Post-Election Spin From the Court Evangelicals

Here is what the court evangelicals are saying today:

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

Robett Jeffress makes a prediction:

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

Here is Samuel Rodriguez:

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

Was there a court evangelical viewing party?

The Court Evangelicals are Out in Full-Force Tonight

In case you have not heard, Donald Trump is having a big dinner right now for evangelical leaders.  It looks like a court evangelical extravaganza.

Click here to see what court evangelical Robert Jeffress is saying about it at the Christian Broadcasting Network.  Jeffress makes it all sound like a political calculation.  We need Trump and Trump needs us.

Court evangelical Johnnie Moore is there:

Court evangelical Gary Bauer is there:

Court evangelical Jack Graham is there:

Court evangelical Greg Laurie is there:

So are James Dobson, Jentezen Franklin, Samuel Rodriguez, and Ronnie Floyd:

Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas is yucking-it-up with fellow court evangelical Mike Pence (more on Metaxas in my next post.  Stay tuned)

Metaxas at Party

It also looks like court evangelical Tony Perkins got an invitation:

Trump finally said something nice about John McCain. I guess he did not want to come across as an unforgiving man with court evangelicals in the room:

Court evangelical Darryl Scott is there:

It wasn’t very hard to learn which evangelicals came to the White House tonight.  Many of them proudly tweeted to their followers and congregation as they relished in the power of the court and solidified their celebrity.

Some of you may be wondering what I mean by the term “court evangelical.”  I wrote a an entire chapter about these Christians in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpThat chapter builds off of several shorter pieces, including:

Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity,” Washington Post, July 17, 2017

The term “court evangelical” has even made it into the Urban Dictionary.

Perhaps the court evangelicals should go back to their hotel rooms tonight and read 2 Samuel 12. (There is a Gideon Bible in the drawer).  Nathan was one of King David’s court prophets.  In other words, he had a “seat at the table.”  When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then arranged for her husband, Uriah, to be killed on the battlefield to cover up David’s sins, Nathan rebuked his king.  He told David the story of a poor man whose beloved “little ewe lamb” was stolen by a self-centered rich man who had plenty of lambs but wanted the poor man’s only lamb to serve his guests.  When David’s anger “was greatly kindled” against the rich man in the story, Nathan said to the king, “You are the man!”

Will there be a Nathan in the room tonight?  Somehow I doubt it.

Will the Court Evangelicals Break With Trump over Immigration?

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

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

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

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

Some Court Evangelicals Break Ranks on Trump’s Immigration Policy

immigrants

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

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

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

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

Paula White has said nothing.  But she is tweeting:

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

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

Mark Burns is being a good court evangelical:

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

Ronnie Floyd seems to be running a prayer sweepstakes:

Richard Land: Silent

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

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

But he does love Trump:

 

Two Court Evangelicals Will Establish the “Congress of Christian Leaders.”

Moore

Johnne Moore is the organizational force behind the court evangelicals

The Christian Post reports that court evangelicals Johnnie Moore and Samuel Rodriguez have announced the founding of something called the “Congress of Christian Leaders.”  Here is a taste of Samuel Smith’s reporting:

American evangelical leaders Samuel Rodriguez and Johnnie Moore have announced the founding of a new interdenominational body called the Congress of Christian Leaders, which they say will seek to foster unity and serve growing Christian movements across the globe.

Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Moore, a well-connected evangelical public relations executive who regularly travels overseas to visit international Christian communities, founded the new body as a nonpartisan avenue to help independent global Christian leaders and their churches.

Moore, who is CCL’s founding president, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that the organization seeks to bridge a “gap between evangelicalism in the United States and around the world.”

Members of the organization will include Christian organizations, pastors, denominational heads, business leaders, thought leaders and other notable Christian figures.

Read the rest here.

Of particular interest is how this organization relates to the coalition of court evangelicals.  Here is another taste of Smith’s article:

 

Moore was asked if he expects any pushback to the congress given that he and Rodriguez have ties to the Trump administration and he is largely viewed as the spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board.

“I hope there won’t be. In my personal opinion, that would not be justified,” Moore said. “While there is kind of a media obsession with our relationship with the Trump administration, our relationship with the Trump administration represents, in the big picture, an extremely small piece of what we focus on and what we do around the world.”

“Sam and I both have the same point of view, which is that any time a political leader asks you for advice, you have an obligation to give that advice whether or not it is received,” Moore continued, adding that they would have advised Hillary Clinton had she won and asked for their advice.

“People who would try to be divisive around this announcement for that reason are either uninformed or they have other intentions. It doesn’t affect the reality of our actual reputation and work and our intentions.”

I appreciate Moore’s attempt to stress unity over division, but there is a real naivety in some of his remarks above.  Both Moore and Rodriguez seem to think that their support for Trump has done no damage to their witness or their ability to cast a large tent with this proposed organization.  Frankly, I don’t see how ANY organization associated with Moore (and perhaps less so with Rodriguez) can be understood apart from their decision to support the presidency of Donald Trump.  Moore and Rodriguez may have big dreams about creating a global coalition of evangelicals, but they seem pretty clueless about just how divided evangelicalism is at the moment and what role they have played in that division.

A Few Court Evangelicals Meet With Nancy Pelosi on Immigration

SamuelRodriguez-a

Christianity Today has it covered.  A taste:

Many evangelicals won’t let partisan divides keep them from rallying for immigration reform, particularly the urgent push for congressional action to allow Dreamers—who entered the US as kids—to remain in America.

Several pastors and members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board met Thursday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who they cheered for her defense of young immigrants fighting for legal status.

A prominent Democrat in Congress, Pelosi also happens to rank among evangelicals most-disliked politicians; more than half (55%) of self-identified evangelicals had an unfavorable view of her in a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll.

Yet Trump adviser and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) president Samuel Rodriguez (also a CT board member) told Pelosi today that “America is a better place because of your prophetic leadership” on immigration.

Two more evangelical advisers—Maryland pastor Harry Jackson and Southern Baptist minister Jay Strack—as well as two other NHCLC leaders also participated in the meeting in Washington with Pelosi, fellow religious leaders, and Dreamers themselves.

“We’re joined together in the spirit of bipartisanship, compelled by our faith, to protect our Dreamers,” the minority leader said in a press conference streamed on Facebook Live.

Read the entire piece here.   The meeting was organized by court evangelical Johnnie Moore.

Glad to see this happening.

Court Evangelical Robert Jeffress on Evangelicals Who Oppose the Alt-Right

jeffress

In case you missed it, a group of evangelicals wrote a letter to Donald Trump asking him to condemn the alt-Right.  They claim that they are “American Religious Leaders,” but anyone who read the names of signers will quickly conclude that most of them are Southern Baptists.  You can read it here.

As far as I can tell, Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference was the only court evangelical who signed the statement.  (How much longer can this guy remain a court evangelical?)  Read the list of signers.  You will not find the signatures of Franklin Graham, Johnnie Moore, Paula White, or Jerry Falwell Jr.

A story at the conservative website Newsmax quotes court evangelical Robert Jeffress’s comments in a Wall Street Journal article on the statement. Here is a taste:

A lot of these people who signed are friends of mine,” Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s advisory board, told the Journal. Jeffress was not asked to sign the letter, the Journal reported.

“I also know some of them who absolutely despise the president, and cannot get over the fact that a majority of evangelicals voted for him. It shows how little influence these leaders have in the election and over evangelicals.”

Jeffress seems to believe that a Christian leader’s “influence” is measured by how well his or her political beliefs mesh with “the majority.”  I seem to remember Jesus saying something about a narrow road (Mt 7:14).  Since when is 51% the standard by which Christians develop their political theology?  The theological and biblical contortions Jeffress must make in order to remain a court evangelical never cease to amaze me.

Evangelicals Defend the Dreamers

Dreamers

Obama and Biden meet with Dreamers in Oval Office

There are evangelical Christians and there are evangelical Christians.  The evangelicals covered in Kate Shellnut’s Christianity Today piece want to defend the Dreamers.  Trump is on the verge of deciding what to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Here is a taste:

In response to a threatened September 5 lawsuit by 10 conservative state attorneys general, the President is expected to soon tighten or terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed 800,000 “Dreamers” over the past five years to work and attend school without the threat of deportation.

Among them are many young church leaders. Hispanic Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics in evangelicalism, surging in Pentecostal and Assemblies of God traditions as well as among Southern Baptists, where a majority of new church plants are now non-white.

“Open the door,” Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC), told fellow believers this week. “Perhaps they’re the next missionaries that you’re opening the door for.”

Dreamer Juan Garcia, a campus pastor at the University of South Florida, wouldn’t have his diploma or his ministry position without the Obama-era program. “DACA was one of the doors God used to make him an Assemblies of God Chi Alpha missionary,” Salguero said.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, including leaders like National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Leith Anderson and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president Russell Moore, wrote the President and congressional leaders this week to tell them that Dreamers are “leading in our churches and our communities” and to “find solutions that allow these young people to stay in our country long-term and continue to be a blessing to our communities.”

Read the rest here.  What role are the court evangelicals playing on this issue.  Who, beyond Samuel Rodriguez, is whispering in Trump’s ear?

A Court Evangelical Defends Himself

Rev.-Samuel-Rodriguez-289x300-289x300Last weekend we did a post on court evangelical Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.   Yesterday, in a published interview with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Rodriguez defended his role as an evangelical adviser to Donald Trump.  I am sure he had no problem hitting the softballs that CBN tossed his way.

Here is a taste of Heather Sells’s article:

 

Rodriguez says Trump was wrong to not immediately call out white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville but defended his involvement on the board as “my God-given assignment.”  He said those calling for his resignation from the board are largely inconsistent.

“Where was that argument ‘why don’t you abandon,’ why don’t evangelical advisors abandon Obama when he affirmed and celebrated and advanced the cause of same-sex marriage?  Where was the uproar when Obama expanded/funded Planned Parenthood, funded international abortions?” he asked.

Rodriguez characterized the board as one that gives “very straight talk” to the president.  

“I’ve never been in a conversation where the faith advisory board is silent.  This is not a rubber stamp board,” he said.  “It’s a board that’s committed to the centrality of Jesus and biblical truth.”

Read the entire piece here.

Rodriguez seems to be a careful court evangelical.  For example, he does not say that Trump is the most faith-friendly president in American history or a “dream president” for evangelicals.  He has defended the DACA program, but he has been silent about the pardon of Joe Arpaio.

But I wonder: Is being a court evangelical a “God-given assignment?”  I have no idea. Rodriguez’s evangelical faith is a bit different than mine.  I am hesitant to be so bold about what God is calling me to do.   I guess I have a view of God informed more by mystery than certainty.  I also wonder if Rodriguez would say that ministers could have a “God-given assignment” to oppose Donald Trump?

Rather than mounting a defense of court evangelicalism based on solid biblical teaching, orthodox theology, or even church tradition, many of the court evangelicals seem content to just say that God called them to serve the POTUS in this capacity.

Court Evangelical Samuel Rodriguez Steps Up to the Plate

SamuelRodriguez-a

The website of Samuel Rodriguez, the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, lists several accolades he has received in the last five years

  • “40 People Who Radically Changed The World”–Charisma Magazine, 2015
  • “101 Most Influential Leaders” —Latino Leaders Magazine 2015 and 2017
  • “Top 100 Christian Leaders in America”–Newsmax, 201
  •  Nominated as one of the “100 most influential people in the world,” TIME, 2013
  • “10 White & Brown MLKs of Our Time”–Black Christian News, 2013

Let’s add one more honor: “Court Evangelical, 2017″

I must admit I am a bit baffled by Rodriguez’s recent interview with James Randall Robison (son of court evangelical James Robison) at the Christian website “The Stream.”

Read the interview here.

A few thoughts:

Rodriguez says:

President Trump has a commitment and it’s not just rhetoric: He really wants to make America, in his terms, “great again.” He really wants to reinforce the values that made it exceptional: God over man, man over government. That powerful value, that rights are given by God. Number two, limit the government. The more government grows the more man’s personal liberties are cast aside, and our dependency becomes on government, not on our own God-given abilities.

I find it very interesting that a person of color like Rodriguez would be endorsing the phrase “Make America Great Again” in the way he does here.  The United States is a republic.  I am not sure what Rodriguez means when he says that to “make America great again” is to “reinforce” the “value” of “God over man.” It is also ironic that a court evangelical is lamenting the fact that Christians and Americans generally have become dependent on government to accomplish their goals.  Court evangelicals like Rodriguez rely on access to government power and victories in political elections to bring change. They want a strong central government so they can use it promote their moral values.

Rodriguez says:

President Trump is a businessman. He is not a polished politician. I have not agreed with every single word that has come out of President Trump’s mouth. At all. Neither did I agree with President Obama. But I respected the office when President Obama was in office, and I prayed for him daily. And I honored him in deed. I took it personal when people would say “We’re not even praying for this President. There is no way we can even ask God to bless this President.” I find that to be anti-Christian.

When are the court evangelicals and other defenders of Trump going to stop excusing the President’s bad behavior because he is a “businessman” and not a “polished politician?” Trump is now the President of the United States.  He has been in office for over seventh months.  There has been no change.

I should also add that Rodriguez is right when he says that Christians should be praying for Donald Trump.

Rodriguez says:

With President Trump there are a number of things that he has stated, maybe a couple of tweets, a number of tweets, his articulation regarding certain issues have not been as nuanced or as compassionate as I would have framed it.

I am starting to see the difference between the court evangelicals and the evangelicals, like myself, who oppose Trump.  The court evangelicals start with the premise that Trump is a good, faith-friendly POTUS with some minor flaws.  Yes, he sometimes screws-up with his tweets and rhetoric, but at his core he is a fine man and a finer president.  On the other hand, I start with the premise that Trump is immoral, corrupt, has mostly bad policies, is unfit for office, is an anti-intellectual, and is largely bad for America.  And yes, on rare occasions he does something right.

Finally, Rodriguez challenges the identity politics thinking of the day that tells him he is a “Latino” before he is a “Christian.”  I am sympathetic to this critique of identity politics. But unlike Rodriguez, I am not sure Donald Trump, the man who rode white identity politics to the Oval Office, is the best man to champion if you are concerned about this issue.

Marco Rubio’s Appeal to the Evangelical Mainstream

Rubio

GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently announced the creation of a campaign advisory board that will focus on religious liberty issues.  It is an impressive group of scholars, activists, theologians, and legal experts.  Though it is doubtful that the members of this committee will play a major role in the Florida Senator’s day-to-day quest for the White House, its makeup tells us a lot about the religious sensibilities of the Rubio campaign.

The advisory board was the brainchild of Eric Teetsel, the Rubio campaign’s director for faith outreach.  Teetsel is a 2006 graduate of evangelical Wheaton College, an architect of the Values & Capitalism project at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and the executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, which he describes on his website as a “ ‘call of Christian conscience’ on life, marriage, and religious liberty.”

Teetsel has assembled nothing short of an all-star team of conservative evangelical leaders—men and women who have been outspoken defenders of religious liberty as the GOP understands it.  The roster includes Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and Barack Obama’s choice to pray at his inauguration in 2008; Samuel Rodriguez, the most prominent Hispanic evangelical in the country and the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Michael McConnell, the Stanford University Law School professor who was considered by George W. Bush as serious Supreme Court nominee in 2005.

Rubio’s board is also religiously diverse, at least as far as the Judeo-Christian tradition goes.  It includes a Jewish Rabbi, several Roman Catholics, and, of course, a large number of Protestant evangelicals.

But it is Teetsel’s choice of evangelicals that speaks volumes.  In addition to Warren and Rodriguez, the board includes Wheaton College theologian Vincent Bacote, the author of a recent book on evangelical political engagement and a strong advocate for the role of Christianity in cultural renewal; Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd, a prolific writer on matters related to religious freedom and the American founding whose work is respected by liberals and conservatives alike; and Wayne Grudem, a theologian known best for his popularity among young Calvinist evangelicals and his defense of a “complementarian” view of marriage.

These evangelicals not only have respected academic credentials, or have proven to be thoughtful defenders of religious liberty, but they reveal Rubio’s appeal to a rational, sane, and more informed evangelical constituency than the kind of evangelicals that his GOP opponents have chosen to work with in recent months.

For example, Ted Cruz has sought to make inroads among evangelicals through his relationship with Texas Republican activist David Barton, the country’s foremost defender of the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.  Barton’s use of the past to promote his political agenda has been almost universally discredited by historians, including nearly all evangelical historians.  But he has a large following and currently heads a Cruz super-Pac.  He still appears to have the ear of the Princeton and Harvard-educated Senator.

Donald Trump has found his own niche among the evangelical community.  In September 2015 the New York businessman and GOP presidential candidate met and prayed with a group of religious leaders dominated by Pentecostal Christians, many of whom adhere to the prosperity gospel, a brand of evangelicalism that teaches financial blessing will come to all true followers of Jesus Christ.

Granted, few American evangelicals will vote for Marco Rubio because of the make-up of his religious liberty advisory committee, but in assembling this group he has carved out a niche for himself as the candidate of the thoughtful evangelical mainstream.