Thoughts on Samuel Alito’s recent speech to the Federalist Society

Some say Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito got too political in his recent speech to the Federalist Society. Others say his speech merely repeated arguments he has made in formal Supreme Court decisions.

Both sides of this debate are correct.

Watch:

Several of you have asked me to comment on the speech. So here goes:

First, Alito’s lecture defends free and open public discourse. He wants a country in which we respect “rational, civil speech on important subjects even if we do not agree with what the speaker has to say.” I appreciate Alito’s use of the word “rational” here. We should respect free speech that is based on facts, truth, and good science. This kind of speech is essential to the health of the republic, but we are not doing a very good job at supporting it. (Again, I point you to the statement on free speech published recently at Harper’s).

Second, Alito is correct to suggest that “tolerance for opposing views” is in “short supply” in the “broader academic community.” I completely agree with this. Some of us experienced this intolerance over the summer when we dared to suggest that the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) mishandled a paper presentation by historian Daniel Feller.

Third, Alito argues that the pandemic has “resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” It is hard to argue with this as a statement of fact. We have had to curb our liberties in order to stay safe. But unlike Alito, I do not see a major problem with this. I think one can make a strong case from American history that there are times when we have placed duty over liberty and the common good over individual rights. The pandemic is one of those cases.

Fourth, Alito takes a shot at the progressive commitment to “expertise.” He is especially upset with the way governors use executive power to enforce pandemic restrictions that reflect what the scientists (experts) are telling them. If I understand him correctly, he believes that legislative bodies, not governors, should make decisions about COVID-19 restrictions.

Fair enough. But in a pandemic like this one it seems as if governors, in consultation with scientific experts, should be the primary decision makers. I am going to sound like an elite founding father here, but I wonder if we really want legislative assemblies–the people– making decisions in a pandemic, especially if they are not in close contact with experts who know how to handle such situations. If some of these state legislatures got their way back in March and April 2020 it is likely that even more people would have died from this virus. I am thankful for the work of governors such as Andrew Cuomo, Gretchen Whitmer, Mike DeWine, Tom Wolf, and Phil Murphy who are leading their respective states through this major health crisis. Let’s remember that these governors are also elected officials.

Fifth, Alito is worried about the future of religious liberty in the United States. He is right to do so. Alito offers three cases that concern him: Little Sisters of the Poor vs. Pennsylvania; Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman (Ralph’s Pharmacy); and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (Jack Philips).

The Little Sisters of the Poor should be allowed to do whatever they want to do with their healthcare plan. If they refuse to provide contraception to their employees because of deeply-held religious beliefs, they should be permitted to do so under the First Amendment.

I am also sympathetic to Alito’s position (and Clarence Thomas and John Roberts) in the Ralph’s Pharmacy case. If I owned a pharmacy I would have a moral objection, because of my pro-life beliefs, to selling morning-after pills.

What about the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case? (The Court defended cake maker Jack Philips with a 7-2 decision on narrow grounds that did not get to the heart of the real religious liberty issues at stake). For me there seems to be a difference between selling an abortifacient and baking a cake for a wedding. But I realize other Christians might think differently and I want to respect their right to do that.

All of Alito’s religious liberty arguments in his Federalist Society speech make sense to me. I appreciate how he understands these issues in the context of efforts to create a more “inclusive” or pluralist society. John Inazu’s Confident Pluralism is the best book I have read on the subject. In terms of legislation, I recommend taking a look at the Fairness for All Act.

Sixth, Alito connects his thoughts on COVID-19 restrictions to his thoughts on religious liberty issues. Over the last several months religious conservatives have complained that Nevada allowed casinos to stay open, but limited the number of people permitted in churches. I am once again with Alito here. Why were casinos privileged over churches? I would argue, contra John MacArthur, that both should have been closed or restricted.

Seventh, Alito argues that COVID-19 restrictions have curbed free speech. He predicts that anyone who says “marriage is a union between one man and one woman” will soon be labeled a bigot. I am not aware of cases where the free speech of someone who believes in traditional marriage has been threatened, but I am sure there are examples out there. (It is also unclear how Alito’s concerns about this issue are related to COVID-19). I hope Alito’s prediction here is wrong, but I don’t think it is.

It is worth noting that not all people who believe in traditional marriage are homophobic or oppose the legality of LGBTQ marriages. (In the same way, people can be pro-life on abortion and still care about women’s health or even oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade). Most defenders of traditional marriage want society to respect the rights of institutions–churches and schools come immediately to mind–whose members have deeply-held religious views on the matter.

All of this makes me wonder if someone who upholds a traditional view of marriage could land could land a job at public or non-religious college or university today. Probably not. I also imagine that my general support of Alito in this post would eliminate me from consideration for such a position at a college or university. I made a similar suggestion in this 2016 piece at Aeon. But I digress…

In the end, I am persuaded by much, but not all, of what Alito had to say in this speech.

Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler makes it official. He voted for Trump

We have written before about Al Mohler‘s support for Donald Trump. Just to be clear, Mohler is not arguing, like some evangelicals, that Christians should not vote for Biden. He is arguing that Christian should vote for Donald Trump.

Here is the crux of his recent piece:

  1. Trump or Biden might die and Mike Pence is a better option than Kamala Harris. Mohler writes, “I do not have to blink in deciding between the prospect of a President Mike Pence versus a President Kamala Harris.”
  2. Trump lacks basic moral character, but so does Biden.
  3. Mohler would prefer to have Biden as a neighbor, but he is not voting for a neighbor.
  4. Mohler believes that “love is to be the animating motivation for political action.” Love, he writes, “leads to policies that have good moral effects.”
  5. The Democrats embrace a “culture of death” because of their position on abortion.
  6. Mohler did not vote for Trump in 2016, but he will in 2020 because Trump has delivered on his pro-life promises (read: abortion). He goes as far to say that “Donald Trump has been the most effective and consequential pro-life president of the modern age.”
  7. Religious liberty is under threat
  8. The group “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” is “insanity.”
  9. Not voting for Donald Trump is the same thing as voting for Joe Biden
  10. Black people have the right to vote for Democrats, but he does not share their values.

Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian and former member of the Obama White House, responds:

By the way, if you want to understand the “historical reasons” Wear is talking about here I would encourage you to read Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. (I know, I know, this is blatant self-promotion. But give me a break–I may only have one more week of relevance with this book! 🙂 )

Is Donald Trump “the greatest defender of life, family, and religious liberty to take the White House in decades?

Court evangelical Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, recently tweeted:

Is Trump really a president who values life? I assume that Perkins is referring to abortion here. But there is not a single baby in the womb who has been saved because of a Trump policy or appointment. In fact, as conservative writer David French has noted, “unlike George W. Bush–who signed into law a born-alive infant protection bill and a partial-birth abortion ban–Trump has not signed a single significant piece of pro-life legislation.” His piece “Do Pro-Lifers Who Reject Trump Have ‘Blood on their Hands’?” is worth reading in full.

If we expand “pro-life” beyond abortion, Trump seems to have very little regard for life. More than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19. Trump is not responsible for all of their deaths, but we cannot ignore his failure to act swiftly and quickly to protect the American people. When it comes to protecting life Trump is woefully inadequate. Here is Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed b y their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

On November 3, 2020, we get the opportunity to rebuke Trump for failing to protect our right to life. His presidency has been “destructive” on this front. His failure to act early on the virus, his refusal to listen to scientific experts, and his mocking of masks and social distancing, has not kept us safe.

And as long as we are talking about life, what about Trump’s refusal to acknowledge America’s race problem? Instead of addressing the systemic racism that is getting Black men and women killed, Trump has ignored the lives of African Americans, preferring instead to emphasize law and order. Is this a president who values life?

Perkins also thinks Trump is good for families. Let’s remember that the Trump administration has separated thousands and thousands of children from their parents. But I guess these families don’t matter because they are not Americans.

One could also ask whether parents want their children watching a president on television and the Internet who demonizes his enemies, lies endlessly, sleeps with porn stars and talks about grabbing women’s body parties, disparages women, etc., etc., etc. Is Trump really pro-family, Tony? Do you want your grandkids watching this president? I know he is not a “pastor-in-chief,” but don’t you want your president to be a person of character–a role model to children and families? Please tell me how you reconcile the Trump presidency with your so-called “family values.”

Finally, Trump gives lip service to religious liberty, but he has done very little to advance it beyond speeches. Contrary to popular opinion, Trump did not remove the Johnson Amendment. His religious liberty commitments come down to “guidance letters” to protect prayer in public schools. Some of his followers actually believe he overturned Engle v. Vitale, the Supreme Court ruling that removed mandatory prayer from public schools. He did not. Trump doesn’t care about religious liberty. Evangelicals are getting played.

Don’t be fooled by Donald Trump. He does not care about life, the family, or religious liberty.

This interview tells us a lot about John MacArthur and the movement he represents

MacArthur

Chris Hutchison, the pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Blacksburg, VA, brought this to my attention today via Twitter.

Watch John MacArthur speaking to Ryan Helfenbein of the Liberty University Falkirk Center about his battle with the state of California and why no Christian could ever vote for Joe Biden:

Notice what MacArthur does here. He equates biblical teaching with abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism. That’s it. For MacArthur, biblical thinking about politics essentially comes down to these three things. As a result, he believes Christians cannot vote for Joe Biden or any member of the Democratic Party.

Instead, MacArthur wants his church to vote for a Republican candidate whose policies will hurt the poor, who uses racist dog whistles, who has brought pornography into the news, and who lies to the American people multiple times a day. Last time I checked, the Bible says a lot about human dignity, truth, lust, and the poor.

What are the historical forces that have led MacArthur to believe that abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism are the only issues Christian voters should be concerned about? We need to keep asking this question because MacArthur thinks that his view of politics is shaped by a reading of the Bible untainted by social and cultural forces.

About midway through the clip, Helfenbein asks MacArthur about critics who say the members of the Christian Right are single-issue voters. MacArthur responds:

That sounds like 25 or 30 years ago when the differences were sociological or economic between you know ownership and labor. That is long gone.

I have no idea what MacArthur is talking about here. But it sounds like he is trying to say that economic inequality is no longer an issue in the United States in the way that it was “25 or 30 years ago.” (Does he really think that the Christian Right did not push single-issue voting in 1995 or 1990?).

MacArthur seems unaware of the success of democratic socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders who have called attention to economic inequality. Sanders attracted millions of American voters–including many young evangelicals–in 2016 and 2020. MacArthur may not like Bernie’s ideas, but the Vermont senator’s views on income inequality have resonated with Americans. It sounds as if MacArthur has had his head in the sand.

MacArthur says that the Democrats are assaulting American and Christian values, namely the conscience, the family, government, and the church. If a biblical view of the conscience, family, government, and church is indeed eroding as MacArthur says it is, then what does this tell us about the influence of Christians in American life over the last 50-75 years? MacArthur’s diagnosis seems to suggest that Christians have failed miserably in their efforts at sustaining a moral culture. Christians like MacArthur should look into the mirror instead of blaming the Democrats. The church is on the hook here.

Why has the church failed? Have the forces of secularism been too strong? Perhaps.

Or maybe evangelicals have placed too much trust in politics to preserve a moral culture. If you need evidence of this, just consider evangelical support for Donald Trump.

MacArthur believes that the best way to protect the conscience is to vote for a man with no conscience.

MacArthur believes that the best way to save the family is to vote for a man who cheated on all his wives, has been divorced twice, sleeps with porn stars, and has been heard on tape saying he wants to sexually assault women.

MacArthur believes that Trump, with his endless lies and incompetent leadership, is the best man to lead a just and moral government.

MacArthur believes that Christians getting into bed with Trump is good for the church and the proclamation of the Gospel.

Something doesn’t seem right here.

Finally, MacArthur says:

Joe Biden said the other day he’s going to fill his cabinet with Muslims. That is as anti-Christian a statement as you could possibly make. That is a blasphemy of the true and living God.

Yes, it would be blasphemous to fill a cabinet with Muslims if we were living in a Christian theocracy. But we don’t live in a theocracy. We live in a democratic society that celebrates pluralism. As Hutchinson notes in his tweet, we have no religious test for federal office in this country. The United States Constitution, as originally written and ratified by the states, makes one reference to religion. Article 6 affirms that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States.” So Biden is perfectly within his constitutional rights to fill his cabinet with Muslims.

But MacArthur goes on about this:

No thinking person, no person who wanted any kind of life for anyone in the future could possible affirm that kind of behavior.

Last time I checked, the founding fathers who wrote the Constitution were “thinking people” who cared about the “future” of the republic.

Hutchinson wonders if MacArthur’s claim about Biden filling his cabinet with Muslims is true.

Of course Ryan Helfenbein nods his head in agreement with everything MacArthur says. In this interview we get one of our best views into what is really going-on with both the Grace Community Church controversy and the Liberty University Falkirk Center.

Thanks again to Chris Hutchinson for bringing all of this to my attention. Things are getting really strange.

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.

Los Angeles Superior Court: MacArthur’s Grace Community Church can hold indoor services, but they must wear masks and social distance

Grace Community Church

You can read the judge’s temporary order at Warren Throckmorton’s blog.

MacArthur’s legal team is celebrating this win. Indeed, Grace Community Church will continue to hold indoor services and the city will not be levying any fines, at least for the moment.

But MacArthur can no longer get away with packing the sanctuary full of mask-less worshippers like he has done the last couple of Sundays. Moreover, the judge’s order is temporary. A full hearing on the case will take place on September 4, 2020.

Quick thoughts:

  1. Why did it take a judge to force MacArthur to require social distancing and mask-wearing?
  2. The judge’s decision implies that COVID-19 is indeed a threat to the health of the people of Los Angeles. We know from previous interviews that MacArthur does not believe this. But he has chosen to submit to the judge anyway.  MacArthur responded: ““I am very grateful the court has allowed us to meet inside and we are happy for a few weeks to comply and respect what the judge has asked of us because he is allowing us to meet. This vindicates our desire to stay open and serve our people. This also gives us an opportunity to show that we are not trying to be rebellious or unreasonable, but that we will stand firm to protect our church against unreasonable, unconstitutional restrictions.” This appears to be another Romans 13 moment for MacArthur.

The Falkirk Center on the John MacArthur controversy. Or how culture warriors write.

 

Grace Community

Some of you have been following the situation at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. For the past two Sundays, pastor John MacArthur has held religious services in defiance of California’s COVID-19 regulations. MacArthur said:  “We will obey God rather than men. We’re going to be faithful to our Lord.” Pictures of last Sunday’s services show that the church was filled. I did not see many face masks. People were singing. It did not look like people were social distancing.

MacArthur does not believe that COVID-19 is a threat. The state of California disagrees.

As might be expected, evangelical conservatives and the Fox News crowd are rallying around MacArthur, claiming that his First Amendment rights are in jeopardy. I doubt that argument is going to hold up, but I am not writing this post to argue one way or the other.

am writing to illustrate how the Christian Right is spinning this incident and how its adherents are contributing to our divided and polarized culture. For example, take a recent op-ed at the The Western Journal by Ryan Helfenbein, the director of communications at Jerry Falwell’s and Charlie Kirk’s Falkirk Center at Liberty University.

Helfenbein describes the California government as a “giant” that needs to be “slayed.” Such a characterization ignores the fact that governor Gavin Newsom is simply trying to protect the citizens of the state. He has scientists and public health officials advising him. Anthony Fauci has praised his handling of the crisis. Yet Helfenbein portrays the government of California as an evil giant doing everything in its power to close churches. This is not an issue of liberty versus freedom. It is a debate over how to reconcile two competing goods. Newsom has not convinced me that he wants to destroy Christianity or that he is a modern-day Goliath.

Helfenbein writes: “After doing what should have been a simple, mundane act–that is, holding their regular Sunday worship service–the church and its leadership have been threatened….” I’m sorry, but bringing thousands of people into an indoor space during a pandemic is not a “simple” and “mundane” act.

Helfenbein continues: “Now, in the face of the unconstitutional, godless mandate by California authorities to indefinitely cease in-person worship of the living God….” Notice the sensationalist language. And since when is it a “godless” act to try to prevent people from dying or getting sick? One might even argue that the regulations on worship are actually more Christian than MacArthur’s appeal to individual rights.

In order to fire-up the base, Helfenbein calls this “the most consequential First Amendment case of our lifetime. You can decide if he is right. He describes governor Newsom’s regulations as “wildly unconstitutional oppression.” Notice that these regulations are not just unconstitutional to Helfenbein, they are “wildly” unconstitutional. The use of the adverb here reminds me of this scene from A Few Good Men:

Helfenbein and the rest of his friends at the Falkirk Center don’t really care about how this issue might be handled through dialogue, conversation, compromise, and a good-willed effort to understand the arguments on both sides of the debate. (In other words, the stuff people should be doing in a democratic society). Nope–this is a war. Christians must gird-up their loins and fight for their constitutional rights even if it means placing people’s health and lives in jeopardy.

If you want a thoughtful evangelical response to this issue, check out pastor Gavin Ortlund‘s post.  And I am not just pointing you to his blog because I took his Dad for a class on the Minor Prophets at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the early 1990s. :-).  (Wow, that last line make me feel old!).

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 evangelical James Dobson invokes the Civil War in a letter to followers on the November elections

Dobson and Trump

Read the entire letter here.

Let’s break it down:

Dobson:

As I write this newsletter, voters across this nation are only a few short months away from the next general election. What an ominous time this is for our 244-year-old republic. Its future hangs in the balance. The choices we make on November 3rd will send this nation down one of two dramatically different paths. The wrong decision will be catastrophic. I agree with former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who said recently that the next election will be “the most important since 1860.” He also warned that if we appease or ignore the violence and anarchy occurring in the streets, it might be the end of civilization as we have known it. Those are sobering words coming from a man who has stood at the pinnacle of national power.

This is standard Christian Right rhetoric. Dobson quotes Gingrich’s claim that this coming election is the most importance election since 1860. Gingrich has been using this line (or something similar) for a long time. He said the exact same thing about the 2016 election (go to the 1:55 mark of this video). And before that he said the exact same thing about the 2012 election. In 2008, he said the outcome of the election “will change the entire rest of our lives.” In 1994, he said that the midterm elections “were the most consequential nonpresidential election of the 20th century.” Every election is consequential. How long are we going to listen to Gingrich before we call this what it is: fear-mongering.

Dobson:

Mr. Gingrich referred to the significance of 1860 because that was the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president. I’m sure the Speaker would agree that the following election of 1864 was also critical to the future of the nation. Lincoln and his opponent, Maj. Gen. George McClellan, were in a hotly contested campaign for the White House that could have gone either way. The “war between the states,” as it was called, had been raging for three ghastly years, and the entire nation was staggered by reports from the bloody battlefield.

Lincoln was running for a second term, and he campaigned on the promise of finishing the war and preserving the Union. These were momentous times for the young nation. During the first week of January 1863, the President signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.

Democrats and their presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. McClellan, initially campaigned on a “peace platform,” pledging to end the war and send soldiers home. As the election approached, he talked more about negotiating to let the South establish a separate government whose cornerstone would be slavery. If McClellan had been elected, there would have been no foreseeable end to the inherent evil of buying and selling human beings and treating them like cattle. Thus, the Civil War was a struggle for the soul of America.

Dobson then mentions why he spent so much time on the Civil War in this newsletter:

Why have I recounted our Civil War history and the election of 1864 at this time in our history? It is for two reasons. The first is to consider some striking similarities between then and now. Our nation is divided like no time since the Civil War. Lawlessness and anarchy stalk the cities as angry mobs riot, burn, loot, rob, and kill innocent bystanders. Cultural monuments are being destroyed. Scores of people have been shot. Our courageous police officers are being brutally attacked by the same people they have vowed to protect. A man and his son stopped to ask for directions, and he was gunned down on the spot. A one-year-old baby was shot in the stomach while he sat in his stroller. The child died at the hospital.

What began as a justified and lawful protest in response to George Floyd’s senseless murder by a rogue police officer has morphed into violence for the sake of violence. Hatred flows in the streets, including vitriol directed at the President of the United States or anyone who dares to support him or his policies. Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religious liberty are being trampled. There is also widespread belief that violence and anarchy are being organized and funded by powerful forces that are maneuvering America toward a socialist dictatorship. There is always a kingmaker behind such lawlessness. Most disturbing is open talk of another civil war. It is troubling to even utter those words. The last time Americans faced off against each other, 600,000 soldiers died. May God forbid it from happening again.

Please don’t tell me that I am wrong about the role fear plays in the Christian Right view of politics.

What is happening in our country right now is disconcerting to many of us. But it pales in comparison with what the country faced during the lead-up to the Civil War and the war itself. There is no chance that an actual civil war will erupt in this country. Dobson is using the past to scare people. But this is what culture warriors do. These kinds of historical analogies are not helpful.

Instead of scaring people by referencing “600,000” lost lives, Dobson should spend more time critiquing the president for his handling of the coronavirus. If he really cares about families he will condemn Trump’s failure of leadership, his ambivalent rhetoric on masks, his treatment of Anthony Fauci, and his appeal to doctors who believe the virus comes from demon sperm. Nearly 155,000 Americans have died of this virus and the number is growing every day. Perhaps these are the deaths Dobson should be worrying about right now.

Dobson goes on:

During the revolution of the 1960s, I recall a ubiquitous bumper sticker that read, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” It was a catchy phrase that made sense to those who opposed the Vietnam War. But my reaction to it then and now is “What if they gave a war and only one side came?” That question keeps me awake at night. There are multiple millions of passive Americans out there today, many of them Christians, who are clueless about what is happening to their homeland. They are losing something precious and irreplaceable. Do they not understand that their children and those who are yet to be born will live in tyranny if we fail them on our watch? Countless young men and women have laid down their lives on battlefields around the world to protect liberty and our way of life. Now, what they purchased for us with their blood is slipping away. Disengaged people won’t lift a finger to preserve this great land. They won’t take even a few minutes to go to their polling places to vote. There are also thousands of pastors who won’t allow voting registration tables in the lobbies of their churches. Don’t they know or care that America is on the ropes? Hordes of angry anarchists are salivating over the next election, hoping to push America over a cliff. If they succeed, as Newt Gingrich said, Western civilization will never recover. Is there anyone left who believes some things are worth dying for? Aren’t there patriots out there such as Patrick Henry who said in defiance of British tyranny, “Give me liberty or give me death!”? That was the spirit during his day. The Declaration of Independence closed with these words endorsed by the signers, “We pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They knew they would be hanged if they lost the war. Why did they do it? Because they loved their country enough to die for it.

Dobson has been watching too much Fox News. The average American family is worried about their jobs, whether to send their kids to school, and keeping themselves and their families safe from COVID-19. They are less concerned about the “hordes of angry anarchists…salivating.” In one speech on July 22, 2020, Biden showed more empathy and concern for American families than Donald Trump has shown in his entire presidency thus far.

By the way, kudos to all those pastors who refuse to bring electoral politics into their churches.

Dobson invokes Patrick Henry. But where is his acknowledgement of men like John Lewis, a man whose entire life was defined by the phrase “give me liberty or give me death?” Lewis loved his country and was willing to die to defend its promise. Perhaps he should watch Barack Obama’s speech yesterday at Lewis’s funeral. (I doubt that will happen).

And now Dobson is calling us to vote for a man–Donald J. Trump– who knows nothing about true patriotism, Christian faith, or the promise of America.  Dobson’s president couldn’t pull himself away from his Twitter feed long enough to pay his respects to Lewis. This Christian Right culture warrior has a lot of nerve dropping this fundraising newsletter during a week that we remember a true American hero.

More Dobson:

How I pray for the emergence of silent, intimidated Americans who will come out of their hiding places to let their voices be heard on Election Day 2020. There must be tens of thousands of ministers in our midst who, like the Black Robed Regiment of the Revolutionary War, will strip off their clerical garb and fight valiantly for religious liberty. If these men and women of faith and conviction don’t come to the rescue of their country, it is doomed.

Dobson doesn’t realize that the violence in the streets propagated by 18th-century patriotic ministers–the so-called “Black Robed Regiment”–makes what is happening in Portland right now look like a county fair.

Dobson closes his letter with “seven critical issues”:

1. The Next Generation

There is a fierce battle being waged now in the nation’s classrooms for the hearts and souls of our children and grandchildren. Those of us who are passionately committed to the Judeo-Christian system of beliefs are losing our kids right before our eyes. They are being force-fed a radical curriculum that is godless, anti-American, and sexually perverse. Make no mistake, the left and secular culture are manipulating the minds of your sons and daughters every day of the year. I urge you to be extremely careful about those whom you set in power over your children. Protect them with your very lives.

Let’s remember that Dobson founded an organization called “Focus on the Family.” What does it say about the state of the white evangelical middle class family if its kids are incapable of navigating our current cultural waters from the perspective of Christian faith? Perhaps Dobson should be asking this question. If white evangelicals and their churches were doing their jobs in educating young people how to engage the spirit of the age, there would be nothing for them to fear in the public schools.

2. The Sanctity of Human Life

All life is sacred and is a gift from Almighty God. But as you know, America has the blood of innocents on its hands. Since 1973, more than 60 million babies have been murdered through abortion and countless lives have ended by euthanasia. This is the most tragic holocaust in the history of the world! Some states have even passed laws allowing wounded and suffering infants to lie alone on porcelain trays after somehow surviving unsuccessful abortions. They will die without the comfort of their mothers’ breasts. If that doesn’t touch your heart, you are without compassion. I hope you will not cast a single vote for any politician who supports such wickedness.

Neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden can stop abortion in America. Trump’s Supreme Court justices might one day overturn Roe v. Wade, but this will merely send the issue back to the states. Does anyone expect California, New York, and other so-called “Blue” states to make abortion illegal? If you care about abortion, why not vote for a candidate with a plan to address poverty and racial injustice? Such a focus will keep abortions in America on a steady downward trajectory. Dobson needs a new political playbook.

Abortion rates

3. Marriage and Family

The family is God’s original building block for society. Marriage continues to serve as the foundation for every dimension of human life. Everything of value rests on it, including procreation and the care and training of children. If that ground floor is weakened or undermined, the entire superstructure of civil society will come crashing down. But listen carefully: powerful and highly funded forces, including LGBTQ and other leftist entities, are determined to destroy the family as an institution. It is already on its knees, and its future is grim. Before you vote, find out what position the candidates have taken on this issue. Then vote accordingly.

This emphasis on the family comes from a man who said little or nothing when Trump separated families at the border, put children in cages, and threatened to deport DACA recipients. Parents shield their kids from this president because they don’t want to expose them to his lies, tweets, vulgarity, and general manner of treating people. Trump has brought pornography into the mainstream of our culture and has made a mockery of the civic virtues we try to teach our kids. Please, Dr. Dobson, consider that the man you support undermines everything you have spent your life defending. Your support of him is dripping with hypocrisy.

4. Religious Liberty

The first item listed in the Bill of Rights addresses the issue of religious liberty. All the other enumerated rights flow from that fundamental freedom. That is why it is alarming to recognize that this right to worship and honor God as we choose is under vicious attack today. The courts have done the greatest damage, but now an entire sub-culture is trying to bring down the Christian faith. Whether it has invaded your private world or not, it is at your front door. It was this primary concern that led to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War in 1776. We can’t compromise one jot or tittle within that fundamental right. Fight for it with every ounce of your strength and determination. Don’t let the government close the doors of your church or tell you when you can sing praises to the Lord Almighty. They have a devious agenda, and it is dangerous. Be ready to go to the mat in defense of what you believe. And let this passion influence how you cast your ballot in November. Here I stand. Will you join me?

This paragraph is wrong on so many levels. While real threats to religious liberty do exist, especially for faith-based schools, hospitals, and other institutions, this kind of rhetoric does little to help the country reach a genuine pluralism. (Here is a more thoughtful approach to the matter).

First, let’s be clear about the meaning of the American Revolution. An attack on Christian faith and religious liberty was not the primary concern that led to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

Second, the rights of Christians to worship when such gatherings might lead to the illness and death of other people is not a very Christian approach to public life. Does Dobson really think that governors trying to protect the health of all of the people in their state are operating with some kind of “devious agenda” to extirpate Christianity from the land? This is absurd. One could even make an argument that the care these governors are taking to protect citizens from COVID-19 is actually more Christian in character than this selfish appeal to individual rights.

5. Capitalism v. Socialism

It is difficult to believe that for the first time in American history, our nation appears to be thinking about trading our democratic way of life for the tyranny of socialism. I can hardly catch my breath. Could we really consider abandoning the beloved system of government that was designed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people? Is it true that up to 40 percent of millennials and others are prepared to surrender their liberties in exchange for the absolute authority of the state? Democracy and capitalism have made ours the most powerful and successful nation in the history of the world. Are we really considering scuttling the system that has served us for 244 years in exchange for what some people call “free stuff?” I pray not! But that option awaits you in the polling booth.

Joe Biden is not a socialist. Joe Biden believes in democracy. (By the way, I am not sure Trump believes in democracy). I don’t know of anyone who is willing to “surrender their liberties in exchange for the absolute authority of the state.” Another scare tactic.

6. The Judicial System

Given recent rulings, we know that judicial overreach has almost ruined this great nation. Justices and judges are constitutionally charged to interpret the law, not make law. But again, and again, they have overstepped their authority and brought us atrocities such as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and the so-called “separation of church and state,” which doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Most recently, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most egregious rulings since Roe v. Wade. It is the case of Bostock v. Clayton County. This decision was not based on constitutional law but on the whims of six justices. It created a new legal definition of sex out of thin air. Lawyers tell us that this ruling will affect every dimension of culture and haunt the nation as long as it endures. Please don’t vote for politicians who will expand, rather than limit, the power of the judiciary.

When the Supreme Court rules in Dobson’s favor he loves it. When it does not rule in his favor, he says they have “overstepped their authority.” If the Supreme Court suddenly decided to make gay marriage illegal, overturn precedent in Roe v. Wade, or pass an Amendment declaring the United States to be a “Christian nation,” Dobson would cheer such judicial activism.

7. The Nation of Israel

Scripture tells that those who bless Israel will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Our prayer is that the next Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. will continue to promote and cultivate a vibrant bond of friendship with the nation of Israel, which is our only ally in the Middle East. Anti-Semitism and all forms of racial discrimination are inherently evil, and we condemn them categorically. We are a nation that is dedicated to “freedom and justice for all” (The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance).

Is Dobson willing to extend “freedom and justice for all” to all Americans? Does he give his highest loyalty to Israel or to fellow Christian believers–members of the worldwide body of Christ–in Palestine? It is possible for Christians to reject anti-Semitism and still find solidarity with fellow believers. Dobson’s binary thinking does not allow for such a position.

I have written about this here before, but as I read Dobson’s newsletter, and saw the big orange “DONATE” button on the top of the web page, I was reminded of what Moral Majority veterans Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson (no relation) wrote about the Christian Right fundraising formula in their 1999 book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America:

First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general. Second, the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or to impose their morality on the rest of the country. Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done…Fourth, to get this job done, please send money.”

Engaging with the latest stuff on race and the founders coming from Liberty University’s Falkirk Center

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Not all Christian colleges are the same. Some of you may recall a post in which I compared Messiah University to Liberty University. If you have a child considering a faith-based college I encourage you to read that post.

Liberty University recently established something called the Falkirk Center. In previous posts I called it a “think tank,” but after watching this organization develop over the last several months I now think it is more of a propaganda machine for Christian Trumpism.

In the last few days, the Falkirk Center Facebook page has been posting on race in America.

Here is a post from last night:

Woke Christianity is a manipulation of the Gospel. It intentionally twists the Bible to accommodate and achieve leftist political aims and purposes. This has been evidenced in past cries of “Jesus was an illegal immigrant!” Or “Jesus was a socialist!” Now, it is shifting to an idea that Jesus would have praised and been part of the Black Lives Matter organization. The Gospel is the free offer of salvation based on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the cross at Calvary. The Gospel tells us we are all sinners and we will all likewise perish unless we repent and believe in Christ. As Christians, we must preserve the Gospel and proclaim the truth until his coming. We must also speak out against heresy both inside and outside the church which includes Woke Christianity, Social Justice, Critical Theory and Intersectionality.

Thoughts:

  • There is no such thing as “woke Christianity.” The Christian scriptures do not endorse a particular political program–Left, Center, or Right. The Christian scriptures do not endorse capitalism or socialism. Fair-minded Christians around the world have used the scriptures to argue for both of these economic systems.
  • Would Jesus have been a member of Black Lives Matter? I have no idea. But Jesus would have certainly endorsed the idea that black lives matter. Do you see what the politically-charged Falkirk Center is doing here? They focus all of their attention on the official Black Lives Matter movement as a way to avoid talking about why black lives matter. If they can convince everyone that Black Lives Matter is a direct and immediate threat to our democracy they can get Trump re-elected and advance their political agenda. Don’t let Jerry Falwell and Charlie Kirk manipulate the teachings of Jesus for political gain. Don’t let them take the New Testament and filter its teachings through a Christian Right lens. It’s all politics.
  • The Falkirk Center says, “As Christians, we must preserve the Gospel and proclaim the truth until his coming.” Amen. So how does a belief in the proclamation of truth relate to the Falkirk’s support for the pathological liar in the Oval Office? How can an organization with a platform such as Liberty Univeristy fail to speak out about this? How long will evangelicals send their tuition money to a place whose leadership remains silent on this most basic moral issue? The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love, justice, and compassion. The citizens of this kingdom–the scriptures call them a royal priesthood– are in the business of announcing the arrival of this Kingdom to those in power.
  • Don’t be fooled by all these references to “Woke Christianity,” “Social Justice,” “Critical Theory,” and “Intersectionality.” They are big words used to scare ordinary Christians. Followers of Jesus Christ, as citizens of his Kingdom, will always fight for justice in the world. They will oppose both individual acts of injustice and systemic acts of injustice. They will fight for the poor and oppressed. American history teaches us that there white people have always oppressed Black people and stomped on their human dignity. This oppression is now embedded in our social institutions and it must be considered when Christians think about how to engage the world.  We can uphold these things without necessarily embracing every dimension of “critical theory” or “intersectionality.” Frankly, I think these words are just distractions. They prevent Christians from getting-on with the business of building the Kingdom. But let’s remember that they are meant to be distractions.

Here is another Falkirk Center post from yesterday:

The founding fathers worked tirelessly to create the most just and free nation in human history. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their ingenuity. Rather than be grateful for America and appreciate her system of government, however, the left has chosen to spite the founding fathers and all that they created, showing no appreciation for the price that has been paid for them to live in America and use their very freedoms to destroy the country that protects them. Leftist thinking is detrimental to a free and just society and is rotten at its core. We must do everything in our power to preserve the true story of the founding fathers, the noble history of America, and teach future generations of the sacrifices necessary to preserve, protect, and defend freedom and liberty in America.

  • The nation that the founders created in 1776 was not just. It was built upon universal Enlightenment principles such as “liberty,” but these principles were not applied to all people. In this sense, it is very difficult to say that the founders wanted to establish some kind of “Christian nation.”
  • The nation’s founders left a legacy of freedom and liberty that was eventually applied to most citizens. But by the time American leaders got their act together and started applying these ideals to African Americans and others, certain systemic injustices were already baked in the national cake, the product of decades of failure.
  • All of this has led to much debate among historians. No good historian would reject the idea that the founders were products of their time. The debate is over how rapidly the ideals of the white male American Revolution found their way into the mainstream of national life. Some say that the American Revolution was “radical” because it set the stage or prepared the way for women’s rights, the emancipation of slaves, civil rights, etc. Others argue that the Revolution was not radical because it failed to apply these ideas immediately. The founders made deliberate choices to keep injustice in place when they could have chosen the opposite course.  These debates are good for American democracy.  Let’s keep having them. Neither of them should be “canceled.”
  • This is our country. Let’s tell the story honestly.

And then there is this from a day or two ago:

Unfortunately, the faith that used to unite our country and carry it through its darkest hours, is now viewed as superstition and a detriment to society. Secular leftists are working, daily, to to infringe on religious liberty by prohibiting religious exercises or expressions and forcing groups to hire people whose beliefs do not align with that group’s religious convictions. As Christians- now more than ever- we must be attentive to and engaged with political and cultural events. Failure to do so is an abandonment of our duty to be good citizens of our country and it leaves the liberties this country was created to protect at risk of being taken away by those whose end goal is tyranny.

  • The first sentence presumes that the founders were trying to found a nation united by Christian faith. This is a problematic assumption that I have spent the better part of my career as an American historian trying to address. Start here.
  • Many white evangelicals are very upset that governors are shutting down churches due to the prevalence of COVID-19. These evangelicals believe that these local officials are curbing their right to worship. Is the prevention of Christian worship in a time of pandemic a violation of the First Amendment? That is an issue for the courts. But many of the founders thought that republics survived when people were willing to occasionally sacrifice their “rights” for the greater good of their neighbors. This is one of those moments when Christians can lead by example. Instead, many evangelicals, like the Falkirk Center, have chosen to mount a rights-based attack on masks, social distancing, and science that most of the founding fathers would fail to recognize. I don’t think the first-century church would recognize it either. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: “In the right confrontation with the world, the Church will become ever more like to the form of its suffering Lord.”
  • I am sympathetic to some of the religious liberty concerns mentioned in this post. I hope the Supreme Court will continue to defend religious institutions to hire according to their deeply-held theological convictions.  This, it seems, is a mark of a healthy pluralism.

World Relief report criticizes Trump’s efforts to aid refugees facing religious persecution

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If you read my court evangelical roundups, you know about Johnnie Moore, the Trump evangelical who likes to tout himself as a “modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” Moore champions the cause of global religious liberty. Here are some of his latest tweets:

Moore loves Secretary of State’s Mike Pompeo’s emphasis on religious liberty around the world. He recently retweeted Pompeo:

On Friday, Jack Jenkins of Religion News Service reported that World Relief, an evangelical Christian relief agency, released a report on persecuted Christians and U.S. refugee settlement. Here is a taste of Jenkins’s piece:

Entitled “Closed Doors: Persecuted Christians and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement and Asylum Processes,” the report was prepared by World Relief and Open Doors USA — both organizations that work on issues of immigration and religious persecution.

Their findings focus on the Trump administration’s drastic cuts to the refugee resettlement program, which has long been run in partnership with several religious organizations — including World Relief, an evangelical Christian group. According to the report, there has been a 90% reduction since 2015 in the number of persecuted Christians resettled in the United States.

And this:

The report calls for the U.S. government to return to “at least a historically normal ceiling” for refugee resettlement, such as 95,000 refugees per year as recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2019. In addition, the authors urge the Trump administration to reject proposed changes to existing immigration systems that would make it more difficult to attain asylum in the U.S.

The document implicitly calls into question Trump’s 2017 promise to assist persecuted Christians. When asked about the issue by the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said his administration would make responding to Christians fleeing persecution in Syria a priority.

“They’ve been horribly treated,” Trump said. He later added: “We are going to help them.”

Curry and Breene were careful not to criticize Trump directly during the call and pointed to instances where the Trump administration has taken some steps to assist persecuted religious minorities.

For example, Curry noted when Vice President Mike Pence personally intervened to dedicate U.S. Agency for International Development funds to better living conditions for religious minorities in northern Iraq. That move is part of a larger strategy aimed at improving the situation of persecuted Christians where they live instead of prioritizing refugee resettlement.

But when pressed about whether the Trump administration’s strategy tangibly benefited the lives of persecuted Christians in their countries of origin, Breene acknowledged that despite the government’s “good” intentions, “it’s very rare to see material progress.”

And even if conditions improve overseas, said Curry, Christians who have been displaced from their homes because of religious persecution still need help.

“This is a significant gaping hole in their strategy: that there are some people that are still in danger for their faith,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to move back home. If they could, they would.”

Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, called the data in the report “shocking.” Kim also expressed disappointment in the Trump administration’s refugee settlement policy. 

The United States, he said, has “long (been) a beacon of hope for those fleeing religious persecution … We must change this policy and remain a leader for religious freedom.”

Read the entire piece here.

A few closing thoughts:

  1. So far, Moore has been silent about this report.
  2. Moore and other court evangelicals will need to figure out how they can support Trump’s immigration policies and still claim the president is a champion of religious freedom around the world.
  3. It is also worth noting that Moore has been silent on this.
  4. Walter Kim is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Johnnie Moore is a member of the NAE board.

John Haas on this week’s SCOTUS decisions: “I think it’s mistaken for Christians to assume that these decisions constitute big victories for the church”

Supreme Court

John Haas teaches history at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Indiana. When I read his comments on this week’s SCOTUS decisions related to religious liberty, I asked him if I could share them here. They capture a lot of my own thoughts on the matter.–JF

A lot of Christians are rejoicing over the two Supreme Court decisions this week, one protecting religious employers’ use of the ministerial exception to protect themselves from lawsuits brought by severed employees, the other continuing the conscience exemption for religious organizations from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.  I think each of these decisions was arguably the right one, though that doesn’t mean either is entirely unproblematic.  But that’s not my burden here.  Rather I think it’s mistaken for Christians to assume that these decisions constitute big victories for the church.

Insofar as they are assuming that, I think it’s another sign–as if any more were needed–that the American churches are more “American” in their basic assumptions than is spiritually good for them.

Americans are famous for their obsession with their “rights.” Thus has it been since at least the Stamp Act, and that’s unlikely to change. That’s fine.

The church, however, is mistaken if it believes that the way to advance the Kingdom of God is through a grasping and assertion of its “rights” as an institution, even when it has those rights under our system.

Christians have–for many good reasons and with many good effects–often chosen a presence in the world that is functionally largely indistinguishable from business entities: employing people, investing in the stock market, watching the bottom line, using force and threats of force when it believes it necessary, suing individuals and entities. Again, these things are not entirely devoid of good effects.

In several places in the Book of Acts, Paul leverages his Roman citizenship to get better treatment from the authorities.  There is a place for an appeal to one’s rights.

But such appeals do not the Kingdom of God make, and may actually undermine and contradict efforts to really make it come, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

Being able to function in the world as a business but without needing to have regard for the restrictions other businesses must obey is, no doubt, a convenient thing for Christians. It’s probably even a good thing on most occasions.

But is it “good” for the church if it thinks the primary threat to its well-being comes from the government?  Such a belief certainly coheres with the reigning American ideology, but I doubt very much its true.

I suspect in fact that the real threat of spiritual harm to the Church comes from within, when it mistakes protecting its earthly interests for the Kingdom of God, or when it pursues even the good things of Christ but in a manner fashioned more by the world than Jesus Himself.

Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court evangelicals prayer

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

John Hagee invited Fox News commentator, conspiracy theorist, disgraced Christian college president, and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza to speak at the Sunday evening service at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Watch:

D’Souza tells the audience that American exceptionalism is ordained by God and it is under attack. He then moves into his usual critique of socialism. This then devolves into a rejection of systemic racism. If the camera shots of the audience members nodding their heads and cheering is any indication, D’Souza seems to be getting through to them. This is what pro-Trump megachurches have become. It’s pure fearmongering.

The Supreme Court made an important religious liberty decision today, but some court evangelicals and other Trump evangelicals are still fighting. They continue to stoke fear about threats to religious liberty.

“Christian” politico Ralph Reed turns a SCOTUS victory into a chance to get revenge against his enemy.

Johnnie Moore, the self-professed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” responds to the SCOTUS decision in a way Bonhoeffer would not have recognized as Christian. Perhaps Johnnie needs to read The Cost of Discipleship.

This is what blind court evangelicalism looks like:

And this (notice “ALL” in all caps):

When you think David French is an “irrational woke liberal” and mock someone’s military service it speaks volumes about you and the institution you work for. In Jenna Ellis’s case it is Liberty University. Remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Jenna Ellis was on the Eric Metaxas Show today talking about Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech. Metaxas, who is also a spokesperson at the Falkirk Center, says anyone who criticized the speech is “loony.” He mocks the Sioux leaders who pointed out that Mount Rushmore was on Lakota land: “They have benefited from this country.” Ellis thinks that Trump gave the nation an “honest history lesson” during the speech. Again, this should be offensive to any serious classroom teacher who is working to give American young people honest history lessons. In one of the more comical moments of the interview, Ellis praises Trump for his love of the nuclear family and commitment to the institution of marriage.

Wait a minute, I thought Biden was working with Black Lives Matter to undermine America?:

Richard Land is spewing Christian nationalism:

There is a lot that is wrong with this thread. I don’t have time to respond directly right now, but if you want to dig deeper:

  1. Read this blog. It has subject tags, category tags, and a search engine. I’ve been addressing this stuff for years.
  2. Read Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
  3. Read my post on Os Guinness’s similar claims about the American and the French Revolution.
  4. Read two books on American exceptionalism: John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea and Abram Van Engen’s City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism.

Jack Graham issues a warning:

Graham’s words remind me what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump about the Election of 1800 and the evangelical response to the threat of the Deep State Illuminati in the early republic.

Until next time.

When the Supreme Court engages in bad history

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Willamette University law professor and historian Steven K. Green makes a compelling case that the Supreme Court was “sloppy” in its use of history in the recent Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue decision.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion Dispatches:

More broadly, the opinions in Espinoza raise questions about the Court’s use of history, particularly when it becomes a rule of constitutional law. History is “complex,” as Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged and Justice Breyer echoed, yet an adversarial legal forum is not the optimal place for settling the complexities of a historical event. The efforts of Catholic immigrants to find acceptance in nineteenth-century America have been documented, as has the resistance of Protestants who were suspicious of the commitment of a foreign-born Catholic hierarchy to American democratic values. 

That this episode coincided with the development of American common schooling has only added complexity to the historical narrative. Proponents of common schooling sought to create an institution where children of various faiths could acquire a commitment to republican values, while ensuring the financial security of the fledgling public schools. Public school advocates were also concerned about ensuring public accountability and public control over school funds. 

Funding a competing system of religious schooling—at the time, not solely Catholic but also Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, and Baptist schools, among others—would have stunted the development of public education, its advocates believed. Witnessing the rapid growth of Catholic immigration and its rising political influence in many cities, public education advocates also feared that funding religious schools would lead to religious competition and divisiveness. 

Embracing some of those arguments, nativists then added a layer of anti-Catholic prejudice that was guaranteed to appeal to some, but not all, Protestant Americans, including those who faced economic dislocation resulting from the influx of immigrant workers. At the opposite end of the spectrum was a cohort of liberal Protestants and freethinkers who opposed funding of religious schooling on grounds it violated church-state separation and the rights of conscience of those who didn’t want their tax dollars to support religious beliefs with which they disagreed. 

I could go on because there’s more to the story, but that’s precisely the point. This history is too complex to be decided in a judicial forum. In writing opinions, judges commonly draw on the information contained in the briefs of the parties and their supporting amici curiae. These briefs are written by lawyers (typically not historians) who advocate for particular outcomes and provide arguments and cherry pick data to support those resultsThis process is far removed from the enterprise of historical scholarship. 

Not only is legal adjudication not the optimal forum for unpacking the nuances of history, but a judge’s interpretation of a historical event takes on a greater significance. By “declaring” the defining meaning of a particular historical episode—something that historians refrain from doing—that interpretation becomes a constitutional rule. 

Read the entire piece here.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

Trump Court Evangelicals 2

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Court evangelical Tony Perkins joins several other evangelical Trump supporters to talk about the 2020 election:

A few quick comments:

15:58ff: Perkins says that Christians “have a responsibility” to vote along “biblical guidelines” and “biblical truth.” He adds: “if you notice lately, truth is under attack.” As I said yesterday, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear Trump supporters try to defend truth. When will they speak truth to Trump? If Perkins wants to talk about biblical principles he should read about Jesus before Pilate in John 18 or Nathan’s words to King David in 1 Samuel 12. How dare Perkins sit there and say that “it is the truth that will make men free.”

Shortly after Perkins finishes speaking, the host shows a video comparing the GOP and Democratic platforms. The GOP platform, Perkins believes, is biblical. The Democratic platform, he believes, in unbiblical. “It’s like oil and water,” Perkins says. This is what we call the political captivity of the church.

And then comes the fear-mongering. Perkins implies that if evangelicals do not vote for Trump, the Democrats will come for their families, their religious liberty, and their “ability to worship God.” Listen carefully to this section. It begins around the 17:40 mark. I wonder what the earliest Christians would think if they heard Perkins say that unless America re-elects a corrupt emperor they would not be able to worship God. I wonder what the early Christian martyrs, those great heroes of the faith, would say if they heard Perkins tell the audience that “your ability to share the Gospel in word or in deed” rests on a Trump victory. As Bonhoeffer says in The Cost of the Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

20:00ff: The audience does not start applauding until conservative pastor-politician E.W. Jackson tells them that Black Lives Matter is a “Marxist ploy to get people to buy into some sort of socialist, communist world view….” See what’s going on here. An African-American evangelical politician gives an audience full of white people the freedom to cheer against an anti-racist organization.

27:00ff: William Federer, probably known best in certain white evangelical circles for publishing a book of quotations from the founding fathers, implies that the CIA, Department of Justice, and FBI are planning a “coup” against Trump.

36:00ff: Tony Perkins says that if one believes human beings are created in the image of God, it will “direct all of your other policy.” He adds that the violence in the streets after George Floyd’s death was fomented by people who did not believe that women and men are created in the image of God. Was their unnecessary violence in the streets? Of course. But most of what happened in the streets after Floyd was killed had everything to do with the kind of human dignity Perkins is talking about here. How could he miss this?

41:35ff: Perkins notes the high levels of abortions among African-American women and blames the problem on Planned Parenthood. He fails to see that there is a direct connection between systemic racism, poverty, and abortion in Black communities. Of course, if one does not believe in systemic racism, then it is easy to blame Planned Parenthood and continue to ignore the structural issues of inequality and racism in our society.

1:30:00ff: Federer starts talking about the Second Great Awakening and how it led to abolitionism. This is partly true, but Frederick Douglass offers another perspective on this. When his master got saved during the Second Great Awakening, Douglass said that he became more brutal in his beatings. Why? Because he was now following the teachings of the Bible as understood by the Southern preachers who led him to God. Don’t fall for Federer’s selective history. It is a selective understanding of the past used in service of Trumpism. The 17th, 18th, and 19th South was loaded with white evangelicals who owned slaves and embraced white supremacy.

1:32:00: Perkins makes a connection between the Democratic Party and the French Revolution. He sounds like Os Guinness here.

There is a lot of other things I could comment on, but I think I will stop there.

And in other court evangelical news:

The Falkirk Center at Liberty University is tweeting a quote from Jerry Falwell Sr.

In case you can’t read the quote:

The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country. If there is any place in the world we need Christianity, it’s in Washington. And that’s why preachers long since need to get over that intimidation forced upon us by liberals, that if we mention anything about politics, we are degrading our ministry. —Jerry Falwell Jr.

I will counter with a quote from C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape LettersScrewtape (Satan) is giving advice to his young minion Wormwood:

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

Samuel Rodriguez is holding a 4th of July prayer meeting at his church. The meeting is built upon his “prophetic decree” that America is “one nation, under guide, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” I wonder if he would have received the same prophetic decree prior to 1954, the year the words “under God” were added to the pledge.

James Robison tweets about the founders as if slavery did not exist.

Ralph Reed seems to think that Donald Trump’s “sins” are only sins of the “past.”

Robert Jeffress is ready to prove it:

Until next time.

On Joe Biden’s Evangelical Outreach

BIden 3

There are many white evangelicals out there who do not want to vote for Donald Trump, but they also refuse to vote for Joe Biden because they are worried about Supreme Court justices, abortion, and religious liberty. I know these people exist because they e-mail and message me regularly–almost every day.

At some point between now and Labor Day, I will try to write a post or publish something on whether or not an evangelical case can be made for Joe Biden. Stay tuned. But in this post I am writing more as a political observer.

David Brody’s reporting on the Biden outreach to evangelical Christians recently caught my eye. You can read it here.

I am not really sure what this outreach will look like. John McCarthy, the deputy national political director for he Biden Campaign, says that white evangelicals should be “open to Joe Biden’s message.” Why? Because Biden wants to build a “more fair and just society” that includes addressing climate change, racial injustice, and immigration reform. The Biden campaign is also conducting “listening sessions” with evangelical pastors and women. So far that’s it.

As Michael Wear points out in the Brody’s piece, the Hillary Clinton campaign did very little to attract white evangelical votes in 2016. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Though Clinton would never have come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign. In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.” Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions. During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions. There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Clinton was also quiet on matters pertaining to religious liberty. While she paid lip service to the idea whenever Trump made comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, she never addressed the religious liberty issues facing many evangelicals. This was especially the case with marriage. Granted, evangelicals should not have expected Clinton to defend traditional marriage or promise to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, but she did not seem willing to support something akin to what law professor and author John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.” The question of how to make room for people with religiously motivated beliefs that run contrary to the ruling in Obergefell is still being worked out, and the question is not an easy one to parse. But when Hillary claimed that her candidacy was a candidacy for “all Americans,” it seemed like an attempt to reach her base, not to reach across the aisle. Conservative evangelicals were not buying it.

Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton. In other words, white evangelicals do not hate Biden. (Christians are not supposed to hate, but it really seems like they hate Hillary. I’ve heard this over and over again from those I met on the Believe Me book tour). Biden is now doing just as well, if not better, than Obama with white evangelicals. One could make a case that the Biden campaign does not need to have a white evangelical outreach plan. As long as he doesn’t do anything stupid (which is definitely possible for Joe) that might rile up white evangelicals, he will get more white evangelical votes in 2020 than Hillary in 2016.

But if Joe Biden’s team is interested in making serious inroads among white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016, he will need to do several things:

On abortion: Biden lost his chance to win over most white evangelicals on this issue when he reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment. But he can still win some white evangelicals, or at least make them more comfortable with a Biden presidency, if he talked openly about abortion and how his policies on poverty and racial injustice might contribute to the continued lowering of the abortion rate in America. (The high abortion rate among African Americans, for example, is directly related to systemic racism and poverty).

Right now, when Biden talks about abortion, he does so in order to convince his Democratic base that he is pro-choice. This was his strategy during the Democratic primary season. But what if he talks about abortion from the perspective of his Catholic faith and his personal opposition to the practice? This would require him to say that the number of abortion needs to be reduced in America. He could easily make such a case and still defend Roe v. Wade. Senator Bob Casey Jr. made a similar case against Rick Santorum in the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate election. Such an approach would also give Biden a chance to contrast his views on race and poverty with those of Trump. Biden should not only address abortion when people ask him about it, but he should make it a campaign issue. And yes, I know this is wishful thinking.

Biden also needs to articulate a more nuanced view of religious liberty, especially as it relates to institutions who uphold traditional views on sexuality. Most of the debate on religious liberty today lacks complexity. I would encourage Biden to read Inazu’s Confident Pluralism. He may also want to think about the Fairness for All legislation. Again I know this is a long shot. There will be too much pressure for Biden to follow party orthodoxy on this issue.

An appeal to racial justice, climate change, and immigration will attract some white evangelicals in 2020. But most of these will be the white evangelicals (16%) who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. If the Biden campaign wants to ignore my suggestions (above) on abortion and religious liberty, and focus its evangelical outreach solely on race, climate, and immigration, they will need to do a much better job connecting these issues to biblical faith. I am not confident that Biden can deliver on this front in the way that Obama and Hillary Clinton did in 2008 when they visited Messiah College and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.

What is at stake for religious liberty in the latest SCOTUS decision?

Supreme Court

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled on three cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The court held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a previous post, I discussed what this ruling means politically, especially for the agenda of the Christian Right and their faith in Donald Trump. In this post, I want to discuss what it means for religious liberty in the United States.

Rather than pontificate, I want to simply call your attention to a few statements that reflect my views. First, here is a statement from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU):

Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision that extends federal protections to LGBT employees. At the CCCU, this is a decision that we have long recognized was possible, and is why we have been public supporters of legislation that would proactively balance the rights of religious communities and LGBT Americans. We believe it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all. Today’s ruling gives LGBT Americans more employment security, but it leaves important questions unanswered for religious employers. We call on Congress to address these uncertainties through legislation that makes explicit the religious protections important to a rich and vibrant civil society. We look forward to playing an important role in these vital conversations on behalf of our institutions and their First Amendment rights, and will continue to pursue strategies that protect the Christ-centered mission of our institutions and preserve and strengthen Christian higher education for the future.

At this point, I am not sure what this Supreme Court decision means for “Fairness for All.” In her piece at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey quotes University of Virginia Law School professor Douglas Laycock: “This will end all legislative bargaining over religious liberty in the gay-rights context…There is no longer a deal to be had in which Congress passes a gay-rights law with religious exemptions; the religious side has nothing to offer.”

And here is the National Association of Evangelicals:

The Supreme Court’s decision in three Title VII cases today redefines the word “sex” in a longstanding civil rights law. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that employers are legally prohibited from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in their hiring and other terms and conditions of employment. The decision provides significant protections for LGBT people, but leaves unanswered how the right for people and organizations to exercise their religion — to live according to their deeply held convictions — will be safeguarded.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. When Congress included the word “sex” in Title VII, Americans thought their representatives were creating a level playing field for women in the workplace. These recent cases before the Supreme Court argued that, whatever members of Congress were thinking back in 1964, the law they passed also covers employment decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In doing so, the Supreme Court created a law that Congress has repeatedly considered since the 1990s and declined to adopt.

By reading into a venerable civil rights law newly discovered protected classes, the Supreme Court has teed up years of social conflict. Judicial decisions by their nature are blunt instruments between two parties that do not allow for nuanced distinctions between types of employers, such as religious employers, and types of employment decisions.

In Title VII, Congress recognized that a blanket application of a nondiscrimination policy based on sex would create a conflict for some churches, religious colleges and other faith-based organizations in which theological convictions mandate differentiated roles. Accordingly, Title VII, as amended in 1972, includes a robust religious employer exemption that allows faith communities to structure their communal life according to their religious beliefs. With the Supreme Court’s expanded definition of sex, this exemption will be more important than ever, as a wider range of employment practices come under legal restrictions.

As a matter of church-state relations, the government should not interfere in the employment decisions of religious employers. The 1972 exemption has enabled all Americans of goodwill to coexist in a spirit of mutual respect. The National Association of Evangelicals is grateful that Justice Gorsuch’s opinion includes a reaffirmation of the ministerial exception, Title VII religious employer exemption, and Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections.

Since questions about religious freedom remain unanswered, the NAE will work in the courts and Congress to safeguard the freedom of religious organizations and individuals to follow their conscience and beliefs. We urge lower courts to respect and uphold this right in cases that come before them in the years ahead. Ultimately Congress should pass legislation that will ground in the act itself — not just a court decision — protection of the rights of all employers and employees to live according to their deepest convictions.

I will try to keep writing on this in the next few days. Stay tuned.

When evangelicals put their faith and trust in presidents and Supreme Court justices

Gorsuch Trump

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-3 decision, held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trump-appointed justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion. So did Trump-appointed justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Politically, the story centers on Gorsuch. Let’s remember that many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because they believed he would appoint conservative Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade and protect their religious liberties. When white evangelicals talk about religious liberties, the right to uphold views of traditional marriage and sexuality at their institutions, and still maintain their tax-exempt status and have access to federal funding programs, are at or near the top of the list.

For example, in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote:

Court evangelicals, for example, believe that a Trump administration will protect Christian colleges and universities from losing their religious exemptions, exemptions that allow them to receive federal money despite their religious opposition to the practice of homosexuality and gay marriage. One school that would have a lot to lose if these exemptions were to disappear is Liberty University. Jerry Falwell’s school does not allow faculty members who are gay, and it has taken strong stances against gay marriage and other related matters of sexual ethics. In 2015, Jerry Falwell Jr. no doubt has his eye on the controversy surrounding a bill in the California legislature that would remove Title IX religious exemptions for private liberal arts colleges that are opposed to gay marraige or refuse to hire gay faculty. The sponsors of the bill believed that such rules represented a form of discrimination against LGBTQ students attending those schools. Biola University, a liberal arts college in Los Angeles, along with several other California Christian colleges and universities, argued that the bill, if passed, would not only violate their religious liberties but would prevent low-income students in need of financial aid from attending their institutions.

The California bill had no bearing on federal funding or institutions outside California, but it still raised much fear among Christian colleges throughout the country. Liberty University students received $445 million in federal student loans, the highest today of any four-year university in Virginia and the eighth-highest in the nation. (The high ranking in both categories is due, in part, to the sheer size of the Liberty student body.) 

Many white evangelicals hoped that Trump would end these problems by appointing Supreme Court justices who would make sure that schools like Liberty, Biola, and dozens more Christian colleges, including my own institution, Messiah College, would get religious exemptions.

Again, here is Believe Me:

When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear  that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.

[Texas Senator Ted] Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said, “and if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republicans voters that the United States was “one justice away” from “the Supreme Court mandating unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”

“One justice away.” That  one justice was Neil Gorsuch.

Cruz, of course, did not get the nomination. But as a I argued in Believe Me, Trump watched him (along with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and other Christian Right favorites) carefully in order to learn how to tap the white evangelical vote. Here is more from the book:

…Trump pulled out his most important move to win over conservative evangelicals who were still skeptical about his candidacy on May 18[,2020]. On that day, the soon-to-be-GOP nominee released the names of eleven judges whom he said he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court. It was a move straight out of the playbook. The list was put together with input from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank known for defending traditional marriage, opposing abortion, and fighting for the right of religious institutions to avoid government interference. On July 13, 2016, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that evangelicals were rallying to Trump, and it predicted that 78 percent of white evangelical voters would support him in November.

Neil Gorsuch was on that list.

Many court evangelicals are not happy with Gorsuch’s majority opinion:

Franklin Graham has responded here.

We will see how this all plays out politically, but there are still some serious religious liberty questions that need to be addressed in the wake of this Supreme Court decision. Stay tuned. In my next post on this subject, I will address the way other evangelicals and faith-based institutions are responding to this decision, particularly as it relates to religious liberty.

Robert Jeffress’s Bizarre Interview with Lou Dobbs

“Bizarre.”

I realize the use of this term to describe Jeffress’s most recent interview with Lou Dobbs on Fox Business News says more about me than it does Jeffress. Let’s remember that Jeffress believes everything he said last night was perfectly logical and morally consistent. There was nothing bizarre about it.

Watch:

This is another great illustration of how the Christian Right support of Donald Trump works. Christian Right leaders ignore everything Trump has done in the last week to stir division in the country. They build their case for why evangelicals must re-elect the president on his support of “religious liberty” (among one or two other things). And yes Al Mohler and Eric Metaxas, I put “religious liberty” in scare quotes because white evangelicals rarely defend the religious liberties of non-evangelical religious groups. I am convinced that white evangelicals think about religious liberty differently than the rest of Americans.

Jeffress, like other evangelicals, is only capable of seeing racist acts, not systemic racism. I wrote about this on Thursday in the context of three of his court evangelical friends. It is easy to condemn what happened to George Floyd. But it takes work to look into the mirror and see how racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of American life. So far Jeffress is unwilling to do that. I encourage him to think more deeply about this subject. Read some African-American history. Perhaps he could start with his own church. (He can use St. Paul Episcopal Church in Richmond as a model).

Moreover, Jeffress sees no tension between his condemnation of racism and his ardent support for Trump, a man who uses race to divide America and has perfected a form of politics sustained by appeals to the most racist moments in our nation’s history. I wrote about this extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Finally, how does Jeffress reconcile his call for “peace” at the end of the Dobbs interview with his support of Trump, a man who, as I noted above, called for violence against the men and women protesting George Floyd’s murder? Conflict and strife fuel Trump’s presidency. And let’s not forget who is calling for peace here. The same guy who said this.

Bizarre indeed.

“Genuine Christian Faith is Larger Than the Constitution”

Corona Church

It looks like more than 1200 California pastors will hold in-person services this weekend in violation of Governor Gavin Newsoms’s stay-at-home order. Read their letter to Newsom here.

Here is Peter Marty, publisher of The Christian Century:

What’s motivating this willingness to put the lives of church members at risk in order to assert First Amendment rights? I don’t think it has anything to do with an honest conviction that various governors can’t stand religion. It has everything to do with an obsession over rights.

The language of rights is the language of power. “No right is safe unless it can be carried to an extreme,” conservative political philosopher Harvey Mansfield once remarked. This may be what we’re witnessing at the moment. Even though all rights have limits—you can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater—the absolutizing of rights has become a distorted feature of American politics.

Legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon calls it “the illusion of absoluteness.” In her 1991 book Rights Talk, she points out that when talk of rights turns absolute it inhibits conversation, silences responsibility, and downplays obligation toward the common good. She writes that the “relentless individualism” promoted by such rights talk “fosters a climate that is inhospitable to society’s losers, and systematically disadvantages caretakers and dependents, young and old.”

Rights are certainly important. But there’s a reason the Bible shows little interest in individual rights. If I see my life primarily as a prepackaged set of guaranteed rights owed me, instead of as a gift of God, what motivation is there to feel deep obligation toward society’s most vulnerable? If I’m just receiving what’s my rightful due, why would I ever need to express gratitude? What’s the point of looking outward toward others if I’m chiefly responsible for looking inward and securing the personal rights that are mine?

I want a faith that’s larger than the US Con­sti­tution…. 

Read the entire piece here.