Court Evangelicals Tony Perkins and Eric Metaxas Talk About Their Court Evangelicalism

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4 Court Evangelicals:  Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, and Eric Metaxas

On July 5, 2019, court evangelical Tony “Mulligan” Perkins of the Family Research Council  hosted court evangelical and author Eric Metaxas on his “Washington Watch” radio program.  The conversation was devoted to Metaxas’s 2016 book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty,  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog are aware that this book is riddled with historical problems, many of which I wrote about in a series of posts when the book was published.

Listen to the Perkins-Metaxas conversation here.

Here are some comments:

2:00ff:  Metaxas, citing Christian author Os Guinness, suggests that the founders believed that virtue was essential to a republic and that people could not be virtuous without “faith.”  There are some problems with this formulation.  The founders did believe that virtue was essential to a healthy republic.  Virtue was a political term.  The virtuous person–usually a man–was someone who sacrificed his own interests for the greater good of the republic.  With this definition, it seems as if there would be a lot of present-day Americans–including socialists–who might have a claim on this kind of eighteenth-century political virtue.  In fact, one of our best historians of American socialism, Nick Salvatore, has argued that socialists like Eugene Debs drew heavily upon this tradition of republic virtue.

Moreover, as I argued in my book The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, many founding fathers, including Ben Franklin (who uttered the saying in the title of Metaxas’s book), believed that Christianity or religion was not the only source of this kind of virtue.

2:45ff:  I don’t know of any “progressive” or person of “the Left” who is invoking the French Revolution these days.  (I am willing to be proven wrong on this).  Metaxas describes the French Revolution in terms of bloodbaths, anarchy, madness, egalitarianism, socialism, and the general lack of freedom.  Later in the interview Metaxas says that fear was not a factor in the evangelical turn toward Donald Trump.  As I argued in Believe Me, fear-mongers often build on false or exaggerated claims.  Isn’t this what Metaxas is doing here?  Perkins and Metaxas want to keep everyone scared so they pull the lever for Trump in 2020 and continue to man the ramparts of the culture wars.

4:50ff:  Metaxas says that we have been given a “sacred charge, a holy charge by God” to preserve the United States of America.  Here Metaxas equates the fate of America with the will of God as if the United States is some kind of new Israel.  He also says that if the Christian church does its job in the United States, “freedom will flourish.”

Is this true?  Is the role of the church to promote political freedom?

Metaxas confuses the mission of the Christian church with American freedom.  He fails to recognize that if the church does its work in the world, Christians will realize that their American freedoms are limited by a higher calling.  For example, if the church is doing its work fewer Christians will “pursue happiness” in terms of materialistic consumption. Fewer Christians will commit adultery or file for divorce.  The number of abortions will be reduced.  Hate speech will decline.  The number of people viewing pornography will be reduced.  The right to be gluttonous, greedy, slothful, and envious will decline. The right to own vehicles that destroy the environment will be curbed.  Of course all of these things–materialism, consumerism, adultery, divorce, hate speech, pornography, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, the ownership of a big SUV– are legal and protected under our freedoms as Americans. They are also contrary to Christian teaching. Americans are “free” to hate their neighbor and their enemies.  But if you claim to be a follower of Jesus you are not free to do these things.  So if the church is doing its work in world, Christians should become less, not more, “free” in the American sense of the word.

9:40ff:  Perkins implies that those evangelicals  who do not support Donald Trump do not “think,” “pray,” or “act.” (For the record this anti-Trump evangelical does try to think, pray, and act).  Metaxas says that those who oppose the POTUS are “prideful” and “myopic.”

I’ve noticed that when Metaxas is talking with critics such as Kristin Powers and Jonathan Merritt he backpedals and issues calls for civility.  But when he is on the air with a fellow court evangelicals like Perkins, he returns to his 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed mode of calling out the judgement of God on anti-Trumpers.

10:35ff:  Metaxas says: “we are at a tipping point in America…we could go back to the 1750s where we no longer have American style freedom.”  This is more fear-mongering.  It reminds me of when Ted Cruz said that if Clinton won in 2016 the government would start erasing crosses and stars of David from tombstones.  Metaxas also fails to realize that his conservative approach to the world looks very much like the British freedoms all the American colonists enjoyed in 1750.

11:30ff:  Metaxas brings up David French’s article on fear and notes that the piece attacks him by name.  Read this and this.

11:50ff: Metaxas defends Richard Nixon. He claims that George McGovern wanted to “take us down a socialist road.”  The last time I checked, McGovern was not a socialist. Here Metaxas implies that Nixon may have indeed committed a crime in office, but at least he wasn’t a big-government liberal.

12:00ff:  Metaxas compares those evangelicals who do not “get their hands dirty” voting for Trump to those who did not stand up to Hitler.  (Of course Hillary Clinton is the “Hitler” figure here–a comparison Metaxas has made before).

12:30ff:  Throughout this interview, Metaxas sloppily (although I don’t think he believes it is sloppy) mixes Christian faith and American ideals.  He talks about the blood of Jesus dying for sinners and in the very same sentence references the “minute men” in the American Revolution dying for “freedom” and the un-“biblical” Loyalists.  This is not unlike the way in which many 18th-century patriotic ministers interpreted Galatians 5:1 to mean freedom from British tyranny instead of freedom “in Christ.”  (I discuss this old American evangelical bad habit in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction).

If we want a quick introduction to Metaxas and his thinking, listen to this interview.

Eric Metaxas on The Faith Angle Podcast

Faith Angle

Kirsten Powers of CNN and journalist Jonathan Merritt have started a new podcast titled The Faith Angle.

This looks like it will be a good podcast.  The first episode is titled
Trumpevangelicals and the Divided States of America.”  The guest is Eric Metaxas, a guy who we have spent some time writing about here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

A few highlights:

  • Merritt calls Metaxas “the thinking man’s evangelical.” Many would beg to differ.  His book on Bonhoeffer, the work that apparently gave him the “thinking man” moniker, was criticized by Bonhoeffer scholars well before Metaxas endorsed Trump.
  • Most of the podcast episode focuses on how Metaxas went from a “thinking man’s intellectual” to a political hack.  Metaxas is so controversial that Powers and Merritt have to explain why they chose him as their first guest.
  • Powers believes that Metaxas’s support of Trump is “harming his Christian witness.”
  • Metaxas says that “before the election I hated Donald Trump.”  (This, I might add, changed very quickly.  See this pic).
  • Metaxas says that he doesn’t endorse everything about Trump’s character. But Powers makes Metaxas admit that he does support Trump’s policies.
  • Metaxas says that “we are living in a really weird time” because so many people criticize and “attack” Donald Trump.  Could we also say that we are “living in a really weird time” because so many evangelicals, like Metaxas, support a man like Donald Trump?
  • Metaxas laments that our country has become too uncivil.  Let’s remember that this call for civility comes from the guy who called Jim Wallis, “silly, sloppy, and wrongheaded.”  It comes from the guy who once called Hillary Clinton “Hitlery Clinton.”  It comes from the guy who said that “God will not hold us guiltless” if we voted for Hillary Clinton. This is the guy who could not identify textbook racism.
  • Metaxas rejects the King Cyrus argument.
  • Metaxas argues that Trump should get a pass on his character problems (sleeping with porn stars and committing adultery) because they did not happen while he was in the White House.  Bill Clinton, on the other hand, does not get a pass because his indiscretions took place while he was POTUS.  As I wrote last night, this argument fails to acknowledge the ways that Trump’s past sins still have consequences.  And because he is POTUS, we all now have to live through the consequences of his past actions.  His adulterous affairs and porn connections have found their way into the mainstream, further coarsening the culture.
  • Merritt makes a good point.  The Christian Right criticized Bill Clinton because of sexual escapades well before Monica Lewinsky came around.  Why isn’t Trump criticized for his past indiscretions?  (I appreciate Powers and Merritt for holding Metaxas’s feet to the fire.  His answers to their questions are really unconvincing).
  • Metaxas claims that his “Hitlery Clinton” line was just a joke. He then belittles people who thought it was inappropriate.  Metaxas went to Yale and wrote a book about Bonhoeffer.  I think he is smart enough to know what it means when you call someone Hitler. Powers says that she didn’t understand the “joke.”  Metaxas spends five minutes defending the Hitler line, and then, when pressed by Powers, says he shouldn’t have wrote it.  He is really coming across as nonsensical and slippery.  He is speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
  • Metaxas used the phrase “court evangelical.”  No attribution made.  I guess its a thing now.
  • Powers calls him out on his claim that Christians must vote for Trump.  Metaxas regrets that his 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed came off this way.
  • Metaxas seems to believe that there is some kind of moral equivalence between Obama and Trump because they held/hold the same office.  Metaxas says he, a conservative, was nice to Obama despite his disagreements and now it is time for progressives to be nice to Trump.  Powers asks him to identify these “progressives” and his answer is “Stephen Colbert.”  Seriously, Stephen Colbert?  As Powers notes, the guy is a comedian!  Moreover, I thought the entire podcast discussion was about evangelicals and Trump.  Last time I checked, Colbert was not an evangelical. Moreover, this “respect for the office” argument only goes so far.  Trump is not Obama. Trump does not respect the office in the way that Obama respected the office.  I briefly touch on this difference in Believe Me.
  • Metaxas says, “Pray for this president that he would repent of everything we know that he has done and is too proud to admit.”  Yes.  I think I just found some common ground with Eric Metaxas.

By the way, I think this podcast is helpful for putting this tweet in context: