Who is Tending to Trump’s Soul?

Trump rain

When Bill Clinton was going through his impeachment ordeal in the late 1990s, he turned to several spiritual advisers to help him get through it. In September 2019, I wrote a piece at The Washington Post on how Tony Campolo, Gordon McDonald, and Philip Wogaman tended to the president’s soul during his time of crisis.

I thought about Clinton, his ministers, and my Post piece when I heard Donald Trump answer a question during yesterday’s coronavirus press conference.

The reporter asked:

I’ve got a follow up on the mask, sir. But first you mentioned Franklin Graham, talking to him. As you know, his father, Billy Graham, was a trusted spiritual advisor and friend of many presidents, a lot of your predecessors in times of national emergency reached out to pastors and other spiritual counselors. Have you done that during this national [crisis].

This reporter wanted to know if Trump was drawing upon his religious faith in these troubling times.

Here was Trump’s response:

I never say that, but Franklin Graham is somebody that’s very special. I have many very special people and a very many special in the evangelical, evangelical Christian community. You could talk rabbis, you can talk a lot of … I have tremendous support from religious leaders and Franklin Graham, I just spoke to him today for an extended period of time. I told him what a fantastic job you’re doing, and he does this. He loves doing it. He loves helping people, and he loves Jesus. Then I can tell you. He loves Jesus. He’s a great gentleman. Go ahead.

Trump obviously did not understand the question. Frankly, I am not sure how capable he is of understanding it. His response was the same kind of response he would give at a rally when he talks about his evangelical supporters and how much they support him.

I hope I am reading this wrong. I hope that Trump is getting serious and regular soul care during these troubling days.

Randall Balmer on the “Other Evangelicals”

Wallis

Jim Wallis of Sojourners

In his recent op-ed at the Concord Monitor, Dartmouth College scholar of American evangelicalism Randall Balmer reminds us that not all evangelicals were part of the 81% who supported Donald Trump in 2016.  Here is a taste of “The Other Evangelicals“:

The emergence of the Religious Right was surely a turning point – a sharp and unmistakable turn to the right – but it wasn’t inevitable. The 1970s, in fact, saw a remarkable resurgence of progressive evangelicalism, a version of the movement consistent with the legacy of 19th-century evangelicals.

Two geographical areas, northern Illinois and the mainline of Philadelphia, served as the focus for progressive evangelical activity in the early 1970s. In the greater Philadelphia area, Tony Campolo, a sociologist at Eastern College (now Eastern University), and Ronald Sider, a theologian at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary), led the charge.

Campolo was (and remains) a tireless advocate for progressive evangelical values; he is one of the founding members of an organization called Red Letter Christians, which seeks to remind the faithful to heed the teachings of Jesus.

Sider was founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of a bestselling book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, published in 1977.

The other locus of progressive evangelical activity in the early 1970s was Deerfield, in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. There, Jim Wallis, a seminary student, together with his friends at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, formed a community in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago and began publishing a tabloid called the Post American. When the group relocated to Washington, D.C., in 1975, they took the name Sojourners.

On the same Deerfield campus, a cohort of young faculty at Trinity College, led by Douglas Frank, David Schlafer and Nancy Hardesty, began challenging their students to question the morality of the war in Vietnam and to take seriously both the teachings of Jesus and the example of 19th-century evangelicalism. I was one of those students. We learned about Jesus’s concern for the poor. We started to think about protecting the environment and defending people of color. We debated how to pursue justice.

Read the entire piece here

Today’s Piece at *The Washington Post*: Clinton’s Evangelical Advisers vs. Trump’s Evangelical Advisers

Clinton I have sinned

A taste:

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Read the entire piece here.

Some Evangelicals Did Not Like Trump’s Use of Profanity at a Recent Rally

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

In 1982, the evangelical activist Tony Campolo gave a sermon to an evangelical conference called Spring Harvest.  Here is how he began his talk:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 45,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said ‘shit’ than the fact that 45,000 kids died last night.

I thought about Campolo’s line again as I read about evangelicals in West Virginia who were upset that Trump used profanity at his recent Greenville, NC rally.  Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s piece at Politico:

Paul Hardesty didn’t pay much attention to President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., last month until a third concerned constituent rang his cellphone.

The residents of Hardesty’s district — he’s a Trump-supporting, West Virginia state senator — were calling to complain that Trump was “using the Lord’s name in vain,” Hardesty recounted.

“The third phone call is when I actually went and watched his speech because each of them sounded distraught,” said Hardesty, who describes himself as a conservative Democrat.

Here’s what he would have seen: Trump crowing, “They’ll be hit so g–damn hard,” while bragging about bombing Islamic State militants. And Trump recounting his warning to a wealthy businessman: “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be so g–damn poor.”

To most of America, the comments went unnoticed. Instead, the nation was gripped by the moment a “send her back” chant broke out as Trump went after Somali-born Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, an American citizen. But some Trump supporters were more fixated on his casual use of the word “g–damn” — an off-limits term for many Christians — not to mention the numerous other profanities laced throughout the rest of his speech.

Read the entire piece here.

Progressive Evangelicals Revive the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern

YMCA Wabash

The Wabash Avenue YMCA, Chicago

In 1973, a group of evangelical leaders gathered at the YMCA on Wabash Avenue in Chicago to affirm the Christian call to racial justice, care for the poor, peace, and equality for women.  The result of this meeting was The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern.  The signers included Samuel Escobar, Frank Gaebelein, Vernon Grounds, Nancy Hardesty, Carl F.H. Henry, Paul B. Henry, Rufus Jones, C.T. McIntire, David Moberg, Richard Mouw, William Pannell, John Perkins, Richard Pierard, Bernard Ramm, Ronadl Sider, Sharon Gallagher, Lewis Smedes, Jim Wallis, and John Howard Yoder.

Historian David Swartz begins his excellent book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism with a discussion of this meeting.  I encourage you to read his extensive coverage of this important moment in the history of progressive evangelicalism.  I also highly recommend Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice.

Forty-five years after this Chicago YMCA meeting, progressive evangelicals have reaffirmed the Declaration.  Here is a taste of “The Chicago Invitation: Diverse Evangelicals Continue the Journey”:

As diverse evangelicals, our faith moves us to confess and lament that we have often fallen short of the biblical values and commitments proclaimed in the gospel and affirmed in the 1973 Declaration. In addition to the 1973 Declaration, many diverse evangelicals, including women, African-American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and Indigenous leaders, have put out strong statements that have often been ignored. Millions of people, especially younger believers, have left the faith during a time in which evangelicalism has become increasingly partisan and politicized. People on both sides of the political aisle have demonized those who disagree with us and failed to love both our neighbors and our “enemies,” as Jesus instructs us to do. We should not be captive to any political party, because our allegiance belongs to Christ. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we believe the church is “called to be the conscience of the state, not the master or the servant of the state.”

Affirming the 1973 Declaration, as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we recommit to an evangelical faith that follows Jesus’ example of living and sharing a gospel that always proclaims good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. (Luke 4: 18-19)

We recommit to a biblical justice that demonstrates the reign of God as we strive for abundant life for all God’s children, which must include combating economic inequality and exploitation.

We recommit to more faithfully and courageously follow Jesus, who affirmed the sacredness and dignity of all human life.

Building on the 1973 Declaration as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we also commit to love and protect all people—including life at every stage, people of color, women, Indigenous people, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ people, people who are living with disabilities or mental health issues, poor and impoverished people, and each one who is marginalized, hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or imprisoned. (Matthew 25:31-46)

We commit to care for and protect the earth as God’s creation.

We commit to resisting all manifestations of racism, white nationalism, and any forms of bigotry—all of which are sins against God.

We commit to resisting patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and any form of sexism and to always affirm the dignity, voices, and leadership of women.

We commit to defend the dignity and rights of all people, particularly as we celebrate and embrace the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in our nation and churches.

Signers include  Ruth Bentley (1973 signer), Tony Campolo, Sharon Gallagher (1973 signer), Shane Claiborne, Ruth Padilla-DeBorst,  Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (1973 signer), Lisa Sharon Harper, Joel Hunter, David Moberg (1973 signer), William Pannell (1973 signer), Richard Pierard (1973 signer), Ronald Sider (1973 signer), Andrea Smith, Jim Wallis (1973 signer), Barbara Williams-Skinner, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Read the entire statement here.  Jim Wallis discusses the statement here.

I have a hard time keeping track of all these religious “declarations,” but I took note of this one because of its connection to the historic 1973 meeting.

“We Need a Revival”

Liberty U
We linked to his “Photo Essay” on Wednesday.  Today we want to call your attention to David Swartz‘s report from Liberty University and the Red Letter Revival.  Swartz visited both this past weekend.

Here is a taste of his piece at the Anxious Bench:

Over the weekend, I drove our trusty red minivan from Kentucky across the Appalachian Mountains to Virginia to check out the action. I attended the revival Friday night, took a three-hour campus tour of Liberty on Saturday morning, and then returned to the revival on Saturday afternoon. As you might expect, the contrasts between the two evangelical sites—just five minutes apart—were fascinating and stark. (For a photographic essay of both sites, click here.)

If not for much of the content, Falwell might have felt quite comfortable with the Red Letter Revival. Preachers called for more piety and generous giving. They warned of sin pervading the land. They told churchy jokes (Claiborne said he wasn’t in Lynchburg to protest, but instead to “pro-testify!”), using humor along with lament to drive a spirit of old-fashioned revivalism. Attendees responded, raising their hands and exhorting the preachers from their seats. Exclamations of “We need a revival!” carried along extended periods of biblical exposition. As the gathering ended, Tony Campolo presided over an altar call.

Read the rest here.

Progressive Evangelicals vs. Court Evangelicals in Lynchburg

Trump court evangelicals

Over at VOX, Tara Isabella Burton has a nice piece of reporting/commentary on the so-called “Red Letter Revival.”  Glad to see the phrase “court evangelical” made the cut.

A taste:

Two years ago, the idea that the old-guard evangelicals would treat Trumpism as a tenet of their faith was unimaginable. According to a FiveThirtyEight poll, only 44 percent of white evangelical Republicans supported Trump during the primaries. But in the months and years since Trump won the Republican primary, evangelicalism, (white) nationalism, and Trumpism have become increasingly closely linked. Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the general election.

Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Channel, as I have previously written, has become a de facto mouthpiece for the Trump administration, lobbing softballs at administration officials in exchange for access. Members of Trump’s evangelical advisory council, including prosperity gospel preacher Paula White, have gone on the record telling listeners that God has ordained the Trump presidency.

Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and Trump’s evangelical right-hand man, even turned “Make America Great Again” into a hymn. As historian John Fea put it in a Washington Post op-ed, these are “court evangelicals,” who see Christianity and political power as going hand in hand.

As a result, across the evangelical spectrum, those who have vocally opposed Trump or his policies have often met with strong backlash. After Southern Baptist Convention leader Russell Moore — president of the convention’s policy arm — made vocal opposition to Trump a hallmark of his public persona, hundreds of Southern Baptist churchesthreatened to withhold funding from the central convention. (While Moore kept his job, he was forced to apologize for some of his remarks about Trump.)

Read the entire piece here.

Shane Claiborne To Lead “Revival” Against “Toxic Christianity”

Red Letter

Evangelical leaders Shane Claiborne, William Barber, Lisa Sharon Harper, Tony Campolo, and of the so-called “Red Letter Christians” are going into the belly of the whale: Lynchburg, Virginia.

These progressive Christians are holding a “Red Letter Revival” in Lynchburg, Virginia on April 6-7, 2018.  It will include a worship service, music, and speakers.

Here is a taste of Jack Jenkins’s piece at Religion News Service:

A group of progressive evangelicals and other Christians are planning a “revival” this spring to protest “toxic evangelicalism” and evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. who support President Trump.

Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne announced the event on Twitter Wednesday (Feb. 7), saying he and others plan to host a “Red Letter Revival” on April 6-7 in Lynchburg, Va. — the same city where Liberty University, a conservative Christian school led by Falwell, is located.

Claiborne, co-director of the progressive Christian group Red Letter Christians, told Religion News Service he’s heard Liberty students say they want their school “to be known for its love for Jesus (rather) than its love for Trump.”

Specifics for the event remain tentative, but he said the program would begin that Friday with a “three-hour hype-filled, fiery, beautiful worship (service with) preaching.” The next day would include “a whole bunch of different breakout sessions and music” and conclude with “another big service” Saturday evening — including a “call to action.”

Read more here.

We will see how this plays out.  While I support the spirit of this effort, I wish Claiborne would cast a larger tent.  He seems to have gathered the usual suspects–Campolo, Barber, and the rest of the so-called evangelical left. The “Red Letter Christians” have been protesting GOP presidential candidates for a long time, well before Trump took office.  If Claiborne can attract more evangelical moderates, such as those who signed the recent Washington Post ad on immigration and refugees, his “revival” might have more of an impact.  I hope he can.