Public History and the Church (or why I do what I do)

Why Study History CoverIn the last few days, several folks have asked me why I get so “bent out of shape” about the likes of David Barton and the “court evangelicals.”  One noted American religious historian regularly implies on Twitter and in blog comments that I am “obsessed” with Trump.

I get so “bent out of shape” because I believe that part of my vocation as a historian is to bring good United States history to the church–both to the local church and the larger American church.  (And especially to evangelicalism, since that is my tribe).  I wrote about this extensively in the Epilogue of Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  When I speak at churches–and I do this often–I see it as a form of public history.

My critique of the court evangelicals is a natural extension of my ongoing criticism of conservative activist Barton and other Christian nationalist purveyors of the past.  It is not a coincidence that First Baptist-Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress often preaches a sermon titled “America is a Christian Nation.”  In this sermon he says. among other things:

We don’t restrict people’s right to worship [they can] worship however they choose to worship.  But that doesn’t mean we treat all religions equally.  This is a Christian nation. Every other religion is an impostor, it is an infidelity.  That is what the United States Supreme Court said.

Someone can correct me, but I think First Baptist–Dallas is the largest Southern Baptist church in the world.  Jeffress is an influential figure.  He goes on Fox News and claims to represent American evangelicals.  His profile has risen immensely since he announced his support of Trump.

It’s important to remember that Jeffress’s political theology (if you can call it that) is based on a false view of American history.  And it is not very difficult to trace it to the teachings of Barton.

In the aforementioned sermon, Jeffress comments on a recent Barton visit to First Baptist–Dallas.  He then says, referencing the prince of Aledo, Texas, that “52 of the 55 signers of the Constitution” were “evangelical believers.” This is problematic on so many levels.  First, only 39 people signed the Constitution.  Actually, I think Jeffress might be referring here to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Second, to suggest that most of them were “evangelicalRevised believers” is a blatant misrepresentation of history.  In fact, Jeffress doesn’t even get Barton right here.  Barton says (wrongly) that nearly all of the signers of the Declaration had Bible school and seminary degrees.  Jeffress is confused about his fake history. 🙂  But that doesn’t matter.  People in his massive congregation applaud and cheer when he preaches this stuff.

Jeffress and the court evangelicals support Trump because they want to “make America great again.”  Jeffress’s congregation even sings a song about it.  Let’s remember that “Make America Great Again” is a historical claim.  The nation is “great,” Christian nationalists like Jeffress argue, when it upholds the Christian beliefs on which it was founded.  Christian Right politics, the same politics that carry a great deal of weight in today’s GOP, thus starts with this dubious claim about the American founding. From there it can go in all sorts of directions related to immigration, race, church and state, marriage, abortion, religious liberty, etc….

My approach to critiquing Jeffress, the Christian Right, and the court evangelicals is structural in nature. It is fitting with my vocation as a historian.  Theologians and pastors are probably better equipped to make a direct biblical case for why Jeffress’s Christian nationalism is idolatry and harmful to the witness of the Gospel. Greg Boyd, Richard, Hughes, John Wilsey, and others have already made such a case. I encourage you to read their books.  But early American historians are best equipped at taking a sledgehammer to the foundation of Christian nationalist politics.

So yes, I do get “bent out of shape.”  Maybe I am obsessed.  Somebody has to be.  We need good American history more than ever. Christian historians have a public role to play in such a time as this.

 

Robert Jeffress Responds to My *Washington Post* Piece

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Jody Brown, a writer at a website called “One News Now,”  asked Jeffress to respond to my recent “court evangelical” op-ed in The Washington Post.

Here is a taste:

OneNewsNow sought reaction from Dr. Jeffress, who is senior pastor of First Baptist-Dallas. He says Fea is part of a growing trend of Christians who want to withdraw from political activity.

“He is a part of this misguided, isolationist view of Christianity that basically says Christians need to isolate themselves from the culture, especially government, give up on it and just get into our holy huddles as Christians and pray nothing bad happens to us,” says the pastor.

Fea also accuses Jeffress and his ilk of a double standard: speaking out against President Bill Clinton for his lack of morals during the Lewinski scandal, but backing Trump despite similar standards. Jeffress says Hillary Clinton is hardly the standard bearer for godly morals with her support for abortion and same-sex “marriage,” to cite two examples.

“We had a binary choice [in November],” responds Jeffress. “There was only one candidate who was pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-conservative justices to the Supreme Court – and that candidate’s name was not Hillary Clinton.”

Fea suggests that Jeffress represents a “troubling wing” of American evangelicalism led by believers who “trade their evangelical witness for a mess of political pottage and a Supreme Court nomination.” In contrast, the pastor says he’s not trading away anything – but in fact hopes to play a role in restoring a moral core to American government and culture. “As Christians we’re not to isolate ourselves from any part of this culture, including the government,” he argues. “We’re to try to influence it for good.”

Jeffress contends that he’s in good company. Old Testament heroes Joseph and Daniel both worked with civil government to advance godly ideals.

Read the entire piece here.  Frankly, I don’t recognize the person he is talking about in the second paragraph of this excerpt.

The Court Evangelicals in Today’s Washington Post

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Here is a taste of my piece “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.”

If you want to understand white evangelicalism in the age of Trump, you need to know Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Jeffress is not a household name in the United States, known mainly in Southern Baptist circles. But he has recently gained national attention as a “court evangelical” — my term for a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

Read the rest here.

Court Evangelical Jeffress Defends “Make America Great Again” Song

I actually thought the “Make America Great Again” song was pretty catchy.  (It starts at about the 34:00 mark in the video below):

I was, however, surprised at the way Robert Jeffress, the pastor First Baptist Church–Dallas, defended the song against critics who thought it was inappropriate for a church choir.

In a recent interview at The Christian Post, Jeffress said:

There is no difference in singing “Make America Great Again” than there is in singing any other patriotic song, like the “Star Spangled Banner.” This song was sung at a patriotic rally at a concert hall on Saturday night, not sung in a church as a worship song on Sunday morning.

Fair enough.  I was willing to give Jeffress a pass here.  But then he says that the song is okay because it was “not sung in a church as a worship song on Sunday morning.” Oh boy.  By this logic,  how does Jeffress explain what happened at First Baptist–Dallas on Sunday, June 25, 2017?

Patheos blogger Jonathan Aigner recently wrote about the “Make America Great Song”:

It’s not only their candidate’s campaign slogan, it’s now a part of their gospel…It’s their mantra, their creed, their prayer, and they shout it out with nationalistic fervor. Pledging allegiance to God and to America in the same breath, melding together the Kingdom of God and self, they pray a blasphemous prayer to a red, white, and blue Jesus.”

Frankly, it is hard to see this any other way when the song is interpreted (like any historian would interpret it) in the context of the June 25, 2017 “Freedom Sunday” service and Jeffress’s remarks of introduction for Trump after the song was performed last Saturday night.

The Jeffress interview does not stop there.  He describes his evangelical critics as “gnats”:

They are absolutely nothing but evangelical gnats who are looking for any excuse to nibble at the president. What we do have in President Trump is the president who has done the most to protect religious liberty of any president in America…If you take these critics’ argument to their logical end, then Christians need to quit saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Actually, some Christians do think that they need to quit saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I am not one of them, but I fully understand why some of my fellow Christians might find this problematic.

And then Jeffress continues:

These evangelical Never Trumpers are incensed because President Trump’s election demonstrated how irrelevant they are to Christians. Christians did not listen to these Never Trumpers, in spite of all their blogs and all of their tweets about President Trump,” Jeffress said. “If anybody listened objectively to what President Trump said Saturday night, it was the most god-honoring, faith-affirming speech I have ever heard any president give at any time in history.

“At any time in history?”  I can think of at least five (and probably more) Obama speeches that were more “faith-affirming” than what Trump said last Saturday night.  But let’s go back even further.  How about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural for starters?

Jeffress is probably correct when he says that Trump’s election demonstrated the irrelevance of the evangelical “Never Trumpers.” What scares me here Jeffress’s attempt to equate the “relevance” or popularity of a particular political view with whether or not such a view is correct or moral.  Do we really want to go there?  Anyone who knows anything about American history will understand what I mean when I ask this question.

Apparently Jeffress’s new moral standard is 81%.

I remain a faithful #19percenter.

Rod Dreher: It’s “grotesque idolatry”

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Rod Dreher, conservative blogger and author of The Benedict Optionunloads on Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress, his First Baptist Church in Dallas, and patriotic worship.

Here is a taste of his blog post at The American Conservative:

I find it impossible to watch that ceremony (I’ve been sitting here in the Miami airport watching much of it) and judge it as anything but grotesque idolatry. Not patriotism, idolatry. It’s idolatry of Donald Trump, and idolatry of the United States of America. It is shocking and repulsive, and there will be heavy consequences for conflating the Gospel of Jesus Christ with burning a double handful of incense to President Trump and the USA.

It is good to love one’s country, and to be grateful to God for it. I do, and I am. But this is something different.

What, exactly, does it mean to call on the church to “lift the torch of freedom all across the land”? It’s cant. It’s kitsch. “Freedom” is not the same thing as righteousness. As St. Augustine taught, sin is disordered love. You can love good things in a disordered way, and fall into sin. Christians whose moral imaginations are formed in this way, what is going to happen to them when the US government — under Donald Trump, or some future president — does something wicked, something that followers of Jesus Christ ought to stand against?

Read the rest here.

A Contrarian’s View of Patriotic Worship Services

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Did your church have a patriotic worship service yesterday?

I know a lot of churches will pause to give thanks for their country or acknowledge veterans on the 4th of July weekend.  I am not a fan of this, but I accept it as part and parcel of the American Christian experience.  Anything that goes beyond this kind of brief patriotic pause gets dangerously close to idolatry.  Fireworks and flag-waving are not brief patriotic pauses.

If the response to my recent First Baptist–Dallas post is any indication, it looks like a lot of Christians agree with me.

On the other hand, if what I watched on Saturday night at The Kennedy Center is any indication, it looks like a lot Christians do not agree with me.

I appreciate the perspective of Stephanie Wheatley (aka “Dr. Crazy Cat Lady“), a religion professor at Oklahoma State.  Here is a taste of her recent post “Why I Don’t Do ‘Patriotic’ Worship Services“:

We still see vestiges of this historical mixing of religion and civil religion throughout our places of worship, however.  Many churches have an American flag at the front of the sanctuary along with the Christian flag (and woe betide any minister who attempts to remove said American flag).  Churches offer patriotic-themed worship around Memorial Day and the 4th of July.  My theological problems with this are two-fold: first, if Pentecost taught us anything, it’s that the message of Christ is available to everyone, everywhere, of every language, tribe, and nation.  To plant our flag (literally and metaphorically) on the mountain of American Christianity does a disservice to that message.  Second, idolatry becomes a real problem.  Wrapping Jesus in an American flag often bastardizes the message of Christianity and sets up the flag, the country, and the leaders of the country as objects of devotion at best, worship at worst. 

Don’t believe me?  Allow me to share what Robert Jeffress, one of the “court evangelicals” as John Fea calls them, has been up to lately.  Last Sunday, his church (First Baptist) in Dallas hosted “Freedom Sunday.”  I’m not sure exactly what was being worshipped, but I don’t think it was the risen Christ.  Yesterday, he and his merry band commandeered the Kennedy Center for an uber-patriotic celebration of the July 4 holiday that included—no kidding—the First Baptist Church-Dallas choir singing a song called “Make America Great Again.”  While this is obviously the marriage of God and country taken to an extreme conclusion, it is not abnormal.  In fact, according to a survey done by Lifeway, the Southern Baptist Convention’s research outfit, 53% of Protestant pastors said they think that their congregations sometimes seem to love America more than God.  Love or devotion to something other than the Almighty is the very definition of idolatry.

Is it any wonder, then, that someone who has studied the American civil religion would be squeamish about it?  The sociological implications of the civil religion are equally difficult to stomach.  It is often weaponized against those who don’t follow the party line (like politically incorrect patriots).  This has been seen as recently as last fall when Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem before San Francisco 49er games as a protest against the state of race relations in this country drew outrage from all over.  In fact, it may have killed his football career, proving that violating the civil religion is more injurious to a public figure than domestic violence or other criminal activity.  Furthermore, minorities in general have been left out of the civil religion.  Richard Hughes’ book Myths America Lives By lays out the various myths that have informed the civil religion as well as Black critiques of those myths.  Such critiques are easy to find because the civil religion is so often blind to its own faults.

Read the entire post here.

This Video Proves Why Robert Jeffress is the Court Evangelical of All Court Evangelicals

Watch it if you can stomach it.  The court evangelicals were out in force at the Kennedy Center last night.  Paula White was also there.

In just under 6 minutes:

  • Jeffress claimed that “our nation was founded on a love for God and a reverence for His word.”  Is this correct?  I am wrestling with this question all weekend @johnfea1 and at #ChristianAmerica?. We are posting every 30 minutes during Fourth of July weekend.  Or you can just go get a copy of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  This Christian nation stuff never goes away.  Christians (the followers of David Barton and his ilk will not listen to non-Christians) need to offer an alternative narrative to this way of thinking about American history.  We are here, but we don’t have the resources or the funding.
  • Jeffress dabbles here in American exceptionalism.  He sounds like a 17th-century Puritan delivering a jeremiad calling the new Israel back to its spiritual roots. Jeffress asks “Has God removed his hand of blessing from us?” Earlier today someone on Twitter reminded me of a 2012 statement from Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.  He was writing about the idea that the United States is a Christian or chosen nation.  Anderson said “The Bible only uses the word ‘Christian’ to describe people and not countries.”
  • Jeffress suggests that Donald Trump is a messianic figure who God raised up to save Christian America from despair.  He says, “but in the midst of that despair came November the 8th, 2016 (wild applause) and that day represented the greatest political upset in American history.  Because it was on that day, November the 8th, that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were going to choose the next President of the United States.  And they chose Donald Trump” (more wild applause).  I think November 8, 2016 just became part of the Christian calendar at First Baptist Church–Dallas.
  • Jeffress reminds us that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump.  He says they “understood that [Trump] alone had the leadership skills necessary to reverse the downward death spiral our nation was in” (wild applause). Jeffress claims that people are more excited now about Trump than they were on election day because Trump “has exceeded our every expectation.” OK.  Those expectations must be pretty low. (By the way, I am still waiting for Jeffress and the other Court Evangelicals to condemn the Morning Joe tweets).
  • Jeffress claims that Trump has done more to protect religious liberty than any POTUS in U.S. history. Really?  More than Jefferson?  More than Madison?
  • Jeffress says that “millions of Americans believe that the election of President Trump represented God giving us another chance, perhaps our last chance, to truly make America Great Again.”  Apparently God wants to give us another chance to return to the 1950s or the 1980s.

Trump’s speeches to evangelicals are always the same.  They are getting old. I am pretty sure his speech writers have exhausted everything they know about evangelicals. But why should they think more deeply about faith and public life when they can just have Trump throw out catchphrases and talking points about religious liberty or “the wall” or ISIS and have the crowd go wild.

Trump railed against the fake media and gets rousing cheers from an audience that I assume was made up of parishioners of First Baptist Church in Dallas.  I am inclined to give this cheering a pass because it is not occurring on a Sunday morning in a church sanctuary, but it is still disturbing to watch my fellow evangelical Christians put their hope in a strongman and do so with such zeal.  For example, when Trump says that “in America we do not worship government, we worship God,” the audience starts chanting “USA, USA, USA.” Something is wrong when a reference to the worship of God triggers nationalist chants.

A few final points:

Someone needs to tell Trump’s speechwriter that there was no public prayer at the Constitutional Convention.  Ben Franklin suggested it, but it did not happen.

And let’s also remember that his Executive Order on the Johnson Amendment accomplished nothing.  The Johnson Amendment is still in the tax code.  It can only be changed by Congress.

I remain part of the #19percent!

Where are the Court Evangelicals Today?

Where are the Court Evangelicals today?

Paula White: Silent

James Dobson: Silent

Mark Burns: Silent

Franklin Graham: Silent (He’s actually tweeting about air-traffic control today)

Robert Jeffress:  Silent.  He’s hanging out with Pence today:

James K.A. Smith gets it right:

The Problem With Mixing Christianity and Nationalism

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Kyle Roberts is Schilling Professor of Public Theology and the Church and Economic Life at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.  He explains, from the perspective of Christian teaching, some of the problems with what happened last Sunday at First Baptist Church in Dallas.  I am glad that a theologian has commented on this story.  As a historian, my level of analysis is limited.

According to Roberts, there are 10 “negative consequences” when a church conflates nationalism and Christianity.

  1. It contributes to false assumptions of God’s special blessing or privilege
  2. It confuses the power of God with the power of the State
  3. It confuses the gospel of grace with the “good news” of material wealth and security.
  4. It undermines the separation of church and state
  5. It undercuts the prophetic power that Christianity needs in order to be salt and light
  6. It makes us forget that nation-states are a recent development
  7. It undermines the cross
  8. It replaces transcendence with immanence
  9. It disrespects those who have been marginalized by the configuration of powers in the nation-state
  10. It suggests that the basis of Christian hope is not the counter-cultural Messiah, but the “worldly” powers of the State.

Click here to see how Roberts develops each of these points at his blog Unsystematic Theology.  Great stuff.

Why Did First Baptist Church of Dallas Have “Freedom Sunday” on June 25?

Perhaps it had its worship America Sunday morning service this weekend because Court Evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress will be busy on 4th of July weekend:

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DALLAS—President Donald Trump will join Pastor Robert Jeffress to honor our veterans at the “Celebrate Freedom” Concert at 8 p.m. July 1 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The event, which is being co-sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Dallas and Salem Media, will be a night of hope, celebration and commemoration. President Trump will deliver a powerful address honoring our veterans, hundreds of whom will be coming from D.C. area to attend the event, including patients from the Walter Reed Medical Center.

“The Kennedy Center, known for presenting the greatest performers and performances from across America and around the world, is the perfect location for an unforgettable patriotic evening that honors our veterans, celebrates our country, and proclaims a message of hope,” said Pastor Robert Jeffress. “We are honored the president of the United States will be joining us, but we are not surprised. We have in President Donald J. Trump one of the great patriots of our modern era and a president who cherishes the sacrifice and service of those in our armed forces.”

Stirring patriotic music will come from the renowned choir and orchestra of First Baptist Dallas, under the direction of Dr. Doran Bugg. The First Baptist Dallas Choir & Orchestra is no stranger to our nation’s most prestigious concert halls, having been the first church music ministry invited to perform at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas and host of the radio and television program “Pathway to Victory,” seen in 195 countries, will also bring a message of hope and encouragement.

The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance by going to http://www.ptv.org/washington.

The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert rally will be the capstone of a weeklong series of events Pastor Robert Jeffress will host through the nation’s capital including speaking at a Bible study for Congressional staffers in the Capitol, a tour of Washington highlighting our country’s Judeo-Christian foundation, and personal visits with various others numbered among our nation’s leadership.

“I’m grateful that President Trump has created an atmosphere in which Evangelical Christians feel at home once again in our nation’s capital,” said Pastor Jeffress.

What Was Being Worshiped Yesterday at First Baptist Church in Dallas?

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Yesterday was “Freedom Sunday” at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  The pastor of First Baptist is Robert Jeffress.  He is a Trump supporter, Christian nationalist, and prominent court evangelical. As the pictures attached to this tweet indicate, it was a day of patriotic celebration in the church sanctuary.

People waved American flags during the service.

The last time I checked, the waving of the American flag was a sign of support or loyalty to the nation.  Jeffress had no problem allowing such an act to take place in a church sanctuary–the place where Christians worship God as a form of expressing their ultimate loyalty.  Patriotism is fine. Flag-waving is fine.  But I wonder if any of the congregation felt uncomfortable that all of this took place in the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

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There were fireworks.  Yes, fireworks.  Somehow the pyrotech crew at First Baptist figured out a way to pull this off without burning the place down.  I assume that these fireworks did not represent the pillars of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness in the Old Testament. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me if someone during the service connected these patriotic fireworks to God’s leading of his new “chosen people”–the United States–through the desert of extreme religious persecution). I also don’t think the fireworks were meant to represent the “tongues of fire” present on the day of Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts, chapter 2.  (Also, from what I am able to tell from the church website, First Baptist did not celebrate Pentecost Sunday on June 4, 2017).

It also looks like the congregation of First Baptist sung the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land is Your Land.”  I am guessing they did not sing all of the original verses.

How can this not be a form of idolatry?

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Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress: Bernie Sanders Should Apologize or Resign

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We did a post on this story last week.  Sanders was clearly out of line in suggesting that Trump nominee Russell Vought was not equipped to be the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (or any other federal office for that matter) because Vought believes in an exclusive message of salvation. Michael Gerson of The Washington Post also wrote about the matter.

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress, the pastor of Dallas’s First Baptist Church, has now added his two cents.  The church website announces:

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, releases the following statement in response to Senator Bernie Sanders’ application of an unconstitutional religious test to Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy White House budget director:

“Senator Bernie Sanders, in declaring his intention to vote against Russell Vought because of his Evangelical Christian faith, has not only launched a direct attack against the Constitution by applying a religious test, he has also attacked tens of millions of Evangelicals, who embrace the same historical Christian beliefs as Vought.

This attack by Senator Sanders is abhorrent first of all because Article VI of our Constitution provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Vought’s comments in a blog post, published in the context of a controversy at the Christian college from which he graduated, affirmed the words of Jesus Himself who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Yet the affirmation of this core Christian doctrine led Sanders to conclude that Vought failed Sanders’ religious test: “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.” These words, and this sentiment, are not only unconstitutional, but unconscionable by a public official. 

Second, this attack by Sanders is abhorrent because he has effectively said that Evangelicals, who make up 41 percent of the population of our country, are not qualified to serve in public office, and “not what this country is all about.” It seems that Secretary Clinton isn’t the only one who looks at our great country and sees a brimming basket of deplorables.

Because of this assault on the Constitution and on fully 41 percent of the American people, there are only two responsible courses of action for Senator Sanders—apologize to the country for his foolhardy attempt to introduce an unconstitutional litmus test that would exclude 41 percent of the country, or resign.”

Some thoughts:

  • Jeffress is ready to pounce on Sanders while at the same time supporting Trump’s religion-based travel ban.  If Jeffress wants to defend religious liberty he needs to defend religious liberty for everyone.
  • Why is Jeffress releasing this political statement on his CHURCH WEBSITE? Does he make these kinds of political attacks from the pulpit as well? I thought Baptists believed in the separation of church and state?
  • Isn’t this the same Robert Jeffress who said that Christians should not vote for Mitt Romney in 2012 because he was a Mormon?  Isn’t this a de facto test?

 

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress: “Why don’t we ever hear terrorists shout ‘this is for Jesus Christ'”

I am not excusing what happened in London this weekend. It was a tragedy.  I pray for the families of the victims, law enforcement, and our global leaders as they seek wisdom for how to deal with the threat of ISIS and other forms of Islamic terrorism.

But please Robert Jeffress, learn some history before you start spouting off on Twitter.

Just a quick scan of the “Christian terrorism” Wikipedia page reveals:

  • 1605: In the Gunpowder Plot Guy Fawkes and English Catholics try to assassinate James I and blog up Parliament.
  • 1860s and 1870s: Ku Klux Klan claimed to perform their acts of terrorism against African Americans in the name of white Protestant Christianity.
  • 1920s:  KKK again
  • 1971: A Catholic extremist group called Ilaga killed 70-100 Muslims worshiping in a Mosque
  • Since 1993, 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States.

And this is just a very small sampling.

None of these acts represent the true spirit of Christianity, which is a religion of peace and love for one’s enemies. But let’s not claim that terrorists have never acted in the name of Jesus.

I will agree with one thing in Jeffress’s tweet.  We need to pray.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress: Pope Francis and Donald Trump are “BFFs”

He also describes how Donald Trump, during a meeting with evangelical leaders during the campaign, had these leaders “eating out of his hand.”  Should a Christian leader ever be described as “eating out the hand” of a political leader?  Only if you are court evangelical.  Jeffress has been eating out of Trump’s hand for more than a year now.

It is also interesting that Fox News thought it was a good idea to have Jeffress talk about Catholicism and the Pope.

My Latest at Religion News Service: “The Evangelical Courtiers Who Kneel Before the President’s Feet”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C.

President Trump, flanked by evangelical leaders Paula White, right, and Jack Graham, in blue suit, speaks during the National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Barria

Here is a taste:

(RNS) According to Merriam-Webster, a “court” is “a sovereign’s formal assembly of councilors and officers.” A court is made up of “courtiers,” which the dictionary defines as “one in attendance at a royal court” or “one who practices flattery.”

We can debate whether to call Donald Trump’s circle of advisers a court, but the president of the United States certainly has his fair share of courtiers. Many of them are evangelical Christian leaders. These Court Evangelicals have sacrificed the prophetic voice of their Christian faith for a place of power and influence in the current administration.

The Court Evangelicals were on full display last week in the White House. On the eve of the National Day of Prayer, these Christian leaders dined with Trump and received an insider tour of the second floor of the White House. The Christian Post reported that Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory team, told his congregation the Court Evangelicals were “reduced to being like little children” when Trump took them into the Lincoln bedroom. Evangelicals used to save phrases like that for their encounters with God during worship.

The following day, many of the Court Evangelicals were in attendance as Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty. The order was little more than a symbolic gesture meant to appease evangelicals and secure their support.

Trump’s executive order did not end the so-called Johnson Amendment, a clause in the tax code that forbids churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This is because the president does not have the authority to change the tax code. That job belongs to Congress.

Moreover, Trump’s executive order did not secure religious liberty for Christian institutions in jeopardy of losing federal funds for upholding conservative positions on reproductive rights and marriage.

A lot of evangelicals voted for Trump because he said he would deliver on these religious liberty issues. On the day the executive order was released, Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism, ran an article on its website titled “Trump’s Religious Liberty Order Doesn’t Answer Most Evangelicals’ Prayers.”

Christianity Today was not alone in its critique. A National Review columnist said the executive order was “worse than useless.” One blogger wrote that conservatives were groaning and the ACLU was snickering. A Princeton University professor tweeted: “the executive order is meaningless.”

The Court Evangelicals were not fazed by these criticisms. Like all good courtiers, they remained loyal. They took to Fox News and other conservative news outlets to inform their constituents of all that was accomplished by one stroke of the president’s pen. Their defense of Trump’s executive order was just as strong as their defense of Trump in the wake of the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape.

Read the rest here.

The Court Evangelicals

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

I have been getting a lot of positive feedback on my use of this phrase in an earlier post today on the evangelicals who seem to love Trump’s recent executive order on religious liberty.

Not all evangelicals who voted for Trump are what I am describing as “court evangelicals.”  I am going to use this phrase from now on to describe Trump’s inner circle of evangelicals who think it is a good idea for ministers to endorse candidates from the pulpit, have bowed a knee to the political power of the presidency, think Trump is a “baby Christian,” believe evangelicals have found their “dream president” in Trump, and regularly show up at the White House whenever Trump wants to say something about religion.  The court evangelicals sacrifice their prophetic voice to political influence.  The court evangelicals have put their faith in a political strongman who promises to alleviate their fears and protect them from the forces of secularization.

Trump Jeffress

As I wrote earlier today, the backlash to Trump’s recent executive order on religious liberty was fierce.  It fails to deliver on what Trump promised evangelicals on this front during the campaign.  But you won’t hear the court evangelicals complain.

I described some of these court evangelicals the other day.  The list includes:

Jerry Falwell Jr.

Paula White

James Dobson

Mark Burns

Ralph Reed

Robert Jeffress

Eric Metaxas

Franklin Graham

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

 

Trump Throws A Bone to Conservative Evangelicals. Now He Can Move On.

jeffress

Trump and Robert Jeffress in the oval office this week

The evangelical community’s response to Donald Trump’s recent executive order on religious liberty has been largely negative.  As I wrote yesterday: “I don’t think Trump cares about religious liberty.  But he is very good at saying the kinds of things that will keep conservative evangelicals on board the Trump train.”

Let’s review.

First, Trump’s executive order does not repeal the Johnson Amendment. Despite what the POTUS says, the IRS still has the right to remove the tax-exempt status of a church that has a pastor who endorses or opposes a political candidate.

Second, the order does nothing to “exempt some religious organizations” from the Obamacare contraception mandate.

Third, it says nothing about the threats to religious organizations that uphold traditional views on marriage.

As veteran religion reporter Terry Mattingly informs us, the American Civil Liberties Union thought the order was so void of meaning that it felt there was no need to file a lawsuit against it.  Here is a taste of the ACLU press release:

After careful review of the executive order covering the Johnson Amendment signed by President Trump today, the American Civil Liberties Union has determined not to file a lawsuit at this time.

American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero issued the following statement:

“Today’s executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome. After careful review of the order’s text we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process. The order portends but does not yet do harm to the provision of reproductive health services.

“President Trump’s prior assertion that he wished to ‘totally destroy’ the Johnson Amendment with this order has proven to be a textbook case of ‘fake news.’

As I have been writing here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, there are internal divisions in the Trump White House over religious liberty.  Mike Pence is on the conservative evangelical side.  Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are on the other side. This executive order suggests that the Ivanka/Kushner camp has the upper hand.

Princeton University professor and defender of religious liberty Robert George agrees:

And then there are all of the court evangelicals–the men and women swayed by the power of the presidency.:

Robert Jeffress believes that “religious liberty is now protected, not assaulted.”

And there is more:

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. told Fox News Radio that the executive order “proves to me President Trump’s a man of his word.”  (Did he read it?).  He also suggests that he can now speak politically on behalf of Liberty University and doesn’t always have to preface his remarks by saying that he is only speaking as an “individual” and not as a representative of the institution he presides over.

There is a very good chance that Trump is duping the likes of Jeffress, White, and Falwell Jr. Trump needed evangelical support to win the election and he will need evangelical support in 2018 and 2020.  This executive order keeps some evangelicals in the fold.

Some might say that the order is symbolic of Trump’s sensitivity to evangelical concerns about religious liberty.  Maybe. But it seems more likely that the order is symbolic of Trump’s political savvy and the willingness of some evangelicals to fall for it as they continue to genuflect on the altar of political power.