My Review of the Netflix Documentary “The Family”

The FamilyMy review is online today at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

Historians of American Christianity were hard at work trying to convince academics and the general public that evangelicalism was a religious movement, not a cover for a nefarious attempt to create a 17th century Puritan theocracy. The efforts of these historians, of course, did not come easy during the Age of Reagan, the Moral Majority and the so-called culture wars. Sharlet’s book didn’t help the cause.

But much has changed in the past decade. In fact, Moss and Sharlet’s documentary, which devotes the bulk of its coverage to developments in “The Family” after 2010, is quite timely. The Christian Right has found renewed energy since President Trump’s election. Christian nationalism, the idea that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation and needs to return to its religious roots, is on the rise. Many pundits and scholars wonder if the evangelical movement can be separated from the agenda of the Republican Party.

It’s time to examine Sharlet’s work (and now Moss’ work) with fresh eyes and for this reason alone, “The Family” is must viewing.

Read the entire review here.

Americans Have Always Believed That They Were Living in a Christian Nation

Is Governor Mike Pence an Evangelical Christian?

pence-and-trump

It sure looks like it.

Tomorrow Donald Trump will pick his running-mate. Indiana governor Mike Pence is on the very short list.  As someone interested in the religious beliefs of politicians (and how those beliefs may or may not inform their policy proposals), I went searching to learn more about Pence.

The best thing I found was a 2013 blog post by journalist Craig Fehrman.

Here is a taste:

In 1994, the Indianapolis Business Journal published a terrific profile of the 35-year-old Pence. There, he described his faith quite openly: “I made a commitment to Christ. I’m a born-again, evangelical Catholic.” You don’t see that combo every day, even in Indiana, but the Journal had caught Pence at a time when he was oscillating between his upbringing and his evangelical faith. Pence’s parents raised their children Catholic, and Pence served as an altar boy and went to a parochial school. In college, however, he fell in with a nondenominational student fellowship group — he wouldn’t tell me which one — and made his “commitment to Christ.” That didn’t end his commitment to Catholicism, and when Pence graduated in 1981 he worked as a full-time Catholic youth minister and even applied to D.C.’s Catholic University. The plan was to become a priest, he told the Journal, and while it didn’t work out Pence was still attending mass in the late ’80s, when met his wife at Indy’s St. Thomas Aquinas.

At some point in the mid ’90s, Pence and his young family switched to an evangelical mega church. (In 1995, he told the Indianapolis Star that they attended the city’s Grace Evangelical Church.) Whatever the route, though, the destination is pretty clear: Pence’s evangelical faith has informed every aspect of his political career. Here are a few of many, many examples, drawn from his early years in Congress:

  • During the 2000 election, the Star described Pence’s debate with Democrat Bob Rock: “Pence, who said he attends an evangelical Christian church, asked Rock, a Catholic, if he would support Richard Gephardt as speaker of the House if the Democrats gain control, even though Gephardt supports abortion rights. ‘I would never support him on the issue of abortion,’ said Rock. ‘I am as pro-life as you are and that is not an issue in this campaign.’”
  • In 2001, the newly-elected Pence talked to The Hill about his marriage: “He never dines alone with a woman who is not his wife. And when his wife is absent, he never attends events where alcohol flows. ‘If there’s alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me,’ Pence said. As it happens, Pence frequently turns down invitations for drinks or dinner from male colleagues. ‘It’s about building a zone around your marriage,’ he observed.”
  • In 2002, Pence talked to Congressional Quarterly about Israel: “‘My support for Israel stems largely from my personal faith,’ Pence said in an interview March 18. ‘In the Bible, God promises Abraham, “Those who bless you I will bless, and those who curse you I will curse.” So, in some way, I don’t fully understand [U.S. policy]. I believe our own national security is tied to our willingness to stand with the people of Israel.’”
  • In 2003, Pence talked to Human Events about whether or not he could block Medicare Part D: “I don’t know, but God has surprised me a few times since I got here, and I hope He’ll surprise me again.”

Today, there’s no question that Pence’s religion continues to shape Pence’s politics. Andrew Phipps, a Hoosier politico who also hosts gospel TV and radio shows, put it to me this way: “I don’t think Mike will ever forsake his core values — the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and our great heritage of faith, family, and freedom.”

What has changed is Pence’s willingness to discuss just what makes up that religion. This has always struck me as somewhat shady — in a case like Pence’s, it’s essentially a politician who refuses to disclose his politics. Then again, the pattern now applies to almost every subject with Pence. He used to be a frank and fascinating interview. In 1994, he described his pre-Reagan politics like this: “[Carter] was a good Christian. Beyond that, there was a sense of, ‘Why would you elect a movie star?’” In 1995, he openly criticized Rush Limbaugh: “Conservative media, including Rush, have a tremendous blind spot when it comes to making a distinction between differences in public policy and personal differences.”

Read the entire piece here.  As I wrote yesterday, if Trump picks Pence he will shore-up his already rising supporting among conservative evangelicals.

Any Indiana insiders who can add anything to this post?

This Week’s Patheos Column: "John F. Kennedy, Rick Santorum, and the Separation of Church and State"

In case you haven’t heard, John F. Kennedy’s view on church and state makes Rick Santorum want to throw up. Yes, you read that correctly. This weekend in an interview with George Stephanopolous, Santorum stood behind an earlier campaign statement in which he said that he almost vomited the first time he read Kennedy’s September 12, 1960 speech to a group of southern Baptist ministers in Houston.

What was it about JFK’s speech that made Santorum so nauseated? According to the former Pennsylvania senator it was Kennedy’s statement: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

Since this statement prompted such gastronomic discomfort for Santorum, it is worth looking closely at how Santorum interpreted that line from Kennedy’s speech and what exactly Kennedy meant when he uttered it.

Read the rest here.