Iowa Congressman Steve King Has Lost His Primary Race

King and trump

This is another sign that the pro-Trump, racist, nativist wing of the GOP may be in trouble in November. Here are our previous posts on King.

Here is Vox:

After losing his House Committee assignments over his defense of white supremacy last year, embattled Republican Rep. Steve King has officially lost his seat as well.

Tuesday night, King lost the Republican primary to represent Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District in the next term, putting an end to his long and controversial nine-term tenure in the House. State Sen. Randy Feenstra ultimately dwarfed him in both fundraising and support from key players in the Republican Party, emerging as the primary winner in the expansive northwestern district.

It’s a big win for the Republican party, which saw King’s tight win in 2018 against Democrat J.D. Scholten as a sign that Democrats had a real shot at winning against him in a presidential election year.

During the campaign this year, Feenstra’s main attack centered on King’s inability to effectively represent the district, since he likely would have been barred from committee work in the new term as well. “We have a congressman who was removed from the House Agriculture Committee and the Judiciary Committee by his own Republican colleagues,” Feenstra wrote in a Des Moines Register op-ed.

Read the rest here.

Coronavirus Diary: June 2, 2020

Sayville BIC

Sayville Brethren in Christ Church

When I published my last diary entry on May 23, 2020, my Pennsylvania county had 584 coronavirus cases and 46 deaths. Eleven days later, we have 644 cases and 52 deaths.

The first day of summer (June 20) is still a few weeks away, but for those of us who follow the academic calendar, the 2020 summer of quarantine has begun.

The social unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death has diverted my attention away from the coronavirus. But the pessimist in me worries that all of these protests and demonstrations, coupled with the “opening” of the states, will come back to haunt us.

It will be a different summer. I plan to spend it writing, thinking, reading and teaching. On the latter front, a version of the Gilder-Lehrman “Princeton Seminar” will be making its way online in July. I am happy to be teaching colonial America again with Nate McAlister.

We are also hoping to do weekly podcasts this summer, but we are not yet there financially. (Here is how you can help).

Messiah College announced that it will open for face-to-face instruction a week early (August 25) and end the Fall semester a week before Thanksgiving. I will be teaching two courses: U.S. History to 1865 and Pennsylvania History. I am waiting to learn more about what the method of delivery will look like.

I tend to process things through writing, but not everything I write on this blog makes it to Facebook. If you are interested in getting all of the posts that appear here, either subscribe to the e-mail feed (the black “Follow” button on the right) or check back regularly. I don’t re-post everything on Facebook because I don’t want to clog-up people’s feeds, although every post does go automatically to Twitter. And for those who think I post too much, feel free to unfollow or unfriend on Facebook. Seriously, I will not be offended! 🙂  Thanks to everyone who reads regularly, especially those of you who are new to the blog.

My nerves were raw this weekend. I had a hard time balancing righteous anger (if you could call it that) with just plain-old unhealthy anger. I was mad at the police. I was mad at the rioters attacking the police. I was mad at the looters and the violence. I was mad at Trump and his administration. I was mad at white evangelical pastors who were not using their Sunday services to address what was happening in the world. I was mad at evangelical friends on social media who were defending their churches for not addressing racism because they thought the church should not be “getting political.” I was mad at myself for being so angry. I was mad at myself for not being angry enough. If I lashed out at you in a social media space, and I have not already contacted you directly, I apologize.

I am an introvert and do not always gravitate to people or revel in a sense of “community.” But the longer I stay at home, the more I find myself wanting to get in touch with people. I haven’t talked this much to my brother in years. The other day I sent some long-overdue texts to old college friends  This longing to connect also helped me get through some of the anger. Let me explain.

I have several friends who have been called to Christian ministry. Three of them were preaching on Sunday. I found myself lifted spiritually by their words.

Andy, who pastors two small, rural Brethren in Christ churches in central Pennsylvania and proudly calls himself “a middle-class white kid from the “sticks,” eulogized Joe, a partner in ministry, a spiritual mentor, a product of the Jim Crow African-American South, and one of his best friends.  Andy noted that the celebration of Joe’s life–and the work of racial reconciliation that defined their long friendship–somehow felt diminished by the pain of what happened to George Floyd. But in the end, Andy would not let that happen. His sermon, and the previous day’s memorial service–offered hope. In his own humble way, Andy pointed to the possible.

Bob, who pastors a small Presbyterian Church (USA) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, connected the Holy Spirit’s coming on the Day of Pentecost to the social unrest and racial divisions in our country. On the day the Holy Spirit arrived, he reminded us, the disciples were “sheltering in place,” fearful of persecution. Yet the Holy Spirit met them where they were. The Spirit fell on people of all races who shared a common faith.

Paul, who preached at an Armenian Presbyterian Church in Fresno, California, offered a sermon of lament and mission. He challenged the members of the congregation to consider their role in these troubled times and remain open to opportunities to be a witness for the Gospel. At the start of the sermon, he read a passage from Christian writer Peter Heck:

Take the tragedy that unfolded on the streets of Minneapolis this week, but do it from the view that none of us likely considered. View it not through the eyes of your biases (original or adopted), but view it through the eyes of heaven:

An image-bearer of the Creator was suffocated to death by a fellow image-bearer of the Creator in front of a group of image-bearers of the Creator. The act sparked image-bearers of the Creator to lash out at other image-bearers of the Creator, accusing them of all manners of evil. As these groups of image-bearers of the Creator exchanged accusations from places of pride, defiance, bitterness, and anger, still other image-bearers of the Creator moved to pillage and loot a city full of image-bearers of the Creator, destroying their property and livelihoods in the name of justice.

This is what I meant by seeing a hopelessly marred creation begging for redemption.

Hope.

Until next time…

 

What Happened at St. John’s Church on August 28, 1963?

st-johns-church-modern

This is worth noting in light of what happened yesterday at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C.

Here is the White House Historical Association:

In August 1963, there was uncertainty among some in the city regarding the upcoming March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. St John’s rector, Rev. John C. Harper, was cautioned by church wardens to avoid dissension within the church by staying away and closing St. John’s doors as “it might be a bloodbath.” Rev. Harper was encouraged by a young curate, Rev. H. Vance Johnson, to do just the opposite. Rev. Harper not only kept the church open, but St. John’s also planned to hold a prayer service representing their denomination as part of a call from interdenominational church councils to support the march and its participants. At 11:00 a.m. on August 28, a special service of prayer was held with 700 participants of all races filling St. John’s. Afterwards, Rev. Harper sent a letter to his parishioners stating his support for Dr. King and St. John’s future policy: “…This church building is open, as it has always been, to all who want to worship here; the ministry of this parish is extended to any who seek it; our fellowship with one another has no limitations whatsoever.”

Another Step in the Right Direction. This One From York County, Pennsylvania

Logos

Logos Academy, York, PA

I just got word of a joint statement between York County Association of Chiefs of Police, the Black Ministers Association of York County, and Logos Academy, a K-12 classical Christian school in York.

Here is the statement:

Contact Information

Chief Timothy L. Damon

President, York County Association of Chiefs of Police

tdamon@yapd.org

 

Rev. Bill Kerney

President, Black Ministers Association

bkerney@cfmyork.org

 

Rev. Aaron Anderson

CEO, Logos Academy

aaron.anderson@logosyork.org 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

YORK COUNTY CHIEFS OF POLICE AND CLERGY STAND TOGETHER FOR JUSTICE

We offer our deepest sympathies, condolences, and prayers to the family and friends of Mr. George Floyd.

The York County Association of Chiefs of Police and local clergy, including the Black Ministers Association of York County, stand united in our outrage and condemnation of the reprehensible use of deadly force by police officers in Minneapolis, MN that led to the senseless and tragic death of Mr. George Floyd. There can be no allowance in law enforcement for officers who commit such heinous acts, or for officers who fail to intervene and stop the commission of these acts. We hold faith that the criminal actions of the officers will be charged appropriately as a result of a thorough investigation.

The policing of our community is a high and noble calling that requires our community’s police officers to possess the highest integrity and fairness. The York County Association of Chiefs of Police continues to uphold our commitment that law enforcement officers treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or defendant, with the full dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. It is our commitment to hold our own law enforcement officers to the highest standards of accountability when they fail to abide by these standards. We hold these principles as the bedrock upon which procedural justice and police legitimacy stand.

As Chiefs of Police and Clergy, we stand united in the pursuit of a thriving and just York County.

About Our Partnership

It was our joint concern over unrest in our nation surrounding the fair policing of our communities, that led us to begin meeting together in 2016. Since 2016, our vision has been that York develops a reputation as One York: a peaceful and thriving community whereas:

    • Mutual respect, trust, transparency, and cooperation exist between law enforcement and community
    • Our community is policed with fairness and justice resulting in safety and peace

Signed in unity together,

Chief Timothy Damon

York Area Regional Police

 

Pastor Bill Kerney

President, Black Ministers Association

 

Chief Todd King

Springettsbury Township Police

 

Rev. Aaron Anderson

CEO, Logos Academy

 

Chief John Snyder

West Manchester Township Police

 

Dr. Larry Walthour

Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church

 

Chief George Swartz

Spring Garden Township Police

 

Bishop Carl Scott

Pastor, Bible Tabernacle Church

 

Commissioner Osborne Robinson

York City Police

 

Rev. Paul Atkinson

Director of Team Development, LCBC Church

 

Chief Matthew Millsaps

West York Borough Police

 

Pastor Ramona Kinard

Pastor, Wheatfield Church of the Living God

 

Chief David Lash

Northern York Regional Police

 

Rev. Bob Riedy

Pastor, Church of the Open Door

 

Chief Michael Muldrow

York City School District Police

 

Pastor Carlos Kelly

Iglesia Cristiana de York E.C. / The Next Step E.C.

 

Chief Thomas Wargo

Carroll Township Police

 

Rev. Ben Murray

Pastor, Noble City Church

 

Chief Guy Hettinger

Penn Township Police

 

Brian Rice, Brian Newman, Donavan Bratton

Pastors, Living Word Community Church

 

Chief Jason Loper

Fairview Township Police

 

Rev. Eric Hillegas

Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church

 

Chief David Arnold

Lower Windsor Township Police

 

Bishop Danny Evans

Temple of Grace Ministries

 

Chief Steven Lutz

Newberry Township Police

 

Bishop Anthony Sease

Pastor, New Covenant Community Church

 

Chief Chad Martin

Hanover Borough Police

 

Rev. Oscar Rossum, Sr.

Executive Member, Black Ministers Association

 

Chief Doug Pollock

Hellam Township Police

 

Alex Gilbert

Lead Pastor, Zeal Church

 

Chief Bryan Rizzo

Northeastern Regional Police

 

The Rev. Joel Folkemor

Pastor, Union Lutheran Church

 

Chief Jim Boddington

Southern Regional Police

 

Rev. Brian Kannel

Pastor, York Alliance Church

 

Chief Edwin J. Schneider

West Manheim Township Police

 

Rev. Allison Beaulieu, Rev. Kyle Gott

Pastors, First Presbyterian Church

 

Rev. Bob Tome

Interim Lead Pastor, Genesis Church

 

Rev. Jim Tyson

GVI Project Manager

 

Rev. Mark Kearse

Pastor, Cornerstone Baptist Church

 

Pastor Shelby Scott

Bible Tabernacle Christian Center

 

Rev. Michael D. Jefferson

Bible Tabernacle Christian Center

 

Dr. Melvin Baber

Pastor, Friendship Baptist Church

 

Rev. Joe Ercoli

Discipleship Pastor, Genesis Church

 

Rev. Josh Kleinfeld, Rev. Kent Vandervort

Pastors, Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene

 

Danny Haas, Trevor Williams

Pastors, Redemption International Ministries

 

Rev. Kevin T. Shively, Rev. Keith Fair

Pastors, St. Matthew Lutheran Church

 

Rev. Grant Ambrose

Rector, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

Trump’s Profanity

Trump Bible St. Johns

20th-century German Catholic moral philosopher Josef Pieper has been the gift that keeps on giving for me this week as I try to make sense of everything going on. Today, I want to call your attention to Pieper’s 1969 essay “The Sacred and Desacralization.” It provides some theological guidance as we try to make sense of Donald Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church yesterday.

Pieper starts with a story:

Frankfurt, Germany; the end of May 1948. St. Paul’s Church has been restored, in the midst of a city which still lay in ruins, for the centennial celebration of the founding of the German National Assembly. The German Writers’ Association, which had just been founded, was also holding a little festivity inside the bright, mottled sandstone rotunda. People left the radiant morning behind them and strolled into the building, engaged in lively discussions and moderately curious. A number of them, quite unabashed, continued smoking until they had finished their cigarettes, or started to light another. But then they were told, “Please don’t smoke, we’re in church!” The man next to me looked up in surprise: How could this be considered a church? I agreed with him in the sense that the form of a building alone is not enough to make it a church. After a while my neighbor went on: “And even if it were a church, a real church, why, after all, should one not be allowed to smoke?…One year later in Berlin-Treptow, a district of East Berlin, once again people were instructed to obey the prohibition against smoking, this time when they entered the giant memorial park for the fallen solders of the Red Army…And a short time ago, in Israel–in a discreet but very firm tone–the same injunction was issued, in the restaurant at my hotel, when some Americans guests at a nearby table had finished their dinner and were taking out their cigarettes: “No smoking please!” “But why not?” This time the reason was not the place but the time. It was Friday evening and the Jewish Shabbat had begun.

Some of my evangelical friends might resist the lesson of this story. But though they may not smoke in church, they do indulge in other things during religious services. Most evangelicals do not have a very robust view of sacred space. As a result, they may not have much of a problem with what Trump did yesterday.

Pieper continues:

Clearly in none of these cases is the prohibition of smoking motivated by any practical consideration or obstacle, as it would be in auditorium or an operating room; nor is it motivated by any fear of the danger of fire…Nor does the prohibition imply any condemnation of smoking in general, any intimation that smoking is an activity in which it is really improper for people to engage. Instead it is clearly designed to call people’s attention to a boundary, to the border line separating a particular place or a particular, unusual span of time from all other, ordinary places and times, and to point out the contrast between them. The person who crosses the threshold into this “other” domain, is expected to behave in a way different from his normal behavior.

When Donald Trump used the property at St. John’s Church for his Bible-toting. violence-endorsing, race-baiting photo-op, he was engaging in profanity in the truest sense of the word. He was soiling a sacred space. I think there is a lesson here for all evangelical leaders who want to bring political speech–the language of the profane–into their churches

Pieper elaborates further:

The purpose of the rules is the expression of reverence and respect. Respect for what? It must be for something which demands and deserves homage and veneration. If the stranger then asks what is the exact nature of this thing which is worthy of veneration, probably the answers he would receive could not so easily be reduced to a single common denominator. In any case, he would inevitably be told that this thing was in some sense “holy” (or ought to be “holy”) to human beings…

Pieper reminds us that the word “sacred” in English means “set apart.” There are certain places that “stand out from that which is everywhere and all the time, and which thus possess a peculiar and exceptional worth.”

Here is Pieper on profanity:

The “profane” is the realm of the commonplace, of that which is not endowed with this [that of sacred space] exceptional character.  By no means is “profane” necessarily synonymous with “unholy,” although of course there is also such a thing as the expressly unholy, which at the same time constitutes something in the highest degree profane.

Pieper one more time:

And regardless of whether the members of a religious congregation regard themselves as parochia (from the Greek paroika), ” a group of strangers or sojourners” (whence our word “parish”, or whether they consider themselves the citizens of the coming Kingdom, they draw a boundary line between themselves and the normal, everyday way of life, as it is lived by the citizens of an ordinary community. They may celebrate their liturgy in a makeshift church in the suburbs; in the dancehall of a village where the Diaspora has driven them into exile; in a cathedral whose costly hall is filled with stained-glass windows symbolizing the Heavenly Jerusalem; or in a concentration camp where, for a few minutes, a living wall of bodies creates a makeshift sanctuary and screens it from the grip of executioners. All these places have one think in common: They stand out, by their poverty as much as their splendor and prodigality, from the dwelling places of everyday existence, from their death penury as well as from their deceitful luxury and comfort.

And nothing seems more natural to a man, when he is inside such an enclosure, than to behave “differently” than he behaves in other places such as a sports arena or a place of business. Naturally, in this sequestered place one continues to speak a human language, and yet it is “different” language–different in character, in intonation, in vocabularly in gesture.

When Donald Trump moved from the Rose Garden to St. John’s Church he was moving, at least in terms of the Christian faith (as opposed to, say, American civil religion), from a profane space to a sacred space. When he arrived, he committed an act of profanity at a sacred or holy place.

What Are the Court Evangelicals Saying Today?

Trump at St. Johns

Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church yesterday was an attempt to shore-up his white evangelical base. He probably lost some evangelical supporters as a result of his mishandling of the coronavirus. He needs them back. (He is heading to the John Paul II National Shrine today to shore-up the Catholic vote and apparently sign an executive order about international religious freedom).

Here is what the court evangelicals are saying about Trump’s speech yesterday and his visit to St. John’s Church. (I mentioned a few of these tweets in yesterday’s post):

Robert Jeffress went on Fox News to praise Trump for standing with historic St. John’s Church. For him, it was all about religious liberty and the protection of churches from violence. (The Episcopal bishop and the rector of the church have a very different view).  He did not mention Trump’s use of the Bible. Jeffress also revealed that his church, First Baptist–Dallas, was vandalized during the demonstrations over the weekend.

Franklin Graham, as expected:

Jack Graham won’t go there. But the day is still young:

Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Falkirk Center, a “Christian” think tank that was essentially designed to strengthen the white evangelical support for the hate-inducing and divisive Trump administration, tweeted:

It is hard to reconcile the Falkirk’s Center’s tweet with this. And Liberty University alumni know it.

Trump evangelical wonder-boy Charlie Kirk is having a meltdown:

Ralph Reed is trying to come-up with something positive to say about Trump:

ADDENDUM: If you have more court evangelical statements send them along and I will add them to the list here. One reader just sent me this tweet from Johnnie Moore:

 
Here is David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Trump’s Cowardice

Trump-thinking-900

Donald Trump likes to praise his allies for their courage and attack his enemies for their supposed lack of courage:

His allies also like to call him courageous:

Robert O’Brien, Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, once called the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic a “profile of courage.” His HUD Secretary, Ben Carson, said something similar.

Trump also likes to tweet quotes about courage:

Here is historian Heather Cox Richardson at her blog “Letters from an American“:

An A. P. story then offered a doozy of a paragraph: “As cities burned night after night and images of violence dominated television coverage, Trump’s advisers discussed the prospect of an Oval Office address in an attempt to ease tensions. The notion was quickly scrapped for lack of policy proposals and the president’s own seeming disinterest in delivering a message of unity.”

That Trump hid in the White House while he was urging others to violence captures his personality, but it undercuts his carefully crafted image as a man of courage. The leak of this story is itself astonishing: we should not know how a president is being protected, and that Trump is bullying to project an image of being a tough guy while he is actually hiding is a big story, especially since presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was out in the streets talking to protesters today. And to admit that Trump has no policy proposals and has no interest in delivering a message of unity…. Wow.

Read the entire piece here.

As those who follow this blog closely know, I have been reading Joseph Pieper, the 20th-century German moral philosopher. Here is a taste of his 1964 essay, “On the Christian Image of Man”:

The concept of “courage” does not equate with the notion of aggressive fearlessness at any price. There exists indeed a kind of fearlessness that is the direct opposite of courage.

Pieper goes on:

Fortitude, Augustine says in The City of God, is a testimony to the existence of evil–by which he means that fortitude is necessary because, in the world, evil is powerful, is even at times a superior force. In view of this, to be brave can be taken to mean that something must be risked whenever the obviously weak offers resistance to evil. And nobody who wishes to be a good human being, and who is unwilling to commit an injustice, can avoid this risk.

When Trump condemns the evil of the rioters, he is doing a good thing. But there is no risk involved. Everyone condemns looting and destruction. What he said and did yesterday in the Rose Garden and at St. John’s Church was not a courageous act. But condemning systemic racism and working to promote policies that might remedy this social problem would, for Trump, be a courageous act because it would alienate him from much of his political base. Trump, according to Pieper’s definition of courage, is not a “good human being.”

And this:

…we are more apt to perceive and honor the hero in the figure of conqueror than in one who merely suffers. And since fortitude means precisely to endure “wounds” incurred on behalf of justice (from loss or reputation or well-being to imprisonment or bodily harm), we are really looking, when we contemplate someone who has manifested this virtue, at the antithesis of the “conqueror.” Such a person does not vanquish, he sacrifices.”

Or this:

Thus fortitude is, according to its very nature, not the virtue of the stronger but instead that of the seemingly vanquished. Accordingly, it can almost be said that we are dealing with a falsehood in the prevailing notion of the “hero,” which veils and perverts the essential qualities of genuine fortitude. It should be remembered that in the eyes of the ancients the decisive criterion for fortitude consisted primarily in steadfastness and not in attacking.

Trump is the anti-hero. He is coward.

The History Behind the Insurrection Act of 1807

Burr Insurrection

Donald Trump said yesterday that he would use this act to take military action in U.S. cities for the purpose of quelling violence.  Here is the text of the act:

An Act authorizing the employment of the land and naval forces of the United States, in cases of insurrections

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in all cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws, either of the United States, or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia for the purpose of suppressing such insurrection, or of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ, for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval force of the United States, as shall be judged necessary, having first observed all the pre-requisites of the law in that respect.

APPROVED, March 3, 1807.

The act has been used several times in U.S. history, most recently by George H.W. Bush during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

The act was born out of president Thomas Jefferson’s concern that Aaron Burr was plotting an insurrection against the United States government. After his term as Vice-President had come to an end in early 1805, Burr headed to Ohio and started recruited frontier settlers with the goal of capturing New Orleans and the Spanish territory west of the Mississippi River for the purpose of creating a separate western country.

But the notorious General James Wilkinson, the governor of Louisiana Territory and a co-conspirator with Burr, eventually turned on the former Vice-President. In October 21, 1806 and October 26, 1806 letters, Wilkinson informed the president about the conspiracy. Somewhere around this time, Jefferson must have talked with or wrote to Secretary of State James Madison about the legality of using federal troops to stop Burr. On 30 October, 1806, Madison wrote to Jefferson to tell him that “it does not appear that regular Troops can be employed, under any legal provision agst. insurrections–but only agst. expeditions having foreign Countries for the object.”

On November 27, two days after he received Wilkinson’s October 21, 1806 letter, Jefferson issued a proclamation calling for Burr and the conspirators to turn themselves in. Since he did not believe he had the constitutional authority to use federal troops to stop Burr, he had to settle for a strongly-worded message.

Here is Jefferson’s  December 2, 1806 message to Congress:

Having recieved information that in another part of the US. a great number of private individuals, were combining together, arming & organising themselves contrary to law to carry on a military expedition against the territories of Spain I thought it necessary by proclamation, as well as by special orders, to take measures for preventing & suppressing this enterprize, for siezing the vessels, arms & other means provided for it, & for arresting & bringing to justice it’s authors & abettors. these measures are now in operation. it was due to the good faith which ought ever to be the rule of action in public as well as in private transactions, it was due to good order & regular govmt. that while the public force was acting strictly on the defensive, and merely to cover our citizens from aggression, the criminal attempts of private individuals to decide for their country the question of Peace or War, & by commencg active & unauthorised hostilities, should be promptly & effectually suppressed.

Jefferson’s opponents, the Federalists, mocked the proclamation and the message to Congress. Here is James Lewis, author of The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis:

The proclamation and the annual message quickly came under attack. After reading the proclamation, even some Republicans quietly suggested that “the People ought not to have been alarmed or more [energetic] measures taken.” Federalists openly denounced “proclamation-warfare” as an inadequate response to the western crisis. Rather than sending copies of the proclamation west with one express rider, the editor of New York’s People’s Friend argued, Jefferson “had better sent them by one thousand expresses,” with orders to deliver them from the mouths of their muskets.” Federalist concern that Jefferson would fail to take energetic action in time shaped a savage parody of a Republican defense of the annual message. Appearing in a number of Federalist newspapers in early January 1807, “A Speck of War: or, The Good Sense of the People of the Western Country” rooted Jefferson’s policies in his belief “THAT THE GREAT SECRET OF GOVERNMENT IS TO LET EVERYTHING TAKE ITS OWN COURSE.” The likely outcome the satirist suggested, was that Burr would seize New Orleans, fortify it, and make it the capital of a new western empire that would soon “be as strong as ourselves.”

Federalists reserved their greatest contempt for Jefferson’s suggestion that he could not arrest the organizers of a military enterprise against the United States….”It is a self evident truth,” a writer in the New-England Evening Post remarked, “that every nation is under a moral obligation to provide for its self preservation, and as a consequence, that it has a right to make use of all proper means necessary to that end.” Even without a specific law, Federalists insisted, the government had “the power & of course the means [for] preventing any insurrection or enterprize on the public peace or safety. In fact, Jefferson and most Republicans believed otherwise, rejecting the common-law view that the United States’s mere existence as a country sufficed to make some acts illegal. They argued, instead, that the Constitution granted only limited and specific powers to the federal government. It defined treason, for example, but did not make either conspiring to commit treason or preparing to commit treason a crime.

In the end, the Jefferson got his act of Congress, but it was really too late to use it in the Burr conspiracy.

On December 19, 1806, Jefferson enclosed a copy of a bill on insurrections in a letter to John Dawson. It read:

A Bill authorising the emploiment of the land or Naval forces of the US. in cases of insurrection.

Be it enacted &c.    that in all cases of insurrection & of obstruction to the laws of the US. or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the Presidt. of the US. to call forth militia to suppress such insurrection, or to cause the laws to be duly executed, it shall also be lawful for him to employ for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval forces of the US as shall be judged necessary, under the same restrictions & conditions as are by law provided & required on the emploiment of militia in the same case.

On January 22, 1807, Jefferson again updated Congress on attempts to capture Burr.

The insurrection bill became law on March 3, 1807, eleven days after Burr was arrested in Alabama on February 19.

Read more about the Burr Conspiracy here.

Tonight in the Rose Garden and at St. John’s Church, Trump Announced His 2020 Re-Election Strategy

Trump St. Johns

It’s hard to know where to start writing about what we all just witnessed earlier this evening.

Donald Trump was scheduled to speak in the Rose Garden at 6:30pm. Shortly before his speech, Attorney General Bill Barr came out to inspect the crowd. Then federal police used tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets to drive-out peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square Park, located across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

Trump’s speech was short. He said that he was an ally of all peaceful protesters. This is another Trump lie. I wrote about that here, but the act of driving these protesters out of the park today was a sign that he does not support peaceful protesters. More on this below.

His speech did not address the racial tensions in America that led to these protests. There was no empathy for the plight of African-Americans in the United States. Trump is incapable of this.

Trump rightly condemned the destruction of property and the outside rabble-rousers who, by all reports, are causing this damage. But rather than trying to bring the country together, he blamed state governors for the riots and destruction in major urban areas.  (He did the same thing on a call with governors this morning). At one point in the speech, Trump said that he wants “healing” not “hatred.” Please look in the mirror Mr. President. You are an agent of hate in this country. There is nothing you have done in your presidency thus far to bring any kind of national healing whatsoever.

When Trump said “America always wins,” he was not referring to a much-needed victory over the evil of racial injustice, but was rather referring to the use of military force and violence to stop the riots. This, for Trump, is the only way he understands a “win” for America. Trump plans to mobilize the U.S. Army in cities around the country through the use of the 1807 Insurrection Act (I will write more on this in another post) to “dominate the streets.” He also sent a dog-whistle to his base by referencing his protection of Second Amendment rights. Some will no doubt see this as the president telling them to take matters into their own hands.

When Trump talked about justice in this speech, he meant quelling the riots through force. He did mention justice for George Floyd, but these words have no meaning until his presidency reverses course on the issue of race. Trump must not only stop the race-baiting, but must support policies that will address systemic racism in America. I don’t see this happening because Trump does not understand the true meaning of justice.

I wrote about justice this morning, with the help of 20th-century German moral philosopher Joseph Pieper: “…the claim implicit in the principle of justice [is that we] must confirm the other person in his otherness and procure for him that which is due.” Justice starts with empathy and understanding, but Trump is a narcissist and he does not read.

Throughout the speech, Trump kept saying that he is a “law and order” president. This is another dog-whistle. Here is what I wrote about this phrase in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

For most Americans, “law and order” is associated with Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. According to historian Michael Flamm, “law and order was the most important domestic issue in the presidential election and arguably the decisive factor in Richard Nixon’s narrow triumph over Hubert Humphrey.” As might be expected, the need to bring law and order to American streets was a response to a significant rise in crime during the 1960s, particularly among African Americans and juveniles in American cities. The high crime rate among black men brought fear to white working-class Americans. Flamm notes that “by the late 1960s, white Americans overwhelmingly associated street crime with African Americans, who were more than seventeen times likely as white men to be arrested for robbery. The worst fears of white Americans materialized in the summer of 1967, when race riots broke out in Detroit and Newark. The violence continued in 1968 following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daly ordered his police officers to shoot looters on sight in the street. In Washington D.C. , race riots, led by black activist Stokely Carmichael, came within blocks of the White House, prompting President Lyndon Johnson to dispatch federal troops armed with machine guns to quell the violence. Later in the year, the Chicago police used tear gas to control protesters at the Democratic National Convention.

The Nixon campaign capitalized on the chaos. Nixon promised that, if elected, he would end the riots–using force if necessary. His campaign blamed the lack of law and order on the Democrats and portrayed his opponent, Hubert Humphrey, as weak on crime. Nixon consistently denied he used the phrase “law and order” to send a message to white voters who feared African American violence, but many of his conservative supporters clearly heard the message. Nixon walked a fine line on matters related to race. He was aware, from watching his independent opponent, George Wallace, that calling attention to racial difference worked very well in presidential campaign, especially in the South. Yet Nixon was not Wallace: he opposed segregation and supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Still, when he was not in front of the cameras, he was not reticent about his disdain for the “damn negroes.” He confided to his counsel, John Ehrlichman, that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs would not help African Americans because “blacks were genetically inferior to whites.” After filming a campaign advertisement calling for law and order in public schools, Nixon said to his aides, “Yet, this hits it right on the nose…it’s all about law and order and the damn Negro-Puerto Rican groups out there.

Like Nixon, Donald Trump claims that his use of the term “law and order” has nothing to do with race. Yet when he combines the phrase with a steady drumbeat of attention to “Muslim terrorists” or illegal Mexican immigrants that he claims were committing violent crimes, he is sending a message to his largely white working-class constituency that he hears, shares, and prioritizes their fears. Trump wants to restore law and order to America much like Nixon promised to do in the 1960s. Is this what he has in mind when he says he wants to make America great again?

After Trump’s speech, he walked out the front door of the White House to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church. It is known as the “Church of the Presidents” because every American president, beginning with James Madison, has attended the church (presidents sit in pew 54). During some of the protests on Sunday night (March 31) a fire started outside the church and spread into the basement of the parish house. It was extinguished quickly and there was no major damage. The words “The Devil is across the street” was sprayed on the church in graffiti and windows were smashed.

Trump walked to St. John’s for a photo-op. The church did not know he was coming and both the Episcopal bishop of Washington D.C. and the rector of the church have condemned the visit.

Trump stood before the church and held-up a Bible. When a reporter asked him if he was holding his Bible, Trump said it was “a Bible.” He then invited several members of his cabinet and staff to join him. (Interestingly enough, Mike Pence was not present).

And that is all he did. He stood there, held-up the Bible at a couple of different angles, and then left. He did not pray. He did not offer words of comfort or healing. He did not pray for the coronavirus victims. The message was clear. Trump’s law and order response–an approach with deep roots in racism and violence–is somehow informed by the Old and New Testament. (Once again, let’s remember that Trump’s favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye”). Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a U.S. president who has used a Bible–a material object representing the word of God–in this way.

Here a good rule of thumb. Whenever a public official uses the Bible to justify law and order during times of unrest, expect the worst. I think history offers some good lessons on this front, from politicians in the antebellum South to Nazi Germany. One should also be concerned when a president uses tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades to remove peaceful protesters in front of a church for the purpose of using this sacred space to fortify such a show of power.

What we witnessed today was the president using this moment of racial strife and social unrest to announce his November 2020 campaign strategy. He will present himself as a strongman who will protect fearful white people. In this sense, he is like the Savage in C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regressa Nietzschian warlord who tells Vertue that “If I am to live in a world of destruction let me be its agent and not its patient.” And he will justify all of this using the Bible–a direct appeal to his fearful white evangelical base who believe Trump is their divinely-appointed champion. It was all staged, not unlike a reality television show.

The court evangelicals, as expected, support what Trump did today. If you believe that America is a Christian nation and needs to be reclaimed as such, then anytime the president lifts a Bible, and especially if it is done at a historic church, it is a great thing.

Here is Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas:

Fox News has Robert Jeffress lined-up for an early morning appearance:

Expect Jeffress to talk about this.

Tony Perkins just retweeted:

Here is Marc Burns:

I am reminded of a quote I added to the Commonplace Book this morning:

All moral laws derive from one law: that of truth” [Goethe]…A person who is incapable of viewing things impartially, uninfluenced by the affirmations or negations of the will, a person who is incapable, for a time, of simply keeping silent and perceiving what is there, and then of converting what he has seen and learned into a decision, is incapable of achieving the good, or in other words is incapable of performing an ethical act in the full sense of the term.  —Joseph Pieper, “The Art of Making Right Decisions,” *Civitas* (1970) in The Weight of Belief: Essays on Faith in a Modern Age, 212.

For the sake of the country, Trump needs to keep silent and start “perceiving what is there.”

African-American Alumni of Liberty University: “Because of your callous rhetoric, we can no longer in good faith encourage students to attend our alma mater or accept athletic scholarships”

Last week Jerry Falwell Jr. designed his own blackface COVID-19 mask. Read about it here. One African-American professor has resigned.

Here was his tweet:

FalwellTweetMasks-796x1024

Falwell defended himself and refused to apologize. Last night he tweeted:

People have asked why I won’t apologize for reminding people of @vagovernor racist past in a recent tweet. It’s because that same Gov just ended tuition assistance grants for the 27% of @LibertyU online students who are African-American! Put your $ where your mouth is Gov. Sad.

And now, 35 African-American pastors, ministry leaders, and former athletes who graduated from Liberty University (I’ve linked to as many as possible below) have rebuked Falwell Jr. for his racism. Liberty University students, alumni, staff, and parents are encouraged to endorse the letter by adding their signatures.

Here is the letter:

Dear President Jerry Falwell Jr, 

We are all African-American Evangelical pastors, ministry leaders, and former athletes who are alumni of Liberty University, and we are grateful for our college experiences. These experiences have shaped us in deep and profound ways and have equipped us to engage our local context with the Gospel of Jesus, both thoughtfully and unashamedly. The school’s mission is to educate and train champions for Christ to impact the culture, and we believe the objective has been achieved for many years. While we rejoice in God’s grace in advancing this mission, we, however,  have been disappointed and deeply grieved by your incendiary rhetoric over the past several years. 

The latest example is your May 27 tweet of a face mask with an image of two people, one in a KKK robe and hood and one appearing in blackface. While your tweet may have been in-jest about Virginia’s Governor, it made light of our nation’s painful history of slavery and racism. It is what we’re called to reject as followers of Christ – “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place…” (Ephesians 5:4, ESV). The reckless nature of this tweet is a microcosm of the past several years of divisive rhetoric that does not display the kind of Christian witness that the Gospel demands of us, nor does it represent the Christlike leadership that Liberty University deserves. It has brought further disgrace to Jesus Christ and Liberty University.

For several years, you have said and defended inappropriate statements that represent Liberty and our faith very poorly. You have belittled staff, students and parents, you have defended inappropriate behaviors of politicians, encouraged violence, and disrespected people of other faiths. We were all taught at Liberty about the sanctity of life (Jeremiah 1:5) and the dignity of every human – made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and yet, you have repeatedly violated and misrepresented core Christian principles (Romans 12:9-21) through brash tweets and statements that harm our Christian witness. 

While students, professors, and alumni have urged you to alter your rhetoric and repent, sadly nothing has changed. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that Liberty University is a family-owned organization and you are the sole authority. The Board of Trustees has no power to influence your behavior or hold you accountable. So, the objective of this letter is to appeal to you and your spiritual conviction. 

We are writing to urge you to stop this infantile behavior and lead our alma mater with dignity as your father did. Jerry Falwell Sr was more focused on preparing the next generation to courageously engage the culture as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). He wasn’t perfect, but he was humble enough to confess ungracious and unbiblical comments, and apologize when he was wrong. The KKK robe and hood and blackface face mask tweet may seem funny to you, but this tweet is the action of a political commentator or activist and is not fitting nor acceptable for the leader of one of the largest Evangelical Christian schools in the world. A review of your social media and statements during your presidency would lead many to believe that you care much more about politics than Jesus Christ, Evangelism, and the discipleship of students. It has become obvious to many that your heart is in politics more than Christian academia or ministry, so we would encourage you to leave the position of school president and pursue politics full-time. 

Your statements hurt the ability of Liberty alumni to obtain jobs and have a voice in the culture. Having the school’s name on a resume can be a liability to many of our graduates. As much as you say that your statements and activism do not reflect the mission, values, faculty, staff, students and alumni of the Liberty University as a whole, this is a misguided position because everything you do and say is a reflection of Liberty University, whether you want it to be or not. You are the president of a Christian university with a platform of great influence and you have the unique responsibility to steward that role in a way that honors God first and foremost. 

Lastly, we leave you with this. Because of your callous rhetoric, we can no longer in good faith encourage students to attend our alma mater or accept athletic scholarships. There are many Christians of color who worship in our churches and communities; we will not recommend their attendance at L.U. as long as you continue the unChristlike rhetoric. We will no longer donate funds to the university. We will also actively encourage Christian leaders to decline the invitation to speak at Liberty if you continue to insist on making unChristlike and inappropriate statements that are misrepresentative of Biblical Christianity. 

In closing, we ask you to withdraw your racist tweet immediately and make a public apology. If you decide to stay at Liberty, this coalition stands ready to meet with you in order to provide counsel on ways for L.U. to best move forward in these racially-charged and divisive times. Liberty University deeply impacted us as students and we hope that you can return to a focus of training “young champions for Christ” with Biblical conviction and Christlike character and humility. Our ultimate goal is for Jesus to be glorified in all that we say and do. We pray that is your desire as well.

The letter is signed by:

Dr. Chris Williamson (Strong Tower Bible Church, TN), Class of ‘90 & ‘92

Pastor Eric Carroll (The Ascension Church RVA, VA), Class of ‘91

Eric Green (former NFL player, Liberty University Hall of Fame), Class of ’90

Pastor Eric Saunders (McLean Bible Church, VA), Class of ‘07

Walt Aikens (NFL player, football student-athlete), Class of ’14

Latasha Morrison (Founder, Be The Bridge), Class of ‘13

Minister Myles “Mac” Lawhorn (Epiphany Fellowship Church, PA), Class of ‘00

Obehi Idiake (Christian speaker, podcaster), Class of ‘14

Minister Maina Mwaura (author, speaker), Class of ‘97

Pastor Marcell Howard (Woodhaven Bible Church, MI) Class of ‘03 & ‘10

Lezlyn Parker (author, speaker), Class of ‘89

Richard Shelton (former NFL player, football student-athlete), Class of ’89

Khambrel “Kham” Rembert (Christian musician), Class of ‘17

Pastor Gavin Davis (McLean Bible Church, VA), Class of ‘06

Dorena McFarland Williamson (author, speaker), Class of ’91

Rev. Dr. Johnny Parker (author, speaker), graduate student ‘05

Dr. Joy Hervey (author, speaker), Class of ‘18

Johnny T. White (H.S. Coach, football student-athlete),Class of ‘93

Shomari Dixon (ministry leader), Class of ‘19

Wayne Haddix (former NFL player, football student-athlete), Class of ’88

Rev. Brian D. Woolfolk (First Mt. Zion Baptist Church, VA), Class of ‘92

Minister Tiffany Croom, Class of ‘13

Patrick Nelson (former NFL player), Class of ‘92

Shelton Lewis, (football student-athlete) Class of ’93

Carroll L. Ward (football student-athlete), Class of 90

Pastor James Hobson Jr.(Hill City Community Church, VA), Class of ‘11 & ‘17

Curtis Artis (Christian nonprofit leader), Class of ‘91

Keith Vinson (football student-athlete), Class of ’91

LaTasha Washington (Christian counselor), Class of ‘16

Allan Louder (Basketball Student-Athlete), Class of ’91

Dr. Andre Sims (Christ the King Bible Fellowship, WA), Class of ’88 & ’91

Pastor Jua Robinson (Charles River Baptist Church, MA), Class of ’04 & ’05

Joshua McMillion (Christian musician), Class of ‘17

Pastor Marion Mason (former LU Assistant Track Coach), Class of ‘06

Corey Rice (football student-athlete), Class of ‘93

 

YOU CAN SIGN IT HERE

Here is the Associated Press story.

Barack Obama Addresses the Killing of George Floyd and the Social Unrest it Has Precipitated

Peace Floyd

From Medium:

As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change.

Ultimately, it’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times. But I believe there are some basic lessons to draw from past efforts that are worth remembering.

First, the waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States. The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.

On the other hand, the small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause. I saw an elderly black woman being interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been trashed. If history is any guide, that store may take years to come back. So let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.

Second, I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

Moreover, it’s important for us to understand which levels of government have the biggest impact on our criminal justice system and police practices. When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government. And yes, we should be fighting to make sure that we have a president, a Congress, a U.S. Justice Department, and a federal judiciary that actually recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.

It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all elected positions. In some places, police review boards with the power to monitor police conduct are elected as well. Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.

So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.

Finally, the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away. The content of that reform agenda will be different for various communities. A big city may need one set of reforms; a rural community may need another. Some agencies will require wholesale rehabilitation; others should make minor improvements. Every law enforcement agency should have clear policies, including an independent body that conducts investigations of alleged misconduct. Tailoring reforms for each community will require local activists and organizations to do their research and educate fellow citizens in their community on what strategies work best.

But as a starting point, here’s a report and toolkit developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and based on the work of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing that I formed when I was in the White House. And if you’re interested in taking concrete action, we’ve also created a dedicated site at the Obama Foundation to aggregate and direct you to useful resources and organizations who’ve been fighting the good fight at the local and national levels for years.

I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.

Let’s get to work.

As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change.

Ultimately, it’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times. But I believe there are some basic lessons to draw from past efforts that are worth remembering.

First, the waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States. The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.

On the other hand, the small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause. I saw an elderly black woman being interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been trashed. If history is any guide, that store may take years to come back. So let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.

Second, I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobediencethat the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

Moreover, it’s important for us to understand which levels of government have the biggest impact on our criminal justice system and police practices. When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government. And yes, we should be fighting to make sure that we have a president, a Congress, a U.S. Justice Department, and a federal judiciary that actually recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.

It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all elected positions. In some places, police review boards with the power to monitor police conduct are elected as well. Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.

So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.

Finally, the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away. The content of that reform agenda will be different for various communities. A big city may need one set of reforms; a rural community may need another. Some agencies will require wholesale rehabilitation; others should make minor improvements. Every law enforcement agency should have clear policies, including an independent body that conducts investigations of alleged misconduct. Tailoring reforms for each community will require local activists and organizations to do their research and educate fellow citizens in their community on what strategies work best.

But as a starting point, here’s a report and toolkit developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and based on the work of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing that I formed when I was in the White House. And if you’re interested in taking concrete action, we’ve also created a dedicated site at the Obama Foundation to aggregate and direct you to useful resources and organizations who’ve been fighting the good fight at the local and national levels for years.

I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.

Let’s get to work.

What Do We Mean By “Rights” and “Justice”?

Rights

For the last few months, I have been thinking about rights. Protesters at state capitals do not want governors taking away their right to open their businesses during the pandemic. White evangelicals support Donald Trump because he is defending their right to worship and other forms of religious liberty. I recently watched the FX documentary AKA Jane Roe, which brought to light once again the claim that women have the “right” to their own bodies.

And now we are in the midst of racial conflict and social unrest in America. The Trump administration claims that they respect the rights of people to protest peacefully. Black Americans are in the streets demanding their rights as citizens and human beings after decades of white indifference to their concerns.

What are these rights? And how do they relate to justice?

Last night I read a 1973 essay by German moral philosopher Joseph Pieper. I have found his ideas useful in this day and age. Here is a taste of “The Rights of Others” (published in The Weight of Belief: Essays on Faith in the Modern Age:

First of all, when the ancients–naturally I do not mean this term in the sense of “the thinkers of the past,” but rather in the sense of “the great thinkers,” above all those who bore witness in our own tradition–speak about justice, they never think in terms of the man with rights, but rather in terms of the man with obligations. It is the concern of the just man, they say, to give others due rather than to obtain what is due to him. Thus to be cheated out of what is due oneself is an altogether different matter than to withhold, curtail, or take away from someone else what is due to him. In the dialogues of Plato Socrates repeats over and over: To be sure, this statement has been made many times, but it will not do any harm to say it once again: “He who commits an injustice is worse off than he who suffers injustice.”

To repeat my point once again, the ancient doctrine of justice is not primarily an exposition of the rights owed to people, which they can with all propriety demand. Instead it is the exposition and the validation of the obligation to respect rights. On the other hand, the primary focus of the later doctrine, with which we are more familiar–the doctrine of human rights–is not the man with obligations but the man with rights. Naturally this modern theory also involves the idea of obligation and of the person with obligations, just as, conversely, the ancient theory of justice clearly took into account the man with rights. Yet an unmistakable and characteristic shift in emphasis has taken place in modern times, and difficult though it may be to interpret this shift, it is important that we notice that it is there.

Some takeaways from the larger essay:

  1. When the great philosophers of the West–the men who inspired our founding fathers–spoke of rights, they were always referring, to quote Pieper, “exclusively to the ‘rights of the other person.'”
  2. There has always been a delicate balance in Western Civilization between “rights” and “obligations.” But for most of the history of the West, the idea of “obligations” was paramount.
  3. Thomas Jefferson was right when he said in the Declaration of Independence that our rights come from the Creator. Most Americans do not need to be convinced of this. But it is much more difficult to convince people, as Pieper notes, “that there are grounds for their obligations, and to reveal the inalienable nature of what is due others” (interesting use of the word “inalienable” here–isn’t it?).  Pieper adds: “Ultimately, man possesses inalienable rights because behind man there stands an authority who transcends all human debate, because, to state the matter more clearly, God created man as a person. This, and nothing else, is in the end the only valid ground for the unconditional nature of man’s obligation to exercise justice.”
  4. In the context of our current moment of racial strife, Pieper’s words are relevant: “…the claim implicit in the principle of justice [is that we] must confirm the other person in his otherness and procure for him that which is due….”
  5. Pieper’s ideas seem very compatible with the teachings of Jesus and the Christian faith. (He writes out of the Catholic tradition).

Commonplace Book #145

“All moral laws derive from one law: that of truth” [Goethe]…A person who is incapable of viewing things impartially, uninfluenced by the affirmations or negations of the will, a person who is incapable, for a time, of simply keeping silent and perceiving what is there, and then of converting what he has seen and learned into a decision, is incapable of achieving the good, or in other words is incapable of performing an ethical act in the full sense of the term.

Joseph Pieper, “The Art of Making Right Decisions,” *Civitas* (1970) in The Weight of Belief: Essays on Faith in a Modern Age, 212.

Ron Sider: It is the “Hour of Decision” for White Evangelicals

sider_horz

Ron Sider is one of the most prominent voices of the evangelical center-left. Here is what he wrote last night at his blog:

The video of a white policeman with his knee on the neck of a black man. As I told my wife, George Floyd could have been our African-American son-in-law.

But I did not think I had anything special to say. So many people like the African-American mayors of St. Paul and Atlanta and Senator Cory Booker, among many others, were saying so well what needed to be said.

But today as I participated in my church’s Sunday School (via zoom of course), I reflected on the painful statistics that were presented. African-American men are 21 times more likely than white men to be shot by the police. One national poll asked people if they thought that today in most cities, the police treat blacks as fairly as whites. 47% of white respondents said yes. Only 6% of blacks said they were treated as fairly as whites by the police. Another national poll asked if the local police treat minorities more harshly than whites. Only 19% of white people said yes. 54% of blacks said yes they are treated more harshly.

Month after month, year after year, there have been new stories of white people (the police and others) killing African-Americans. We all know that African-Americans continue to experience a wide range of disadvantages. Inner city, urban (largely minority) schools spend less money per capita and have education inferior to much better funded white suburban schools. One in every three African-American men go to prison but only one in 17 white men do. In the current COVID-19 epidemic, African-Americans have been dying at twice the rate of white folk. The average white family has 13 times as much wealth as the average black family – – a gap that was wider in 2015 than in 1983! Year after year, the black unemployment rate has been double that of the white unemployment rate.

We know – – we have known for years!– these and many other indicators of continuing structural racism. We all know that racism is America’s original sin – – a racism that has crushed African-Americans for 400 years.

But what began to churn in my mind – – and compel me to to write this blog–was my reflection on the failure of white evangelicals to deal with white racism. Indeed it’s much worse than that! White evangelicals have too often participated in, and even led, that racism.

It was white evangelical Christians in the South (helped by northerners) that passed the laws and organized the violence that effectively squelched the progress made by African-Americans in the first two decades after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. It was white evangelicals who led or tolerated thousands of lynchings for about 100 years. After the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision ending “separate but equal” school segregation, it was white evangelicals who organized segregated private “Christian” Academies so their white children would not have to go to school with black children.

When some courageous Jews and Mainline Protestants joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s great civil rights movement against racism, white evangelicals were at best overwhelmingly silent. When Frank Gaebelein, then coeditor of Christianity Today, moved from reporting on, to joining, Dr. King in one of his great civil rights marches, Gaebelein promptly experienced opposition and hostility from other white evangelical leaders. Jerry Falwell denounced Dr. King, condemning him for getting into politics instead of sticking to his proper role of evangelism. The seminary where I taught for 41 years was founded in 1925 as an evangelical alternative to theological liberalism. But the seminary refused to allow black male students to sleep overnight on campus and closed their swimming pool instead of integrating it. When the news of Dr. King’s assignation came to the white Los Angeles Baptist College where Dolphus Weary (one of John Perkins’ young black proteges) was studying, Weary discovered to his horror that the white students were celebrating! In 1989, George Gallup published a survey showing that white Southern Baptists were the most likely of all Christians to object to having black neighbors.

It’s true that many white evangelical institutions have made some progress in recent decades. There have been significant statements repenting of racism – – including one by the Southern Baptists.

But in 2016, a man ran for president making clear conscious appeals to white racists. He claimed –totally falsely–that President Obama had not been born in the US and was therefore not legitimately president. He did not reject support of his candidacy by white nationalists and even David Duke, the former head of the Klu Klux Klan. Paul Ryan, Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, publicly declared that one of Trump’s statements was a “textbook” case of racism. But in spite of these clear, blatant, racist appeals, 81% of white evangelicals voted for him. And longtime Republican leader, Peter Wehner shows in his book THE DEATH OF POLITICS, that a major factor in the 2016 vote of white male Christians for Trump was their anxiety about losing their cultural dominance in the society.

And now in the midst of this most recent tragedy of the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman, President Trump fails to try to unite the country as previous presidents – both Republican and Democrat – have done. Instead of speaking in ways to bring Americans together, he continues to stoke racism. Instead of helping us better understand the long history of racist discrimination that fuels the angry response to Floyd’s death, he makes partisan tweets. He denounced the “very weak radical left” Democratic mayor of Minneapolis. Trump said he would send in the National Guard and added in the tweet: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.“

This is the president white evangelicals have elected and continue to defend. There may or may not be some valid reasons for voting for Trump (that is the subject for other posts).

But unless white evangelicals rise up in large numbers to condemn Donald Trump’s racist, divisive response; unless the many prominent white evangelical leaders who vigorously support Trump’s presidency loudly and publicly condemn his failure to lead the nation away from racism; unless that happens, white evangelicalism loses whatever credibility it still retains.

This is white evangelicalism’s hour of decision. We must condemn Trump’s racist actions. We must repent of our long history of racism. We must throw ourselves into a decade-long peaceful struggle to end continuing structural racism in our schools, prisons indeed all areas of society.

If Billy Graham were still with us, he would call us to respond courageously in this hour of decision.

The Author’s Corner with Alexander Ames

Ames-CoverAlexander Ames is Collections Engagement Manager at The Rosenbach, a historic house museum and special collections library affiliated with the Free Library of Philadelphia. This interview is based on his new book, The Word in the Wilderness: Popular Piety and the Manuscript Arts in Early Pennsylvania (Penn State University Press, 2020). Learn more about The Word in the Wilderness, and listen to Cloister Talk: The Pennsylvania German Material Texts Podcast, at https://www.wordinwilderness.com/.

JF: What led you to write The Word in the Wilderness?

AA: The Word in the Wilderness began with the first substantial research paper I wrote after matriculating in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at the University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum in 2012. Shortly after arriving at Winterthur, I became fascinated by the various German-language illuminated devotional manuscripts with Pennsylvania provenance that dotted the walls and lined the hallways of the museum. While I soon learned that the documents, commonly called “Fraktur” in Pennsylvania, were well-loved and much-studied as a form of early-American folk art, I never felt quite satisfied with common explanations as to why early German-speakers in Pennsylvania engaged in the manuscript arts. Why deploy Frakturschrift calligraphy as a spiritual enterprise? What texts did scribes write on the artworks, and why? How were the documents actually used by readers? These questions gnawed at me. So, quite naturally, the project grew from a term paper into a master’s thesis, and then into a doctoral dissertation, carrying me from the archives of rural Pennsylvania to Switzerland, Germany, New England, and many other stops along the way.

The project soon focused on two closely-aligned tasks: situating Pennsylvania German devotional manuscripts within broader eighteenth-century German Pietist religious culture, and contextualizing the documents within the general manuscript-making practices of the period. Since beginning my career in special collections libraries, I have made good use of the opportunity to mine Philadelphia-area collections for even more books and documents that shed light on the manuscripts’ meaning. I have reveled in the opportunity to employ the interdisciplinary fields of book history and material culture studies as theoretical foundations for this work—and highlight intriguing artifacts of early American religious history along the way.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Word in the Wilderness?

AA: From approximately 1750 to 1850, the German-speaking residents of southeastern Pennsylvania wielded calligraphy and manuscript illumination as central tools for their Protestant faith practice. The fascinating, if at times seemingly inscrutable, visual and textual artifacts these people left behind allow us to trace the flowering of a rich Christian devotional world in early Pennsylvania, one in which individual believers exercised considerable agency over their spiritual and intellectual lives by means of reading and writing ritually ornamented holy texts.

JF: Why do we need to read The Word in the Wilderness?

AA: The Word in the Wilderness challenges all historians to consider that primary-source documents are not so much clear windows into past worlds as they are richly-textured canvases, on which historical actors inscribed the meaning they found in the world around them. This is an apt metaphor when studying Pennsylvania German illuminated devotional manuscripts, seeing as the documents were intentionally designed as visual artworks. But viewing all books, manuscripts, and other documents simultaneously as texts and material artifacts helps us rethink how the stories of the past come down to us in material form. I hope that my book will be of great interest to anyone who studies the religious, intellectual, and cultural history of early America, but it should also appeal to scholars who wish to explore the potency of material culture and book history as methods of historical analysis.

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

AA: I vividly remember the moment that I first visited a special collections library as a researcher. By the time I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, I had already decided on a career in libraries, but when visiting a local historical society to do some research for a speech I had been asked to give, I realized that I could pursue a career that simultaneously affirmed my passion for libraries and allowed me to immerse myself in my lifelong love of history. The “stuff” of history and the collecting work of cultural heritage institutions have always fascinated me, so I pursued graduate study in public history, material culture, museum studies, and American civilization.

Looking back at my childhood, it seems I was destined for a career in history, though it was far from a given at the time. I had a poster of Winston Churchill hanging above my bed at my family home, and it’s still there today, looming over piles of history books that haven’t accompanied my on my various moves and are probably in need of a good dusting. However, I feel very lucky to have landed on a way to forge a career in museums and libraries that allows me to indulge my passion for historical research.

JF: What is your next project?

AA: While writing The Word in the Wilderness, I did a fair amount of comparative research, unearthing religious and other manuscripts made in communities across the eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Atlantic World. Some examples of these documents appear in the book, but I have become convinced that a much more expansive story remains to be told about penmanship, calligraphy, and manuscript culture in the early modern period and beyond. In my next project, I hope to use The Word in the Wilderness as a starting point for a broader comparative study of manuscript culture in the Atlantic World.

JF: Thanks, Alexander!

Donald Trump Spoke to the Brother of George Floyd. Barack Obama Spoke to the Families of Sandy Hook

Obama

On Dec. 16, 2012, two days after the shootings at Newtown, President Obama met with victims’ families, including the siblings and cousins of Emilie Parker, one of the 20 children who died that day. PETE SOUZA / WIKIMEDIA

The difference between Obama and Trump hit me hard today.

Here is George Floyd’s brother Philonese Floyd’s phone conversation with Donald Trump. It starts at the 1:40 minute mark:

“Phew. It was so fast. He didn’t even give me the opportunity to even speak. It was hard. I was trying to talk to him but he just kept pushing me off like, ‘I don’t want to hear what you’re talking about.’ I just told him I want justice.”

Below is an account of Barack Obama’s face-to-face meetings with the families who lost their children during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. It comes from Joshua DuBois, the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships during Obama’s first term. It appears in DuBois’s The President’s Devotional:

I left early to help the advance team—the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event—set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.

The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry—so understandable that it barely needs to be said—and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is . . . and their child was . . . The second is . . . and their child was . . . We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

And the funny thing is–President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general. In face, he was nearly silent on Air Force Once as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself–never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

Almost anyone could have done what Trump did. He is like “Mr. Neo-Angular” in C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, the “pale” steward (clergyman) who tells the traveler John: “I am not kind at all…I am doing my duty. My ethics are based on dogma, not on feeling.” And, the more I think of it, I am not even sure Trump reaches the ethical standard of Mr. Neo-Angular. I am probably giving the president too much credit.

What Obama did at Sandy Hook required something much deeper. It required courage, empathy, and love. On that day, the president was an agent of God.