Churches and the Legacy of Racism: A Tale of Two Congregations

Interior_of_St._Pauls_Episcopal_Church_Richmond_VA_2013_8759347988-e1443705658980

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA

Back in June, I wrote a post about the 150th anniversary of the founding of First Baptist Church in Dallas, the congregation led by court evangelical Robert Jeffress.  In that post I referenced Tobin Grant’s 2016 Religion News Service piece on the long history of racial segregation at First Baptist. Daniel Silliman’s piece at Religion Dispatches is also worth a look.

Here is the 150th anniversary video that the congregation has been promoting:

A few comments:

  1.  The narrative revolves around three authoritarian clergymen:  George Truett, W.A. Criswell, and Robert Jeffress.
  2. It says nothing about the fact that the Southern Baptist Church was formed because southern Baptists defended slavery and white supremacy.
  3. It says nothing about Truett’s and Criswell’s commitment to racial segregation and Jim Crow.
  4. It does include an image of Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump.  Let’s remember that Jeffress defended Trump last year after the POTUS equated white supremacists and those protesting against white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rather than taking a hard look at its past, First Baptist-Dallas has whitewashed it.

I thought about this June 2018 post a couple of weeks ago when I had the privilege of teaching the Adult Faith Formation class at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, Virginia.  St. Paul’s occupies and amazing building in the heart of Richmond.  It is located across the street from the Virginia State Capitol and adjacent to the Virginia Supreme Court.  The church was founded in 1844.

During the Civil War, when Richmond served as the Confederate capital, both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis worshiped at St. Paul’s.   After the war, the church used its windows to tell the story of the Lost Cause.  It is often described as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”

But unlike First Baptist-Dallas, St. Paul’s decided to come to grips with its racist past.  In 2015, the church began its “History and Reconciliation Initiative” (HRI) with the goal of tracing and acknowledging the racial history of the congregation in order to “repair, restore, and seek reconciliation with God each other and the broader community.”  I encourage you to visit the HRI website to read more about the way St. Paul’s is trying to come to grips with the darker sides of its past.

Public historian Christopher Graham, who co-chairs the HRI when he is not curating an exhibit at The American Civil War Museum, invited me to Richmond to speak.  He is doing some amazing work at the intersection of public history and religion.

When I think about St. Paul’s, I am reminded of Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.”  It is also refreshing to see the words “repair” and “restore” used in conjunction with the word “reconciliation” instead of “Christian America.”

Southern Baptists, and American evangelicals more broadly, may immediately conclude that they have little in common theologically with St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond and can thus dismiss the congregation’s history-related efforts as just another social justice project propagated by theological liberals.  But this would be a shame.  They can learn a lot from this congregation about how to take a deep and honest look into the mirror of the past.

More on Robert Jeffress’s Trump-Reagan Comparison

Reagan and Trump

As I wrote about last week, Rev. Robert Jeffress, a leading court evangelical, recently said that Donald Trump’s moral indiscretions and character problems are not unlike the moral indiscretions and character problems of Ronald Reagan.  Conservative evangelicals supported both presidents.

Tara Isabella Burton adds more to the conversation at Vox.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Days after the news broke that President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen had audio of Trump discussing a payoff to a woman with whom he’d allegedly had an affair, one of Trump’s top evangelical allies came to the president’s defense — with an insult to former President Ronald Reagan. Robert Jeffress, the pastor at the megachurch First Baptist Dallas, told Fox News’s Ed Henry that Trump’s adultery made him no worse than Reagan.

“The reason we supported President Reagan was not because we were supporting womanizing or divorce,” Jeffress told Henry. ”We supported his policies. … We’re not under any illusion that we were voting for an altar boy when we voted for President Trump. We knew about his past. And by the way, none of us has a perfect past. We voted for him because of his policies.” (Reagan has never been publicly accused of being unfaithful to his second wife Nancy Reagan, but some biographers have said that he was something of a lothario in Hollywood during his years an actor and that he cheated on his first wife, Jane Wyman. In 1991, he was also accused of sexual assault by actress Selene Walters four decades prior.)

Read the rest here.

I am eager to hear from Christian Right folks.  Do Trump and Reagan belong in the same category when it comes to morality and character (or lack thereof)?

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress Stays the Course

As I said this morning on CNN (no video available yet), it doesn’t matter what Trump did with Karen McDougal or whether or not he is lying about it. As long as Trump keeps appointing Supreme Court justices like Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch and continues to give lip service to religious liberty (as understood by conservative evangelicals) he will have the support of evangelicals.

This kind of thing should thus no longer surprise us:

I have not yet heard Jeffress compare Trump’s lack of morality to Ronald Reagan’s indiscretions.  Interesting.  Actually, I think there are comparisons we can make between Reagan and Trump.  For example, evangelicals in pursuit of political power got into bed with both of them.  It wasn’t a good idea then (just ask Cal Thomas) and it isn’t a good idea now.

 

Fox News Radio Host: “Apparently… There are Some So-Called Evangelical Christians Who Have a Problem With Patriotic Church Services”

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Listen to Todd Starnes of Fox News and court evangelical Robert Jeffress talk about patriotic worship services.

A preview:

  • Starnes takes a shot at the critics of patriot worship services by calling them “so-called evangelical Christians.”
  • They criticize Michelle Boorstein’s recent Washington Post piece on patriotic sermons.
  • They take some shots at The Gospel Coalition, a group of theologically conservative evangelical Calvinists.  Starnes makes the Gospel Coalition sound like they are some kind of left-wing progressive group.
  • They call Christianity Today and The Washington Post “fake news.”
  • They continue to peddle the false notion that America was founded as a Christian nation.

To be fair, Jeffress does make a good point about anti-Trump evangelicals when he says “they can’t reconcile [President Trump] with their faith.”

Does anyone else see a realignment taking place in American evangelicalism?

Evangelicals, American History and Support for Donald Trump

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The ideas and proposals I put forth in the last section of this piece I just published with History News Network are very important to me.    Thanks for considering them and sharing the piece with those who may need to read it.  I had hoped to publish this with a Christian, evangelical or conservative media outlet, but could not find any takers.  I am thankful to Rick Shenkman for running it.

A taste:

If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

We do.

We have. 

But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

Read the entire piece here.

Robert Jeffress Would Like Us to Believe He is a Historian

jeffress

Yesterday, court evangelical Robert Jeffress talked to Fox News Radio about his Freedom Sunday service.   (The interview is only about four minutes long).

A few points:

  1. Note Jeffress’s smugness.
  2. Jeffress claims that the phrase “America is a Christian nation” was used many times, by many political leaders, in American history.  He is right.  I spent the first four chapters of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? writing about all the ways people understood America to be a Christian nation.
  3. As I wrote at this blog yesterday, Jeffress has no clue about how to use the past responsibly.  He wants to go back to the 18th or 19th century when most Americans were Christians and pretend that we are still living in those times.  His understanding of the relationship between Christianity and government is frozen in time.  He fails to understand that American culture has changed over time.  Again, if you want the proper context for many of the Supreme Court decisions and founding fathers he cited in his sermon on Sunday, get a hold of a copy of my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?
  4. Another example of his failure to understand change over time relates to the historic images from the history of First Baptist Dallas shown at “Freedom Sunday.”  I did not get a very good look, but I am guessing that the images were the same ones I wrote about in this post.  First Baptist-Dallas was a segregationist congregation under its former pastor W.A. Criswell.  I imagine that Jeffress would say that the congregation has changed over time and now rejects segregation.  (Criswell, later in his life, changed his mind on this issue).  But if Jeffress treated the history of segregation at First Baptist in the same way that he handled the history he talked about in his “Christian America” sermon on Sunday, he would have to also preach a sermon titled “First Baptist Church of Dallas is a Segregationist Congregation.” He could quote Criswell and many of the founding documents in his sermon to try to convince you that First Baptist is a segregated church.  But in the end, his assertion would be wrong because First Baptist-Dallas is not a segregationist congregation.  It was at one time, but it has changed over time.  Jeffress wants to take us back to a time when the United States was mostly Christian, but I am guessing he does not want to take us back to a time when his own church was upholding Jim Crow.
  5. And in perhaps the most egregious part of Jeffress’s interview with Fox Radio he says: “In one of the interesting articles I read yesterday, a liberal was talking about this and he said, ‘you know, we probably have to concede that Jeffress has a historical point to make.  That the early courts and founders did say “America is a Christian nation,” but they also embraced slavery. And we repudiated that and we ought to repudiate this.’  You know that shows the perversion of the liberal mind to equate obeying God, and making God the center of our life, with slavery.”  Actually, this is not a product of the liberal mind, but a product of the historical mind.  Why?  Because it was evangelical Christians–those who claimed that they were “obeying God” and making “God the center of our life” who were the foremost defenders and supporters of slavery.  They were slaveholders because they believed they were “obeying God” and making God the center of their lives.  For someone who preaches sermons about the American past, one would think Jeffress would realize this.  I wonder if Jeffress, as pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist congregations in the country, is aware that the Southern Baptist church was founded because it defended the institution of slavery.

I am not sure what was worse–watching Jeffress’s historical incompetence from the pulpit of First Baptist-Dallas or watching thousands of people in the pews cheering him on and waving their American flags.

My Latest Piece at Religion News Service: “Why aren’t most of Trump’s ‘court evangelicals’ publicly condemning his border policy?”

immigrants

Here is a taste:

(RNS) — The United States is facing a crisis in “family values.” This, however, is not the kind of crisis we often hear talked about by the evangelical wing of the Republican Party. Rather, it stems from the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance border policy that separates families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A few of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who visit the White House and discuss policy matters with him — I describe them as the “court evangelicals” — have condemned the policy that separates children from their parents. But most others have failed to criticize it publicly. Their general silence sheds light on how conservative evangelical leaders have come to define and limit “family values” in the past 40 years.

Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse and prominent Trump supporter, called the policy of separating families “disgraceful.” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who has expressed his disagreement with Trump on immigration in the past, signed a letter of evangelical leaders criticizing the policy. And Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, this week called the policy “heartbreaking and tragic.” Even still, most court evangelicals have not publicly addressed the crisis. If the separation of children from their families is not a family values issue, then what is?

We don’t know if these leaders are counseling Trump behind the scenes, but as the national outcry has risen against the policy, some of the prominent court evangelicals seem to be fixated on other topics.

James Dobson, the leader most responsible for the Christian right’s “family values” agenda, tweeted last week: “Dear God, no matter what our family circumstances, let us never waver from our charge as parents. Help us to be worthy of Your trust in us to lead and love our kids.” Fair enough, but how do you fulfill your parental responsibilities when the federal government is taking your kids away from you?

Read the rest here.

Will the Court Evangelicals Break With Trump over Immigration?

immigrants

Franklin Graham has called Trump’s policy of separating families at the border “disgraceful.”  Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference opposes the policy.   Most anti-Trump evangelicals, such as Russell Moore, oppose the policy, but with the exception of Graham and Rodriguez, the court evangelicals have still said nothing.

One court evangelical is even in the midst of a fight with the city of Dallas over a billboard advertising his sermon “America is a Christian Nation.”  How oblivious can one get?  There is a significant moral crisis happening on the Mexican-American border and Robert Jeffress is mad because a Dallas billboard company took down his sign announcing that America is a Christian nation.  Christian nation?

If you think that this immigration mess is going to result in the court evangelicals breaking with Donald Trump, don’t hold your breath.  Most court evangelicals do not place immigration very high on their “pro-life” and “family values” radar.  Immigration policy is not a major theme in the political playbook they inherited from the Christian Right of the 1980s.

No matter what Trump decides to do about the border, the court evangelicals will stay with him.

First Baptist Dallas “Christian America” Billboard Comes Down

Jeffress Billboard

Last week we wrote about the billboard in Dallas advertising Robert Jeffress’s upcoming sermon at First Baptist-Dallas: “America is a Christian Nation.”  Read our post here.

The billboard company pulled the signs down.

Here is a taste of Tre Goins-Phillips’s piece at Independent Journal-Review:

Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch pastor and one of the Trump administration’s evangelical advisers, is facing criticism over billboards his church erected declaring America a “Christian nation.”

In fact, after a bit of online outrage, including an editorial from The Dallas Morning News, the billboard company contracting with the church, Outfront Media, decided to pull the signs down, describing the declaration — “America Is a Christian Nation” — as “anger provoking,” according to a statement from the church that was obtained by IJR.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a Democrat, seemed to take issue with the billboards, too. In a statement to the newspaper, Rawlings said he doesn’t mind people “being proud of the Christian tradition in America” but added it’s important for the faith-based community to promote “a city of love versus a city of hate.”

And Metroplex Atheists, a branch of the national group American Atheists, is staging a protest at First Baptist Church to confront Jeffress’ patriotic message.

Read the rest here.

If a baker is allowed to deny services to same-sex couples, then I guess a billboard company can reject a message that they find offensive.

In my opinion, this billboard should come down because it makes a claim based on bad history.  It is fake news.  I wrote a book about this a few years ago and some of these themes will also appear in my latest book:

Believe Me Banner

Unless of Course You are Stopped at the Border and Your Children are Confiscated…

Gotta love the court evangelicals!  😦

 

Some Court Evangelicals Break Ranks on Trump’s Immigration Policy

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The Trump administration is separating children from parents at the Mexican border.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that Romans 13 justifies the policy, but court evangelical Franklin Graham calls the policy “disgraceful.”  Another court evangelical, Samuel Rodriguez, also opposes the policy.  Learn more from this piece at CBN news.

I am now waiting for the following evangelical leaders to stand-up to Donald Trump’s immigration policy:

Robert Jeffress has said nothing.  Yet he has wished Trump a Happy Birthday and thanked him for being such a great POTUS:

Jerry Falwell Jr. has said nothing.  If he tweeted something today I can’t see it.  He blocked me a long time ago.

Paula White has said nothing.  But she is tweeting:

Eric Metaxas:  I don’t know what he is saying on this issue.  I am blocked.

Johnnie Moore:  He seems more focused on Trump’s meeting with North Korea”

Mark Burns is being a good court evangelical:

James Dobson, the champion of “family values” has an interesting tweet today:

Ronnie Floyd seems to be running a prayer sweepstakes:

Richard Land: Silent

Greg Laurie is focused on a big rally in Dallas and Trump’s meeting with the North Koreans:

Tony Perkins, another champion of family values, has said nothing about the fact that Trump is ripping families apart at the border. Do “family values” only apply to white families? Middle-class families?

But he does love Trump:

 

The “Powerful Threads” That Run Through the History of First Baptist Dallas

First Baptist

I am sure much of what court evangelical Robert Jeffress has tweeted here is true.  I rejoice with all those women and men who experienced redemption and changed lives through the ministry of First Baptist Church–Dallas.  I know some of you.

But I am also a historian.  It is my calling.  It is what I do.  So let me note that there are other “powerful threads” that run through the history of First Baptist Dallas.  Let’s start with political scientist Tobin Grant‘s 2016 Religion News Service piece on longtime pastor W.A. Criswell.  The piece draws on the research of Curtis Freeman and Joseph Davis.

Here is a taste:

Whatever role pastors and other clergy had during the fight against slavery and Jim Crow, there is a specific history that Jeffrees is ignoring. Obviously, his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, was not on the side of abolitionists. More notably, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas was a prominent segregationist who long saw the fight against integration as part of the gospel.

W.A. Criswell led the church from the 1940s to the 1990s. During this time, the church tripled in size to 22,000 members, including notable members such as Billy Graham. Criswell’s election to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1968 marked the beginning “battle” of the conservative takeover of the denomination.

The election of Criswell was surprising. In the 1968 convention, the SBC voted to integrate its churches and welcome all races to membership. Criswell, however, was the most prominent segregationist in the SBC.

In 1956, Criswell spoke at the State Evangelism Conference in South Carolina. Against instructions to stay clear of segregation, Criswell gave a fiery sermon that linked the fight against integration with evangelism. All Southern Baptist pastors should, according to Criswell, speak out against those who were advocating integration.

Criswell did not mince words. He railed against both the National Council of Churches and the NAACP as those “two-by scathing, good-for-nothing fellows who are trying to upset all of the things that we love as good old Southern people and as good old Southern Baptists.”

He even used racist humor to make his points: “Why the NAACP has got those East Texans on the run so much that they dare not pronounce the word chigger any longer. It has to be cheegro.”

Criswell saw integration an attack on both state rights and democracy by carpetbaggers. Even more so, it was a blow to Southern Baptist religious liberty: Churches had the right and the responsibility to keep their congregations segregated.

Segregation was best for blacks and whites, Criswell said. Blacks, he argued, would never be able to excel, teach, or lead in a congregation of whites. Instead, they should stay in churches with other blacks. Segregation also limited miscegenation. And that, Criswell warned, was going to cause problems for everyone.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress’s “Freedom Sunday” is Coming

It’s that time of year again.  Time for Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and a prominent court evangelical, to hold his annual “Freedom Sunday.”  This year’s celebration of God and country will take place on June 24.  Last year’s celebration got a lot of attention.

Robert Wilonsky writes about the city of Dallas for the Dallas Morning News.  He took the above picture while sitting in traffic.  And then he wrote an article about Jeffress at the Morning News.  Here is a taste:

The newly planted billboard touts a “Freedom Sunday” worship service June 24 at the downtown church and hosted by the man who serves as one of President Donald Trump’s main spiritual advisers — a job that appears to be part propagandistpart contortionist. According to a video Jeffress prepared for Freedom Sunday, there will be “inspiring patriotic worship” and “a salute to our armed forces,” followed by the Fox News’ commentator’s “special message” advertised on that billboard. 

There will be indoor fireworks, too, which is not how they concluded the Last Supper. And first-time visitors to First Baptist will receive a copy of Jeffress’ book Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Days Can Be Your Best Days, a grim piece of work about “the coming collapse of our nation,” according to Mike Huckabee’s foreword.

Consider this your semi-regular reminder that Jeffress, Fox News’ go-to religious authority, is among this city’s most divisive voices. Nothing he says shocks me anymore. I mean, this is a preacher — a follower of Christ — who actually said, “America is not a church where everyone should be welcomed regardless of race and background.” 

Which is the opposite of Hebrews 13:1. And, I think, the rest of the Bible. 

Read the rest here.

Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell Sr. Aided a Southern Baptist Victim of Abuse

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Autumn Miles tells her #metoo story at Christianity Today.  Writing in the context of recent remarks by Southwestern Baptist Seminary’s Paige Patterson, Miles credits Robert Jeffress and the late Jerry Falwell Sr. for helping deal with an abusive husband.

Here is a taste of her piece:

When I was in the midst of divorce, my father called our good family friend, Jerry Falwell Sr., founder of Liberty University, to ask his counsel on how to handle the situation. He told my father, “Tell your daughter to get away from that marriage and come to Liberty, where she can meet a young man who will treat her right.”

Years later, when my second husband (whom I did indeed meet at Liberty) and I were speaking with Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, I shared my story with him. He looked me in the eye and said, “What that church did to you was wrong.”

“It is never God’s will for a woman to endure physical abuse to keep a sick marriage alive,” he later told me. “God hates violence. In fact, the reason he gave in Genesis 6 for destroying the world was because of unbridled violence. To abuse another person is to abuse someone God created in his image; it is tantamount to abusing God himself.” (Jeffress has recently commented on the Patterson case.)

I had two Southern Baptist leaders affirm God’s love for me and his desire to use my story for his kingdom. Those two men gave me hope that someday, a change would come to the SBC. That day is today. As I track Patterson’s case and the larger conversation around it, I see the spirit of God working to bring freedom to the hearts of those who’ve been captured by domestic violence. Jesus came to set the captives free, and through these brave men and women, the bondage of domestic violence is being lifted.

Read the entire piece here.  These are the acts of compassion and love that we should expect from our evangelical pastors.

Is Robert Jeffress Really a Bigot?

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On Monday, Robert Jeffress, the controversial pastor of the massive First Baptist Church in Dallas, offered the invocation at the dedication of Donald Trump’s new American embassy in Jerusalem.

When it was revealed that Jeffress would be praying at the event, the pundits pounced. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP candidate for president, led the way.  In a tweet he criticized Jeffress for claiming that “you can’t be saved by being a Jew” and “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.”

If Romney had more than 280 characters to work with, he could have also noted Jeffress’s belief that Hindus “worship a false God” and Muslims are “evil.”

Indeed, Jeffress is a bombastic, loud-mouthed preacher who likes to peddle his brand of evangelicalism on Fox News and other politically conservative news outlets.  He was one of the few evangelical leaders to support Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy during the GOP primaries when there were Christian Right candidates in the field—Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, to name three—who did not come with Trump’s immoral baggage.

On Monday evening, Jeffress appeared on Fox News to defend himself against charges of bigotry.  Watch it here:

While Jeffress did not say anything negative about non-Christian religions during this appearance on Fox, he firmly re-asserted his belief that Christianity is an exclusive religion.  This, he proclaimed, has been the teaching of the Christian church for more than two thousand years.

Jeffress is correct. And Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard and a columnist at Bloomsburg News, agrees with me.  Here is a taste of his piece “This Isn’t Bigotry. It’s a Religious Disagreement“:

Do those statements really make Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, a bigot? All he is doing is echoing an almost 1,800-year-old doctrine: Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, there is no salvation outside the church. It can be traced to St. Cyprian of Carthage, who died in the year 258. The basic idea is that Jesus Christ came to save those who believe in him — and not those who don’t.

This view doesn’t reflect the latest in pluralism. The Catholic Church treated it as dogma for more than a millennium, but has backed away in recent decades. Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, expressed skepticism about the view in a 1964 sermon. “We are no longer ready and able,” he said, “to think that our neighbor, who is a decent and respectable man and in many ways better than we are, should be eternally damned simply because he is not a Catholic.”

But plenty of Christians of many different denominations still believe this teaching in one way or another.

Even Mormons have their version. “Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5),” as the official website for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts it. That’s one reason Mormons practice posthumous baptism of those who would otherwise be unsaved: so that good people who were not members of the LDS church can achieve salvation.

To be clear, I have no dog in the Christian theological fight about whether good people who aren’t Christians can be saved — much less which version of Christianity is necessary to achieve salvation. That’s because I’m not a Christian.

My point is rather that I can’t, and shouldn’t, feel offended by someone telling me that I won’t be saved because I don’t have the right religious beliefs.

Most religions in the monotheistic tradition think they are right and others are wrong. That’s normal. It isn’t a reason to consider those who hold other beliefs to be bigots.

Read Feldman’s entire piece here.

In age in which the exclusive claims of the Christian gospel are scorned by a culture that celebrates tolerance as one of its highest virtues, Jesus’s claim in John 14:6 that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” seems like bigotry.

But why would we expect Jeffress, a Christian pastor, to believe that there is more than one way to God?  I am sure that Mitt Romney, if pushed to explain his own religious beliefs, would say something similar about the exclusive nature of the Christian faith as understood through his Mormonism.  Let’s face it, Christians are not going away anytime soon.  Thomas Jefferson learned this lesson the hard way.  The great man of the Enlightenment from Monticello predicted in 1822 that “there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.” Woops. So much for Enlightenment progress.

So rather than wishing evangelicals away, I think it is time for Americans to think seriously about how to live together amid what Washington University law professor John Inazu has described as our “seemingly irresolvable differences.”  The practical application of Inazu’s vision will not be easy and people like Robert Jeffress will make it even more difficult.

I have been critical of Jeffress’s embrace of Donald Trump.  Just scroll through the blog and you will see what I mean.

As an evangelical and a historian, I have been critical of the Dallas pastor’s attempt to fuse God and country in a desire to “restore” America to its supposedly Christian roots.  It is a form idolatry and it is based on bad history.

As I told a writer who interviewed me today, Jeffress’s undying support of Trump and his Christian nationalism weakens the witness of the Christian Gospel–the “good news”–and alienates the very people who may be most in need of it.

Moreover, Jeffress’s extreme dispensationalism makes him insensitive to the sufferings of his fellow evangelicals in Palestine.  He seems completely oblivious to the very real possibility that he and his fellow court evangelicals are being played by a man who may not survive his presidency without their support.  As Thomas Friedman recently put it, the ceremony celebrating the opening of the new Jerusalem embassy was a “Republican mid-term pep rally disguised as a diplomatic event….This was meant to fire-up the far-right religious base of the Republican Party.”

When Jeffress does announce that salvation only lies in Jesus Christ, he may have the history of Christian doctrine on his side, but he makes such pronouncements with a culture warrior spirit that reflects the worst form of fundamentalism.

If secularists need to learn how to live with the millions of evangelicals who believe that salvation lies only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then evangelicals to need to learn how to engage those with whom they differ with “gentleness and reverence” that will cause them to wonder about the “hope that lies within.”

And I could go on.  (Actually, I do go on here).

Frank Rich on Trump’s “Horror Show” in Jerusalem

hagee jeffress

Here is a taste of Frank Rich‘s piece at New York Magazine.  I don’t always see eye-to-eye with Rich, but he is right about this:

Yes, Trump was sending a message with the horror show he orchestrated in Jerusalem. But the message had nothing to do with his administration’s purported goal of seeking peace in the Middle East — a cause that has been set back indefinitely by his provocative relocation of the American embassy. Trump’s message, per usual, was for his own selfish political aims. It was targeted at his base, whose most loyal members are right-wing Evangelicals. And so the ceremony included not only a prayer from Jeffress, whose disdain for Jews is matched only by his loathing of Mormons and Muslims, but a benediction from John Hagee, an Evangelical crackpot notorious for telling NPR’s “Fresh Air” that God created Katrina to punish New Orleans for hosting “a homosexual parade.”

For this segment of Trump’s base, bigotry (including against Roman Catholics, in Hagee’s case) is a Godly virtue and anti-Semitism is not inconsistent with Zionism. Israel is the presumed site of the Second Coming, after which everyone who refuses to give themselves up to Christ will be subjected to another Holocaust. Some of this base is grateful for the previous Holocaust as well, which is why Hagee has said that Hitler was “part of God’s plan” for the Jews and for Israel. This is the theological brand of anti-Semitism whose secular expression could be found in Charlottesville where white-supremacist thugs among what Trump called “very fine people on both sides” could be found chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

Read entire piece.

Richard Mouw to His Fellow Evangelicals: “What you’re cheering in Jerusalem is shameful”

Palestine Christians

Richard Mouw, the former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, chides the evangelicals who are cheering the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and ignoring the death toll in Gaza.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion News Service:

God is not indiscriminate in handing out blessings to Israel. God wants the leaders to promote the cause of righteousness, which has to do with, among other things, how they treat “the stranger in the land.” The ancient Hebrew writers were consistent in emphasizing his point: And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

If we want God to “bless” Israel we should keep calling the present Israeli government to treat the Palestinians as those who are “born among you.” We do Israel no favors by praying at its celebrations while ignoring the grave injustices taking place not far away.

The evangelicals who send angry messages quoting the biblical passage about blessings and curses are right to insist that God both blesses and curses nations for what they do. And the time is long past for us as evangelicals to talk seriously together about God’s concern for justice in the Middle East. And while we are at it we can also talk, as evangelicals, about God’s concern for “the stranger” who is within and at our own American borders. It is always important to attend to these things. They are matters for which divine blessings and divine curses are at stake.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Some Evangelicals Love Israel

hagee jeffress

I turned my weekend tweetstorm into a piece for Religion News Service.

Here is a taste:

Because of Trump’s actions, dispensationalists believe the blessing of God will come upon America. The Jerusalem decision reinforces the idea that America is a Christian nation. This decision makes America great in the eyes of God. It also makes Trump great in the eyes of those American evangelicals who visit the White House regularly to consult with the president, the flatterers and sycophants whom I have called the “court evangelicals.”

Jeffress, Evans and other court evangelicals claim that they were influential in Trump’s decision to move the Israel embassy. If this is true, we can say with certainty that United States policy in the Middle East is now heavily influenced by dispensational theology.

Read the entire piece here.