What Will American Religious Historians Say About the 2010s?

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Over at The Anxious Bench, historian Philip Jenkins asks, “what will future scholars of Christianity highlight when they write the history of the 2010s?  What tremors reshaped the landscape of faith?”

Here is part of Jenkins’s answer:

I would start with the papacy of Francis in the Roman Catholic church, with all that has meant for controversies within the church, and the struggles for an against reform.

Within the United States, I would include, for instance:

-The Rise of the Nones, people admitting no religious affiliation, and what that might mean for secularization trends.

-The 2016 election and the conflicts within evangelicalism: charges that white evangelicals follow conservative politics at the expense of religious principles. See: a great many posts at this blog by multiple authors.

-Growing calls for women’s leadership within many churches, especially among evangelicals. See: a great many posts at this blog by multiple authors.

-The establishment of same sex marriage as mainstream social orthodoxy (the Obergefell decision 2015), with all the actual and potential clashes that sets up for churches, and for individual conservative Christian believers.

-Activism and concern about climate issues and global warming becomes a leading cause for US churches.

Read the entire piece here.

In addition to Jenkins’s mention of women leadership, I would add the influence of the #MeToo movement in evangelical churches and denominations. (Bill Hybels, Paige Patterson, John Crist, etc.)

It also seems that white churches are coming to grips with questions of structural racism like never before.

AP: “Warren joins Buttigieg in nixing threat to church tax status”

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Here is our post on Buttigieg. We discussed Beto O’Rourke’s comments on tax exempt status for religious organizations that uphold same sex marriage here and here and here.

Now Elizabeth Warren has tried to distance herself from Beto’s remarks. Here is a taste Elana Schor’s piece at the Association Press:

Elizabeth Warren would not seek to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches or other religious entities that decline to perform same-sex marriages if she’s elected president, the Massachusetts Democrat’s campaign said.

Asked to respond to former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s assertion last week that religious institutions should face the loss of their tax exemption for opposing same-sex marriage, Warren campaign spokeswoman Saloni Sharma said that “Elizabeth will stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ+ community” to help stamp out “fear of discrimination and violence.” But she declined to take aim at the tax status of religious organizations that don’t support same-sex marriage.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax-exempt status,” Sharma said by email.

Warren is the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to create distance from O’Rourke’s suggestion as President Donald Trump joined a conservative outcry against it, accusing him of threatening religious freedom. Trump belittled O’Rourke as a “wacko” during Saturday remarks to the conservative Values Voter Summit, signaling a willingness to use the issue to drive a wedge between voters of faith and the Democratic Party.

I am glad to see this. But Warren also needs to realize that this issue goes a lot deeper than just forcing churches to perform same-sex marriages.  Warren’s remarks (through her spokesperson) say nothing about the tax exempt status of religious and church-related colleges and charities that do not hire same sex couples based upon deeply held religious beliefs.

Thoughts on a Discouraging Weekend

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I was on Fall Break this weekend and probably spent way too much time reading and watching the news, following the Values Voter Summit, and tweeting.  With the exception of the beautiful central Pennsylvania weather, I  leave the weekend pretty discouraged.

First, there was Beto O’Rourke’s remarks about removing the tax exempt status from churches, charities, and institutions that uphold traditional marriage.  Read my posts here and here and here.  I know that O’Rourke has no chance of winning, but his statement at the CNN Equality Forum has fired up pro-Trump conservatives.  I did not watch all of Tony Perkins’s Values Voter Summit this weekend, but in the time I did watch I noticed that Trump, Oliver North, and Todd Starnes all used the remarks to rally the base.

Will the removal of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations be bad for the church?  Not necessarily.  Jesus said that if Christians are persecuted they should consider themselves blessed.  When Christians are persecuted they share in Christ’s sufferings and join “the prophets who were before you.”  We enter into a community of saints whose members followed Jesus in circumstances that were much more difficult than what American Christians are facing today.  This, I might add, is one of the reasons why more Christians should study history.  We need to know more about this communion of saints as it has unfolded over time.

In other words, Christians who believe that God is committed to preserving His church should have nothing to fear.  This does not mean that the church should not make intelligent and civil arguments to defend religious liberty, but, as I wrote in one of the posts above, it should also prepare for suffering.

Will the removal of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations be bad for the United States?   Yes.  On this point I agree with  University of Washington law professor John Inazu.  Read his recent piece at The Atlantic: “Democrats Are Going to Regret Beto’s Stance on Conservative Churches.”  Here is a taste :

First, pollsters should ask voters about O’Rourke’s comments and the issue of tax-exempt status, both now and in the exit polls for the 2020 presidential election. We can be certain this issue will be used in Republican political ads, especially in congressional districts that Obama won in 2012, but that Trump won in 2016. And I suspect this issue and O’Rourke’s framing of it will lead to increased turnout of evangelicals in states that matter to Democrats, such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. O’Rourke’s comment may quickly fall out of the national news cycle, but it won’t be forgotten among churches, religious organizations, and religious voters. And if the Democrats lose in 2020, this issue and their handling of it will likely be a contributing factor. That will be true regardless of who the eventual Republican or Democratic candidates are.

Second, journalists should ask O’Rourke and every other Democratic candidate how this policy position would affect conservative black churches, mosques and other Islamic organizations, and orthodox Jewish communities, among others. It is difficult to understand how Democratic candidates can be “for” these communities—advocating tolerance along the way—if they are actively lobbying to put them out of business.

Third, policy analysts should assess the damage O’Rourke’s proposal would cause to the charitable sector. O’Rourke’s stance—if played out to its end—would decimate the charitable sector. It is certainly the case that massive amounts of government funding flow through religious charitable organizations in the form of grants and tax exemptions. But anyone who thinks this is simply a pass-through that can be redirected to government providers or newly established charitable networks that better conform to Democratic orthodoxies is naive to the realities of the charitable sector.

Read the entire piece here.

Second, there is Elizabeth Warren.  Here is what I wrote at the end of this piece:

Warren seems to suggest that a man who believes in traditional marriage will not be able to find a woman to marry because women who uphold traditional views on marriage are few and far between.  Really? This answer reveals her total ignorance of evangelical culture in the United States. (It may also reveal her ignorance of middle-American generally).  If she gets the Democratic nomination she will be painted as a Harvard elitist who is completely out of touch with the American people.

If you watch the video, and interpret Warren’s body language, it is hard to see her come across as anything but smug.  But my primary criticism here is political.  Warren has a legitimate chance to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.  If she gets the nomination, and hopes to win the general election, she needs to convince middle America that she wants to be the president of all America.  Her response to this question about gay marriage reminds me of something I wrote in Believe Me about the Hillary Clinton campaign against Donald Trump in 2016:

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

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

Here is my point:  If my conversations with evangelicals are any indication, there seem to be some of them who voted for Trump in 2016 and are now looking for a reason–any reason– to vote for another candidate in 2020.  This is obviously not a significant number of evangelical voters, but after the close election in 2016 we should have learned that every vote counts.  If O’Rourke, Warren, and other Democratic candidates keep up their assaults on religious liberty, these voters will vote again for Trump.  The Christian Right will use these assaults to rally the base and perhaps get some pro-Trumpers who did not vote in 2016 to pull a lever in 2020.

Third, as noted above, I watched some of the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit” this weekend.  I tweeted a lot about it.  Check out my feed here.  Last night Donald Trump gave a speech at the summit.  You can watch it here.

Trump spent most of his talk lying about the impeachment process.  He demonized his political opponents.  At one point he mocked the physical appearance of Adam Schiff.  He used profanity.  And the evangelicals in the room cheered:

 

A few folks on Twitter this weekend chastised me for attacking the president and his evangelical supporters.  They told me that I was not being “Christ-like” and suggested that I am being just as “uncivil” as Trump.  I will admit that I am still angry about the way my fellow evangelicals have rallied around this president.  Anger is wrong, and I am still wrestling with how to balance “righteous anger” with just pure, sinful, and unhealthy “anger.”

But I keep coming back to the limits of “civility.” Here is what I said to a group of evangelical academics last weekend at Lee University. I said something similar to a group of Christian college provosts, chief academic officers, and student life-leaders in January:

Donald Trump has exacerbated a longstanding American propensity for conflict and incivility.

I think many in the room today would agree when I say that Christian Colleges must continue doing what we’ve always done, that is stepping into the breach as agents of healing in the places, communities, neighborhoods and regions where we have influence. Sadly, the fact that so many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump means that we may have to go back to square one. We need to keep reminding our constituencies and our students about the work of reconciliation across racial lines, gender lines, political lines, class lines, denominational lines. We must model empathy and civility. This means resisting the historic American propensity for conflict—the usable past that Trump exploits. We much chart another—more countercultural—path.

Our schools must be places of prayerful conversation, not cable news-shouting matches. Conversation is essential on our campuses. We need to be intentional about creating spaces for civil dialogue. We must learn to listen. We must be hospitable. But it is also important to remember that dialogue does not always mean that there must be a moral equivalence between the two parties engaged in the exchange. We come to any conversation from a location, and that is the historic teachings of biblical faith. We can debate whether Trump’s policies are good for America or the church, but when the president of the United States engages in endless lies, petty acts of jealousy and hatred, racist name-calling, and certain policies that undermine the teachings of Jesus Christ—we must reject such behavior and model an alternative way. At Christian colleges we cannot allow those defending such behavior and policies to operate on an equal moral footing. When Trump’s antics are celebrated by MAGA-hat wearing white evangelicals at rallies screaming “Lock Her Up” and then those same Christians inform pollsters that they are “evangelical or born-again” as they leave the voting booth, something is wrong. Something that should concern us deeply.

Maybe I’ll feel better by the end of the week.  I am seeing my daughters next weekend, I get to teach U.S. history to some great students this week, I will hear some Messiah College history alums tell their stories on Thursday at my department’s annual “Career Night,” and I will be speaking to Kansas history teachers on Monday afternoon.  There is much for which to be hopeful!

Ed Stetzer is Right About CNN’s Equality Town Hall

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Here is a taste of the Wheaton College professor’s recent post at Christianity Today:

I’m concerned with the clear and complete disregard around religious liberty. This term was used a few times, often with the phrase “so called” tacked on. Candidates would say they affirm religious liberty, but then describe exactly how they did not.

Elizabeth Warren was asked a revealing question: How would she respond if an “old fashioned” voter told her that they believed that marriage is between one man and one woman? She retorted with, “I’m going to assume it is a guy who said that,” before answering, “Well then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.”

There was much applause. However, she then shrugged, adding, “assuming you could find one.” The audience roared with laughter, further insinuating that any person who held such values is so out of step, bigoted, homophobic, and small minded that he could not find someone who would be willing to marry him. (See the CNN clip.)

But let’s be honest: that’s really not the issue. The issue is: Can people dissent from what is now the majority view of marriage? As we saw, Warren not only mocked those who disagreed but advocated for policies that seek to marginalize and penalize those who do hold a biblical view of marriage.

Contrary to Warren’s playing to the choir, these views are not representative of frustrated men but rather reflect a broad array of people of faith— people many Democrats have recently ignored.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Slate published an analysis of “Why Hillary Clinton Bombed with Evangelical Voters.” In the article, I said it appeared that Hillary Clinton was working hard to alienate evangelicals—and she succeeded.

Later, the news would be how evangelicals had aligned with President Trump, while neglecting the clear and obvious reality that even Slate Magazine noticed: when it comes to evangelicals, Hillary was disengaged and even alienating.

Last night’s CNN debate was a perfect example of that same alienation.

While Warren’s quip lit up social media, another candidate delivered the biggest surprise in giving voice to what many perceived to be the trajectory of religious liberty debates, long left unsaid by other Democrats. Facing a question over the tax exempt status of churches, Beto O’Rourke asserted that not only churches but any organization that opposed same-sex marriage, should lose their tax exemption.

tweeted a link to the Beto video and this comment:

2009: How is my gay marriage going to hurt you? We just want marriage equality.

2019: We want the tax exempt status of the churches, charities, and colleges revoked for your failure to change your views on gay marriage.

In 2009, the mantra was “We just want our marriage equity. We just want to be able to let love be love.” Ten years later, the goal posts have moved for many: affirm the new orthodoxy on same sex marriage—or lose tax exempt status. This is quite a striking position, considering all the institutions he mentioned (churches, charities, and colleges). That’s your religious hospital, the orphanage, the homeless shelter, and more.

Now, this was Beto O’Rourke, not every candidate. But, it is important to consider the Equality Act if we want to talk about the broader field of Democratic candidates.

Equality Act is widely supported by the Democratic political candidates for president. That act has significant implications for the very institutions that Beto did mention—charities and colleges.

At Wheaton College where I serve, we have a community covenant that aligns our life and beliefs. We affirm the biblical teaching that marriage is designed and created for one man, one woman, and one lifetime.

The Equality Act would in essence say that our beliefs are unacceptable and that we must change. 

Read the entire piece here.  We covered this story here and here.

Do Beto and Warren represent all the Democratic candidates for president?  I imagine that we find out soon.  As I mentioned here yesterday, Don Lemon’s question to Beto Rourke should be asked of all the Democratic candidates.

How might evangelicals respond if all that Stetzer proposes comes true?  I stand by what I argued in Believe Me.  The answer is not fear, the pursuit of greater political power (to the point that we put our trust in a strongman to save us), or an appeal to nostalgia.  The answer is hope, humility, and thoughtful efforts to bring about a more confident pluralism.  We might also be called to suffer. These are the things evangelicals should be thinking and praying about right now.   The answer does not lie in what is happening in Washington D.C. this weekend.

What Does Beto O’Rourke Think About His High School Alma Mater?

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Beto O’Rourke went to high school at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. He graduated from the boarding school in 1991.  Woodberry Forest is an all-boys school.  Like most schools, colleges, and universities, it is a non-profit organization with tax-exempt status.

I have lectured on Woodberry’s beautiful campus, ate dinner in its dining hall, and spent a memorable post-lecture evening with the president and faculty talking about the humanities and history education.  Woodberry Forrest is probably a bit too elite for my tastes, but it is certainly a place that takes the education of boys very seriously.

Woodberry Forest

Earlier today, I did a post on last night’s CNN’s Democratic presidential candidate’s forum on LGBTQ issues.  During the forum, Beto said that if he were president he would remove the tax-exempt status of churches and religious institutions and schools that “oppose same sex marriage.”  Institutions that uphold traditional views of marriage, according to Beto, “infringe on the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

So I have two related questions for Beto:

  1. Does Woodberry Forest discriminate against the human rights of women by forbidding them to attend the school?  Should Woodberry Forest lose its tax exempt status as a result?
  2. What happens if a boy at Woodberry Forest transitions to a woman while matriculating at the school?  Does she have the right to stay at the all boys school?  If Woodberry Forest asks her to leave, would that be a form of discrimination?  Should the school lose its tax-exempt status as a result?

By using Woodberry Forest as an example here, I am drawing heavily from the work of John Inazu in his book Confident Pluralism.  He uses the example of Wellesley, an all women’s college in Massachusetts, that has wrestled with the same questions in recent years as some students at the college transition to men.

Here is a taste of 2017 post I did on Inazu’s argument in Confident Pluralism :

I have been reading Washington University law professor John D. Inazu‘s challenging and refreshing book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference (University of Chicago Press, 2016).  

Here is a passage from the Introduction that really hit me between the eyes:

“Wellesley College, an all-women’s school, now confronts internal challenges around its growing transgender student population.  Even though Wellesley admits only women, a number of its current students have transitioned to men after matriculation.  As a recent New York Times story asks: “What’s a women’s college to do? Trans students point out that they’re doing exactly what these schools encourage: breaking gender barriers, fulfilling their deepest yearnings and forging ahead even when society tries to hold them back.  But yielding to their request to dilute the focus on women would undercut the identity of a women’s college.”  One student reasoned: “I realized that if we excluded trans students, we’d be fighting on the wrong team.  We’d be on the wrong side of history.”  A recent graduate reached the opposite conclusion: “Sisterhood is why I chose to go to Wellesley.”  The New York Times noted that this woman “asked not to be identified for fear she’d be denounced for her position.”

The last example exposes a particularly acute challenge: Wellesely cannot remain a women’s college whose identity in some ways rests on gender exclusivity and at the same time welcome transgender students who identify as men.  It will have to choose between two competing views.  But perhaps even more important than what decision Wellesley reaches is how it reaches that decision.  Will Wellesley be able to choose its own institutional identity, or will the government impose a norm on the private school through law and regulation?  Will other citizens tolerate Wellesley’s choice, or will they challenge its accreditation, boycott its events, and otherwise malign its existence?  Will the process through which Wellesley reaches its decision be one of open engagement across deep difference, or will students, faculty, and administrators speak only under the cover of anonymity?”

Will Beto’s views allow Woodberry Forest to continue its identity as an all-boys school that “discriminates” against women?  I am sure there are many parents who send their kids to Woodberry precisely because it is an all-boys school.  Will Beto’s view allow churches, religious charities, and faith-based colleges to continue their Christian identities without government interference?  This might be stating the obvious, but there are many Americans who attend churches and send their kids to Christian colleges precisely because they hold certain beliefs that are rooted in deeply held religious convictions.

Beto O’Rourke: Churches and Religious Institutions Should Lose Tax-Exempt Status If They “Oppose Same Sex Marriage”

Here is Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on CNN last night:

Every Democratic candidate for President of the United States should be asked this question.

I have always appreciated Beto’s sense of conviction, but I hope he rethinks this one.  His answer to Don Lemon shows a fundamental misunderstanding of religious liberty.  In fact, this answer throws the First Amendment under the bus.

Beto has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination. His campaign has been on life support for a long time and last night he probably killed it.  You better believe that his comment will rally the Trump base and legitimate the fears of millions of evangelical Christians.

Beto says he does not want to run for Senate in 2020.  But if he does decide to run for a Senate seat in Texas he may have just blew his chances.  I am guessing that very few people in Texas embrace Beto’s secularism.

Here are a few responses to Beto’s remarks that I have seen online today:

Here is historian John Haas on  Facebook: “Not that Beto has any chance of becoming the nominee, much less president, but it would be interesting to watch the president ordering the IRS to pull Dr. King’s church’s tax exempt status.  Democrats do know that African-American churches are a big part of their informal infrastructure, right?

 

When I saw Beto’s remarks, I tweeted at Washington University law professor John Inazu:

Inazu is the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference.  Some of you know that I have extolled Inazu’s idea of “confident pluralism” many times at this blog.  Here is a summary of the book:

In the three years since Donald Trump first announced his plans to run for president, the United States seems to become more dramatically polarized and divided with each passing month. There are seemingly irresolvable differences in the beliefs, values, and identities of citizens across the country that too often play out in our legal system in clashes on a range of topics such as the tensions between law enforcement and minority communities. How can we possibly argue for civic aspirations like tolerance, humility, and patience in our current moment?

In Confident Pluralism, John D. Inazu analyzes the current state of the country, orients the contemporary United States within its broader history, and explores the ways that Americans can—and must—strive to live together peaceably despite our deeply engrained differences. Pluralism is one of the founding creeds of the United States—yet America’s society and legal system continues to face deep, unsolved structural problems in dealing with differing cultural anxieties and differing viewpoints. Inazu not only argues that it is possible to cohabitate peacefully in this country, but also lays out realistic guidelines for our society and legal system to achieve the new American dream through civic practices that value toleration over protest, humility over defensiveness, and persuasion over coercion.

The paperback edition includes a new preface that addresses the election of Donald Trump, the decline in civic discourse after the election, the Nazi march in Charlottesville, and more, this new edition of Confident Pluralism is an essential clarion call during one of the most troubled times in US history. Inazu argues for institutions that can work to bring people together as well as political institutions that will defend the unprotected.  Confident Pluralism offers a refreshing argument for how the legal system can protect peoples’ personal beliefs and differences and provides a path forward to a healthier future of tolerance, humility, and patience.

Inazu responded to me with this tweet:

Here is a taste of Inazu’s linked piece “Want a vibrant public square? Support religious tax exemptions“:

When it comes to federal taxes, there is a fundamental reason we should protect religious organizations — even those we disagree with. Functionally, the federal tax exemption is akin to a public forum: a government-provided resource that welcomes and encourages a diversity of viewpoints. Tax exemptions for religious organizations and other nonprofits exist in part to allow different groups to make their voices heard. Past the preexisting baseline, groups and ideas wither or thrive not by government decree but by the choices of individual donors. In this setting, government has no business policing which groups are “in” and which ones are “out” based on their ideological beliefs. And there is no plausible risk that granting tax-exempt status to groups such as the Nation of Islam, the Catholic Church or even the American Cheese Education Foundation means that the government embraces or endorses those organizations’ views.

Tax-exempt status is available to a vast range of ideologically diverse groups. The meanings of “charitable” and “educational” under the Internal Revenue Code are deliberately broad, and “religious” organizations are not even defined. Among the organizations that qualify as tax-exempt, each of us could find not only groups we support, but also those we find harmful to society. And our lists of reprehensible groups would differ. The pro-choice group and the pro-life group, religious groups of all stripes (or no stripe), hunting organizations and animal rights groups — the tax exemption benefits them all.

Read the rest here.

Kelsey Dallas has a nice piece on the way other Democratic candidates responded to similar questions in last night’s CNN forum.

Here, for example, is Elizabeth Warren:

Warren seems to suggest that a man who believes in traditional marriage will not be able to find a woman to marry because women who uphold traditional views on marriage are few and far between.  Really? This answer reveals her total ignorance of evangelical culture in the United States. (It may also reveal her ignorance of middle-American generally).  If she gets the Democratic nomination she will be painted as a Harvard elitist who is completely out of touch with the American people.

Another Conservative Critique of the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

I don’t know much about Matthew Lee Anderson apart from a few things I read every now and then in which he is defending traditional marriage.  I was thus was surprised to learn that he refused to sign the Nashville Statement on human sexuality.

Yesterday he published a critical piece on the Nashville Statement titled “Evangelical’s ‘Flight 93’ Moment: Reflections on the Nashville Statement.”  The piece is useful because it has a lot of links to articles and posts written by defenders and critics of the Statement.  It is good to have these links all in one place.

I was disappointed, however, that Anderson ignored Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz‘s critique of the Nashville Statement at The Pietist Schoolman.  It is the best evangelical critique of the Statement that I have read.

Anderson and Gerhz seem to be in agreement that the Nashville Statement reflects what we (and now many others) have been calling “The Age of Trump.”

Here is a taste:

The Nashville Statement is the Flight 93 statement. It is striking how similar its defenses have been to arguments that evangelicals should vote for Trump. The sense of crisis the preamble announces is so pervasive that it justifies not just any statement, but this one. Anything else makes the perfect the enemy of the good. One signer told me Article 10 alone should impel me to sign, because the urgency of the hour demands it. ‘Choose ye this day’, the statement announces, and voting third party is clearly a waste. The impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics. Those Nashville pastorswere right to detect an elusive commonality between evangelical support for Trump and the dynamics surrounding this statement, even if the vast majority of its signers were strong and faithful critics of Trump’s campaign.

Only time will tell, but I fear the Nashville Statement will be no more a win for conservative evangelicals than the election of Donald Trump. While it has exposed the silliness of progressive foes, it has also galvanized them and dangerously inflated our confidence in our own rightness and strength. The statement draws some of the right boundaries, but in the wrong way. And at least one boundary ought not to be drawn, or needs to be clarified. It comes to many right conclusions, but reflects principles and ideas that have born bad fruit within evangelicalism.

Read the entire piece here.

More from the Pietist Schoolman on the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

Last week I called the Nashville Statement a “disaster.”  Even if one affirms the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, this statement seems unusually divisive.  (I thought Al Mohler’s defense of the Nashville Statement in this weekend’s Washington Post took a less strident tone).  Over at Facebook I compared the Nashville Statement to other attempts by conservative evangelicals to define who is an evangelical and who is not.  I am thinking here of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Affirmations meeting of 1989.  I was an observer at the latter meeting while I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and I saw fierce debates over whether or not an affirmation of biblical inerrancy was a marker of evangelical identity.  I also watched an attempt to keep John Stott from the evangelical fold because he believed in annihilationism.  Many of the signers of the Nashville Statement were also in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel in Deerfield, Illinois on that Spring day in 1989.

Last week at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gerhz described the Nashville Statement as “theology for the age of Trump.”  I affirmed his decision to describe the statement in this way.  Many people who signed the statement or who were sympathetic to the signers, took offense to this.  They argued that a significant number of signers did not vote for Trump in 2016.  Fair enough.  But as Gerhz’s recent post suggests, such a response misses his point.  Here is a taste of that post:

It’s clear that the title of the post (“The Nashville Statement: Theology for the Age of Trump”) has been a stumbling block for some. Lamentably but understandably, they don’t necessarily want to read two thousand words’ worth of my musings. Incorrectly but understandably, they read the title and nothing else, assuming that I’ll simply dismiss the signers as Trump apologists, or John Fea’s “court evangelicals.”

I did try to head this off in the post. While noting that one prominent signer is Trump supporter James Dobson, I added that the list also includes Trump critics like Moore and Piper. (In retrospect, I should have added Burk to that list.). But if I wanted to bring more light than heat to the discussion, I should have stated that point even more forcefully before trying to place the Nashville Statement in the context of an “Age of Trump.”

So let me try to sum it up this way:

The Nashville Statement is meant to stand up against “the spirit of our age” on matters of sexuality and gender. But the way it is written actually evokes the angry, merciless, divisive discourse of our age — whose problems don’t start or stop with Donald Trump, but certainly are exemplified by him.

Bart thinks that some of us critics of the statement raised “mincing and squeamish complaints” about it. Recognizing that I am naturally averse to confrontation and conflict and perhaps too quick to cry “Peace, peace,” I nonetheless stand by my conviction that Christians should always write as winsomely and irenically as possible. Even when it’s absolutely essential to draw a doctrinal “line in the sand,” it should be with the intention of persuading people to join us on our side of that boundary, not of keeping them separated.

So no, the signers are not all Trump backers. (I don’t think most have made their politics clear, either way.) But in their attempt to present an evangelical witness in the year of our Lord 2017, I think it would have behooved the authors of the Nashville Statement — like any of us writing for a public that is inevitably bigger than the intended audience — to have gone out of their way to communicate in as un-Trump-like a manner as possible.

Read the entire post here.

Conservative Evangelicals and Putin

Putin and Religion

Are conservatives in the United States growing fond of Vladimir Putin?

Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post uncover a growing connection between conservative groups and Putin’s Russia.  These conservatives are drawn to Putin’s views on guns and gay marriage.  A Nashville lawyer with a porcelain bust of Putin in his office put it this way:  “the value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line.”

Before I give you a further taste of this article, I think I should mention that Putin is a ruthless dictator who probably ordered the deaths of several of his political enemies.

But at least he is pro-gun and anti-gay marriage.

A taste:

Growing up in the 1980s, Brian Brown was taught to think of the communist Soviet Union as a dark and evil place.

But Brown, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, said that in the past few years he has started meeting Russians at conferences on family issues and finding many kindred spirits.

Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, has visited Moscow four times in four years, including a 2013 trip during which he testified before the Duma as Russia adopted a series of anti-gay laws.

“What I realized was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union,” he said. “There was a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”

A significant shift has been underway in recent years across the Republican right.

On issues including gun rights, terrorism and same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country’s leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally.

The attitude adjustment among many conservative activists helps explain one of the most curious aspects of the 2016 presidential race: a softening among many conservatives of their historically hard-line views of Russia. To the alarm of some in the GOP’s national security establishment, support in the party base for then-candidate Donald Trump did not wane even after he rejected the tough tone of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who called Russia America’s No. 1 foe, and repeatedly praised Putin.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Confident Pluralism, Princeton Seminary, and Tim Keller

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John Inazu, a law professor at Washington University and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Among Deep Differenceshas weighed in on Princeton Theological Seminary’s decision to rescind the Kuyper Prize from evangelical Presbyterian minister Tim Keller.  Get some background on this story here.

Inazu raises some interesting questions in his post at the website of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.  Here is a taste:

One of the core commitments of confident pluralism is that the First Amendment should permit private associations—including private institutions of higher education—to follow their own norms absent extraordinarily compelling governmental interests. Since interests of such magnitude are not implicated here, Princeton Seminary can do whatever it wants. It could give or not give the award to Keller. It could—as it did—offer and then rescind the award for just about any reason. It could—as it did not—disinvite Keller to deliver his lecture. Still, this whole episode raises questions, not only about the purpose of Princeton Theological Seminary, but whether or not the school has adequately articulated its sense of purpose.

According to its website, the seminary’s mission is to “prepare women and men to serve Jesus Christ in ministries marked by faith, integrity, scholarship, competence, compassion, and joy, equipping them for leadership worldwide in congregations and the larger church, in classrooms and the academy, and in the public arena.” Keller’s views on the ordination of women arguably place him at odds with aspects of that mission. But so would the beliefs and affiliations of past recipients of the same award, including a conservative rabbi who does not support the idea of female rabbis (Jonathan Sacks), the then-president of an evangelical seminary that does not recognize same-sex ordination (Richard Mouw), and an Anglican theologian who believes that marriage is limited to heterosexual unions (Oliver O’Donovan). The seminary’s mission statement seems even more in tension with its recent reversal: “In response to Christ’s call for the unity of the church, the Seminary embraces in its life and work a rich racial and ethnic diversity and the breadth of communions represented in the worldwide church.”

Of course, institutions frequently change their missions and identities, and maybe Princeton Seminary has simply evolved in recent years. Maybe a broader ecumenism worked for the seminary in 2010 but not in 2017, on the other side of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision and gender issues foregrounded in the last presidential election. Still, if these observations are accurate, Princeton Seminary’s evolution may have been more unconscious than deliberate, creating an institution that does not entirely understand itself: A better self-understanding might have prevented the school from offering the award to Keller in the first place, and perhaps the same is true for some past awardees.

Read the entire piece here.

Interpreting Trump’s *60 Minutes* Interview

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Donald Trump on the wall:

Lesley Stahl: So let’s go through very quickly some of the promises you made and tell us if you’re going to do what you said or you’re going to change it in any way. Are you really going to build a wall?

Donald Trump: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: They’re talking about a fence in the Republican Congress, would you accept a fence?

Donald Trump: For certain areas I would, but certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this, it’s called construction.

Lesley Stahl: So part wall, part fence?

Donald Trump: Yeah, it could be–it could be some fencing.

Lesley Stahl: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants

Interpretation:  The wall has been reduced to a fence.

Donald Trump on the Supreme Court and abortion:

Lesley Stahl: One of the things you’re going to obviously get an opportunity to do, is name someone to the Supreme Court. And I assume you’ll do that quickly? 

Donald Trump: Yes. Very important. 

Lesley Stahl: During the campaign, you said that you would appoint justices who were against abortion rights. Will you appoint– are you looking to appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade? 

Donald Trump: So look, here’s what’s going to happen.  I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life. They’ll be very— 

Lesley Stahl: But what about overturning this law– 

Donald Trump: Well, there are a couple of things. They’ll be prolife, they’ll be— in terms of the whole gun situation, we know the Second Amendment and everybody’s talking about the Second Amendment and they’re trying to dice it up and change it, they’re going to be very pro-Second Amendment. But having to do with abortion if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the estates. So it would go back to the states and– 

Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but then some women won’t be able to get an abortion? 

Donald Trump: No, it’ll go back to the states. 

Lesley Stahl: By state— no some. 

Donald Trump: Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have  to go to another state. 

Lesley Stahl: And that’s OK? 

Donald Trump: Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. 

Interpretation:  Trump is not opposed to abortion on principle.  In his answer to Stahl he presents this as an issue of federalism.  Women will still have the opportunity to get an abortion–they will just need to go to a state that allows them.  This is NOT the way the Christian Right thinks about abortion.Donald Trump on “locking-up” Hillary Clinton:

Lesley Stahl: Are you going to ask for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton over her emails? And are you, as you had said to her face, going to try and put her in jail?

Donald Trump: Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to think about it. Um, I feel that I want to focus on jobs, I want to focus on healthcare, I want to focus on the border and immigration and doing a really great immigration bill. We want to have a great immigration bill. And I want to focus on all of these other things that we’ve been talking about.

Lesley Stahl: You– you know, you–

Donald Trump: And get the country straightened away.

Lesley Stahl: You called her “crooked Hillary,” said you wanted to get in jail, your people in your audiences kept saying, “Lock em’ up.”

Donald Trump: Yeah. She did–

Lesley Stahl: Do you

Donald Trump: She did some bad things, I mean she did some bad things–

Lesley Stahl: I know, but a special prosecutor? You think you might…

Donald Trump: I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to hurt them. They’re, they’re good people. I don’t want to hurt them. And I will give you a very, very good and definitive answer the next time we do 60 Minutes together.

Interpretation:  Despite the wild chants of his followers, Trump does not look like he will “lock-up” Hillary.

Donald Trump on marriage equality:

Lesley Stahl: Well, I guess the issue for them is marriage equality. Do you support marriage equality?

Donald Trump: It–it’s irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.

Lesley Stahl: So even if you appoint a judge that–

Donald Trump: It’s done. It— you have–these cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And, I’m fine with that.

Interpretation:  Trump claims to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he will not appoint judges who will overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.

So much for the romance between the Christian Right and Donald Trump.  Oh, and by the way, he has appointed a strategy chief who is no fans of Jews.  So much for religious liberty.

It is also worth noting that Trump condemned racial violence in this interview. This is a step in the right direction.  But Trump has a lot more work to do on this front.  Incidents of racism have been cropping up all over the country.  I don’t blame Trump for racism, but I do blame Trump for making racism acceptable and empowering and inspiring the racists. If he really wants to bring the nation together he needs to address the culture he has created.

What Would It Take for Anti-Trump Evangelicals to Vote for Hillary Clinton?

hillary-christian

A lot.

Some evangelicals will never vote for Hillary Clinton.  She is connected to Barack Obama. She supports a women’s right to choose.  She promises to appoint Supreme Court justices that will undermine religious liberty. She is married to Bill Clinton, a man who cheated on her in the White House and was impeached.  She lied about the e-mail server.

In any other election, most evangelicals would vote for the GOP candidate.  Never Hillary.

But this election is different.  In this election a significant portion of evangelicals believe that the GOP candidate is not qualified to be president.

We don’t really know the size of the never-Trump evangelical coalition.  One survey has found that 65% of white evangelicals are voting for Trump and 16% back Clinton.  That leaves about 20% of white evangelicals who have either not yet made up their mind, will vote for a third-party candidate, or will not vote in the presidential election.  This 20% is led by group of outspoken evangelicals such as Southern Baptist Russell Moore and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

Can these anti-Trump evangelical conservatives be convinced to vote for Clinton?

If Clinton were to make an appeal to this demographic she would need to address two main issues: abortion and religious liberty.

On abortion, it goes without saying that President Hillary Clinton is not going to be working to overthrow Roe v. Wade.  Nor will she appoint Supreme Court justices who will do so. But what if she would propose, policy wonk that she is, a systematic plan to limit the number of abortion in the United States?  I am not talking about returning to the old pro-choice Democratic mantra of “safe, legal, and rare.”  Evangelicals will need more than a catchphrase.  They will need to hear Clinton connect her public policy pronouncements with a specific a plan to reduce the number of abortions in the United States.

Some evangelicals would possibly vote for Clinton if she spoke out more forcefully about the controversial Planned Parenthood videos released in 2015.  When these videos appeared she called them “disturbing.”  Since then her comments about Planned Parenthood have been nothing but positive.  Actually, Trump has been more nuanced on this issue than Clinton.

We know, for example, that Clinton has worked hard in her career to reduce teenage pregnancies.  She might get more evangelical votes from the never-Trump crowd if she would connect this work more directly to the reduction of abortions.  This might also bring her closer to the position of her own church.

Clinton has said very little about abortion on the trail.  When asked about abortion at the third debate she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  Many evangelicals were turned off by this.

Clinton has also been very quiet on matters of religious liberty.  Yes, she pays lip service to religious liberty when Trump makes comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, but she has not addressed some of the religious issues facing many evangelicals.  This is especially the case with marriage.

Granted, evangelicals should not expect Clinton to defend traditional marriage or set out to overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.  (I might add here that evangelicals should not expect this from Trump either).  But is she willing to support some form of principled or “confident” pluralism?  Some evangelicals of the never-Trump variety would be very happy to live in a society in which those who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, and those who do not believe this, can live together despite their differences.

The recent attempts in California to cut financial aid for students at faith-based colleges that uphold traditional views of marriage is one example of a threat to religious liberty that has many evangelicals concerned.  So does the earlier Gordon College case and the recent news about the Society of Biblical Literature considering banning InterVarsity Press from their national conference book exhibit.

Or perhaps none of this matters.  Why would Hillary Clinton address these issues when she probably doesn’t need the votes of the anti-Trump evangelicals to win the election?

InterVarsity Press and Society of Biblical Literature Issue a Joint Statement

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Last night I posted on a report that the Society of Biblical Literature is banning InterVarsity Press from displaying books at its forthcoming meeting.  This morning I learned about a joint statement–yes a JOINT statement–put out by IVP and SBL.

I am encouraged by this statement.  Some of the concerns I expressed in my post last night still stand (about principled pluralism), but I am encouraged.  The statement corrects some misconceptions and illustrates the kind of dialogue on this matter that I hope will result in the SBL permitting IVP to display books at its next conference

Here is the statement:

InterVarsity Press Publisher Jeff Crosby has confirmed that the Society of Biblical Literature’s Council, at its next meeting on October 29-30, is taking up the question of IVP Academic’s right to exhibit at the 2017 annual meetings of the jointly-hosted AAR-SBL. That conversation is a part of a larger discussion the SBL Council will have regarding its protocols and standards for exhibitors at its events.

Crosby was notified of this intent in a letter of October 12, 2016 from John Kutsko, SBL’s executive director, who made clear that it is a question — not a decision — regarding whether or not IVP Academic will continue to have access to the exhibit space.

“I have been grateful for the cordial conversations I’ve had with John Kutsko of SBL, and appreciate the many complexities a person in his role is navigating at any given time,” Crosby said. “For 70 years, IVP has been committed to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas. All of us who represent the IVP Academic program genuinely hope the Council will continue to make room for the particularity of the discourse that IVP Academic brings to the theological academy via SBL’s annual events. Indeed, the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature gatherings have been an essential component for our academic program for more than three decades.”

“While many concerned scholars have commented on social media and by email about a supposed ban of InterVarsity Press from exhibiting at the SBL-AAR Annual Meeting, IVP has not been banned or limited in any way at the Annual Meeting or for other matters relating to SBL. At its meeting later this month, the SBL Council will discuss protocols and standards for exhibitors and other groups associated with SBL in the context of ongoing discussions involving academic freedom and the disciplinary standards of discourse the organization fosters. Indeed, IVP was invited to contribute to this conversation. Further, SBL was not speaking for the American Academy of Religion, though any protocols for exhibitors would be drafted in conjunction with it. Finally, SBL values the contribution of IVP, and many SBL members have published with the Press,” John F. Kutsko, Executive Director, Society of Biblical Literature, said.

Report: Society of Biblical Literature Bans InterVarsity Press From Selling Books at Annual Meeting

ivp

Here is Rod Dreher at The American Conservative:

This is extraordinary. The Society of Biblical Literature describes itself like this:

Mission, Visions, and Values
The following Mission Statement and Strategic Vision Statements were adopted by the SBL Council May 16, 2004, and revised October 23, 2011.

Mission Statement:
Foster Biblical Scholarship

Strategic Vision Statement:
Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines.* As an international organization, the Society offers its members opportunities for mutual support, intellectual growth, and professional development through the following:

  • Advancing academic study of biblical texts and their contexts as well as of the traditions and contexts of biblical interpretation
  • Collaborating with educational institutions and other appropriate organizations to support biblical scholarship and teaching
  • Developing resources for diverse audiences, including students, religious communities, and the general public
  • Facilitating broad and open discussion from a variety of critical perspectives
  • Organizing congresses for scholarly exchange
  • Publishing biblical scholarship
  • Promoting cooperation across global boundaries

Here are what the SBL says are its “core values,” in a statement revised in 2011:

Accountability

Openness to Change

Collaboration

Professionalism

Collegiality

Respect for Diversity

Critical Inquiry

Scholarly Integrity

Inclusivity

Tolerance

You might wonder why an academic organization devoted to Biblical scholarship holds as its core values “respect for diversity,” “openness to change,” “inclusivity,” and “tolerance”? Isn’t this just one of those typically euphemistic liberal ways of saying, “No Biblical scholars who don’t accept progressive views on LGBT issues allowed”?

Why yes, apparently, it is. SBL has reportedly banned InterVarsity Press from having a booth at the 2017 SBL convention in Boston because of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s recent decision to hold firmly to orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality, and to ask employees who dissent to resign.

Read the entire piece and the links for the full context.

Here is another piece on the topic from World magazine.  If someone is aware of any other posts or articles please let me know.

I am holding judgment on this story until I get some more information.  Certainly the Society of Biblical Literature is not suggesting that men and women and organizations (IVCF) who believe that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman should be banned from their annual meeting.  There must be more to the story.

InterVarsity Press publishes some great books.  Some excellent historians and theologians have published with the press, including Mark Noll, Tracy McKenzie, Harry Stout, David Bebbington, Thomas Oden, Douglas Sweeney, Justo Gonzalez, Crystal Downing, Alister McGrath, Gerald McDermott, Roger Olson, G.R. Evans, Brian Stanley, Richard Mouw, and Kevin Vanhoozer.  I don’t know what most of these authors think about gay marriage, but it would be a shame if their scholarship is banned from the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion meetings.

I am also an InterVarsity Press author.  I wrote the foreword to John Wilsey’s excellent American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea

I mentioned the American Academy of Religion above.  They have not made any announcement yet on the fate of IVP.   I have never been to a meeting of the AAR, but in November there will be an entire session at this conference devoted to my book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible SocietyTo be honest, I am not sure what to think about attending a conference that plans to have an entire session on one of my books, but will not allow another book with my name on the title to be displayed in the book exhibit.

Let me be clear:  For me this whole thing is not a matter of the correct definition of marriage.  It is a matter of principled pluralism or what George Marsden describes as a “more inclusive pluralism.”

I need to think this through a bit more and, as I mentioned above, gather more information.

Georgia Governor’s Veto of Religious Liberty Bill Reflects Baptist Battles

DealGeorgia Governor Nathan Deal is a Southern Baptist.  That is why he vetoed the Georgia House Bill 757.

Here is a description of that bill:

A BILL to be entitled an Act to protect religious freedoms; to amend Chapter 3 of Title 19 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to marriage generally, so as to provide that religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion; to amend Chapter 1 of Title 10 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to selling and other trade practices, so as to change certain provisions relating to days of rest for employees of business and industry; to protect property owners which are religious institutions against infringement of religious freedom; to define a term; to provide an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Essentially, the bill protects the opponents of gay marriage.

According to Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this debate over HB 757 is representative of the longstanding debate over the identity of Georgia Baptists.   Deal represents those Baptists who have long defended the historic Baptist doctrine of separation of church and state.  In other words, the government should not be legislating morality–in this case the nature of marriage.  His opponents, apparently led by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, represents the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention that took place in the 1980s.

Here is a taste of Galloway’s piece:

…Tucked within the governor’s veto message on “religious liberty” legislation was a solid blow struck in the 35-year-old fight over what it means to be a Baptist in the South.

House Bill 757 was intended to offer legal protection to opponents of same-sex marriage. In his rejection of the measure, the governor went old-school Baptist. Danbury Baptist. Jefferson-and-the-wall-of-separation Baptist.

“I find it somewhat ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask government to confer upon them certain rights and protections,” Deal said. “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands off’ admonition of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

When it comes to religion, even when legislatures try to do good, Deal said, “the inclusions and omissions” in the laws they draft can lead to trouble. “That is too great a risk to take,” he said.

If you were raised anything other than Southern Baptist, there’s a good chance you didn’t hear that dog whistle. Others did.

In the immediate aftermath of the veto, the governor was called a minion of the Antichrist and worse. But perhaps the sharpest criticism came from Albert Mohler, the president of the Louisville, Ky., seminary that serves as the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In one of his daily podcasts, the seminary president declared Deal’s veto to be “fueled by a theological agenda,” as well as an economic one.

Read the entire article here.

Pope Francis Continues to Defy Political Categories

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Back in September when Pope Francis visited the United States I wrote a piece for Fox News titled “Pope Francis is neither liberal nor conservative, Democrat or Republican.  He is a Catholic.”  Here is a taste of what I argued:

Pundits and commentators insist on trying to comprehend Francis’s message in political terms.  This is a wrongheaded approach. The Pope is not liberal or conservative.  He is not a Democrat or Republican.  He is a Catholic. And whatever he says about politics, culture, or the economy stems from this identity.

Our propensity for trying to place the Pope in a political box says more about our culture than it does about the social views of the Catholic Church. Francis’s visit has called attention to the tired, unimaginative, and intellectually stale way that we Americans think about public life. Americans are captive to ideological categories like “Left: and “Right.” They are captive to political parties that allow little original thought that does not conform to rigid and limited platforms. 

Pope Francis continues to defy categories.  On February 17th he will hold a mass at the Mexico-Texas border for the purpose of showing his solidarity with immigrants.

Yesterday, in a historic meeting in Cuba with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill,  Pope Francis joined the Patriarch in issuing a declaration of unity that defended religious liberty for those cast to the “margins of public life” by “aggressive secularist ideology.” It condemned “unrelenting consumerism” and its negative effects on the poor and the planet.  It proclaimed marriage as a “faithful love between a man and a woman” and lamented “other forms of cohabitation” that have “been placed on the same level as this union.” And it called on people to “respect the inalienable right to life” and the “millions” who are denied the very right to be born into the world.”

Could Francis support any candidate in the current race for the presidency?  I don’t see how it would be possible.  None of the candidates–Democrat or Republican– could affirm all of Catholic social teaching.

Robert George: The Princeton Professor and Intellectual Advising the GOP Presidential Candidates

Melinda Henneberger has written an excellent feature for Bloomberg Politics on Robert George, one of the great Christian and conservative intellectuals in the United States today.  What I especially appreciate about this article is its fairness. 


George has provided advice on moral issues to Ted Cruz (his former student), Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and others.  Unfortunately, apart from abortion and gay marriage, I don’t hear much of George’s nuanced views when I listen to these candidates.  George is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and one of our foremost advocates for the application of natural law to moral and political issues.  He also hangs out with Cornell West, sees no difference between his views and the views of Pope Francis, thinks poverty is one of the most pressing moral issues of our day, and wishes he could go back to voting as a Democrat.

(He also went to Swarthmore with Way of Improvement Leads Home reader and friend Fred Jordan.  I think they may have even been roommates).

Intrigued?  Then check out Henneberger’s piece.  Here is a small taste:
Among the candidates, his closest relationship may be with Cruz, who was one of his students at Princeton. But starting early next month, George is planning to do a series of hour-long interviews with presidential candidates on moral and constitutional questions on the Catholic cable channel EWTN, which is one reason why he won’t be endorsing any candidate. “My object is to drill down, and find out how their minds work,” even when he’s helped some of those minds think through various issues.
Planned Parenthood, at the center of America’s politics since the release of videos purporting to show employees negotiating over fetal organs, is one matter candidates call him about. “I’ve argued that you cannot try to fund good and honorable activities or services for Planned Parenthood while blocking the bad stuff it does, like abortions, because of the fungibility of money, and that what we need is a complete de-funding of Planned Parenthood, together with mechanisms for providing desirable services to women. So that might be the kind of issue I’d talk to Rick Santorum or anyone else about.”
He doesn’t supply them with rhetorical ammunition, he says, or the exact answer. “What I try to help these guys think through is: What’s the truth of the matter? What should our response be?”
And on Planned Parenthood or any other issue, George doesn’t always say what conservatives want to hear. For example, he feels the makers of the Planned Parenthood sting videos were wrong in one respect: “I defend the videos, and I think the videos tell us the truth about Planned Parenthood, but it’s wrong to lie about who you are to gain access to get to people.”