A Day in Upstate South Carolina

NGU Porch

Solving all the world’s problems with Robert Boggs and Brendan Payne in front of White Hall (home of the history department) on the campus of North Greenville University.  (Photo by Paul Thompson)

I spent the day on Tuesday in the Greenville, South Carolina area where I was honored to deliver the inaugural Boggs-Hickson Lecture at North Greenville University (NGU).  The lecture is endowed by Robert Boggs, an instructor in history at NGU since 1999 and a former United Methodist minister with a degree from Duke Divinity School.  Boggs grew up in rural north Greenville County–where his parents worked in the mill but encouraged their children to pursue education and opportunities for learning.  Boggs endowed this lecture in memory of his late mother, Melree, who taught him to love his home and pursue “knowledge of the world.” In a short speech at a dinner before the lecture, Boggs connected his story to Philip Vickers Fithian’s story in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Needless to say, I was moved by his comments and overjoyed that my telling of Fithian’s life resonated with Robert in this way.

North Greenville University is a small Southern Baptist school with a faculty that comes from many evangelical traditions.  It seems to be a school on the rise under the leadership of new president Gene Fant and new provost Nathan Finn.  The Boggs-Hickson Lecture is just one of the many ways NGU is trying to build a college committed to serious faith and serious learning.

I also enjoyed getting to know some of the history faculty at NGU.  It was such a pleasure spending time with Paul Thompson, the Dean of the Humanities and Chair of the History Department.  I had met Paul a few times over the years through the Conference on Faith and History, but I had no idea that we grew up only a few miles from one another in North Jersey!  We had some great conversations about Christian colleges, Southern Baptists, our life journeys and, of course, American history.

NGU lecture

My lecture was titled “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”  The audience was filled with old friends and new ones, including TWOILH cheerleader and patron Brenda Schoolfield, the chair of the history department at Bob Jones University.  I was happy to touch base again (and in some cases meet face-to-face for the first time) with other Bob Jones historians, including Rachel Larson, Mark Sidwell, and John Matzko.  My old Messiah friend Matt Hunter made the trip from Southern Wesleyan University and I also got to spend a few minutes chatting with Clemson sociologist Andrew Whitehead (whose work I cited in the lecture).

During the day, Mark Yandle was nice enough to let me invade his African American history course where I met with six very thoughtful undergraduates. I also got to spend some extended time chatting with the ever-curious Brendan Payne, a Baylor history Ph.D who is in his first year of teaching at NGU.

My favorite moment of the visit, however, was when a very bright NGU student told me that “we need to get a copy of your book Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past into the hands of every Christian in America.”  High praise indeed!  🙂

John Locke and Slavery


Holly Brewer, the Burke Chair of American History at the University of Maryland, argues that Locke and Western liberalism had little to do with slavery.  Here is a taste of her essay at Aeon:

Neither slavery nor colonisation had their origins in Locke’s Two Treatises. His ideas about how people could claim rights to property did justify a certain kind of colonisation. He argued that, by making objects, by farming the land, one could derive ownership, goods and ground. However, his was a more egalitarian ideal of ownership than that offered by King James I’s right of discovery by Christian princes who could then grant dominion – the right of ownership and governance. Locke’s was founded on individual action, the Stuart kings’ on divine status.

Such attention to historical context matters. These complex debates over justice shaped the early modern world, and continue to shape ours. If we pretend that Locke and the Stuart kings were the same, and that their policy struggles did not matter, we ignore the impact of our own policies. If we dismiss Locke’s ideas as paradoxical, we forget that in these fires were forged not only slavery but also crucial principles of human rights. It is not only that the big questions were fiercely contended, but that small policies often had huge impacts. Reversing Charles II’s reward of land for buying slaves was a major move against inequality and injustice, and against the idea that kings could grant dominion over others. So too was his suggestion that all people be naturalised and have equal protections under the law.

The effort to compress such fierce disputes into a flat narrative of hypocrisy belies not only the past but the present. The effort to condemn liberalism (and Locke) as a theory of slavery and oppression, and to see within liberalism the origin of slavery, misrepresents the very essence of his theory, which was about human rights. It silences intense political debates over such rights that had dramatic practical repercussions. Slavery was justified by theories that all people were born to a divinely ordained status, ideas that were harmonious with racism, but not defined by that racism. Slavery’s origins were in absolutism, not liberalism.

Liberalism arose in reaction to slavery. It sought inclusion, and defined rights with broad promises, albeit ones that could be opened to exclusions. Indeed, one could argue that the breadth of such promises made racism (and other forms of prejudice) necessary in order to once again justify hereditary hierarchies. But for many others, it opened wide promises of inclusion. The theory itself was one that strained for relative equality under the law for all those who could give meaningful consent. The similarity of these disputes to ones we conduct today becomes more apparent with such context. For example: do rights inhere in all human beings or only in citizens? Abstract philosophical debates emerged from real dilemmas but also helped to shape policies that affected millions of people’s lives. They still do.

Read the rest here.

A Baptist Church Removes Jesus Statue Because It’s Too Catholic

Baptist JesusThe Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina is removing a statue of Jesus because it is “too Catholic in nature.”

Here is a taste of Mary Rezac’s article at Catholic News Agency:

The white, hand-carved statue in question shows Christ with his outstretched and stepping out of the wall, while the reliefs depict images from Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Red Bank Baptist Church leaders sent a letter to the artist, Bert Baker Jr., earlier this month, informing him that the congregation had voted to remove the statue because it was being perceived as a Catholic icon and was causing confusion among churchgoers.

“We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms. As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church,” church leaders Jeff Wright and Mike Dennis said in the letter.

Baker, a former member of the church’s congregation himself, was commissioned to make the statue for Red Bank in 2007.

Read the rest here.

An Interview with Peter Wood

WoodI still occasionally assign Peter Wood‘s Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion.  It remains one of the most accessible books on the slave culture that developed in the rice fields of colonial South Carolina.

Over at History News Network, Tiffany April Griffin interviews Wood.  He currently serves as professor emeritus of history at Duke.

Here is a taste of the interview:

Why did you choose history as your career?

Both my parents were scientists, but I faint at the sight of blood, so medicine was out. They nurtured a love of fact over fiction, so even though I wrote lots of poems, I was not going to be a novelist. Also, I was a lefthander who could never hit curve balls very well, so I gave up my dreams of being the next Stan Musial for the St. Louis Cardinals. I guess that was fact triumphing over fiction!

I fell in love with history early, because it allowed me to roam widely. Most careers address some slice of life, while history allows you to go anywhere. Not just any place or time, but bringing any tools you wish and can manage. If you are fascinated by economics or astronomy, feminism or religion, literature or cooking, you can probably bring that interest to bear. Our own strengths and weaknesses, personal interests and blind spots tend to shape our work as much as any “availability of sources.”

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Fred Witzig

41WNTjQqz9L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Witzig is Professor of History at Monmouth College. This interview is based on his new book, Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: I was introduced to Alexander Garden by George Whitefield. My interest in Whitefield and the Great Awakening began when I was an undergraduate and never ended. But I quickly noticed that while the scholarship on Whitefield is lively and expansive, historians had never even begun to adequately assess the enormous efforts of clergy who worked against him. Foremost among them were New England Congregationalist Charles Chauncy and the commissary of the Church of England in the Carolinas, Alexander Garden. Chauncy largely failed in his efforts against the Awakening, and he’s famous among historians today. Garden went after Whitefield with more creativity and energy than Chauncy did, and, impressively, he succeeded in squelching the Awakening in South Carolina. More broadly, Garden arrived in South Carolina at a seminal moment in its development; in the aftermath of the Yamasee War, the white colonists shifted the economic foundations of their colony squarely onto African slave labor. Garden lent his considerable leadership skills to this endeavor, and in the process made a place for the Church of England, and Christianity in general, in the South that would last for more than a century. Yet, historians sometimes confuse him with the botanist Alexander Garden, and his only biography—until now!—is an unpublished dissertation from almost forty years ago. I think it’s time he gets his due.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Alexander Garden marshalled the resources of the Church of England in support of the burgeoning slave plantation economy of early South Carolina and applied a veneer of spiritual respectability to carnal exploitations of slave labor. In the process, Garden smothered the fires of a more egalitarian evangelical revivalism, burdened possibilities for the amelioration of the conditions of slavery with a Christianized paternalism that prevailed until the Civil War, and made the Church of England in the colony more influential than ever before.

JF: Why do we need to read Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Are you interested in the long and sometimes sordid history of the entanglement of Christianity and slavery in North America; the history of the Christian Church, and especially the Church of England, in the South; the development of the southern social order that prevailed at least until the Civil War; the early efforts to educate and evangelize slaves (Garden founded the continent’s first major slave school); the reasons why the Great Awakening flourished and then died out in the Carolinas and Georgia; and the way non-evangelical colonial leaders challenged and shaped George Whitefield’s evangelical ministry? If you are, this is your book. I wrote it with undergraduates in mind, as well, so that faculty teaching courses on Southern history, evangelicalism, slavery, and other such topics could assign it to their students. In the preface I call it a dual biography: the story of the tragic but productive relationship between a refugee from Scotland and his colony on the edge of the British Empire.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

FW: Two events stand out. The first was when I visited Appomattox Courthouse with my family when I was probably seven years old. Standing outside on the rutted road there in Virginia, my dad told in dramatic fashion the story of General Grant’s meeting with General Lee, and then Lee’s surrender of his troops in the next couple of days. I knew then that history was the most fascinating subject anyone could ever study. The second event was when I was twenty-six and decided to change careers and become a teacher. What else would I ever want to teach?

JF: What is your next project?

FW: I’ve had a strong interest in public history for . . . years. Recently I started two websites. One is an attempt to reach smart but non-expert adults with thoughtful histories of the United States, the church at large, and a smattering of other topics. Eventually it will host resources for homeschooling high schoolers who, in my view, are at the moment stuck with a choice between ultra-nationalist Christian histories or secular histories that ignore or denigrate religious impulses in America and the world. The second website, not yet public, will host podcasts of conversations between me and a historian friend talking about Christians of the past whose stories can challenge us to evaluate current American evangelical assumptions.

JF: Thanks, Fred!

A Tale of Two Thornwells

Thornwell Hoops

Sindarius Thornwell

Today’s guest post, written on the eve of the Final Four, comes from Patrick L. Connelly.  Patrick is Chair of the History & Political Science Department at Mississippi College and a University of South Carolina alum (Class of 1994).  Enjoy!  –JF

 I am a Columbia SC native and a graduate of the University of South Carolina, where my late father taught History from 1969 until his death in 1991. Naturally, I’m beyond thrilled at the improbable run of my alma mater through the NCAA tournament. When a Duane Notice dunk put an exclamation point on an Elite Eight victory over Florida, I shared the disbelieving joy seen in crowd shots of Gamecock fans accustomed to the agony of defeat. The tears of Darius Rucker were all our tears (Let him cry, y’all). Then there is Sindarius Thornwell, whose number 0 jersey will soon be hanging in the rafters at Colonial Life Arena. Where would we be without the passion and commitment of this native son?

Several recent profiles have documented the story of Sindarius Thornwell, who was raised by a single mother with help from a devoted uncle in the small upstate community of Lancaster, SC. The town has experienced the fate of many Southern communities whose textile mills have closed or moved, resulting in a declining population. Sindarius was highly recruited and could have pursued more prestigious programs but wanted to help his home state and go where his family could see him play. His recruitment was the crucial cornerstone of Frank Martin’s rebuilding project at the University of South Carolina. Lancaster takes immense pride in what he has accomplished. He often visits home and remembers affectionately the community that molded him.

The journey of Lancaster’s favorite son may seem a long way from a 19th century Southern Presbyterian advocate of slavery who once served as the president of the institution represented by Sindarius in the Final Four. James Henley Thornwell (1812-1862) was known for his talents as an orator, scholar, theologian, and advocate of Old School Presbyterianism. His legacy also includes support for racial hierarchy, a vigorous defense of slavery, harsh critiques of abolitionism, hostility toward Catholicism, and endorsement of the Confederacy (after holding Unionist views prior to the war).

James Henley Thornwell was born the son of a plantation overseer in Marlboro County, SC, two counties over from Lancaster. He attended South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) and accepted a pastorate in Lancaster in 1835 after graduation. It was there that he met his wife Nancy Witherspoon, whose influential family owned a plantation nearby. Soon thereafter, he was drawn back to Columbia to teach at his alma mater, beginning a lifelong trend of alternating between pastoral stints and serving at South Carolina College as a professor, president (from 1851-1855), and trustee. Benjamin Palmer, his hagiographer and fellow Southern Presbyterian, wrote that the Thornwells “acquired, by marriage” a small Lancaster plantation that included slaves to whom Thornwell was “an easy and indulgent master.” The Lancaster plantation was a refuge for the Thornwells from the heat and mosquitoes of Columbia. Enslaved residents of the plantation would travel back and forth from Lancaster to Columbia with the Thornwells.


James H. Thornwell

I’m struck by the juxtaposition of these journeys. Sindarius Thornwell, with his deep attachment to family, friends, and hometown, frequently travels back and forth from Lancaster to the University of South Carolina. Over 160 years earlier, James Henley Thornwell completed a journey to the same place—albeit one whose social, political, and technological context made it a profoundly different experience. But is there more of a connection between these Thornwells?

One can’t help but wonder. Perhaps there is a direct historical link, forged in the crucible of slavery, between the ancestors of Sindarius Thornwell and the family of James Henley Thornwell. Is it simply a coincidence of geography and the sharing of a distinct last name? Maybe. Maybe not. The question is impossible to answer without knowing the genealogy and family history of Sindarius Thornwell.

But here is what I do know: Sindarius Thornwell has put my home state in the national spotlight for reasons more than its tragic history of slavery, the horrific murder of innocents at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, or the specter of the Confederate flag. It’s not just his vital role in orchestrating a magical run through the NCAA Tournament. Sindarius Thornwell is an African-American and South Carolinian leading a racially diverse team comprised of local, regional, national, and international players coached by Frank Martin—a son of Cuban immigrants who happens to be married to the daughter of Jamaican immigrants.

The irony of Southern history indeed.

The Virtue Solution Project


A couple of young upstate South Carolina state lawmakers (one of them claims to be a follower of David Barton) is trying to save the American republic through an extreme and rather dark mix of Christian nationalism, libertarianism (government is “evil”), agrarianism, gun culture (militias), state’s rights, and apocalypticism.

I consulted on journalist Andrew Brown’s story at the Charleston Post and Courier about the “Virtue Solution Project” (Apparently my 30-minute conversation with Brown did not yield money quotes).

Here is a taste of his piece:

State Reps. Josiah Magnuson, R-Campobello, and Jonathon Hill, R-Townville — both from tiny towns in the Upstate Bible Belt— are in the process of setting up what they call the “Virtue Solution Project,” a group that is seeking to either save America or survive a societal collapse, which they both believe is likely coming.

The organization is a mixture of religious ministry, grassroots political organizing and disaster prepping. At its core, their movement hopes to save the country by reshaping it to their interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ ideals.

They are advocating that their followers, and offshoot groups, form their own communities that will no longer have to rely on corporate America or the “tyrannical” federal government. They are encouraging neighbors to support “principled men” — such as themselves — who are willing to nullify laws and court rulings they don’t agree with, like abortion, gay marriage, gun restrictions and federal standards for driver’s licenses.

For their members who are not in political office, they advocate doing their part by finding their way onto juries in order to acquit people charged with crimes they personally believe are “unjust.”

If that doesn’t work, they will have “community preparedness centers,” where there will be access to “reading material, tools, food storage, ammo, and more.”

The centers will be there when the economy collapses, a natural disaster occurs, a foreign nation attacks, the federal debt dooms the country or an electromagnetic pulse wipes out the nation’s infrastructure. All are scenarios they have considered.

Read the entire article here.

The Author’s Corner with Sean Kelley

TheVoyageoftheSlaveShipHare.jpgSean Kelley is Professor of History at the University of Essex. This interview is based on his new book, The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare?

SK: I wrote the Slave Ship Hare as an experiment of sorts.  Starting with the best possible documented Africa-America connection (the Hare’s purchase and sales records), I wanted to see if I could “test” some of the going theses regarding African cultures in the Americas.  What inspired me to do this was a previous book I wrote on Texas in which discussed the illegal slave trade during the 19th C.  I had been able to document the presence of Africans on Texas plantations but couldn’t document their origins (though I had my suspicions).  So for my next book I figured I start with the connection and see what I could find out about their lives in America.  Secondarily, I thought a microhistory on the slave trade would be a good way to introduce students to the topic and issues of the field.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare?

SK: The central argument is that the forced transportation of Africans to colonial SC was structured in such a way as to facilitate the elaboration of specific cultures and identities (Mande, in this instance) in the New World, at least for the migrant generation.  The process of “creolization,” as scholars term it, was a slow one that occurred over a generation or two.

JF: Why do we need to read The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare?

SK: As I say at the start of the book, three out of ten migrants to colonial America came from Africa.  It’s a truism that the Puritan Great Migration of the 17th century had a shaping influence on American history and culture, but it involved about 20,000 people.  About 17 times that many people came from Africa, and about 100,000 from Upper Guinea, but we know much less about them.  Of course, historians know a great deal about slavery, but oddly enough both the process of the slave trade and the experience of newly arrived Africans remains only poorly understood.  I hope to illuminate both issues.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SK:  I decided to become a historian after spending the first two years of my undergraduate career as an International Relations major.  IR felt unsatisfying, and I suddenly realized that all of my spare  time was spent reading American history.  It dawned on me that I’d be happier if I simply majored in my hobby.  I have never regretted the decision.

JF: What is your next project?

SK:  My next project is a book on American involvement in the transatlantic slave trade from 1644-1867, basically the whole thing.  And by “slave trade,” I’m speaking of ships sailing from American ports and carrying Africans to various parts of the New World, not (in most cases) of ships carrying Africans to North America.  (These were two separate trades, for the most part.)  It turns out that American vessels carried 306,000 Africans to the New World, mostly to the Caribbean, a figure that rivals the ca. 388,000 who were brought to N. America.  

At the same time, I’m collaborating with an international group of scholars to collect, transcribe and make available online what we’re calling “testimonies” by Africans from the era of the transatlantic slave trade. Conventional wisdom holds that there are fewer than one dozen “narratives” by Africans, but if you expand the definition “narrative” to include shorter documents and third-person accounts, there are many more.  We have almost 1,000 now.

JF: Thanks, Sean!

Who are the Ted Cruz Evangelicals?


According to J.D. Vance’s recent piece at National Review, Ted Cruz attracts evangelicals who attend church, while Donald Trump attracts self-proclaimed evangelicals who do not attend church.  Here is a taste:

The South Carolina election results suggest that practicing Christians in the state voted differently than their peers who attend church less regularly. Take, for instance, one of Trump’s strongholds, the area in and around Barnwell County, near the central part of the state. Trump won nearly 43 percent of Barnwell County, while Cruz collected less than 20 percent. Unsurprisingly, church-attendance rates in Barnwell lag behind those in the rest of the state. Compare that to Greenville County, which has one of the highest rates of church attendance in the state: It was one of Trump’s worst counties. The pattern generally holds across South Carolina: Cruz does well where people regularly go to church; Trump does better where they don’t. The so-called Evangelical split is just a mirage, a consequence of a country (and a state) that mostly self-identifies as Christian but manages to largely avoid the pews.

Read the entire piece here

I made a similar argument about Trump’s supporters here.

How Evangelicals Voted in South Carolina

Trump Cruz RubioOver at Religion News Service, Tobin Grant has a nice post about the way South Carolina evangelicals voted in Saturday night’s primary.

It is worth noting that Cruz did not win a single county.  The Texas Senator lost to Trump in the heavily evangelical counties in the Upstate.

Here is a taste:

The geography of the South Carolina primary fits the story coming out of the exit polls. Rubio did well among Republicans who want a candidate who can win. Trump voters want someone who can shake up Washington and “tell it like it is.” Cruz needs to secure most (if not all) of the evangelical and values-voters. He’s leading among these voters, but many of them are backing Rubio and Trump instead. 

So here is my take:

I think evangelicals in South Carolina are all “values voters” in the sense that they want a candidate who is pro-life on abortion, “protects” (to use Trump’s term) Christianity, and believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.  It seems like these things are non-negotiable.  Since all of the GOP candidates still alive in the race fit the bill here (or at least claim to fit the bill), they need to be distinguished in other ways.

Many self-proclaimed evangelicals are supporting Trump for economic and cultural reasons.  Economically, they believe, like Jerry Falwell Jr., that Trump’s business background will help him “make America great again.”  But they also like the fact that Trump wants to deport immigrants, sees Islam as a threat, and stands against political correctness.  The position of South Carolina evangelicals on all of these issues is often informed by their understanding of Christianity.

Cruz seems to be attracting more traditional, 1980s Moral Majority style, evangelical values voters. They are concerned about the economy, religion, immigration, and Islam, but these things take second place to issues such as abortion and traditional marriage. They are much more sensitive to the makeup of the future Supreme Court than the people voting for Trump.

Rubio continues to attract evangelicals who are politically conservative and evangelically moderate (in terms of how they apply their faith to politics).  As Grant notes in his article, these are the evangelicals who think Rubio has the best chance to win in November.

I think Jeb Bush’s votes will be split between Rubio and Kasich.  If Carson get’s out of the race, the doctor’s votes will be split between Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz.


Quote of the Day


South Carolina, for the good of ‘Merica, “We the People,” are putting you on a historical timeout. You rejected the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, nearly bolted from the Constitutional Convention, lost your marbles in the Nullification Crisis, and seceded first in the mid 19th century–offenses long since forgiven–but, we really expected better from you tonight than to lavish presidential delegates on a mysogynist, megalomaniacal reality t.v. star. Go to your room!

Keith Beutler, Professor of History, Missouri Baptist University (on Facebook)

The Cultural Warriors and Suburban Evangelical Moderates Battle for Second Place in SC

2f9be-rubio-1024x757CNN just called the South Carolina primary for Donald Trump.  It is now time to turn to the battle for second place.  Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are running neck and neck.  Both candidates are appealing to South Carolina evangelicals, but they are appealing to different kinds of evangelicals.  Here is what I wrote earlier this week in USA Today:

Cruz appeals to the most aggressive Christian culture warriors in America.  They are the descendants of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell’s effort in the late 1970s and 1980s to reclaim America for Christ.  These evangelicals have a righteous hatred forBarack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The Texas senator’s followers want to restore the United States to a Christian country.  They do not believe in instituting a theocracy, as some of their opponents in the media have suggested, but they come close. These evangelicals want to live in a culture that privileges Christianity…

The Florida senator has put together a religious liberty advisory board made up of scholars and religious leaders from the evangelical thinking class. This suggests that he is targeting suburban evangelicals who normally avoid Pentecostal prayer meetings and change the channel when televangelists show up on their big screens. They read religious opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and subscribe to Christianity Today.

These are evangelicals who send their kids to schools like Wheaton College (the alma mater of Eric Teetsel, Rubio’s Director of Faith Outreach) or Moody Bible Institute or even Liberty University (despite Jerry Falwell Jr.’s endorsement of Trump). In South Carolina they relate more to the warm-hearted piety of Columbia International University (formerly Columbia Bible College) than the militant fundamentalism of Bob Jones University. These evangelicals attend churches with pastors who have seminary degrees from places like Fuller Theological Seminary,Dallas Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Southern Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Rubio’s evangelicals are sympathetic to the culture warriors who want to retake America, but they sometimes worry that the evangelical quest for political power may undermine the Gospel. They believe that the primary role of the church is not to help create a Christian nation, but to bear witness to the saving message of Jesus Christ. They prefer Billy Graham Sr. over Franklin Graham and Rick Warren over Jerry Falwell Jr.

Ted Cruz Super-PAC Defends Confederate Flag

Cruz Pastor in Chief

I am sure that Cruz will claim that he has no control over the Courageous Conservatives super-PAC, but this is a bit disturbing:

Here is the ad transcript, as published on the website of National Public Radio:

TRUMP: “Put it in the museum, let it go.”

ANNOUNCER: “That’s Donald Trump, supporting Nikki Haley, removing the battle flag from the Confederate memorial in Columbia.”

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect, because it was a point in time, and put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: People like Donald Trump are always butting their noses into other people’s business. But Trump talks about our flag, like it’s a social disease.

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect. Let it go. Put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: “Donald Trump’s bankrolled nearly every major Democrat in the country. He’s funded our enemies. He’s ridiculed our values.”

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect. Let it go. Put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: “On Saturday, send Donald Trump and his New York values back to Manhattan. Ted Cruz for president. Let’s take our country back. Now, before it’s too late.”

“Courageous Conservatives PAC paid for this ad and is solely responsible for its content. It’s not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee. CourageousConservatives PAC.com”

The ad taps into the dark history of the Confederacy and states-rights.  It draws on common Confederate rhetoric that northerners (people with “New York values”) are “butting their noses into other people’s business.” and should let the South be the South.

Of course Courageous Conservatives got this “New York values” line directly from Cruz. He used this phrase in a debate to describe Trump’s campaign.

The God and Country Rhetoric of Ted Cruz


Watch this video if you want to see how the white evangelical church has been co-opted by politics.  It is the February 14, 2016 Sunday morning service at Community Bible Church in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Pastor Carl Broggi uses his pulpit to “endorse” Ted Cruz as POTUS. (He says that the congregation does not “officially” endorse candidates, but he uses his power to essentially tell those in attendance that he believes Cruz is the most biblically-sound candidate).

In my USA Today column yesterday I wrote that Cruz represents the “cultural warrior” wing of American evangelicalism.  These are Christians who think that the links between conservative evangelicalism and the Republican Party forged during the Reagan Era have been good for the church and the country.

After Broggi gives his endorsement, Ted Cruz takes the pulpit and delivers a sermon. Just to be clear about what happened here: Broggi and the leadership of Community Bible Church made a decision to turn their Sunday morning pulpit over to a politician. (Remember, Cruz is not running for “pastor-in-chief.”  By his own definition, he is a politician).

Much of Cruz’s sermon came from his stump speech, but it is still worth a closer look.

33:00: Cruz offers his declension narrative about the loss of the Judeo-Christian values that the country was supposedly founded upon.

33:18:  Cruz makes a veiled reference to the Seven Mountains Strategy.

33;43: Cruz references the “Shining City on a Hill.”  In doing so he echoes Matthew 5,  John Winthrop and, of course, Ronald Reagan.

33:45:  Again, Cruz talks about the need to “return” to the Christian roots of the country. Here, I am afraid, he is appealing to a golden age that never existed, at least not at the time of the American founding.

33:55: Cruz says “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. And I am convinced morning is coming.” Here Cruz merges Psalm 30:5 with Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” political ad.  It is a brilliant move because it mixes God and country, the Bible and Reagan. Conservative Christians of a certain age love this stuff.

34:13:  Cruz  starts talking about the “spirit of awakening” and the “spirit of revival” that is “sweeping” the country.  He connects this revival with “remembering who we are.” Here Cruz is subtly (or maybe not so subtly) suggesting that this act of remembrance is linked to the Christian founding principles he mentioned a few seconds earlier.  Of course terms like “awakening” and “revival” will strike a chord with evangelicals everywhere.

Cruz then makes the customary GOP defense  of life, traditional marriage, and the Second Amendment.

Then Cruz moves on to religious liberty.  He continues to propagate the myth that all of the colonies were founded on religious liberty and that colonial governments did not get in the way of people practicing their faith.  And all of his examples of religious liberty are focused on Christians. (I should say here that I think the Little Sisters of the Poor and Christian colleges have a real religious liberty beef.  But that is a post for another day).

At the 1:11:00 mark, Cruz laments that so many evangelical Christians did not vote in the 2012 election.  If these evangelicals voted, he says, they could turn the country around. Here Cruz assumes that all evangelicals are going to vote the same way.  Of course he only has to look at the current GOP race to realize that this is not the case.  In fact, most self-proclaimed evangelicals are voting for Donald Trump.

Cruz conflates scriptural teaching with American nationalism. At 1:11:40 Cruz starts talking about Christians being “salt and light.” (Mt 5:13-16). He equates being “salt and light” in the world with voting in an American presidential election.

1:12:00ff: Here is more of the spiritual and political awakening (they are indistinguishable) theme.  Cruz believes that if Christians go to the polls and vote their values a great spiritual awakening will take place in the United States and “the entire country will change.”  This, I might add, is what is really going on when Cruz talks about his “ground game.”  It is a grassroots attempt to “restore” America to a “Christian nation.”  It comes straight out of the playbook of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and the Religious Right.

Cruz mentions that members of his campaign staff are in the foyer of the church to help people get to the polls on Saturday. He needs as many people as possible to be “salt and light” and participate in this great spiritual/political revival.  He implies that he is the best candidate to lead this revival from the Oval Office.  Cruz presents himself as a cross between Ronald Reagan and George Whitefield.

1:18:23:  Cruz quotes Matthew 7: 16: “you shall know them by their fruits.” He applies these words of Jesus, which were meant to help his followers identify false prophets, to the selection of presidential candidates.  For Cruz the “fruits” are not something akin to the “fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Instead “fruits”  is a metaphor for a political candidate’s commitment to an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.

When I give lectures on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical IntroductionI often spend time talking about my argument in Chapter 6: “The Revolutionary Pulpit.”  In that chapter I argue that the Founding Fathers and patriotic clergy used the Bible during the American Revolution, but they also twisted the message of certain Bible verses to suit their own political and patriotic ends.  I usually suggest that the current use of the Bible by politicians to promote their own political ends is not a new practice in the United States.

After listening to Cruz’s sermon on Sunday, I am reminded again of the continuity on this front between the patriotic Christians of the eighteenth century and the patriotic Christians of today.

But what is most troubling is that Cruz is peddling fear.  He is trying to scare people. I am disturbed by the way Cruz offers political solutions to quell the fears of Christians who believe that “perfect love,” not politics or the government, “casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18).

And he is doing it in a church.

At one point in the sermon, while he is discussing a religious liberty case in Houston,  Cruz says that “Caesar” (or the government) “has no jurisdiction over the pulpit.”  Amen. But if this is true, and Pastor Broggi believes it as well, then the pastor needs to answer for  why he has invited Caesar into his pulpit and politicized his sanctuary.

If any of this happened in the conservative evangelical church that I attend, regardless of my political convictions or the convictions of the politician in the pulpit,  I would have walked out.

My Column at *USA Today*: Evangelicals Are the Prize in South Carolina


I am told that this piece will be in the print edition of USA Today later this week, but in the meantime, you can read “Evangelicals are the prize in S.C.” online at usatoday.com

Regular readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will find little new here.  I have been writing about these themes for the last several months.

Here is a taste:

…Whatever evangelical votes Kasich wins in South Carolina and beyond will be votes taken away from Rubio. The Florida senator has put together a religious liberty advisory board made up of scholars and religious leaders from the evangelical thinking class. This suggests that he is targeting suburban evangelicals who normally avoid Pentecostal prayer meetings and change the channel when televangelists show up on their big screens. They read religious opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and subscribe to Christianity Today.

These are evangelicals who send their kids to schools like Wheaton College (the alma mater of Eric Teetsel, Rubio’s Director of Faith Outreach) or Moody Bible Institute or even Liberty University (despite Jerry Falwell Jr.’s endorsement of Trump). In South Carolina they relate more to the warm-hearted piety of Columbia International University (formerly Columbia Bible College) than the militant fundamentalism of Bob Jones University. These evangelicals attend churches with pastors who have seminary degrees from places like Fuller Theological Seminary,Dallas Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Southern Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Read the entire column here.

Does Kasich Have a Chance in South Carolina?


I don’t know much about the reliability of polls, but I did find it interesting that a poll from the American Research Group has John Kasich in second place right now in South Carolina. He is one point ahead of Rubio and three points ahead of Ted Cruz.

Does anyone know if American Research Group is a legitimate poll?  In most other polls, Kasich is well behind Trump, Rubio, Cruz, and Bush.

Should the Kasich camp should invest a bit more in South Carolina instead of putting all their eggs in the basket of the Midwestern primaries?


Where Was Faith and Politics Last Night?

GOP debate GReenville

Some readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home are probably glad that religion was not brought into the CBS GOP debate last night.  Christianity, they argue, does not belong in the political process.  I understand this criticism.  I am even, to an extent, sympathetic to it.

But I did find it surprising that the CBS moderators did not ask a single question about Christianity or moral issues last night. It is surprising because the press and media have been talking endlessly all week about the so-called “evangelical vote” in South Carolina.

Maybe there was not enough time.  Maybe the Supreme Court issue took prominence over these question.

Before last night’s GOP debate I posted some questions on religion and politics that I wanted the candidates to answer.  I offer them again below.  Perhaps these might work for the debate on February 25.

  • Do you believe that America was founded as a Christian nation?  What does that mean and how will it shape the way you govern as president?
  • Marco Rubio (or Ted Cruz), you have said that the United States was founded on “Judeo Christian” principles that need to be restored.  How do you propose to do that?
  • Marco Rubio, you have said that God has blessed the United States, making it an “exceptional” nation.  If this is true, is it fair to say that the United States is more exceptional than other nations?
  • Ted Cruz, a politician named David Barton runs your super-PAC.  What do you think about his views of American history?
  • Ted Cruz, why are you such a strong advocate of the nation of Israel and why is it important to put the American embassy in Jerusalem?
  • Ted Cruz, your father Rafael Cruz is one of several Christian leaders connected to the “dominionist” or “Seven Mountains” movement who have said that you are anointed by God to reclaim Christian culture in America.  Is this true?
  • Donald Trump, you have opposed Pope Francis on immigration.  Convince Catholic voters why they should vote for you.
  • Ted Cruz, is the Catholic Church a false religion?
  • Marco Rubio, you have given a clear personal testimony to your faith in Christ.  Can you offer three specific ways in which your faith in Christ will shape your policies as president of the United States?
  • John Kasich, you have been trying to rise about the attack ads and run a positive campaign.  Does this have anything to do with your Christian faith?
  • Ted Cruz, how do you balance the Christian requirement to “love your enemies” with the attack ads you have been using against Donald Trump and Marco Rubio?
  • Jeb Bush, as a Catholic, in what ways does Catholic social teaching, and particularly the message of Pope Francis, resonate with your campaign?  Is there anything about the Pope’s message that does not resonate?
  • Ted Cruz, how does your interest in carpet-bombing ISIS square with the Christian belief that all men and women are created with dignity and thus have value and worth?
  • All candidates:  To what extent does your pro-life position extend beyond abortion to issues such as war or the death penalty?
  • All candidates:  Many people are talking about the “evangelical” vote.  What, in your opinion, is an “evangelical?”
  • All candidates:  Are human beings sinful?  If they are, how does this influence the way you will govern?


Ted Cruz’s “God Game”


Cruz 2

Check out Jonathan Tilove’s article at the Austin American-Statesman.  Tilove has been closely following Ted Cruz and religion very closely during this primary season.

Here is a taste of his piece, “In South Carolina, Cruz needs his God game to match his ground game.”

Cruz’s standard campaign speech is studded with quotes from Scripture and appeals to prayer. He fashions his campaign as benefiting from a new “revival” and “awakening” that is rallying Christian conservatives to his cause, just in time to pull America back from “the abyss.”

He is frequently introduced in ways that suggest that he is God’s anointed candidate.

He finished his day Friday by reciting, as he regularly does, 2 Chronicles 7:14, only this time in the spotlight before 14,000 cheering Christians just before the start of the Winter Jam Christian Concert at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear their prayers from heaven and forgive their sins and I will heal their land.”

“I can’t think of a candidate who has been so bold and so confident in the fact that God is on his side and that he is going to reclaim all these areas of culture as Ted Cruz,” said John Fea, a professor of history at Pennsylvania’s Messiah College. ”He talks with this kind of deep confidence that I think has drawn from his sort of spiritual, religious upbringing and context.”

Read the entire piece here.

Should We Take Trump’s Remarks About the Pope and Immigration Seriously?


Donald Trump does not like Pope Francis’s views on Mexican immigration.  I think he really does have a serious disagreement with Francis on this issue.

But Trump’s opposition to the Pope is a shrewd political move, at least for now.  In other words, I don’t think that his remarks will hurt him with the evangelical vote in South Carolina.  Many conservative evangelicals probably think the Pope may be more of a socialist than Bernie Sanders.  I would also guess that there is a good share of anti-Catholicism in the Palmetto State.

Tonight I would love to see someone from CBS ask the GOP candidates about Pope Francis.