues, contra Kazin, that Christian political activism was not new to the 1970s.  Rather, evangelicals were politically active through much of the century, especially in their resistance to the New Deal in the 1930s. 

Third, she notes that the American left has not disappeared.  There are still many religious Americans on the left who are crusading for social justice, equality, human rights etc… but we do not hear about them because their stories do not make for the kind of news that is attractive to the large corporations that control the media.

Here is a taste:

So, rather than accept the well-worn narratives of the right’s post-70s juggernaut and the left’s post-60s demise, consider an alternative view of the “facts.” In this scenario, the melding of politics and economics into an implicitly religious worldview dates back to the 1930s. Moreover, the left is alive and well, and corporate media—far from being the tool of liberals—colludes with the right by pursuing its own agenda of covering only the news that’s safe, and profitable, to print.