Evangelical Support for Trump in Rural Wisconsin

Forest County\

Wisconsin is a big swing state.  Trump needs to win it in 2020.

Today I was chatting about Trump with fifteen Dutch college students visiting Messiah College during their January term.  One of them asked me if I thought Trump might win again in 2020.  I told him that anything is possible because the country is so evenly divided right now.  In this day and age, American elections revolve around small slices of voters living in swing states.  This means that places like rural Forest County, Wisconsin are important.

Chris McGreal, a reporter at The Guardian, spent some time with evangelicals in this Wisconsin county–a county that went for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Pastor Franz Gerber is worried that so many members of his congregation appear to idolise Donald Trump more than they worship Jesus.

The preacher at the Praise Chapel Community church was among those who voted for Trump in rural Forest county, Wisconsin, which swung heavily from Barack Obama to the Republican in 2016 and so helped deliver a state that put the president in the White House.

Gerber now has some regrets about his vote but what really disturbs him is an unquestioning and even aggressive adulation for Trump within his flock.

“It seems like there are many evangelical Christians that are willing to die on the hill of supporting the Republican president, supporting Donald J Trump. And to me, that hill is not worth dying on. No matter who the candidate is, no matter who the individual is,” he said. “To put all your hope into that individual is a dangerous road. Scripture would warn us against that.”

Gerber’s concern reflects a deepening political polarisation within sprawling Forest county, home to about 9,000 people and two Native American reservations across about 1,000 square miles, where friendships are strained over Trump and more than a few people shy from talking politics.

Read the rest here.

Sadly, pastor Gerber may not have a chance.  His influence over his congregation pales in comparison to the influence that Fox News and other conservative media have over his congregation.

Trump Must Win Wisconsin Evangelicals in 2020

Wissy

In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by 23,000 votes. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, white evangelicals make-up 17% of the state’s population.  Trump needs to win these evangelicals in order to win the state again.

Jess Bidgood of the Boston Globe talked to Wisconsin evangelicals.  Here is a taste of her piece “Trump’s evangelical support mystifies his critics, but in Wisconsin, it looks stronger than ever.”

Here is a taste of her piece:

NEW LONDON, Wis.—After it was clear that neither of her preferred candidates, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, was going to be elected president in 2016, Linda Behm prayed.

Behm is an evangelical Christian and keeps a calendar filled with volunteer shifts at a thrift store and a food pantry in this small community an hour away from Green Bay. She wasn’t sure about supporting Donald J. Trump, the New York business magnate with a penchant for insults and crude behavior. But after asking God whether she should back him or Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election, she decided Trump was the lesser of two evils.

These days, Behm, 69, finds the president to be coarse and exasperating, especially his tweets — and she took issue with his summertime missive urging four Democratic congresswoman of color to “go back” to other countries.

“We should be treating them like Christ should treat them,” Behm said. “Trump has to figure that out.”

But still, she feels better than ever about her decision to vote for the president, because she thinks he has delivered on the two issues she cares most about: curtailing abortion rights and protecting Israel. Behm expects to vote for Trump again in 2020.

“He’s our only choice,” she said.

In 2016, Trump’s alliance with white evangelical voters was obvious — 80 percent of white, self-identified born-again or evangelical Christians supported him, according to exit polls — but, for some of those voters, it was also uneasy. The president’s personal behavior and some of his core political beliefs, including his hostility toward refugees, seem at odds with the major moral tenets of Christianity. What’s more, many of his evangelical supporters weren’t exactly sure what they were getting from a nominee who was neither deeply religious nor a lifelong Republican and who described himself some years ago as “very pro-choice.”

Read the rest here.

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Saves 7 Liberal Arts Programs, History is Not One of Them

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Back in March we covered the goings-on at the University of Wisconsin Stevens-Point.  See our coverage here and here.  At that time the university proposed cuts to the following programs: American Studies, Art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Spanish.

Eight months later, it looks like seven of these departments avoided the chopping block.  History was not one of them.  Read all about it here.  A taste:

As for the history department, it has seen a 48-percent drop in the number of majors over the past five years, from 146 to 76 students, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The department remains on the list of cuts to help meet budget reductions, said Lee L. Willis, a history professor and department chair.

The history department has 14 full-time faculty members, including 11 who are tenured. The department will most likely be reduced to 10 faculty members, and at least one tenured professor will be let go, he said.

The changes are ultimately a response to the evolving demands of career-oriented students, Summers said.

“Our students are laser-focused on the cost of higher education and the return they’re going to get on their investment,” he said. “They’re looking for careers with multiple pathways and the skills they know they need to succeed in those careers.”

Read the entire piece here.

Of course I don’t know the details of what is going on at Stevens Point, but I have a few comments/questions:

  1.  If I am reading this correctly, it looks like American studies, sociology, political science, English, philosophy, and music literature survived the cuts, but not history.  Why?  Was this merely an issue of numbers (of majors)?  I would love to hear from a member of the history department.  (You have an open invitation to explain what happened at this blog).
  2.  I am saddened that Stevens Point is dropping history, but I am not surprised.  Universities now operate on a completely business-oriented model in which students are consumers.  Universities no longer give students what they need to contribute to a healthy democracy.  Instead, they provide students with professional skills to contribute to American capitalism with minimal commitment to the development of citizens.  While we certainly need people with professional skills, we also need educated women and men who can contribute to our democratic life together.  And we need them more than ever in the age of Trump.
  3. What will all of this mean for liberal arts colleges or colleges with distinct missions to prepare students for life in church and society? How long before these kinds of colleges start dropping humanities programs?

UW-Stevens Point Students Will Protest Cuts to the Liberal Arts

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We have covered this story here.  Chris Gehrz wrote about it much greater detail here.

It looks the students at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point will be staging a sit-in to protest the university’s decision to cut the following majors:  American studies, art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music literature, Philosophy, Political science, Sociology, Spanish.

The Way of Improvement Leads Home reader Catherine Martin writes:

My son is a student at UWSP and is participating in this demonstration. The university also proposed something similar three or four years ago when my daughter was a student there. The students were up in arms at that time as well and the university system backed down at that time. We’ll see what they do this time.

Catherine also shared this article from Stevens Point Journal.  A taste:

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students intend to stage a sit-in of the campus administration building on Wednesday to protest proposed changes to academic programs.

The demonstration, called Save Our Majors, will take place from 1 to 5 p.m.. Participants will gather at the sundial at 12:30 p.m. and then march to Old Main at 1 p.m. to conduct a sit-in for 13 minutes, a minute for each major that is up elimination under a university proposal. 

The student-led and -organized protest is in support of the 13 humanities and social science majors that the university is considering cutting in its proposal.

Outcry from the campus community and surrounding areas continues after UW-Stevens Point unveiled a proposal in early March to eliminate 13 liberal arts degree majors, including English, history and political science. The cuts of 13 majors and the additions or expansions of 16 majors are part of university efforts to deal with a projected deficit of $4.5 million through two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues.

After the sit-in, students will deliver a list of demands and requests to the university and then march back to the sundial, said Valerie Landowski, a 2014 political science and international studies alumna of UW-Stevens Point.

Read the entire piece here.

What is Going on at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point?

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First it was the University of Wisconsin-Superior, now it is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

UW-Stevens Point is expanding its programs in Chemical Engineering, Computer Information Systems, Conservation Law Enforcement, Finance, Fire Science, Graphic Design, Management, Aquaculture, Captive Wildlife, Ecosystem Design, Environmental Engineering, Geographic Information Science, Business Administration, Natural Resources, and Physical Therapy

They are discontinuing their programs in American Studies, Art, English, French, Geography, Geoscience, German, History, Music Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, and Spanish.

Read all about it here.

Let’s just call UW-Stevens Point a professional school.  It is no longer a university or a college.

I concur with philosopher James K.A. Smith’s Twitter warning:

Jamie: It’s already happening.

What is Going on at the University of Wisconsin-Superior?

This decree from the administration of the University of Wisconsin-Superior has been making the rounds today:

Superior 2

Superior

How can you claim to be a college without programs in Math, History, Economics, Chemistry, Social Science, Politics, Sociology, and Visual Arts?  Is the University of Wisconsin-Superior now appears to be little more than a professional school.

"Does Scott Walker Speak in Tongues?" Follow-Up

Some of you have been following this story every since I posted about it last week.  Since then Jud Lounsbury, the author of the two stories about Walker and tongues-speaking at The Progressive, has joined the discussion in the comments section of the post.  So has Dave, a former member of Elmbrook Church and someone whose theological sensibility on these matters I respect.  Dave has sniffed out some of the problems with the Lounsbury stories.  Here is his comment:

I’m kind of late to the conversation, but since I was a member of Elmbrook for several years, and have maintained several friendships despite moving away, I was very surprised by what I read here. Speaking in tongues was not a practice at Elmbrook, nor at any of its sister churches when we we there. I believe Mr. Lounsbury has some unfortunate wires crossed here. There are two Meadowbrook churches in Wisconsin, and they both have websites. The one in Wauwatosa (a suburb of Milwaukee) has a website that can be found at http://www.mbctosa.org. The website for the church in Green Bay can be found at http://www.themeadowbrookchurch.com. Mr. Lounsbury weaves back and forth in quoting the Milwaukee Journal article and the church website, so it’s hard in this comment to isolate them, but all the doctrinal statements that are backed up by expired links in the article match quite well with the doctrinal statements on the website of the Green Bay church. If that is the church Governor Walker goes to, then Mr. Lounsbury has a point. But if Walker goes to the church in Wauwatosa, then I would say that the statements about that church’s beliefs and practices are not accurate (specifically the roles of women, and speaking in tongues).

I should add here that Walker attends the Wauwatosa church.

How Far Should We Go With the Separation of Church and State?

Elmwood Church

A few weeks ago I did a post and an episode of the Virtual Office Hours on the controversy over whether or not the Ground Zero Cross should be displayed at a publicly funded museum devoted to the tragic events of 9-11.  In those pieces I argued that this was not a church-state issue, but a public history issue.  If the cross gave meaning to the people of New York and the nation in the wake of the attacks, then it had historical significance and thus belonged in the museum.  A federal court agreed.

In yesterday’s Washington Times, Robert George, a law and politics professor at Princeton (currently in residence at Harvard), told the story of another church-state case that has found its way to the federal courts.  Today the Supreme Court will decide whether to a hear a case on the “constitutionality of holding a high school graduation in a church auditorium.”  Secular groups do not want the Elmbrook, Wisconsin  School District to hold its graduation ceremony in a local megachurch because to do so would “cause students to believe that the district was endorsing Christianity.” The 7th U.S. District Court of Appeals agreed with them.

As George informs us, the Elmbrook School District chose the church auditorium because it was the best, most affordable place in town to hold a graduation ceremony.  It has a bigger space than the school gym, has more parking, has more seating, and has air conditioning. As far as I can tell, the religious character of the building had nothing to do with the decision.

The church in question is Elmbrook Church, a non-denominational evangelical megachurch located in the Milwaukee suburbs.  Some of my older evangelical readers will recall that the long-time pastor of this church was popular Christian writer and speaker Stuart Briscoe.  (Others may be familiar with his wife, Jill Briscoe). I think I am safe in saying that Elmbrook Church was a megachurch before megachurches were popular.  It has been a flagship congregation on the American evangelical landscape.

Megachurches like Elmbrook Church are known for massive auditoriums, gymnasiums, spaces for post-service sociability and fellowship, audio-visual technology, and excellent sound systems.  In many communities the megachurch has better facilities than any other building in town.  Some megachurches do not even contain religious imagery because their leaders want to be sensitive to newcomers and those who are uncomfortable at more traditional churches filled with crosses, icons, altars, and stained glass windows. Many megachurches rent their facilities for weddings, basketball practices, and conferences.  (My daughter’s 6th grade public school basketball team occasionally practices in one).

Here are two of the spaces in the Elmbrook Church:

Why can’t the evangelical propensity for building large spaces make a contribution to the common good in towns like Elmbrook, Wisconsin?  When does a multipurpose space become a religious space?  When does a religious space become a multipurpose space?

Robert George gets the last word:

…Faced with expensive lawsuits over their graduation venues, most school districts simply will capitulate moving graduation to worse or more expensive venues and harming students and school budgets. One school district in Wisconsin already has been forced to do just that: It moved its graduation ceremony from the Elmbrook church auditorium to a cavernous, 42,000-seat baseball stadium at triple the price of the church.

All of this calls for a deep breath and a dose of common sense. The Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution permits the government to be neutral toward religion meaning that the government can treat religious entities on the same terms as nonreligious entities. That was just what the school district did here: It examined all available venues and chose the best facility for the price. The fact that the best facility happened to be a church did not make a neutral, common-sense decision unconstitutional.

Any other result would require the government to be overtly hostile to religion. No longer could school districts compare religious and nonreligious venues on equal terms and choose the best venue for the price. Instead, they would have to avoid religious venues, even when doing so harms students and school budgets. The Constitution does not require such a counterintuitive result.

…Let’s hope the Supreme Court takes the Elmbrook case and spares us and our school districts and students unnecessary expenses.