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

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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

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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

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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

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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.