Walking Back Metaxas’ Tweet on Biden to Blackface Days

Metaxas

Religion News Service asked me to write something on this. Here you go:

Eric Metaxas, a Christian author, radio personality and one of the president’s most prominent court evangelicals, wants to make America great again. Earlier this week we got a glimpse of what he might mean by such a return to greatness, and it speaks volumes about the state of white evangelicalism in the age of Donald Trump, particularly as it relates to race.

Last week, Metaxas published a tweet in response to Joe Biden’s comments during a radio interview with African American talk show host Charlamagne tha God. At the end of the interview, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

Metaxas reacted on the social media platform that he has called “a sick and nasty place”:

Just now Joe Biden tried & failed to walk back his ‘You ain’t black comment’ by saying ‘Sho nuff you is so shizzle ain’t black! Cuz Massa Trump be fixin to put all y’alls behinds back in chains! You done got you sefs no choice in dis hyah. And that’s a FO sho for sho!”

Metaxas eventually deleted the tweet and then devoted part of his own syndicated radio program this week to defending it. Metaxas claims he was poking fun at how Biden’s use of “black lingo”— especially the former vice president’s use of the phrase “ain’t black”— serves as an example of how “old white Democrats” co-opt African American speech for political gain.

Biden’s comment was, as many have pointed out, inappropriate and offensive for its presumption to speak for African Americans. Metaxas’ tweet, however, was worse. His language tapped into the nearly 200-year-old practice of blackface minstrel shows, a form of white entertainment that has long been a source of pain in the African American community.

Read the rest here.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler on His 1998 Defense of Slavery: “It sounds like an incredibly stupid comment, and it was”

mohler

I really don’t have much to add to Jonathan Merritt’s piece at Religion News Service.  I would just ask people to think about the possible links between Mohler’s 1998 statement (and his views on race generally) and his current support for Donald Trump in 2020.

Here is a taste of Merritt’s piece:

In December of 2018, Albert Mohler, longtime president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, released a report detailing and denouncing the school’s legacy “in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and even the avowal of white racial supremacy.”

The report was a historical reckoning for one of the nation’s largest evangelical seminaries, Mohler said at the time. While it denounced the racism in the school’s deep history, the report avoided any assessment of the school’s more recent past, including Mohler’s own time there as a student and his tenure as a president.

Mohler’s views about race and slavery came under scrutiny this week after comments he made in a conversation with Larry King in 1998 recently resurfaced.

In that interview, Mohler said that while the Bible does not endorse slavery, it does require slaves to obey their masters. When asked if that rule applied to runaway slaves, like the famed Harriet Tubman, he said that there is no loophole for disobeying. 

On Friday (May 15), Mohler told Religion News Service he was wrong. 

“It sounds like an incredibly stupid comment, and it was,” he said, after hearing his remarks from 1998. “I fell into a trap I should have avoided, and I don’t stand by those comments. I repudiate the statements I made.”

A review of documents, transcripts, videos, audio clips and interviews relating to Mohler’s beliefs and behaviors as a student and as the school’s president reveal Mohler may have more to repudiate and repent of.

Read the rest here.

Where are the Moderate Evangelicals Today?

Trump evangelical

We know where the court evangelicals stand on impeachment.  They believe that Donald Trump is God’s anointed and the Democratic opposition are working on behalf of Satan.  The Catholic Bishops have not made a statement. Christian Century magazine, an important voice of mainline Protestantism, supported impeachment.

Where are the moderate evangelicals?  Christianity Today has not commented on impeachment.  The National Association of Evangelicals has not made a statement.  The Twitter feeds of evangelicals who do not affiliate with the Christian Right are generally quiet.  Why?  Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service is asking a similar question.  In fact, I talked to her about this for her recent piece.

Here is a taste:

But there was no editorial on Trump’s impeachment in the pages of Christianity Today, the flagship news site for moderate evangelicals.

“It’s very much a political story, and it’s hard to find a uniquely Christian angle to it, which is what would be required for us to comment on it,” said Editor in Chief Mark Galli. “Certainly there are ethical issues at play, but there are ethical issues at play in every political story. If we commented on each one, we’d be Politics Today.”

Christianity Today did publish commentary by Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald on Nov. 26, in which the two writers asked evangelicals to think through whether speaking out about impeachment will hinder or help their gospel witness.

The National Association of Evangelicals was likewise mum. An assistant to incoming President Walter Kim said he would not assume office until Jan. 1 and was not available to comment. Outgoing President Leith Anderson was unavailable.

Read the entire piece here.

A few quick thoughts:

1. The National Association of Evangelicals is going through a transition period.  Let’s give them a pass.

2. Mark Galli’s answer is disappointing.  I think a lot of moderate evangelicals look to Christianity Today for advice on how to think Christianly about political issues.  The impeachment of a United States president is pretty important, so I don’t think Christianity Today is in danger of becoming Politics Today if it brings some Christian thought to bear on this story.

3.  Perhaps moderate evangelicals have been quiet about impeachment because they are just too busy.  We are in the midst of Advent.  Evangelicals, and all Christians, have more important things to think about right now.

RNS Covers the Retirement of National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson

Leith

Here is a taste of Adelle Banks’s piece at Religion News Service:

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Leith Anderson is a fan of the word “evangelical” and the Christians who claim that name.

But he knows the term may have outlived its usefulness in a polarized country where evangelical has often become a synonym for conservative Republican.

“I like the word ‘evangelical.’ I would like it to stand for what I think it has always stood for,” the retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals said in a recent (Nov. 19) interview. “But if people want to abandon the term, let them abandon the term. That’s really not what matters. What really matters is their faith and their practice.”

Anderson, who has been NAE president since 2006, has worked to help people understand the diversity of what and who evangelicals are. He’s done so in the face of public polls showing that “white evangelicals” are among the most ardent supporters of President Donald Trump and his policies.

The longtime pastor wants evangelicals to be defined by their faith — not their politics.

“I want the standard to be what the Bible teaches, not what the polls report,” he said.

John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College, said Anderson has successfully balanced the NAE’s stances — advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, welcoming refugees and opposing racism while supporting traditional marriage and opposing abortion.

But Anderson, whom Fea called a “quiet spokesman” with a pastoral heart, has been overshadowed by fellow evangelicals Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. Those two are often seen as public faces of evangelicals and more likely to be quoted in the media.

“It’s a very awkward place,” said Fea, author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” “It doesn’t fit well in talk radio or the talking heads screaming at each other on cable news.”

Read the rest here.

My Piece Today at Religion News Service: “Trump’s evangelicals bewail a ‘civil war’ while still profiting from the last one”

Trump Jeffress

Here is a taste:

But Jeffress also seemed to forget another important point about American civic life in his civil war comment. The United States, after all, had a real Civil War, in which over 600,000 lives were lost.

Did the country heal after this war?

The United States still exists, implying that some healing certainly took place. But the war also left us with some open wounds. The war brought an end to slavery, but it did not bring an end to the racism upon which slavery was built.

These wounds are still open and Jeffress’ own First Baptist Dallas, with its long history of segregation, has contributed to keeping them open. His congregation was built upon a Civil War fracture that has not yet healed. Under his leadership, it has failed to confront its long-standing commitment to racial injustice in any meaningful way.

We don’t need to fear a new civil war. Instead, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, we still need to bind the wounds of the old one. The impeachment and removal of Trump will be a step toward the ongoing work Lincoln called us to do.

Read the entire piece here.

Big News on the Religion Journalism Front

In case you haven’t heard:

BOSTON (April 24, 2019) – The Conversation US, Religion News Service (RNS), The
Religion News Foundation (RNF) and The Associated Press (AP) are creating a global religion journalism initiative to grow and strengthen religion, ethics and spirituality news reporting in the United States and around the world, funded by an 18-month, $4.9 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. It is one of the largest investments in religion journalism in decades.

The funds will allow the establishment of a joint global religion news desk aimed at providing balanced, nuanced coverage of major world religions, with an emphasis on explaining religious practices and principles behind current events and cultural movements. Each organization retains editorial control of its respective content, which will be labeled and distributed by AP.

“Thanks to the Lilly Endowment, The Conversation can now expand the coverage we give to ethics and religion, which is one of our eight areas of editorial focus,” said Bruce Wilson, chief innovation and development officer of The Conversation. “Through this collaboration with the AP, RNF and RNS, The Conversation can bring our fresh insights to an even wider range of audiences across the country and globally.”

The Conversation US, an independent, nonprofit publisher of explanatory journalism and analysis sourced from academic experts, will work with scholars to provide readable content about religion, spirituality and ethics for the general public. The Conversation’s content is shared for free through a Creative Commons license – and through AP – with a wide and diverse network of hundreds of republishers in the U.S. and beyond.

Staffed by journalists from AP and RNS, a subsidiary of RNF, and editors from The Conversation, the global religion news desk will produce multiformat religion journalism intended to improve general understanding and analyze the significance of developments in the world of faith.

As part of the initiative, AP will add eight religion journalists; RNS will add three religion journalists; and The Conversation will add two editors to cover religion, ethics and spirituality. Additional business staff will also be hired across the organizations.

“The Global Religion Journalism Initiative grant fundamentally transforms religion journalism in the U.S. and globally,” said Thomas Gallagher, president and CEO of the Religion News Foundation and CEO and publisher of RNS. “It is deeply affirming and humbling to be entrusted with this important grant, especially at a time when competent, reliable, professional religion journalism is needed now more than ever.”

“This collaboration significantly expands AP’s capacity to explore issues of faith, ethics, and spirituality as a social and cultural force,” said AP Vice President and Managing Editor Brian Carovillano. “We are delighted to be working with these organizations to produce meaningful religion journalism that will help inform audiences across the globe.”

The grant is part of Lilly Endowment’s support for efforts that strengthen the public understanding of religion. Grants have helped fund other media projects, including RNF’s support for RNS and documentaries about religious leaders and traditions.

“This collaborative initiative among RNF, The Associated Press and The Conversation is  groundbreaking and demonstrates significant promise to strengthen both the volume and quality of religion news reporting,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “We are excited that the initiative will help to ensure that fair and accurate news coverage about religion will reach broad audiences and increase understanding about the role of religious faith in shaping national and international events.”

Maybe Bruce Springsteen Was Born to Run Home

springsteen netflix

Springsteen on Broadway (courtesy of Netflix)

Religion News Service is running my piece on Catholicism and “home” in “Springsteen on Broadway.” Needless to say, I had fun with this one.

Here is a taste:

Yet, as Springsteen knows all too well, escaping a Catholic past in the Irish and Italian enclaves of working-class New Jersey is not easy. “You know what they say about Catholics … there’s no getting out … (the priests and nuns) did their work hard and they did it well.”

Springsteen understands that the past often has its way with us — shaping us, haunting us, defining us, motivating us and empowering us. Like a priest conducting Mass, he asks the audience to receive the Lord’s Prayer as a “benediction” — perhaps a final blessing from a music legend who was never quite able to outrun the sound of the church bells.

Maybe this is what it means, as he wrote famously in “Born to Run,” to “get to that place where we really want to go” where we can “walk in the sun.” Maybe Bruce Springsteen was born to run home.

Over the years, Springsteen has become the darling of progressive politicians. He campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and (briefly) for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But when he tells his story on Broadway, he transports us back to a day when progressive ideals and the relentless quest for the American dream were not separated from tradition, roots, place, a longing for home, and Christian faith.

Read the entire piece here.

New Developments in the John Allen Chau Story

We have done several posts on the death of John Allen Chau, the missionary killed by the indigenous inhabitants of North Sentinel Island off the coast of India.  It seems like we learn more and more every day about this tragic event.  Religion News Service reporter https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js“>Jack Jenkins shared some new and relevant information on Twitter today:

What Should We Make of Yesterday’s Exit Polls on Religious Voters?

Vote church

Mark Silk of Religion News Service interprets the exit polls:

  • White evangelicals voted for Republicans.  (Surprise!)
  • Protestants constituted less than half of the electorate for the first time in U.S. history
  • Catholics were split, but they leaned Democratic.  This may be because of the Latino vote.
  • Trump’s support of Israel did not sway Jewish voters.  In fact, their support for Democratic candidates doubled
  • “Nones” voted Democratic

Silk concludes: “The bottom line, as moving parts of the American religious system continue their recent trends, is clear: Republicans beware.”

Read the entire piece here.

Mark Silk: May 2018 Was a “Humiliating Month”

WeinstienOver at his blog at Religion News Service, Trinity College professor Mark Silk reminds us what happened this month as it relates to the #MeToo era:

  • The elders of Willow Creek apologized for casting doubt on women’s allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of departing senior pastor Bill Hybels
  • Paige Patterson, denigrator of women, was relieved of the presidency of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary.
  • “The judgment of God has come,” wrote Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
  • Harvey Weinstein left a New York Police Department precinct in handcuffs.
  • And then there was Morgan Freeman, the Voice of God Himself.

Click here to get the entire list.

What is Happening at Religion News Service?

RNSI have done a lot of writing for Religion News Service over the years.  I hope to continue writing for the site.  I am also a big fan of their reporting.  When the names Yonat Shimron, Adelle Banks, Emily McFarland Miller, or Kimberly Winston come across my feeds, I take notice.

But it appears that the syndicated news service has been facing some difficult challenges of late.  It’s a complicated story and Julia Duin’s piece at Get Religion unpacks it well.  I was most interested in the part of the story dealing Richard Mouw, the evangelical theologian and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary.  Here is a taste:

Last summer, Mouw was growing increasingly disenchanted with President Trump and wondered how he should confront his fellow evangelicals about the unqualified support many were still offering the chief executive. The most obvious editorial vehicle he could use was “Civil Evangelicalism,” Mouw’s regular column for RNS. But how to do so?

Mouw remembered a time back in 1980 when the senior Falwell had echoed the words of Southern Baptist Convention President Bailey Smith, who said that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” Falwell later said he agreed with Smith (Read this Washington Post story for details of who said exactly what) but seemed to modify his tune after a trip to New York, where he met with Jewish leaders.

However, it’s important to note that Mouw’s column said the following, concerning Falwell’s actions (without mentioning Smith):

… Then there was the time when [Falwell] said in a speech that God does not hear the prayers of Jews. This comment provoked an outcry from Jewish leaders. Your father’s immediate response was to call the folks who had criticized him and ask for a meeting. He flew to New York and spent several hours in discussion with these religious leaders. A rabbi friend who was present told me that your father was sincerely humble in his apologies. And when the meeting was over, your dad issued a statement asking Jews for forgiveness for what he had said.

Recalling this incident nearly 40 years later, Mouw, decided to post an open letter to Jerry Falwell Jr., one of the most visible evangelical supporters of the president.

“I said, ‘Look, isn’t it time to admit you were wrong about Trump?’ ” Mouw told me Wednesday. “I said, ‘Look, your dad was willing to admit he made a mistake.’ ”

RNS posted Mouw’s open letter on Aug. 9. You can read it on the website of The Colorado Springs Gazette, since this opinion piece has been deleted from the RNS home page.

It didn’t take long for Mouw to hear back from the younger Falwell.

“Within a day,” he said, “I get an email from the legal department of Liberty University saying I had defamed the character of Jerry Falwell, Sr.; that he’d never said that and I had to publish a retraction or they’d take legal proceedings against me.

Read the rest here.