John Haas on this week’s SCOTUS decisions: “I think it’s mistaken for Christians to assume that these decisions constitute big victories for the church”

Supreme Court

John Haas teaches history at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Indiana. When I read his comments on this week’s SCOTUS decisions related to religious liberty, I asked him if I could share them here. They capture a lot of my own thoughts on the matter.–JF

A lot of Christians are rejoicing over the two Supreme Court decisions this week, one protecting religious employers’ use of the ministerial exception to protect themselves from lawsuits brought by severed employees, the other continuing the conscience exemption for religious organizations from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.  I think each of these decisions was arguably the right one, though that doesn’t mean either is entirely unproblematic.  But that’s not my burden here.  Rather I think it’s mistaken for Christians to assume that these decisions constitute big victories for the church.

Insofar as they are assuming that, I think it’s another sign–as if any more were needed–that the American churches are more “American” in their basic assumptions than is spiritually good for them.

Americans are famous for their obsession with their “rights.” Thus has it been since at least the Stamp Act, and that’s unlikely to change. That’s fine.

The church, however, is mistaken if it believes that the way to advance the Kingdom of God is through a grasping and assertion of its “rights” as an institution, even when it has those rights under our system.

Christians have–for many good reasons and with many good effects–often chosen a presence in the world that is functionally largely indistinguishable from business entities: employing people, investing in the stock market, watching the bottom line, using force and threats of force when it believes it necessary, suing individuals and entities. Again, these things are not entirely devoid of good effects.

In several places in the Book of Acts, Paul leverages his Roman citizenship to get better treatment from the authorities.  There is a place for an appeal to one’s rights.

But such appeals do not the Kingdom of God make, and may actually undermine and contradict efforts to really make it come, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

Being able to function in the world as a business but without needing to have regard for the restrictions other businesses must obey is, no doubt, a convenient thing for Christians. It’s probably even a good thing on most occasions.

But is it “good” for the church if it thinks the primary threat to its well-being comes from the government?  Such a belief certainly coheres with the reigning American ideology, but I doubt very much its true.

I suspect in fact that the real threat of spiritual harm to the Church comes from within, when it mistakes protecting its earthly interests for the Kingdom of God, or when it pursues even the good things of Christ but in a manner fashioned more by the world than Jesus Himself.

Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court evangelicals prayer

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

John Hagee invited Fox News commentator, conspiracy theorist, disgraced Christian college president, and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza to speak at the Sunday evening service at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. Watch:

D’Souza tells the audience that American exceptionalism is ordained by God and it is under attack. He then moves into his usual critique of socialism. This then devolves into a rejection of systemic racism. If the camera shots of the audience members nodding their heads and cheering is any indication, D’Souza seems to be getting through to them. This is what pro-Trump megachurches have become. It’s pure fearmongering.

The Supreme Court made an important religious liberty decision today, but some court evangelicals and other Trump evangelicals are still fighting. They continue to stoke fear about threats to religious liberty.

“Christian” politico Ralph Reed turns a SCOTUS victory into a chance to get revenge against his enemy.

Johnnie Moore, the self-professed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” responds to the SCOTUS decision in a way Bonhoeffer would not have recognized as Christian. Perhaps Johnnie needs to read The Cost of Discipleship.

This is what blind court evangelicalism looks like:

And this (notice “ALL” in all caps):

When you think David French is an “irrational woke liberal” and mock someone’s military service it speaks volumes about you and the institution you work for. In Jenna Ellis’s case it is Liberty University. Remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

Jenna Ellis was on the Eric Metaxas Show today talking about Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech. Metaxas, who is also a spokesperson at the Falkirk Center, says anyone who criticized the speech is “loony.” He mocks the Sioux leaders who pointed out that Mount Rushmore was on Lakota land: “They have benefited from this country.” Ellis thinks that Trump gave the nation an “honest history lesson” during the speech. Again, this should be offensive to any serious classroom teacher who is working to give American young people honest history lessons. In one of the more comical moments of the interview, Ellis praises Trump for his love of the nuclear family and commitment to the institution of marriage.

Wait a minute, I thought Biden was working with Black Lives Matter to undermine America?:

Richard Land is spewing Christian nationalism:

There is a lot that is wrong with this thread. I don’t have time to respond directly right now, but if you want to dig deeper:

  1. Read this blog. It has subject tags, category tags, and a search engine. I’ve been addressing this stuff for years.
  2. Read Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
  3. Read my post on Os Guinness’s similar claims about the American and the French Revolution.
  4. Read two books on American exceptionalism: John Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea and Abram Van Engen’s City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism.

Jack Graham issues a warning:

Graham’s words remind me what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump about the Election of 1800 and the evangelical response to the threat of the Deep State Illuminati in the early republic.

Until next time.

When the Supreme Court engages in bad history

Supreme Court

Willamette University law professor and historian Steven K. Green makes a compelling case that the Supreme Court was “sloppy” in its use of history in the recent Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue decision.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion Dispatches:

More broadly, the opinions in Espinoza raise questions about the Court’s use of history, particularly when it becomes a rule of constitutional law. History is “complex,” as Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged and Justice Breyer echoed, yet an adversarial legal forum is not the optimal place for settling the complexities of a historical event. The efforts of Catholic immigrants to find acceptance in nineteenth-century America have been documented, as has the resistance of Protestants who were suspicious of the commitment of a foreign-born Catholic hierarchy to American democratic values. 

That this episode coincided with the development of American common schooling has only added complexity to the historical narrative. Proponents of common schooling sought to create an institution where children of various faiths could acquire a commitment to republican values, while ensuring the financial security of the fledgling public schools. Public school advocates were also concerned about ensuring public accountability and public control over school funds. 

Funding a competing system of religious schooling—at the time, not solely Catholic but also Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, and Baptist schools, among others—would have stunted the development of public education, its advocates believed. Witnessing the rapid growth of Catholic immigration and its rising political influence in many cities, public education advocates also feared that funding religious schools would lead to religious competition and divisiveness. 

Embracing some of those arguments, nativists then added a layer of anti-Catholic prejudice that was guaranteed to appeal to some, but not all, Protestant Americans, including those who faced economic dislocation resulting from the influx of immigrant workers. At the opposite end of the spectrum was a cohort of liberal Protestants and freethinkers who opposed funding of religious schooling on grounds it violated church-state separation and the rights of conscience of those who didn’t want their tax dollars to support religious beliefs with which they disagreed. 

I could go on because there’s more to the story, but that’s precisely the point. This history is too complex to be decided in a judicial forum. In writing opinions, judges commonly draw on the information contained in the briefs of the parties and their supporting amici curiae. These briefs are written by lawyers (typically not historians) who advocate for particular outcomes and provide arguments and cherry pick data to support those resultsThis process is far removed from the enterprise of historical scholarship. 

Not only is legal adjudication not the optimal forum for unpacking the nuances of history, but a judge’s interpretation of a historical event takes on a greater significance. By “declaring” the defining meaning of a particular historical episode—something that historians refrain from doing—that interpretation becomes a constitutional rule. 

Read the entire piece here.

Tuesday night court evangelical roundup

trump-with-evangelical-leaders

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Rudy Giuliani shares a tweet from a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center. Notice how Giuliani uses Jenna Ellis’s tweet of Psalm 27 to make a political statement. When he says “we all matter” I think we all know the message he is sending in the midst of our post-George Floyd moment. In a follow-up tweet, Ellis gives Giuliani an “Amen.”

As the coronavirus cases spike, Ellis retweets an anti-masker attacking California senator Kamala Harris:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center does not understand history. It’s tweet today seems like a defense of Confederate monuments. I am guessing Russell Kirk is taken out of context here. As I argued in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, history is always created from a dialogue the between past and the present. Sometimes the past is useful in the present. Sometimes the past is a “foreign country.” Ironically, the Falkirk Center and the rest of the Christian Right activists who talk about the past, have mastered the kind of cherry-picking Kirk may be warning against here.

What is the relationship between the following tweet and Jenna Ellis’s anti-mask retweet above? It seems that “rights” are a form of self-fulfillment, while concern for others is a form of self-denial. John MacArthur’s lesson might be useful for evangelicals as they think about masks and the spread of COVID-19.

Florida is seeing record numbers of coronavirus cases. Paula White is opening her church:

Wow: This is an amazing tweet from Trump’s #1 court evangelical:

Tony Perkins is hosting a video conference called “Arise and Stand.” You can watch it here.

Here is Gary Bauer’s Facebook post:

Kudos to my good friend Vice President Mike Pence!

Vice President Pence stood firm in the face of the media mob this Sunday, as well as the mob in the streets, by refusing to repeat the divisive slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” He was pressed to do so during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

Of course Black Lives Matter, as do Asian lives, Hispanic lives and Caucasian lives. That’s the truth. And it’s also a central Christian principle that the color of our skin is the least unique thing about us. What makes us special is that we are made in the image of God, and the vice president strongly believes that. 

Read the rest here.

I’ve said this before, this pivot toward “all lives matter” is simply a way for those on the Christian Right to avoid tough conversations on race in America following the killing of George Floyd. When Pence refused to say “Black Lives Matter” on television he was sending a message to the Trump base.

all lives matter cartoon

It’s all about the Supreme Court justices for Ralph Reed.

Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran have a nice response to Reed’s way of political thinking:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resources families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marion icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

Read the entire piece here.

Ralph Reed, perhaps more than any other member of the Christian Right, is responsible for what Hauerwas and Tran call a “failure of political imagination” among evangelicals.

According to Robert Jeffress, the “eventual collapse of our country” is now certain:

And last but not least, David Barton is on the Eric Metaxas Show today. When activists indiscriminately topple and deface monuments, it just provides ammunition and fodder for Barton’s Christian Right view of the past.

Barton defends a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a white supremacist who helped found the KKK. He seems to think that such a statue is essential to his ability to teach history. This comment even makes Metaxas squirm: “I think we all would agree that lines can be drawn, we don’t have a statue to Adolph Hitler.” In this sense, Metaxas’s obsession with Godwin’s Law serves a useful purpose.

When Metaxas says that debate over monuments is “complicated,” he reminds me of something I wrote at the end of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?:

In 2010 the political commentator Glenn Beck devoted an entire television program to a discussion of George Whitefield, the eighteenth-century evangelical revivalist and the precipitator of the event known as the First Great Awakening. Near the end of the show, Beck’s conversation with his guests–two early American religious historians–turned to the topic of slavery. Beck wondered how Whitefield could inspire anti-slavery advocates in England such as John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” while at the same time owning slaves. Befuddled by this paradox, and clearly at a loss for words, Beck turned to the camera and said, “Sometimes history is a little complex.”

Barton peddles an unbelievably dumb theory about the origins of slavery and race in America. He says “out of Jamestown” came “slavery and intolerance and classism and racism.” But out of Plymouth came “liberty and freedom and constitutional government, bills of rights, etc.” His source is an uncritical use of an 1888 wall map showing these “two strands of history, one bad and one good.”

Apparently, Barton has never studied New England’s Native American history or the intolerance the Puritans showed to the likes of Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. But wait, it gets better. Barton says that “both of those groups were Christian, but Jamestown was not biblical. They [just] professed Christianity. That’s much of what we see in America today. 72% of the nation professes Christianity, only six percent have a biblical world view.” Slavery started in Jamestown, Barton argues, because the settlers didn’t “know the Bible.” This is interesting, since during the early 19th-century Virginians used the Bible to justify slavery. I guess they were more biblically literate by that time. 🙂

Barton seems to suggest that New England did not have slaves. Wrong again. Even Jonathan Edwards, one of Barton’s heroes, a man who Barton would probably say had a “Christian world view,” owned slaves. Granted, New England did not have a slave-based economy, but slavery was not illegal prior to the American Revolution. If you want to learn more, see Richard Bailey’s Race and Redemption in Puritan New England. and Joanne Pope Melishs’s Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860

Barton goes on to say that today “we look at past generations through today’s filter and today’s lens and you really can’t do that.” This is rich coming from a guy who has built his entire career around cherry-picking from the founding fathers and then applying such cherry-picked passages to contemporary Christian Right politics. (See my comments about the Falkirk Center’s tweet about Russell Kirk).

He then uses this argument to reject systemic and institutional racism. Here is Barton:

So all the notion that America is institutionally racist–you gotta see what the atmosphere was like in that day–we were leading the world in the right direction that day. Now we can look back where we are today and say we weren’t perfect…but we’re not the racist nation everyone is trying to make us out to be. When you know history, you see that all clearly.

Barton speaks as if the Civil War–a war over slavery in which 700,000 people died–never happened. Is this “leading the world in the right direction?” Heck, he sounds as if slavery never existed in the United States. He dismisses four hundred years of slavery and racism by saying, “yeah, we weren’t perfect.” Barton is not a historian. He only cares about the parts of the past that advance his political agenda. Read this recent post to see the depths of racism in the evangelical church or grab a copy of Believe Me.

And finally, Metaxas praises Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address as a great moment of national unity. He says that Lincoln showed “graciousness” toward his enemy. He said that because of this graciousness, Lincoln and Grant allowed the Confederate monuments to stand. Barton says that Lincoln’s “zealous” Christian faith is why he tried to reconcile with the South after the war. He says that Lincoln took seriously Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 about “reconciliation.”

There are so many problems with this part of the interview that it is hard to know where to start.

  1. Lincoln did want to the bring the Union back together and he tried to use his Second Inaugural Address to do it. But let’s remember that this address was delivered after victory in the war was all but secured. The Union won. Whatever reunion needed to take place, Lincoln believed, must happen on his terms. The idea that he would allow Confederates to continue to celebrate their slave-holding “heritage” with the erection of monuments does not make sense.
  2. Metaxas seems to think that these Confederate monuments were erected during the days of Lincoln. Most of them were built in the early 20th-century as a way of defending the Confederate’s “Lost Cause”–a commitment to white supremacy. Lincoln had nothing to do with them.
  3. Lincoln was not a Christian. Nearly all Lincoln scholarship is clear about this.
  4. 2 Corinthians 5 has nothing to do with the Civil War or nationalism.
  5. But most disturbing is the fact that Barton and Metaxas seem to be endorsing a white romanticized idea of reunion and reconciliation that left out African Americans. The best book on this subject continues to be David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

Until next time.

Monday night court evangelical roundup

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Mike Pence’s nephew hosted a court evangelical conversation with Paula White, Johnnie Moore and Samuel Rodriguez. This is an event sponsored by the Trump campaign. Watch:

At the 5:30 mark, Moore starts out with a lie. Joe Biden does not want to prosecute people for going to church. Moore is outraged that St. John’s Church in Washington D.C. was burned during the protests earlier this month. Please spare us the sermon, Johnnie. If this was any other moment, Moore, who likes to fashion himself a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” would be attacking the rector of the church and its congregation for its liberal Protestant theology and commitment to social justice. (By the way, Bonhoeffer adhered to both liberal Protestantism and social justice. Moore’s Bonhoeffer comes directly out of the pages of Eric Metaxas’s popular, but debunked biography).

If you watch this video, you will see nothing but fear-mongering.

At one point in the conversation, Paula White says that Trump is fighting for the First Amendment and the Second Amendment. Since when was the right to bear arms a Christian concern? White claims that the Democratic Party platform says that it is a “party of the Godless.” Just to be clear, there is no such language in the platform. She also goes into what I call the “they are coming for our Bibles” mode. Here’s White: “We can basically kiss our churches goodbye, our houses of worship…we very well could be home churches at that.” As I wrote in Believe Me, this kind of fear-mongering reminds me of the Federalists during the election season of 1800 who thought Thomas Jefferson, if elected, would send his henchman into New York and New England to close churches and confiscate Bibles. (It didn’t happen. In fact, Jefferson was a champion of religious liberty). White believes that we are in a spiritual war for the soul of America. She mentions a conversation with Ben Carson in which the HUD Secretary told her that the forces of Satan are working to undermine Trump.

Moore defends Trump’s record on global religious freedom. Indeed, Trump seems to have made religious persecution abroad a priority. Only time will tell how successful this campaign has been or will be. But notice that Moore says nothing about the president’s approval of Muslim concentration camps in China. Why? Because Moore is not here to tell the whole truth about Trump as it relates to religious freedom. He is here to help Trump get re-elected. Or maybe talking about the religious persecution of Muslims in China won’t help Trump with white evangelical voters, many of whom still believe Obama was a Muslim. Most of Trump’s evangelical followers only talk about religious liberty when it relates to their own causes. Moore knows this.

Moore then attacks Democratic governors for trying to close churches during COVID-19. He has a lot of nerve. It was Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo (and GOP Ohio governor Mike DeWine, among others) who showed leadership during the coronavirus while Trump was tweeting “liberate Michigan.”

Samuel Rodriguez basically says that if you vote for Trump, you are voting against the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

OK, that was hard to stomach. Let’s move on.

Moore is also tweeting. He is upset about today’s Supreme Court decision on abortion, especially Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to join the liberal justices in blocking a Louisiana abortion law restricting abortion rights:

What does Moore mean when he says that this is the “Scalia-moment” of the 2020 campaign? Here is a passage from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Already hitting his stride with his base, [GOP presidential candidate Ted] Cruz gained a new talking point in mid-February, with Super Tuesday only a couple of weeks away. When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.

Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said. “And if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republican voters that the United States was “one justice away” from the “the Supreme Court mandating  unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”

I wonder if the modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer has learned the right lesson from 2016? Some might say that the recent Bostock decision, and today’s Louisiana abortion decision, should teach evangelicals to stop relying on the Supreme Court to “reclaim” America, especially when such an approach to “Christian” politics requires them to get into bed with a president like Trump. But, alas, Moore would never even consider such a lesson because it does not conform to the Christian Right’s political playbook.

Meanwhile, Paula White is supernaturally praying for her Twitter followers:

I’m just curious. Is there  a way to “pray” for a non-“supernatural provision?” Sorry, I had to ask.

Jentezen is also upset about the SCOTUS decision:

Tony Perkins too:

I agree with the idea that every life is valuable, including unborn babies. But putting faith in SCOTUS and POTUS is not the answer.

Robert Jeffress is still basking in the idolatrous glow of yesterday’s Lord’s Day political rally at his church. Here is his retweet of Mike Pence:

A spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center retweets Princeton University scholar Robert George. As you read this retweet, please remember that The Falkirk Center supports Donald Trump and Trump is a pathological liar:

She is also upset with John Roberts:

And this:

Sadly,  in light of what we have seen thus far from the Trump presidency as it relates to race and Confederate monuments, this “idiot activist” seems to be asking a reasonable question.

Charlie Kirk is also mad at John Roberts:

It looks like the court evangelicals are very upset about an abortion case in the Supreme Court, but they have said nothing about Trump’s racist tweet over the weekend. I guess this falls under the “I don’t like some of his tweets, but…” category.

John Zmirak, who is an editor at court evangelical James Robison’s website The Stream, is back on the Eric Metaxas Show. He is comparing Black Lives Matter to Jim Jones and Jonestown. The entire conversation, ironically, is about people blindly putting their trust in a strongman. Metaxas wastes no time in connecting Jonestown to today’s Democratic Party. A Christian Right bromance may be forming between these two guys.  Metaxas tells Zmirak: “we are so glad you are on the program today, thank the Lord.”

They also condemn Black Lives Matter. Zmirak calls BLM a “slogan, a “trademark,” and a “brilliant piece of marketing” that is “raising money off of white guilt.” Sounds a lot like another slogan, trademark and brilliant piece of marketing. This one is raising money off of white supremacy.

In another part of their conversation, Metaxas and Zmirak say that Black Lives Matter is wrong from a Christian point of view because all men and women are created in the image of God. In other words, anyone who wants to say that only Black lives matter is actually racist (reverse racism, as they say) because in God’s eyes “all lives matter.” I’ve heard this argument before. Here is a quick response:

Indeed, Christians believe that we are all created in the image of God. As the civil rights movement taught us, Christian faith offers plenty of theological resources to combat racism. Moreover, the Black Lives Matter movement is very diverse. Author Jemar Tisby makes some important points in this regard in Episode 48 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podast.

I am sure Metaxas and Zmirak are correct about some of the abuses of the Black Lives Matter movement. But notice what is going on here. Metaxas and Zmirak are really only interested in attacking the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the killing of George Floyd, Metaxas has not offered any sustained empathy or acknowledgement of the pain and suffering faced by African-Americans, either now or in our nation’s history. Yes, he had some black guests on the program, but they were invited on the show for the purpose of undermining Black Lives Matter and rejecting systemic racism. At this moment, when white evangelicals have a wonderful opportunity to think more deeply about the problems of race in America, Metaxas has chosen to divert attention away from these issues by going after the extreme fringes of a generally anti-racist movement.

In his second hour, Metaxas hosts a writer named Nick Adams, the author of a book titled Trump and Churchill: Defenders of Western Civilization. He runs an organization called The Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness. Adams makes it sound like Trump has some kind of agenda to save Western Civilization. This strikes me as very far-fetched since I don’t think Trump even knows what Western Civilization is. Metaxas, of course, loves his guest’s ideas, going as far to say, in reference to World War II (Churchill) and COVID-19 (Trump) that both men carried their respective nations through their “darkest hours.”

Until next time.

Wednesday night court evangelical roundup

Court

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Andy Rowell (a never-Trump evangelical) has a useful Twitter thread on Donald Trump’s visit yesterday to the “Students for Trump” rally at an Arizona megachurch.

Court evangelical journalist David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network says “God works in mysterious ways”:

Al Mohler admits systemic racism is real. Maybe this group forced his hand. The attacks from the right wing of the Southern Baptist convention should be arriving very soon.

Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk is not interested in why Bubba Wallace’s team was worried about nooses in the first place:

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center is tweeting about using Bible verses out of context and endorsing movements that support evil. Yes, you read that correctly:

Did John Hagee read Believe Me?

During an event in Colorado Springs called the “Truth & Liberty Coalition, “James Robison calls the last three-and-half years a “miracle of Almighty God.” He says a bunch of other court evangelical stuff, including that the media is working for the devil. If you want to get a good sense of the court evangelical way of thinking, watch this video.

Tony Perkins and Franklin Graham execute the Christian Right playbook to perfection. If you want to reclaim America as a Christian nation, you’ve got to get the judges. “Our hope is built on nothing less, than judges who pass the abortion test. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Kavanaugh’s name. On the Trump the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand”:

Eric Metaxas shows why I continue to support the so-called “fear thesis.” Fear-mongerers take the most radical and extreme manifestation of a movement and try to convince people that it is mainstream. All undocumented immigrants are murderers and rapists. All Democrats are extreme Leftists who don’t care about America. The goal is to scare people. Very few people concerned about systemic racism want to defund the police, tear down monuments of George Washington, or engage in violence. Yet Metaxas has devoted most of his shows in the last week to talking about these extremists. Trump and the Christian Right do this all the time.

One of Metaxas’s guests today, a writer for the aforementioned James Robison’s website, denies the existence of systemic racism. He describes “anti-racism” as “communism in blackface” and a “new fanatical religion.” The Hitler comparisons abound. Yes, Metaxas and his guest think that the protesters and the Democrats are behaving like the Nazis. The Eric Metaxas Show may have replaced the Glenn Beck Show as the new face of Godwin’s Law.

Until next time.

Trump launched his 2020 campaign tonight. Not much has changed since 2016.

Trump Tulsa

Earlier this evening, Donald Trump started his campaign with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma is rising. Most of those who did attend the rally were not wearing masks. With the exception of U.S. Senator James Lankford, none of the politicians Trump asked to stand and be recognized–Senators James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, Representatives Jim Jordan, Debbie Lesko, and Elise Stefanik, and Governor Kevin Stitt–were wearing masks. Six of Trump’s rally staff tested positive for coronavirus this week.

The millions of attendees that Trump promised this week did not show up. It looked like he had a decent crowd in Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center (BOK), but it was much, much smaller than what the Trump team estimated. As I watched on television (C-SPAN), I saw a lot of empty seats. Trump and Mike Pence had to cancel an outdoor speaking event today because no one came.

Trump chose to say nothing about the country’s race problems. He did not bring-up George Floyd, Juneteenth, the country”s racial unrest, or the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. His silence spoke volumes.

I live-tweeted and retweeted the rally

This is what we mean by Christian nationalism. Pence uses this verse all the time and applies it to the United States. I wrote about the way the Christian Right uses 2 Chronicles 7:14 here and here. Russell Moore has a nice piece on this here.

Much of the material in the link above comes from my discussion of “law and order” and Nixon in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

For those who can’t access the link in the above tweet, you can find it here. During the speech, Trump continued to extol his two Supreme Court justices, although he did not mention either of them by name. Readers will recall that we also looked at the Bostock case this week from the perspective of religious liberty and historical thinking.

I would love to know what was going through the mind of James Lankford during this rally. He does not seem like the kind of guy who likes these kinds of events. As we noted earlier this week, Lankford was behind Trump’s decision to move the Tulsa rally from June 19, 2020 (Juneteenth) to June 20, 2020.

Here is what Americans think about how Trump handled, and is handling, the coronavirus. His lies, mistruths, and partially true statements (at least before April 9, 2020) about the pandemic have been compiled here. The Associated Press reported that Trump “wasted” months before preparing the country for the virus. One could make a good case that Trump’s “America First” policy was to blame.

It is hard to pick the most disgusting thing Trump said tonight, but the above statement would be near the top. It reveals the inner-workings of Trump’s mind. Only a narcissist, who interprets everything through the lens of how it benefits his ambitions, would say publicly that there is a political downside to coronavirus testing.

The last five tweets cover the darkest moments of Trump’s speech

As noted above, Trump said nothing about race in America or Tulsa. Yet he spent a considerable portion of the speech talking about this:

John Gehring nails it. Court evangelicals, cover your ears:

Great observation from Kedron Bardwell:

Let’s remember that in 2016, Trump announced a list of  Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society judges. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were on that list. Trump’s promise of a new list, of course, is a direct appeal to the white evangelical base. Trump knows that evangelicals vote for a president based predominantly on his or her promises of conservative Supreme Court appointments. Gorsuch’s majority opinion in the Bostock case will not change anything here. Trump is hoping this strategy will pay off again in November.

Matt Lewis may be correct, but I am pretty sure Trump will give it his best shot.

If you can’t read the link in the above tweet click here.

Here Trump seems to be making a statement about the self-interested nature of humanity and his constituency’s inability to rise above such selfishness. He is essentially saying something like: “I dare you to place your morality and what is right over a strong economy.  You don’t have the guts.” It all reminds me of his “I can stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” line.

For more on John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, click here.

And the campaign has begun!

Will this week’s Supreme Court decision weaken Trump’s evangelical base in November?”

donald-trump-and-pastor-paula-white

Trump and Paula White

Here is a question I got asked a lot this week: “Do you think the recent Supreme Court decision will hurt Trump’s support among his white evangelical base?”

My answer: “I don’t think so, but…”

Let me explain.

Many white evangelicals are disappointed with Neil Gorsuch for his majority opinion in the recent LGBTQ Civil Rights case. If they are disappointed with Trump for appointing Gorusch, they are not saying anything.

But very few evangelicals have abandoned the Christian Right political playbook. This playbook teaches white evangelicals that electing  a president who will stack the federal courts with conservative justices is the best way to reclaim “Christian America.” Trump has executed this playbook well and most white evangelicals are willing to give him another “mulligan” on Gorsuch.

Moreover, most white evangelicals still believe Gorsuch will deliver for them if he gets a chance to rule on an abortion case. So what happened in the Supreme Court on Monday will not move the needle a great deal in November.

I prefer to see the recent SCOTUS case on LGBTQ rights in the larger context of 2020. Some evangelicals (but not many) thought Trump was guilty and should have been removed from office during the impeachment trial. Some evangelicals (but not many) thought Trump mishandled the pandemic. Some evangelicals (but not many) believe Trump is failing to adequately address racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Some evangelicals (but not many) thought the Bible photo-op was wrong.

All of these things, when taken together, just might peel enough votes from Trump to give Biden the victory. Trump needs another 81% in 2020 and I don’t think he will get it. Perhaps he will get 70%, but that won’t be enough in such a tight race. If a small percentage of white evangelicals change their votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, Joe Biden will the 46th president.

Friday night court evangelical roundup

Trump Beleive me

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

They are not technically “court” evangelicals, but they are definitely Trump evangelicals. The Harris family is back and they are now a Trump worship band:

Some of you may remember them from 2012:

The Harris’s are an evangelical homeschool family from Tulsa.

Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., seems to like the Harris family. She retweeted this today:

Glad to see Jentezen Franklin acknowledging Juneteenth:

Franklin Graham too:

Tony Perkins is beating the “law and order” drum:

He is also retweeting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

Al Mohler has not abandoned the Christian Right playbook in the wake of Gorsuch’s opinion in the recent LCBTQ Civil Rights decision:

Jim Garlow is writing about “biblical principles of economics.” I assume he means the part of the Bible written by Adam Smith:

Charlie Kirk forgot to mention the coronavirus mask designed by his friend and partner, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. But I guess that’s not technically blackface:

Kirk know something about the past, but his historical thinking skills need a lot of work:

Here we go again:

Thomas Kidd, Mark David Hall, Brooke Allen, and Steve Green will participate in a Falkirk Center forum. At least David Barton is not involved.

Robert Jeffress is back on Fox Business. Channel. Apparently Chick-fil-A is taking some heat.

Jeffress thinks that racism will “evaporate overnight” if people just turned to God. Again, he fails to see that the sin of racism is structural–it is deeply embedded in our all of our institutions.  I recall the argument of  James Davison’s Hunter‘s book To Change the World”: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In that book, Hunter argues that individual transformation is not the best way to change the world. True change does not happen through some kind of Protestant populism, but rather by the “work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life.” Such change takes generations and it can only “be described in retrospect.” Individual spiritual transformation can bring about good ends, but it does not change the “moral fabric” or “DNA of a civilization.” I think Hunter’s words are an important reminder that the eradication of systemic racism is going to take a long time and a lot of work.

Jeffress also defends the phrase “all lives matter.”

Until next time.

Thursday night court evangelical roundup

Trump Court Evangelicals 2

What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since yesterday’s update?

Trump wonder-boy Charlie Kirk, a political pundit and co-founder of the Liberty University Falkirk Center, is upset with the Supreme Court after it ruled Trump could not end the DACA program:

Jenetzen Franklin’s new bookAcres of Diamonds: Discovering God’s Best Right Where You Are, shares a title with Russell Conwell‘s famous prosperity gospel lecture. Here is a quote from Conwell’s sermon: “I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich.”

Jack Graham wants his followers to stay away from current events so they can clear their minds and “focus our thoughts on God’s Word and doing His will.” He implies that focusing one’s life on God’s word and “doing his will” is something different than bringing Christian truth to bear on current events. I am not sure this is the time for Christians to retreat to the prayer closet.

Tony Perkins is retweeting a clip from a speech by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. His comment on the speech is a convoluted mash-up of God and politics that fuses American values with Kingdom values all in service of making America Christian “again.”

If you read through Perkins’s twitter feed you will find him quoting a lot of scripture. But all the verses he cites are meant to be read through the lens of his Christian nationalist political agenda.

Perkins said we should support Trump because he will deliver on conservative Supreme Court justices. His article today at Family Research Council reveals the sense of betrayal he feels after Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in the recent LGBTQ civil rights decision. He blasts the court for being too political. Interesting. For many court evangelicals, the Supreme Court is only “too political” when it makes decisions that the Christian Right does not like.

Eric Metaxas had Pat Boone on his radio show and tried to get Boone to say that he is not in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame because he is an outspoken Christian. Boone thinks he belongs in the Hall of Fame because of his music, but he won’t bite on Metaxas’s suggestion that he faces discrimination because of his faith.

The Eric Metaxas Show is Trumpism disguised as Christian radio.

Until next time.

Wednesday Night Court Evangelical Roundup

Court Evangelicals at Table

Since my last update, a few things have changed in court evangelical land. Neil Gorsuch, one of two Donald Trump Supreme Court nominees, has defended LGBTQ rights and has proven he may not be the best court evangelical ally when it comes to questions of religious liberty. I imagine some evangelicals who are looking for a reason to reject Trump at the ballot box in November may have just found one.

Police reform and debates over systemic racism continue to dominate the headlines. On the COVID-19 front, more and more churches are opening this weekend and Donald Trump is preparing for a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What do the court evangelicals have to say?

In an interview with Charisma magazine, James Dobson writes:

In an outrageous ruling that should shake America’s collective conscience to its core, the U.S. Supreme Court has redefined the meaning of “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Not only was this decision an affront against God, but it was also a historical attack against the founding framework that governs our nation.

Dobson says nothing about Trump or how Gorsuch burned white evangelicals on this decision.

I don’t know if Louie Giglio supports Trump, but he is now apologizing for his use of the phrase “White Blessing”:

The apology seems honest and sincere.

Jenetzen Franklin praises Trump as a great listener and defender of law and order.  But Trump’s police reform speech failed to address the systemic problem of racism in America. It attacked Obama and Biden and it defended Confederate monuments. Is this big action?

Johnnie Moore, the guy who describes himself as a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” is doing the same thing as Jenetzen:

Greg Laurie interviewed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott on police reform. Scott talks about the “character” of police officers and shows a solid understanding of the Bible, but the issues of racism in America go much deeper than this. I encourage you to listen to Gettysburg College professor’s Scott Hancock upcoming interview at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

The Laurie-Scott conversation is a step in the right direction, but it focuses on striking a balance between law and order (Scott quotes Romans 13) and individual acts of racism.  The real conversation should be over to have an ordered society and address systemic racism. Today, for example, Scott said that the United States is not a racist country.

Robert Jeffress is “thrilled” to have Mike Pence speak at his church for “Freedom Sunday.” Expect fireworks. Literal fireworks! Once again, it will be God and country on display.

Here is another view of Pence.

Last Sunday, Jeffress addressed the Floyd murder and its aftermath with his congregation at First Baptist-Dallas. He summarized his response to our current moment in three statements:

1. God hates racism. Jeffress FINALLY admits that First Baptist Church was on “the wrong side of history” on matters relating to race. This is a huge step! It would have been nice to have this history included in the church’s 150th anniversary celebration, but I don’t think I have ever heard Jeffress say this publicly.  Let’s see where this goes. First Baptist-Dallas has some reckoning with the past to do.

2. God hates lawlessness. Jeffress says that there is “nothing wrong” with peaceful protests, but he condemns the looting and riots. He does not say anything about the root cause of the riots. One more question: Does God hate Christians who disobey unjust laws? I think Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about that. So did most of the patriotic pastors during the Revolution. You know, the guys who created America as a “Christian nation.”

3. Racism and lawlessness is not the problem, the problem is sin. Agreed. The sin of racism pervades every institution in America. In order to address the problem of racism we need to go beyond mere calls for personal salvation. American history teaches us that some of the great evangelical revivals led to abolitionism and other forms of social justice. At the same time, some of the great evangelical revivals led to a deeper entrenchment of racism in society. Jeffress’s church, which celebrates its history of soul-winning, is one example. Also, let’s remember that when Frederick Douglass’s master got saved during an evangelical revival, he became more, not less, ruthless in his treatment of his slaves. We will see what happens this time around, but individual spiritual regeneration does not always solve the deeply embedded problems of race in America.

Now I want to hear how this generally good, but also insufficient, message applies to Jeffress’s support of Donald Trump.

James Robison is right. But so is Jurgen Moltmann when he said that Christians must “awaken the dead and piece together what has been broken“:

Tony Perkins is talking with David Brat, the dean of the Liberty University School of Business, about law and order and the breakdown of K-12 and higher education. Perkins thinks the real problem in America is a “lack of courage.” I did a post about courage a few weeks ago.

Brat wants Christians to be “prophets, priests, and kings.” Yes. Here is something I wrote last month about such royal language:

What does it mean, as Scot McKnightN.T. Wright, and Matthew Bates, among others, have argued, that Jesus is King? What role do Christians play as a royal priesthood, proclaiming the truth of God to the darkness and, as Wright puts it, “reflecting God’s wisdom and justice into the world.”And there’s the rub. Reed’s Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God as understood by many conservative evangelicals, looks the other way when a ruler from another kingdom (so to speak) practices immorality. They do not seem to take their citizenship in this Kingdom as seriously as they take their American citizenship or, at the very least, they seem unwilling to say more about the tensions between the two. (There is, of course, a deep history behind the conflation of these two kingdoms).

Gary Bauer just retweeted this:

Perhaps he should have made a caveat for Christians in prayer. But let’s face it, the court evangelicals don’t do nuance very well.

Ralph Reed is fully aware of the fact that Gorsuch and Roberts have betrayed him and his followers. Yet don’t expect him to throw out the Christian Right playbook anytime soon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is ready to retire and Reed will no doubt try to make the 2020 election about the Supreme Court:

Rob McCoy, the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Thousands Oaks in Newbury Park, California, invited Charlie Kirk, the Trump wonderboy, to preach at his church last Sunday. McCoy introduced him by quoting Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever it admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Kirk then got up and gave a fear-mongering political speech that ripped evangelical pastors who have participated in anti-racist protests. At one point, Kirk told the Christians gathered on this Sunday morning that if the Left “takes him down” he “will be on his feet” not “on his knees.” This was an applause line. If you want to see hate preached from an evangelical pulpit, watch this:

And let’s not forget Charles Marsh’s twitter thread exposing Eric Metaxas’s use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to attack Black Lives Matter.

Until next time.

When it comes to Supreme Court decisions, context matters. But whose context?

Context

Earlier today, I published two posts on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on LGBTQ rights. The first post addressed the politics of the decision and what it means for white evangelical support for Donald Trump. The second post dealt with the religious liberty issues at stake. I encourage you to look at them to get up to speed. Here and here.

In this third post, I want to think historically about both the majority and dissenting opinions.

Over at Think, Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, explains the conservative judicial philosophy Justice Neil Gorsuch employed in coming to his decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and the other consolidated cases. Title VII of the Act forbids “discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex , or national origin.” The debate, of course, is over the meaning of the word “sex.” Gorsuch interpreted “sex” to cover LGBTQ rights.

In another piece, Levinson describes Gorsuch’s textualism. She writes,

Typically, conservative judges and lawyers adhere to the idea that in determining the meaning of words in a law, you look only at those words. You do not look at the context in which the law was passed, or congressional intent. This is called textualism.

No historian would treat a text this way. Frankly, I am not entirely convinced that Levinson offers an accurate description of how most textualists interpret a text. As we will see below, it is certainly not how Justice Samuel Alito or Justice Brett Kavanaugh understand textualism.

But historical context can also be a tricky thing. Gorsuch appears to have ignored it. He writes in his majority opinion:

Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids

Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result. Likely, they weren’t thinking about many of the Act’s consequences that have become apparent over the years, including its prohibition against discrimination of the basis of motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees. But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statue give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.

A couple of quick observations about these two paragraphs:

  1. Does the meaning of a word really exist outside of its historical context? Are we to assume that all words have universal meanings across time? A historian would answer both questions with an emphatic “no.” Historians do not subscribe to the kind of textualism that Gorsuch describes here.
  2. Is Gorsuch correct when he says that the “those who adopted the Civil Rights Act” could never have imagined it being applied to the gay community? This is an honest question. I am assuming Gorsuch is correct, but I am not up to speed on the scholarship here.

In their dissenting opinions, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh also appealed to the text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but they interpreted the meaning of the word “sex” in historical context.

Here is Alito:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on any of the five specified grounds: “race, color, religion, sex [and] national origin. Neither “sexual orientation” nor “gender identity” appears on that list.

Alito argues that unless the document specifically says “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” the Civil Rights Act could not have encompassed these things. He suggests that “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” do not fall under the category of “sex.”

Alito challenges Gorsuch’s textualism with the ideas of the late Antonin Scalia:

The Court attempts to pass off its decision as the inevitable product of the textualist school of statutory interpretation championed by our late colleague Justice Scalia, but no one should be fooled. The Court’s opinion  is like a pirate ship. It sails under a textualist flag, but what it actually represents is a theory of statutory interpretation that Justice Scalia excoriated–the theory that courts should “update” old statues so that they better refelct the current values of society.”

Alito argues that we need to understand the meaning of the word “sex” in the context of the 1960s. He writes:

Determined searching has not found a single dictionary from that time that defined “sex” to mean sexual orientation, gender identity, or “transgender” status. In all those dictionaries, the primary definition of “sex” was essentially the same as that in the then-most recent edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary (2d ed. 1953): “[o]ne of the two divisions of organisms formed on the distinction of male and female.”

Alito continues:

Thus when textualism is properly understood, it calls for an examination of the social context in which a statue was enacted because this may have an important bearing on what its words were understood to mean at the time of enactment. Textualists do not read statues as if they were messages picked up by a powerful radio telescope from a distant and utterly unknown civilization. Statutes consist of communications between members of a particular linguistic community, one that existed in a particular place and at a particular time, and these communications must therefore be interpreted as they were understood by that community at that time.

For this reason, it is imperative to consider how Americans in 1964 would have understood Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination because of sex. To get a picture of this, we may imagine this scene. Suppose that, while Title VII was under consideration in Congress, a group of average Americans decided to read the text of the bill with aim of writing or calling their representatives in Congress and conveying their approval or disapproval. What would these ordinary citizens have taken “discrimination because of sex” to mean? Would they have thought that this language prohibited discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity?

The answer could not be clearer. In 1964, ordinary Americans reading the text of Title VII would not have dreamed that discrimination because of sex meant discrimination between sexual orientation, much less gender identity. The ordinary meaning of discrimination because of “sex” was discrimination because of a person’s biological sex, not sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Alito is writing like a historian here. He wants to understand the 1964 Civil Rights Act in context. This is historical thinking 101. But while judges use historical thinking skills, they are not historians. They are tasked with applying the past to the present.

Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent is shorter, but it also draws on historical context. Here is a taste:

As to common parlance, few in 1964 (or today) would describe a firing because of sexual orientation as a firing because of sex. As commonly understood, sexual orientation discrimination is distinct from , and not a form of, sex discrimination.

He adds:

[The majority opinion rewrites history. Seneca Falls was not Stonewall. The women’s rights movement was not (and is not) the gay rights movement, although many people obviously support or participate in both. So to think that sexual orientation discrimination is just a form of sex discrimination is…a mistake of history and sociology.

Again, any historian would have to agree, to some extent, with Kavanaugh’s logic. We try to get our students to see that Seneca Falls and Stonewall were indeed different movements in the same way that the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution were fundamentally different “revolutions.” We resist the social scientist’s tendency to clump all “revolutions” or “reform movements” together. Each movement took place in a particular time and place amid a different set of circumstances.

At the same time, we also treat Seneca and Stonewall as part of a larger story of American reform. It is appropriate, at times, to talk about common themes–such as the appeal to the ideas of the Declaration of Independence–that drive this larger and broader story.

But, again, historians are not justices. We are not primarily in the business of telling people what to do with the information we provide and the skills we teach. Kavanaugh was a history major at Yale. During his years studying history, he no doubt learned about Seneca Falls and Stonewall. He also learned to think critically,  make an argument, understand historical context, and reflect on the many ways the past relates to the present. He is now using those skills, guided by a particular judiciary philosophy, to make Supreme Court decisions. His professors at Yale taught him these skills, but they could not tell him how to use them in service to the law. (Although I am imagining that some of them tried).

What strikes me about yesterday’s Supreme Court decision is the fact that it played out, at least in the opinions, as a debate over how to interpret Antonin Scalia’s judicial philosophy . This happened because Chief Justice John Roberts assigned the majority opinion to Gorsuch rather than to one of the Court’s liberal justices.

If Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, or Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion, I imagine it might have also appealed to historical context, but in a much broader way.  Levinson suggests what such an interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 might look like in this case if one of the liberal justices had weighed-in:

Liberal judges and lawyers, however, generally believe that it is appropriate to look beyond the words of the law and at the history and context around the law. But there was no such thing as sexual orientation protections in the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, so “sex” in the history and context of the law was not meant to apply to LGBT Americans.

As a matter of policy, LGBT rights should be situated clearly within the larger struggle for civil rights, and discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation  should be outlawed in every workplace in the nation.

Again, context is tricky and this case shows that much of the law rests on how much weight a given justice gives to this important “C” of historical thinking.

What is at stake for religious liberty in the latest SCOTUS decision?

Supreme Court

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled on three cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The court held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a previous post, I discussed what this ruling means politically, especially for the agenda of the Christian Right and their faith in Donald Trump. In this post, I want to discuss what it means for religious liberty in the United States.

Rather than pontificate, I want to simply call your attention to a few statements that reflect my views. First, here is a statement from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU):

Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision that extends federal protections to LGBT employees. At the CCCU, this is a decision that we have long recognized was possible, and is why we have been public supporters of legislation that would proactively balance the rights of religious communities and LGBT Americans. We believe it is essential that any protections for LGBT persons be paired with the essential religious freedoms that maximize freedom for all. Today’s ruling gives LGBT Americans more employment security, but it leaves important questions unanswered for religious employers. We call on Congress to address these uncertainties through legislation that makes explicit the religious protections important to a rich and vibrant civil society. We look forward to playing an important role in these vital conversations on behalf of our institutions and their First Amendment rights, and will continue to pursue strategies that protect the Christ-centered mission of our institutions and preserve and strengthen Christian higher education for the future.

At this point, I am not sure what this Supreme Court decision means for “Fairness for All.” In her piece at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey quotes University of Virginia Law School professor Douglas Laycock: “This will end all legislative bargaining over religious liberty in the gay-rights context…There is no longer a deal to be had in which Congress passes a gay-rights law with religious exemptions; the religious side has nothing to offer.”

And here is the National Association of Evangelicals:

The Supreme Court’s decision in three Title VII cases today redefines the word “sex” in a longstanding civil rights law. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that employers are legally prohibited from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in their hiring and other terms and conditions of employment. The decision provides significant protections for LGBT people, but leaves unanswered how the right for people and organizations to exercise their religion — to live according to their deeply held convictions — will be safeguarded.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. When Congress included the word “sex” in Title VII, Americans thought their representatives were creating a level playing field for women in the workplace. These recent cases before the Supreme Court argued that, whatever members of Congress were thinking back in 1964, the law they passed also covers employment decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In doing so, the Supreme Court created a law that Congress has repeatedly considered since the 1990s and declined to adopt.

By reading into a venerable civil rights law newly discovered protected classes, the Supreme Court has teed up years of social conflict. Judicial decisions by their nature are blunt instruments between two parties that do not allow for nuanced distinctions between types of employers, such as religious employers, and types of employment decisions.

In Title VII, Congress recognized that a blanket application of a nondiscrimination policy based on sex would create a conflict for some churches, religious colleges and other faith-based organizations in which theological convictions mandate differentiated roles. Accordingly, Title VII, as amended in 1972, includes a robust religious employer exemption that allows faith communities to structure their communal life according to their religious beliefs. With the Supreme Court’s expanded definition of sex, this exemption will be more important than ever, as a wider range of employment practices come under legal restrictions.

As a matter of church-state relations, the government should not interfere in the employment decisions of religious employers. The 1972 exemption has enabled all Americans of goodwill to coexist in a spirit of mutual respect. The National Association of Evangelicals is grateful that Justice Gorsuch’s opinion includes a reaffirmation of the ministerial exception, Title VII religious employer exemption, and Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections.

Since questions about religious freedom remain unanswered, the NAE will work in the courts and Congress to safeguard the freedom of religious organizations and individuals to follow their conscience and beliefs. We urge lower courts to respect and uphold this right in cases that come before them in the years ahead. Ultimately Congress should pass legislation that will ground in the act itself — not just a court decision — protection of the rights of all employers and employees to live according to their deepest convictions.

I will try to keep writing on this in the next few days. Stay tuned.

When evangelicals put their faith and trust in presidents and Supreme Court justices

Gorsuch Trump

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-3 decision, held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trump-appointed justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion. So did Trump-appointed justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Politically, the story centers on Gorsuch. Let’s remember that many white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because they believed he would appoint conservative Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade and protect their religious liberties. When white evangelicals talk about religious liberties, the right to uphold views of traditional marriage and sexuality at their institutions, and still maintain their tax-exempt status and have access to federal funding programs, are at or near the top of the list.

For example, in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I wrote:

Court evangelicals, for example, believe that a Trump administration will protect Christian colleges and universities from losing their religious exemptions, exemptions that allow them to receive federal money despite their religious opposition to the practice of homosexuality and gay marriage. One school that would have a lot to lose if these exemptions were to disappear is Liberty University. Jerry Falwell’s school does not allow faculty members who are gay, and it has taken strong stances against gay marriage and other related matters of sexual ethics. In 2015, Jerry Falwell Jr. no doubt has his eye on the controversy surrounding a bill in the California legislature that would remove Title IX religious exemptions for private liberal arts colleges that are opposed to gay marraige or refuse to hire gay faculty. The sponsors of the bill believed that such rules represented a form of discrimination against LGBTQ students attending those schools. Biola University, a liberal arts college in Los Angeles, along with several other California Christian colleges and universities, argued that the bill, if passed, would not only violate their religious liberties but would prevent low-income students in need of financial aid from attending their institutions.

The California bill had no bearing on federal funding or institutions outside California, but it still raised much fear among Christian colleges throughout the country. Liberty University students received $445 million in federal student loans, the highest today of any four-year university in Virginia and the eighth-highest in the nation. (The high ranking in both categories is due, in part, to the sheer size of the Liberty student body.) 

Many white evangelicals hoped that Trump would end these problems by appointing Supreme Court justices who would make sure that schools like Liberty, Biola, and dozens more Christian colleges, including my own institution, Messiah College, would get religious exemptions.

Again, here is Believe Me:

When conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on a quail hunting trip in Texas, and it became clear  that the Republican-controlled Senate would not provide a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s appointee to replace Scalia, the presidential election of 2016 became a referendum on the future of the high court. Scalia was a champion of the social values that conservative evangelicals hold dear, and it was now clear that the newly elected president of the United States would appoint his successor.

[Texas Senator Ted] Cruz seized the day. Two days after Scalia died and five days before the 2016 South Carolina primary, Cruz released a political ad in the hopes of capitalizing on evangelical fears about the justice’s replacement. With a picture of the Supreme Court building as a backdrop, the narrator said, “Life, marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.” In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Cruz said that a vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump could lead American citizens to lose some of their rights. “We are one justice away from the Second Amendment being written out of the constitution altogether,” he said, “and if you vote for Donald Trump in this next election, you are voting for undermining our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Cruz pushed this appeal to evangelical fear even harder at a Republican Women’s Club meeting in Greenville, South Carolina. He told these Republicans voters that the United States was “one justice away” from “the Supreme Court mandating unlimited abortion on demand,” and for good measure he added that it was only a matter of time before the federal government started using chisels to “remove the crosses and the Stars of David from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers.”

“One justice away.” That  one justice was Neil Gorsuch.

Cruz, of course, did not get the nomination. But as a I argued in Believe Me, Trump watched him (along with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and other Christian Right favorites) carefully in order to learn how to tap the white evangelical vote. Here is more from the book:

…Trump pulled out his most important move to win over conservative evangelicals who were still skeptical about his candidacy on May 18[,2020]. On that day, the soon-to-be-GOP nominee released the names of eleven judges whom he said he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court. It was a move straight out of the playbook. The list was put together with input from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank known for defending traditional marriage, opposing abortion, and fighting for the right of religious institutions to avoid government interference. On July 13, 2016, the Pew Research Center released a study showing that evangelicals were rallying to Trump, and it predicted that 78 percent of white evangelical voters would support him in November.

Neil Gorsuch was on that list.

Many court evangelicals are not happy with Gorsuch’s majority opinion:

Franklin Graham has responded here.

We will see how this all plays out politically, but there are still some serious religious liberty questions that need to be addressed in the wake of this Supreme Court decision. Stay tuned. In my next post on this subject, I will address the way other evangelicals and faith-based institutions are responding to this decision, particularly as it relates to religious liberty.

On John Roberts and Pettifogging

Pettifogging

Watch Chief Justice John Roberts here.  (For some reason You Tube will not let me access its embedding codes today).

Pettifogging: “worrying too much about details that are minor or not important.”  It was often used a derogatory statement about lawyers.

Charles Swayne was a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Florida.  He was appointed by Benjamin Harrison in 1889 and confirmed by the Senate in 1890.  The House of Representatives impeached him on December 13, 1904 for “filing false travel vouchers, improper use of private railroad cars, unlawfully imprisoning two attorneys for contempt outside of his district. (Sounds like pettifogging to me! 🙂 ) Swayne admitted to the charges and called his lapses “inadvertent.” The Senate found him “not guilty” on February 27, 1905.

You can read the excerpt from the trial, including the use of the word “pettifogging,” here (p.188).

You can also read an edited excerpt of the proceedings from Hinds’ Precedents of the House of Representatives.

A few thoughts:

First, we can always use more civil discourse.  Of all the House Managers, Nadler is the most obnoxious.  Cipollone and Sekulow seems to be performing for Donald Trump.

Second, John Roberts came to the Trump impeachment trial prepared.  He anticipated this kind incivility and was ready with the “pettifogging” quote from the 1905 Swayne trial.  Nice work.  We will see what he has up his sleeve today.

Third, is Roberts right when he says that the Senate is the “world’s greatest deliberative body” because “its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse?” This is how the framers may have envisioned the Senate, but American history suggests that Roberts may be too optimistic about this legislative body.  Here is Yale historian Joanne Freeman in Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War:

…the Senate was generally calmer than the House.  Smaller in size, with its acoustics in working order and its members a little older, more established, more experienced, and sometimes higher on the social scale, it was a true forum for debate….Debate in the Senate was thus more of a dialogue–long winded, agenda-driven, and something of a performance, but a dialogue just the same. That doesn’t mean the Senate was a haven of safety.  It wasn’t  There were plenty of threats and insults on the floor. Henry Clay (W-KY) was a master.  His attack in 1832 on the elderly Samuel Smith (J-MD), a Revolutionary War veteran and forty-year veteran of the Senate, was so severe that senators physically drew back, worried that things might get ugly.  Clay called Smith a tottering old man with flip-flopping politics; Smith denied it and countered that he could “take a view” of Clay’s politics that would prove him inconsistent; and Clay jeered “Take it, sir, take it–I dare you!”  Smith defended himself, but when he later sought the advice of John Quincy Adams (clearly Fight Consultant Extraordinaire), Smith was do deeply wounded that he was on the verge of tears.

Chief Justice John Roberts Needs to Attend Oral Arguments Tomorrow on a Religious Liberty Case

ROberts

Is Roberts getting sleepy?

Mitch McConnell is going to let this first day of the impeachment trial go late into the night.  I wonder if he knows that John Roberts needs to get up early tomorrow morning for oral arguments on the Supreme Court case Espinoza v. Montana.  I would think that the GOP might want the Chief Justice to be well rested and fresh for these particular oral arguments.

Here is the excerpt from the SCOTUS calendar:

And on January 22, the justices will hear oral argument in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a dispute over a Montana law that created tax credits to provide scholarships for families who send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court struck the law down, ruling that it violated the state’s constitution because it helped religious institutions. Three low-income mothers who used the scholarships to send their children to a Christian school in Kalispell, Montana, went to the Supreme Court, arguing that excluding religious schools from the scholarship program violates the federal Constitution.

Read more about this case here.

Who Presided Over Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment Trial?

Chase

On Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts began presiding over the Donald Trump impeachment trial.

Over at The Washington Post, Michael Rosenwald writes about Salmon P. Chase, the Chief Justice who presided over Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial in 1868.  Here is a taste of his piece, “The chief justice who presided over the first presidential impeachment trial thought it was political spectacle“:

Johnson was on trial for, among other things, violating the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, which said the president couldn’t fire important government officials unless he got the go-ahead from the Senate. Johnson had fired the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, without consulting the Senate. Cue impeachment.

Chase thought the whole thing was much ado about nothing.

“Chase had profound misgivings about the trial,” Niven wrote. “He considered the articles more of partisan rhetoric than substantive evidence for a conviction.”

In a letter to Gerrit Smith, a fellow abolitionist and former congressman, Chase wrote that “the whole business seems wrong, and if I had any opinion, under the Constitution, I would not take part in it.”

Chase suspected the whole business would become a public spectacle.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Historical Perspective on Supreme Court Confirmations

Supreme Court

Rhodes College historian Timothy Huebner, author of a series of lectures on the Supreme Court, reminds us that 19th-century debates over the confirmation of Supreme Court justices were more contentious than what goes on today.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Washington Post:

But if our current nomination and confirmation process for Supreme Court justices is broken, as many have suggested, it is not because it has become more political than it used to be. Instead, history shows that the appointment process may actually be less political than it was during the 19th century. But transformations during the 20th century have gradually left politics and ideology as the main battleground in confirming judges, leaving the false impression that the process is far worse than in the past.

During the first century or so of the Supreme Court’s history, selecting and confirming judicial nominees was political and sharply contentious. From the start, presidents picked nominees whom they assumed generally agreed with their political philosophy, and some, such as Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, even rewarded cronies with seats on the court. Unlike today, many nominees for the court lacked prior judicial experience. In fact, of the 57 justices nominated and confirmed between 1789 and 1898, 17 lacked substantial judicial experience at either the state or federal level. Instead, they were private attorneys, legislators or Cabinet secretaries. 

Read the rest here.

The Price Evangelicals Will Pay for a Supreme Court Seat

Believe Me 3d

Ever since I released Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I have been trying to get my fellow evangelicals to see that their bargain with Trump is bad for the Gospel and its public witness in the world.

Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis, seems to agree.  Here is a taste of his recent piece in USA Today: 

Religious leaders have given up moral ground at every renewed show of support for this administration and Congress. They stood by as families were torn apart at our border, the children shipped off to remote detention camps in the middle of the night. They cheered as health care was stripped away from the poor and the sick. And they fell in line to support the newly confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was credibly accused of harming multiple women. These are not positions informed by the teachings of Jesus Christ — to the contrary, they are antithetical to what Jesus preached.

So why are so many white evangelicals dead-set on supporting the Trump administration and current Republican Congress? Their insistence on walking in lockstep with the Republican Party often is primarily motivated by a single issue: abortion.

Many of us are taught from a young age that abortion is the issue on which our vote should always hinge. The hope among many evangelicals is to make abortion illegal. Evidence, however, suggests that criminalization does not reduce abortions. In fact, studies show that criminalizing abortion does nothing to protect babies, but instead endangers mothers.

Read the rest here.