Will Evangelicals Rally Around Trump in 2020?

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The Washington Post has published a long-form piece by writer Elizabeth Bruenig on Trump and evangelicals. Her work is based on some shoe-leather reporting in Texas during Easter weekend, 2019.  Bruenig talked to court evangelical Robert Jeffress, evangelicals at a small Baptist church, progressive Christians, and members of her own family.

Here is a taste:

However he reached them, Trump has undoubtedly made greater inroads with his evangelical adherents. Jeffress predicted an even bigger win for Trump among evangelicals this time around, surpassing his record-setting success last time; all of the Farmersville Christians were prepared to vote for him in 2020, as was Joe Aguilar. Much depends on the many months between now and the general election, but I would no longer underestimate the possibility that evangelicals will turn out in stronger numbers for a second Trump term than they did in 2016, partly to ensure another Supreme Court pick and partly because the backlash against them has cemented so much of what they already suspected about liberals’ attitudes.

Which raises a series of imponderables: Is there a way to reverse hostilities between the two cultures in a way that might provoke a truce? It is hard to see. Is it even possible to return to a style of evangelical politics that favored “family values” candidates and a Billy Graham-like engagement with the world, all with an eye toward revival and persuasion? It is hard to imagine.

Or was a truly evangelicalpolitics — with an eye toward cultural transformation — less effective than the defensive evangelical politics of today, which seems focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture? Was the former always destined to collapse into the latter? And will the evangelical politics of the post-Bush era continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes? And if hostilities can’t be reduced and a detente can’t be reached, are the evangelicals who foretell the apocalypse really wrong?

Read the entire piece here.

Fox News Tackles My “Thoughts and Prayers” *Washington Post* Piece

Here is last night’s Shannon Bream show on Fox.   Fast forward to the 36:40 mark to see court evangelical Robert Jeffress and radio host Ethan Bearman discuss my recent Washington Post article on the connection between abortion and gun control.

I still want Jeffress to turn to his Twitter feed and his media outlets and propose serious gun reforms as an extension of his commitment to human dignity and life.

ADDENDUM:

It looks like Fox News removed the video. I think you might be able to see it on Jeffress’s Twitter feed:

 

Did Your Evangelical Church Say Anything About El Paso or Dayton on Sunday Morning?

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Feel free to write a response in the comment sections below or hit me up on Twitter.

Meanwhile, here is a taste of Emma Green’s piece on the evangelical response to the shooting:

But other pastors, including several influential mega-church leaders who have been strong supporters of the president, have pushed back on what they call the politicization of this and other shootings. “I think it is wrong to assign blame to any party or any candidate for this problem,” Robert Jeffress, the head pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory council, told me. “This is the problem of evil.”

Repeatedly throughout his candidacy and presidency, Trump has spoken about immigrants and asylum seekers, especially from Latin America, as “invaders.” He has also derided Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals.” But Jeffress does not believe that the president is at all responsible for creating an atmosphere of violence. “If you listen to what the president is saying—contrary to some in the mainstream media—he is not anti-immigrant. He is anti–illegal immigrant. And there is a big difference between the two,” Jeffress told me. “I’ve known the president for four years. He’s a friend of mine. I’ve seen him in a number of different situations. And I’ve never seen one scintilla of evidence of racism in him.” In an address to the nation today, Trump did take a unifying tone: “The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate,” the president said. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”

Democrats are not impressed. Over the weekend, Democratic presidential candidates repeatedly blamed Trump for “savagely fraying the bonds of our nation by speaking consistently words of hatred,” as Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey put it on CNN. This kind of behavior is “shameful,” Jeffress said. “By politicizing this tragedy, some Democrats are trivializing this tragedy.”

Another Dallas-area pastor and Trump adviser, Jack Graham, agreed. “I’m not going to blame rhetoric on the evil heart of some terrorist. Who knows what was going on in the mind of this shooter,” he told me. “To me, this is not the time … to go running out there and condemning political leaders, whether it’s the president or anyone else, or blaming rhetoric, or blaming guns.”

Samuel Rodriguez, an evangelical pastor who serves as the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has also been one of Trump’s evangelical advisers. But he told me that it is impossible to deny that anti-immigrant rhetoric stokes bigotry. “I do believe words matter,” he said. “When we paint the immigrant community with one broad stroke, we are, in essence, feeding the poisonous venom already injected in the hearts and minds of individuals who truly do believe there is a Hispanic invasion.” He called on all elected officials to disavow this kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric. But he also said he hopes his white, Christian brothers and sisters will explicitly defend immigrants in this moment. “I would like to see every white evangelical pastor in America stand up on their pulpit and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, immigrants are not a burden. Immigrants are a blessing,’” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelicals David Barton and Robert Jeffress Talk Christian America

Court evangelical James Robison recently had two fellow court evangelicals on his television show.  Here is the interview with Jeffress and Barton:

A few comments:

2:00ff:  Jeffress says: “You hear Nancy Pelosi and others saying that walls are un-Christian and immoral.  Well, if that’s true, God’s immoral because he told Nehemiah to build a wall around Jerusalem.  There’s gonna be a wall in heaven Revelation 21 says.”

If we were to take the Bible literally when it talks about walls, and apply Bible verses to contemporary policy discussions about immigration, then I wonder what Jeffress would say about these passages:

Deuteronomy 28:52: “It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you.”

Lamentations 2:8: The LORD has purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he has stretched out a line, he has not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together.

Proverbs 18:11: A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination. (Ironically, Jeffress is on Robison’s show promoting a book on Proverbs).

These verses show the absurdity of using the Bible to justify a 21st-century border wall. Like many evangelicals who have gone before him (back to the time of the American Revolution), Jeffress cherry-picks from scripture, allowing political considerations (specifically his court evangelical approach to Trump) influence his interpretation of the Bible.

3:00ff: Barton is talking about the durability of the United States Constitution.  He is certain that the Constitution has endured because the country is founded on Christian principles.  He provides no evidence for this assertion. One could also say that the Constitution has endured because of its grounding in Enlightenment principles.  Barton likes to think he is making a historical argument here, but he is really making a theological argument.

Barton goes on to lament the major decline in the number of people who claim to be “born again” Christians.   He does not reference his source, but he claims that the number of  “born again Christians” dropped from 45% of Americans in 2006 to 31% of Americans in 2018.  He is worried about the rise of atheists, agnostics, and “nones.”  As might be expected, Barton believes that the “trends are going in the wrong direction.”

I recently spent half of a morning with 34 high school teachers from around the country talking about the Puritans and the so-called narrative of declension.  Puritans believed that they had a covenant with God not unlike the covenant that God made with Israel in the Old Testament.  When people in 17th-century Massachusetts Bay failed to commit their lives to Christ through conversion, the clerical leaders worried that the colony was not holding-up its end of the covenant.  God, as a result, was not pleased.  This is why God brought Indian invasions, earthquakes, and witches to New England.  Ministers preached sermons known as “jeremiads” calling the people back to God or urging them to work harder to save more souls.

Barton believes in American exceptionalism–that God has uniquely blessed the United States of America.  His lament over the declining number of born-again Christians sounds quite similar to a 17th-century jeremiad.

9:00ff:  Jeffress is flying high here.  He rails against abortion, “moral sewage” in our culture, and threats to religious liberty as he understands it.  He says that “it is not God’s will” that these things are happening.  But is it “God’s will” that immigrants and refugees fleeing poverty and persecution are stopped at our borders?  Is it God’s will that children and parents are separated at the border?  Is it God’s will that our country is led by a man who is a liar, racist, xenophobe, nativist, and adulterer?  Please get off your high horse pastor Jeffress.

14:40:  Jeffress says that “God doesn’t get goosebumps when he hears the Star Spangled Banner” and he doesn’t “stand-up and wave when the American flag passes by.”  Yet Jeffress hosts events like this in his church.

The Trump Apostle

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Check out Michael J. Mooney‘s longform piece in Texas Monthly on court evangelical Robert Jeffress.  (Teaser: Believe Me gets a shoutout!)

Here is a taste:

Here’s Robert Jeffress in January 2016, sitting on Trump’s plane between campaign stops in Iowa, and the pastor and the presidential candidate are finishing their lunch of Wendy’s cheeseburgers when Jeffress says, “Mr. Trump, I believe you’re going to be the next president of the United States. And if that happens, it’s because God has a great purpose for you and for our nation.” Jeffress quotes from the book of Daniel, chapter two, and explains, “God is the one who establishes kings and removes kings.”

Trump looks at the pastor and says, “Do you really believe that?”

“Yes, sir, I do,” Jeffress says.

Trump asks, “Do you believe God ordained Obama to be president?”

“I do,” Jeffress tells Trump. “God has a purpose for every leader.”

This is certainly not the way Jeffress talked about Barack Obama when he was president. Jeffress wasn’t a fan. Shortly before Mitt Romney secured the Republican nomination in 2012, Jeffress said he’d “hold [his] nose” and vote for him instead of Obama, despite believing that Mormonism is a cult and Romney is going to hell. (He’s also said that Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and nonbelievers are destined for hell.) He criticized both Obamacare and National Security Agency surveillance as violations of Americans’ freedom. In 2014, citing Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, Jeffress declared that the president was “paving the way for the Antichrist.”

Jeffress very much believes that an Antichrist will rise to power one day—possibly soon—before Jesus returns to earth. This isn’t entirely surprising. After graduating from Baylor, he attended Dallas Theological Seminary, a hub of twentieth-century dispensational theology, where he was taught, and embraced, the idea that God reveals himself progressively through different dispensations, or ages, and that these would culminate in an epic showdown between Christ and a fearsome enemy. Key events of this apocalypse would occur in Israel, went the thinking, and it was common for dispensationalists to publicly identify people they thought might be the Antichrist. Henry Kissinger was a popular pick; so was Mikhail Gorbachev, whose prominent birthmark looked suspiciously, to some, like the mark of the beast. Eventually most religious figures stopped trying to identify the Antichrist and the exact date of Christ’s return, but they didn’t stop believing that the supernatural confrontation was imminent.

Read the entire piece here.

The Mueller Report and the Trump Evangelicals

Mueller Report

I spent part of the weekend reading the Mueller Report. Nothing I have written below is new if you have been following the news coverage of the report or read it for yourself, but I thought I would use this space to jot down some of my notes as I processed it.

  • The Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.  In other words, it is possible that Donald Trump won in 2016 because of Russian help (Vol. 1:1).  Future historians should put an asterisk next to Trump’s victory in 2016.  We may never know how the Russians helped Trump, but they clearly interfered.
  • There are “numerous links” between the Russian interference in the U.S. election and the Trump presidential campaign (Vol 1:1).
  • The Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities (“collusion” is not a legal term), but it certainly came close.
  • The Russian Facebook campaign played to American fears.  These Russian-authored social media accounts and ads were promoted through retweets and responses to tweets by Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Michael Flynn.  (Vol I: 26-27).  In other words, these people helped make the Russian interference effective.  (Of course none of these people knew they were retweeting and promoting the work of Russians).
  • The report presents the Trump campaign as chaotic and disorganized.  Several members of the campaign were working with Russia to help Trump get elected.  Some lied about it and got caught.  Others seemed to just get lucky that they did not do anything reaching the level of criminality.  Those who told the American people that there were no links between the Trump campaign and Russia included Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Trump himself.  (Thanks to Lawfare Blog for identifying these names and providing links).
  • It seems like most Trump supporters stopped reading the report after Volume 1.
  • Mueller says up-front that he respected the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and agreed not to indict a sitting President.  Yet he also says his office uncovered “potentially obstructive acts related to the Special Counsel’s investigation itself.” (Vol. 2:1)
  • Mueller reminds the readers that “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”  Why would he put that in the report if he did not think a legitimate case of obstruction could be made against Trump? (Vol 2:1). Perhaps the answer comes on p. 2:2: “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.  Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.  The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.  Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In other words, Mueller may have found evidence of a possible indictment for obstruction, but could not bring an indictment because of the OLC guidance.  As several scholars have shown, including historians Julian Zelizer and Yoni Appelbaum, this is Mueller’s way of suggesting that it is the job of Congress to handle such behavior.  (Also 2:156-182).
  • Volume 2:3-7 reads like Mueller’s case for impeachment:
    • Trump lied about contacts with Russia
    • Trump tried to intimidate former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into  Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian government. According to Mueller, there is “substantial evidence” to support Comey’s side of this story.  Trump denied that he asked everyone in the room to leave so he could pressure Comey to drop the investigation.  He lied about this.
    • Trump tried to get Jeff Sessions and several other members of the federal government to bring an end to the ongoing Russia investigation.  How is this not obstruction?
    • Trump fired FBI director James Comey and tried to make it look like he was fired for incompetence unrelated to the Russia probe. We now know that Comey was indeed fired because Trump did not like the Russia probe, despite the fact that the FBI director insisted that Trump was not under investigation.
    • Trump tried to get White House attorney Don McGahn to remove Mueller as Special Counsel.  McGahn told Trump that such a request was “silly” and “not real.” He would not do it.  Trump then told McGahn to deny press reports confirming that the president ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed. (2:114)
    • Trump tried to get Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare that the Mueller investigation was “very unfair” to him.  Trump also wanted the probe limited to future election interference, rather than focus on the Russian election interference in 2016.  Lewandowski asked White House aid Rick Dearborn to get the message to Sessions.  Dearborn never delivered it.  This is one of many examples of Trump’s staff protecting an out-of-control and incompetent president motivated by his own narcissism, self-image, and personal vendettas.
    • Trump edited Donald Trump Jr.’s statement about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton to make it appear that the meeting was about adoption.  He and his personal lawyer then lied about the fact that he did this.
    • Trump pressured Jeff Sessions, on more than one occasion, to unrecuse himself from heading the Mueller investigation because he thought Sessions might fire Mueller.
    • After Flynn began cooperating with the Special Counsel, Trump tried to get Michael Flynn to give him a “heads up” about any “information that implicates the president”
    • Trump tried to manipulate Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen’s testimony before the Special Counsel. (2:138, 146)
  • On pages 2:9-12, Mueller lays out the five kinds of obstruction of justice under the heading “The Legal Framework of Obstruction of Justice.”  Wow!  It seems like Trump violated all five of these forms of obstruction.

The Bottom Line:

Donald Trump is a liar who clearly obstructed justice.  He has forced others to lie to the American people on his behalf.  Some, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed evangelical Christian, lied for the president on multiple occasions.  (That is a lot of slips of the tongue). Others refused to lie for him. The Mueller report reveals that Trump’s presidency lacks a moral center.  He should be impeached.

And what about the court evangelicals and all of those other white evangelicals who still support Trump?  They will double down in their support for the president.  He is God’s chosen instrument and his evangelical supporters will invoke biblical examples of how God’s anointed instruments will always suffer persecution.  They will claim that the Mueller Report is biased (except, of course, the parts that say there was no collusion).  They will continue to stoke the “witch hunt” metaphor.   They will continue to take their marching orders from Fox News and claim that the report proves that Trump did not commit a crime.  They will argue that the country should simply move forward as if nothing happened.  They will ignore the parts of the report that show Trump’s immorality and lies.  Court evangelicalism blinds one to the truth.  For example:

What document are these guys reading?  It can’t be the Mueller report.  🙂

But perhaps a few pro-Trump evangelicals will see the light and finally realize, like Billy Graham eventually did with Richard Nixon, that Trump is not worthy of their support

Trump Tells Border Agents to Break the Law. Court Evangelicals Remain Silent

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Jake Tapper of CNN is reporting that Donald Trump told immigration officials on the Mexican border to essentially ignore court orders allowing Central American migrants seeking asylum into the country.  Here is a taste of Tapper’s piece:

Three Thursdays ago, in a meeting at the Oval Office with top officials — including Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top aides Jared Kushner, Mercedes Schlapp and Dan Scavino, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and more — the President, according to one attendee, was “ranting and raving, saying border security was his issue.”

Senior administration officials say that Trump then ordered Nielsen and Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso the next day, Friday, March 22, at noon. The plan was that in subsequent days the Trump administration would shut down other ports.

Nielsen told Trump that would be a bad and even dangerous idea, and that the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has been very supportive of the President.

She proposed an alternative plan that would slow down entries at legal ports. She argued that if you close all the ports of entry all you would be doing is ending legal trade and travel, but migrants will just go between ports.

According to two people in the room, the President said: “I don’t care.”

Ultimately, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney seemed to have been able to talk the President out of closing the port of El Paso. Trump, however, was insistent that his administration begin taking another action — denying asylum seekers entry. Nielsen tried to explain to the President that the asylum laws allow migrants from Central America to come to the US and gain entry. She talked to the White House counsel to see if there were any exceptions, but he told her that her reading of the law was correct.

Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to official requests for comment.

Last Friday, the President visited Calexico, California, where he said, “We’re full, our system’s full, our country’s full — can’t come in! Our country is full, what can you do? We can’t handle any more, our country is full. Can’t come in, I’m sorry. It’s very simple.”

Behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”

After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.

Read the entire piece here.

Some will say that Tapper represents the “left-wing media” who is out to get Trump.  I have a few thoughts on this:

  1.  Tapper is an excellent reporter who is one of the most fair-minded interviewers on CNN.
  2.  What Tapper is reporting here fits very well with everything we know about Donald Trump.
  3.  A question for Trump supporters (or “left-wing media” haters):  Is there anything  that the CNN or New York Times could uncover about Trump that might actually be true?

Tapper’s piece is just further proof that Trump is a populist tyrant.  He won in 2016 by promising to build a wall.  His immigration policy thus far has been draconian.  Some of the children he separated from their parents are lost and it will take up to two years to find them.  Today he falsely claimed that Obama is to blame for the separation of these children. He believes that he has a mandate from the people (or at least the ones who elected him) to do these things and, as a result, he does not pay much attention to the rule of law, checks and balances, or time-honored American institutions.

Trump’s populism reminds me of Andrew Jackson’s rationale for removing the Cherokees from their homeland and sending them on the so-called “Trail of Tears.”  The white men who voted for Jackson wanted the Cherokee gone.  Jackson listened and responded.  This is what democracy meant in the early 19th century.  Maybe this is why Michigan conservatives do not want students to study “democracy” in their history classes.

And where are the Trump court evangelicals today?  What do they have to say about his disregard for the law, his separation of children, and his constant lies?  Here is what they are up to today:

Bob Jeffress, with his snarky laugh and Trump name-dropping, is still obsessed with the fact that Pete Buttigieg is gay, progressive and pro-choice.  (By the way, Jeffress’s defense of Mike Pence here does not seem to hold-up when compared to past Pence statements on the subject).

Jack Graham is hanging out with the “My Pillow” guy:

I am not sure if Paula White has any followers among the separated families on the border, but if she does, they are going to have a hard time taking her advice here:

 

Where are the Court Evangelical Defenders of “Family Values” Today?

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Getty Images

The Trump Administration separated 1000s of immigrant children from their parents.  If I am reading this article correctly, the administration does not know where these kids are located. They simply failed to write down where they sent them.  It will take up to two years to find them.

And where are the court evangelicals today?  They brag about unprecedented access to Trump.  Now is the time to use such access.  These men and women built their political careers around defending “family values.”  Why aren’t they lined-up at the White House door to demand that these families are reunited sooner?

Here is Tony Perkins, president of an organization called the FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:

Apparently Perkins’s “religiously informed values” do not bear on “public policy decisions” about reuniting families separated by Trump immigration policy.  It seems like this might be something an organization called the FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL may want to take up.

I wonder how Perkins would respond if these were white middle class families?

First Baptist-Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress spent his Sunday interviewing a guy from Duck Dynasty:

I am sure this interview focused on family separation. 😉

Gary Bauer, a former president of the Family Research Council, is using his Twitter feed to spew anti-immigrant rhetoric:

Former “Focus on the Family” host James Dobson is wondering what “love” looks like:

Eric Metaxas was on NPR earlier today wondering if the American Republic has “lost its way’:

These court evangelicals, if they really believe in family values, should be screaming from the rooftops today.  Sadly, it’s not going to happen.

Free Excerpt from *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dWhat is perhaps most disturbing about [Dallas megachurch pastor Robert] Jeffress’s [book] Twlight’s Last Gleaming is the way in which his deeply held passion for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others is neutralized by his political agenda.  The book begins with a foreword by former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: “If you are looking for a sweet little ‘bookette’ that is politically correct and safe to read and share with staunch unbelievers so as not to offend them, then put this book down and keep looking.”  In the first sentence of the first page, Huckabee alienates unbelievers and, in the process, undermines everything Jeffress says in the book about the importance of evangelism.  But Jeffress proves in the pages that follow that he does not need Huckabee’s help in weakening his gospel witness.  Jeffress urges his readers to give up on the culture wars and focus on their “unprecedented chance” in these final days of humankind to “point people to the hope of Jesus Christ.”  Then he spends the rest of his book teaching readers how to more effectively win the culture wars.  At one point in the book Jeffress attributes the steep decline in the number of new converts baptized in the Southern Baptist Church to spiritually weak church members who are afraid to offend anyone with the claims of the gospel.  Jeffress may be correct.  But the possibility that the decline in baptisms is related to the fact that most Americans now associate the gospel with partisan politics does not appear to have even crossed his mind.

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, p. 128-129.

Fox News Court Evangelical: “If what I hear at church is no better than what I hear on CNN…then why bother?”

Watch court evangelical Robert Jeffress yesterday on Fox News:

The most revealing part of this interview comes at about the 1:48 mark when Jeffress says, “If what I hear at church is no better than what I hear on CNN or the Rotary Club, then why bother?”

I agree with Jeffress here, but he seems completely clueless about the fact that the same thing applies to Fox News.

Court Evangelical Seizes on Ilhan Omar’s Remarks to Score Points for Trump

Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, is at it again:

Jeffress is quick to condemn such “hate speech.”  Yes, this is the same guy who:

Jeffress believes that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and must be reclaimed as one.  His rigid way of seeing the world, and his arrogant claims to know the will of God on all matters, makes him one of the most divisive clerical voices in the United States.

What Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress Said Tonight on Fox Business News

It’s been a “great” week for the President of the United States.  Think about it:

  1.  Trump’s former lawyer testified before Congress and called president a liar, a racist, an adulterer, a con man, and a cheat.  And then he produced evidence which seems to implicate Trump in federal crimes.
  2. Trump went to Vietnam to meet with the North Korean dictator.  While he was there, the North Korean dictator told Trump that he was unaware that an American college student was imprisoned and tortured in his country.  Trump believed what the dictator told him, stating “I will take him at his word.”  The parents of the now-dead college student are outraged at this act of insensitivity.
  3. New York Times story uncovered that Donald Trump insisted that his son-in-law be given a top-secret security clearance despite the fact that intelligence officials and the White House top lawyer said this what a bad idea.  This is blatant nepotism.  The story also proves that Trump has lied about this on multiple occasions.

You would think the court evangelicals might lay low on a week like this.  Nope.  Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church at Dallas, went on Fox Business News tonight and praised Trump:

There are so, so many problems with this video:

  1. Jeffress takes a victory lap because 80% of Americans claim to believe in God.  He says anyone who does not believe in God is a moron.  As long as Rev. Jeffress is throwing around Bible verses, perhaps he should consider Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. ”  How does he reconcile this verse with his triumphant running-of-the mouth about a Pew poll that says 80% of Americans believe in God?
  2. If Robert Jeffress is a minister of the Gospel, why does he condemn Democrats and others on the “Left” who do not believe in God by attacking them with such provocative and angry rhetoric?  Is this helping him reach the lost souls he claims to care so much about?  His choice to take a pay check from Fox News and serve as the conservative network’s evangelical culture warrior seems counterproductive to his calling a soul-winner.
  3.  Jeffress continues to make the claim that the United States was founded and continues to be a Christian nation.  He is wrong.  I address these claims in both Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In Believe Me, I engage Jeffress directly.  Much of his understanding of American history comes from political activist David Barton.
  4. Lou Dobbs’s decision to talk to Jeffress about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church is thick with irony.  Dobbs is talking to the pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the United States.  He does not seem to realize that the Southern Baptist Convention is plagued with sexual abuse scandals right now.  Jeffress has said nothing to condemn the sexual abuse scandals in his denomination and he says nothing about them in this interview.  Shame on him!
  5. Finally, for a a nuanced view on late-term abortions, see Michael Wear‘s recent piece in The Atlantic.

Conservative Evangelicals Defend Steve King and Want Kevin McCarthy to Apologize

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Perhaps some of you missed it.  Iowa congressman Steve King, in an interview with the New York Times, said this: “White nationalists, white supremacist, Western Civilization–how did that language become offensive?”

King later tried to back away from the statement, but it was too little, too late.  House minority leader Kevin McCarthy removed King from the House Judiciary and Agriculture Committees earlier this week and he was almost censured.  King’s remarks were the latest in a long career defined by racist and nativist comments.

Not everyone is happy with what McCarthy, the House Republicans, and Congress have done to King.  Right Wing Watch has brought to my attention news of a group of Christian Right leaders who are supporting King.  The group is led by Janet Porter, a Christian Right activist who served as the spokesperson for Roy Moore’s 2017 Alabama  Senate race.  Porter is asking Christian Right leaders to sign a letter to Kevin McCarthy.  Here is the text of that letter:
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Dear Leader McCarthy,

We are appalled that Republican leadership would choose to believe a liberal news organization famous for their bias over an outstanding member of Congress who has served the people of Iowa and the United States honorably and faithfully for 16 years.

If Congressman Steve King believed and stood by the outrageous misquote of the New York Times, then the actions taken against him would have been warranted, but the opposite is true.

Unlike North Korea, we in the United States are “innocent until proven guilty” and hold to the principles of Western Civilization, as Rep. King so admirably does. The foundational principle begins with the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are the principles to which Rep. King was referring and which he has championed for more than two decades of public service.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of turning the reins of the U.S. Congress over to the liberal media, allowing them to target, misquote, and falsely brand any member of Congress they wish to remove. 

We call on you to do the right thing as Minority Leader: issue a public apology and reinstate Rep. King to his committee assignments.  If we don’t stand with this good man against the media-manufactured assault today, none of us will be safe from it tomorrow.

The Christian Right leaders who signed this letter include:

  • The scandal-ridden former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
  • Court evangelical and family values radio host James Dobson
  • Court evangelical and charismatic media mogul Steven Strang
  • Paul Blair, president of an organization called Reclaiming America for Christ
  • Rick Scarborough, a conservative Southern Baptist political activist
  • Lance Wallnau, a court evangelical who claims to have prophesied Donald Trump’s election.
  • Rena Lindevaldsen, a law professor at Liberty University
  • Jim Garlow, a pastor and prominent court evangelical who recently co-authored a book with David Barton.
  • Cythnia Dunbar, a member of the Republican National Committee who is probably best known for trying to bring Christian nationalist ideas into American history books in Texas.  (She also claimed that Barack Obama, if elected POTUS, would work with terrorists to attack the United States within his first 6 months in office).
  • William Federer, a Christian nationalist known for collecting quotes about the founding fathers

I discuss Dobson, Strang, and Wallnau in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This letter may be more revealing for the people who DID NOT sign it, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer, Franklin Graham, Paula White, Johnnie Moore,  Eric Metaxas, and other court evangelicals.

Why You Should Hit the Golf Links With a Trump Evangelical

Trump golf

Daniel J. Conny’s November 26, 2018 letter to The Buffalo News sums it up pretty well:

Evangelical Christians (and other God-fearing folk) have taken to looking the other way when it comes to President Trump’s ethical and moral shortcomings. The president’s pattern of behavior is forgiven because he is unconventional but delivers on key issues.

Pastor Robert Jeffress observed that, “Evangelicals knew they weren’t voting for an altar boy when they voted for Donald Trump.”

Rather than attempt to deny or defend Stormy Daniels’ allegation that she had an affair with Trump, Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, simply said: “We kind of gave him – ‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.’”

In amateur golf, a mulligan is an extra stroke allowed after a poor shot. The President has been granted multiple mulligans in the case of what many religious folks have traditionally held to be guiding life principles. Some examples:

• Fidelity in marriage is to be honored. At best, Trump has a checkered marriage history. Ignore “for better or worse.”

• Honesty is a virtue. 6,000+ lies and counting.

• Do not incite resentment for individuals of another race or religion. Charlottesville. Muslim ban. “Invading” caravan. Ignore “we are all God’s children.”

• Honor the family. Trump separated children from their parents – some never to be rejoined.

While I disagree that ends justify means, evangelicals are more welcome to join my foursome the next time I tee it up. Their generosity with mulligans would help my score.

Daniel J. Conny

Orchard Park

What Happened to “Silent Night?”

Here is what you can expect this Christmas at Robert Jeffress‘s First Baptist Church in Dallas:

Looks like the Little Drummer Boy’s Par-rum-pa-pum-pum has transformed into a “spectacular percussion performance.”  Muscular Christianity at its best (worst?).

Sleep in heavenly peace….

Post-Election Spin From the Court Evangelicals

Here is what the court evangelicals are saying today:

I agree here with Jack Graham. Yes, life and liberty were on the ballot yesterday. Life in the womb and after the baby is born. Liberty for all men and women:

Robett Jeffress makes a prediction:

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council made a statement.  He thinks that GOP victories last night were largely because of abortion.  His statement also reveals that he has no interest in finding any common ground with his opponents:  “We will stand with President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell in working to repel the Pelosi agenda that is at odds with the values that made America a great nation.”  At least Tony Perkins is honest.

Here is Samuel Rodriguez:

I have no idea what Eric Metaxas and Jerry Falwell Jr. are saying.  They both blocked me.

Was there a court evangelical viewing party?

Quick Thoughts on Andrew Brunson’s Return

Brunson

First, I am really happy that Andrew Brunson is back in the United States.  Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and others brought him home.  I am happy for his family and his congregation.

I am also confident that any American president would work to bring the imprisoned pastor home.  This is what presidents are supposed to do.  But in our current climate evangelicals will see this as something unique to Trump and his “faith friendly” policies.

Second, I don’t have a problem with Brunson asking to pray for Trump in the Oval Office event on Saturday.  The guy was a prisoner in Turkey for two years.  If he wants to pray for Trump in public, let him pray for Trump.  But I do have a problem with the way Trump and the Christian Right are exploiting this event for political gain.  (Yet another reason why Jesus instructed us in Matthew 6:5 to pray in secret).  Immediately following Brunson’s prayer, Trump, true to form, asked him about how he voted.  Meanwhile, the court evangelicals are relentlessly politicizing this moment:

Third, I would now like to see the court evangelicals fight for the release of other U.S. hostages in Turkey and elsewhere.

Fourth, Michael Hirsh of Foreign Policy notes that Turkey freed Brunson, but still managed to embarrass Trump.

Fifth, at an event like this one should expect someone to promote some really bad U.S. history.  In this case it was North Carolina Senator Richard Burr:

David Brody: Trump’s Court Journalist

Brody FileSome of you are familiar with David Brody, the Chief Political Analyst at CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) News and the author of The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography.  He often claims to be a legitimate journalist and chronicler of American politics, but in reality he is a pro-Trump advocate.  Here are a few of his recent tweets:

Today Brody has a piece at USA Today titled “Supreme Court and Andrew Brunson return show God sent Trump for ‘such a time as this.'”

The title itself implies that Brody seems to have a hotline to God.  He knows that Donald Trump is part of God’s will to make America great again and restore America to its Judeo-Christian roots.  This kind of certainty about God’s will in the world has long been a hallmark of American fundamentalism.

Brody then expounds on the Old Testament book of Esther.  He writes:

Esther is considered a hero in the Jewish history books.  Evangelicals see Donald Trump in a similar way: an unlikely hero, put in a place of influence, “for such a time as this.”  No, not turn back the clock on civil rights.  Today’s authentic, Bible-believing evangelicals have no tolerance for racism of any kind.  Rather, they see God’s hand at play to usher in a new era in support of traditional Judeo-Christian principles.

Two quick responses to this paragraph:

  • This is classic Brody.  He writes about “evangelicals” in the third person as if he is only reporting on what they believe.  Yet he continues to tweet as a politico and pro-Trumper.
  • Like Brody, I don’t know many evangelicals who would say they want to “turn back the clock on civil rights” (but I know they are out there).  But I know a lot of evangelicals who will not condemn Trump’s racist comments or the way those comments fire-up the white nationalists in his base.  Let’s remember that Robert Jeffress (who Brody quotes glowingly in his USA Today article) said Trump “did just fine” in his comments in the wake of the race riots in Charlottesville.  I also know a lot of evangelicals who have no problem chanting a phrase like “Make America Great Again” or wearing a MAGA hat.  As I have said multiple times at this blog,  in Believe Me, and on the Believe Me book tour, America has never been “great” for everyone–the poor, people of color, women, etc….

Brody concludes:

Romans 13:1 declares, “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Evangelicals believe this promise, and that’s why they are supremely confident that Donald Trump and his Supreme Court have been heaven-sent.

I did not hear Brody or other conservative evangelicals making this argument during the Clinton or Obama presidencies.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify separating children from their parents at the border.

Read Brody’s entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress is Bad for America

Jeffress SWBTS

Jeffress is more concerned with his theocratic agenda–an approach to American culture driven by fear, the raw pursuit of power, and a nostalgic longing for an age that is long gone or may never have existed in the first place–than he is the good of the nation.  He is a cancer spreading over our democracy.

Why else would he describe the Kavanaugh nomination as an example of “good” triumphing over “evil?”  In Jeffress’s world view, “evil” is the product of Satan and his minions.  The Dallas pastor has no interest in finding common ground.  He only wants to demonize his opponents and divide the country.  This is what culture warriors do.  They claim to be patriots, but they are not.