Out of the Zoo: Holidays Make Us Historians

candy cane lane

The beginning of the Christmas season in my hometown (Kalamazoo) is marked by the appearance of “Candy Cane Lane” in Bronson Park.

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie writes about the upcoming Christmas season. –JF

It seems as if the Christmas Season is in full swing. While I (shamelessly) started listening to Christmas music and watching Hallmark movies on November first, on the day after Thanksgiving the entire world seems to turn shades of red and green. Michael Bublé comes out of hiding and sings out on radio broadcasts, coffee shops and supermarkets alike play festive tunes for their customers. Netted fir trees strapped atop SUVs become a regular appearance on highways, supplemented by the occasional Amazon or UPS truck packed to the brim with black Friday orders. Every year after Thanksgiving my family ventures into our dusty attic to retrieve our Christmas decorations; we pull out our snowy Disney Princess village, our singing Christmas clock, and our many, many farm-themed ornaments for the tree. 

I traveled back to Messiah on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and was welcomed by a campus decked out for the Christmas season. After a long nine hour drive from Michigan I was greeted by house-mates Chloe and Amy, hard at work assembling a faux Christmas tree in our living room and stringing lights outside. I’m sure first-year dorms are busy at work decorating for Messiah’s annual “Deck the Halls” competition.

The Christmas season is pretty special on a Christian college campus. Once December hits Messiah’s worship teams dust off the Christmas songs in their repertoire and play them at chapel and other services on campus. Murray Library hosts a Christmas tea and crafting event for students each year, serving homemade scones and striped candy canes. Students flock to Lottie-Nelson Dining Hall for Christmas dinner the week before exams to stuff themselves with comfort food and seasonal desserts. Teachers tell students about their Christmas plans and share their favorite holiday traditions.

I love the Christmas season. I adore the lights, the food, all the time with family and friends; but one of my favorite things about Christmas is that it has deep roots in history. The task of the historian is to remember the past and to recreate it in the present; when we celebrate Christmas that’s exactly what we’re doing. As a Christian I believe that Christ’s miraculous birth was a real event that happened about two thousand years ago, a real event from the past that should be brought to life in the present for the world to see. When we sing Christmas songs, set up our nativities or light our advent candles, we do just that; we resurrect Christ’s story and remember that our God is not just the God of heaven, but He’s also God on earth, God with us, Emmanuel.

Christmas isn’t the only holiday with deep roots in history. All holidays have historical beginnings–even if they’re often entangled with myth, distorted by exaggerations, or littered with omissions along the way. Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and Easter, for example are all meant, in one way or another, to remember and celebrate an event that happened in the past and shape the meaning it retains in the present. When the holiday season comes around, we are all historians, in a sense. We remember, resurrect, and make meaning out of things that happened. Then, as historians, it is up to us to sort fact from fiction, reality from myth. We examine the events and the meanings that they hold all wrapped up in bows and lights and “Christmas magic.” Instead of getting caught up in all the glamour, we seek out what really happened.

Four Scholars Will Testify Before the House Judiciary Committee in Tomorrow’s Impeachment Hearing

Turley

Jonathan Turley will be testifying tomorrow before  the House Judiciary Committee

Tomorrow the Judiciary Committee will hear from four witnesses, all constitutional scholars.  They are:

Noah Feldman of Harvard University.  He is also a Bloomberg News columnist and the author of a biography of James Madison.

Pamela Karlan of Stanford University.  She was the U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Voting Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division during the Obama presidency.

Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina.  He is on record saying that the impeachment inquiry is “fully legitimate.” Gerhardt is Scholar in Residence at the National Constitution Center.

Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.  He is a prolific blogger.  He is probably the most familiar face among the four law professors testifying because he is often on television news programs.

Three of these witnesses were selected by Democrats, and one by Republicans.  Based on what I know about Turley, I am guessing that he was chosen by the Republicans.

This should be fun, but why won’t any historians be testifying?

Impeachment Report: The Executive Summary

Congress

Read the entire impeachment report here.

The “Executive Summary”:

The impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, uncovered a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election. As described in this executive summary and the report that follows, President Trump’s scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign. The President demanded that the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, publicly announce investigations into a political rival that he apparently feared the most, former Vice President Joe Biden, and into a discredited theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election. To compel the Ukrainian President to do his political bidding, President Trump conditioned two official acts on the public announcement of the investigations: a coveted White House visit and critical U.S. military assistance Ukraine needed to fight its Russian adversary.

During a July 25, 2019, call between President Trump and President Zelensky, President Zelensky expressed gratitude for U.S. military assistance. President Trump immediately responded by asking President Zelensky to “do us a favor though” and openly pressed for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden and the 2016 conspiracy theory. In turn, President Zelensky assured President Trump that he would pursue the investigation and reiterated his interest in the White House meeting. Although President Trump’s scheme intentionally bypassed many career personnel, it was undertaken with  the knowledge and approval of senior Administration officials, including the President’s  Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of  Energy Rick Perry. In fact, at a press conference weeks after public revelations about the  scheme, Mr. Mulvaney publicly acknowledged that the President directly tied the hold on military aid to his desire to get Ukraine to conduct a political investigation, telling Americans to “get over it.

President Trump and his senior officials may see nothing wrong with using the power of the Office of the President to pressure a foreign country to help the President’s reelection campaign. Indeed, President Trump continues to encourage Ukraine and other foreign countries to engage in the same kind of election interference today. However, the Founding Fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment. Accordingly, as part of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in coordination with the Committees on Oversight and Reform and Foreign Affairs, were compelled to undertake a serious, sober, and expeditious investigation into whether the President’s misconduct warrants that remedy.

In response, President Trump engaged in an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry. Nevertheless, due in large measure to patriotic and courageous public servants who provided the Committees with direct evidence of the President’s actions, the Committees uncovered significant misconduct on the part of the President of the United States. As required under House Resolution 660, the Intelligence  Committee, in consultation with the Committees on Oversight and Reform and Foreign Affairs, has prepared this report to detail the evidence uncovered to date, which will now be transmitted to the Judiciary Committee for its consideration.

American History Finds Its Way Into the Impeachment Report

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 Alexander Hamilton

Read it the entire impeachment report here. A taste (in bold):

The Framers of the Constitution well understood that an individual could one day occupy the Office of the President who would place his personal or political interests above those of the nation. Having just won hard-fought independence from a King with unbridled authority, they were attuned to the dangers of an executive who lacked fealty to the law and the Constitution. 

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 75:

But a man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of chief magistrate, possessed of a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand. An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents. 

In response, the Framers adopted a tool used by the British Parliament for several hundred years to constrain the Crown—the power of impeachment. Unlike in Britain, where impeachment was typically reserved for inferior officers but not the King himself, impeachment in our untested democracy was specifically intended to serve as the ultimate form of accountability for a duly-elected President. Rather than a mechanism to overturn an election, impeachment was explicitly contemplated as a remedy of last resort for a president who fails to faithfully execute his oath of office “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Accordingly, the Constitution confers the power to impeach the president on Congress, stating that the president shall be removed from office upon conviction for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” While the Constitutional standard for removal from office is justly a high one, it is nonetheless an essential check and balance on the authority of the occupant of the Office of the President, particularly when that occupant represents a continuing threat to our fundamental democratic norms, values, and laws.

Alexander Hamilton explained that impeachment was not designed to cover only criminal violations, but also crimes against the American people. “The subjects of its jurisdiction,” Hamilton wrote, “are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

This comes from Federalist 65.  Read it here.

Similarly, future Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention, distinguished impeachable offenses from those that reside “within the sphere of ordinary jurisprudence.” As he noted, “impeachments are confined to political characters, to political crimes and misdemeanors, and to political punishments.”

This paragraph comes from James Wilson‘s “Lectures on Law.”

Wilson James

James Wilson

 

Trump’s Narcissism

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Trump’s narcissism is unlike others.   Northwestern University psychology professor Dan McAdams explains in The Atlantic:

Trump’s biggest fans have a parasocial bond with an icon—whereas his advisers and staff must work through a real-life social bond with a difficult human being. Trump’s biggest fans believe that they have an up-close-and-personal relationship with Trump—but they never actually see the man up close.

Other charismatic presidents, such as Ronald Reagan and Obama, probably established parasocial bonds with their supporters, too. The relationship between Trump fans and Trump may be more resilient, however, because of the peculiar nature of the president’s narcissism.

Generally speaking, politicians work hard to present themselves to the American people as regular human beings whose emotional lives and personal stories may resonate with their fellow citizens. Trump is strangely different, and he revels in that. He is a stable genius who admits to no faults. He has no inner doubts. He has never made a mistake. He has never failed. As one of the countless examples of Trump setting himself apart from every other human being on the planet, consider this statement he made on The Tonight Show in 2015: “I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.”

The fact that Trump will not admit to error sets him apart from most narcissists. Research shows that highly narcissistic people often create heroic stories of their own lives wherein they have triumphed over their limitations and failures, against all odds, to become the awesome people that they believe they are. Trump has never talked about himself in that way, even when urged to do so. Instead, he suggests that he has always been perfect, like the flawless image of Narcissus in the pool.

“I am the chosen one,” Trump told reporters in August, in response to questions about obtaining a trade deal with China. In claiming this almost superhuman status, Trump may somewhat inoculate himself against critical press. His supporters adore him as something like a larger-than-life force, a beautiful persona reflected in the pool. Should they encounter new negative information about the president, they may judge it against the “evidence” of their acquaintance with the president’s persona—and discount it. The contrast is simply too great between what the “fake news” claims, and the infallible presence onscreen.

The president’s raging narcissism has created chaos in the White House, and it has driven away scores of advisers, staff members, and others who had hoped to serve productively in his administration. As is usually the case with narcissists, Trump has worn out his welcome. He has disappointed and alienated many of the people with whom he has worked closely, as narcissists eventually do.

But Trump’s unusual brand of narcissism has simultaneously worked to solidify his loyal base of support in the American public at large. Those who admire him from afar may enjoy an extraordinarily durable parasocial relationship with a reflected persona that is deeply familiar to them. They know in their heart who Donald Trump is. They continue to admire his wonderful and unchanging essence, beautiful like the boy in the pool, even if they know very little about what it is like to encounter Donald Trump as a real human being.   

Read the entire piece here.

What It’s Like to Talk With Pro-Trump Evangelical Family Members

Court

A gathering of court evangelicals

Check out Alex Morris’s Rolling Stone essay “False Idol–Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump.”  Morris talked to a lot of the right people, including commentators Greg Thornbury, Randall Balmer, Peter Montgomery, Charles Marsh, and Diana Butler Bass and court evangelicals Robert Jeffress and Eric Metaxas.

The most telling part of her piece is her description of a conversation with her pro-Trump evangelical mother.  Here is a taste:

In a dimly lit room, with a bottle of red wine, my mom, my aunt, and I pull our chairs close. I explain that I’m taping our conversation, that I love and respect them, and that I want to discuss why my Christianity has led me away from Trump and theirs has led them to him.

For a while, we just hit the typical talking points. There’s some discussion of Trump being a baby Christian, some assertions that the lewd behavior of his past is behind him, that in office he would never actually conduct himself as Bill Clinton had. But when I really double down, my mom and aunt will admit that there are flaws in his character. Though not that those flaws should be disqualifying.

“I don’t think he’s godly, Alex,” my aunt tells me. “I just think he stands up for Christians. Trump’s a fighter. He’s done more for the Christian right than Reagan or Bush. I’m just so thankful we’ve got somebody that’s saying Christians have rights too.”

But what about the rights and needs of others, I wonder. “Do you understand why someone could be called by their faith to vote against a party that separates families?”

“That’s a big sounding board, but I don’t think that is the issue,” says my mom.

“But it’s happening, and I’m not OK with it.”

My mom shakes her head. “No one’s OK with it.”

“If that’s your heart, then vote your heart,” says my aunt. “But with the abortion issue and the gay-rights issue, Trump’s on biblical ground with his views. I appreciate that about him.”

“As Christians, do you feel like you’re under attack in this country?” I ask.

“Yes,” my mom says adamantly.

“When did you start feeling that way?”

“The day that Obama put the rainbow colors in the White House was a sad day for America,” my aunt replies. “That was a slap in God’s face. Abortion was a slap in his face, and here we’ve killed 60 million babies since 1973. I believe we’re going to be judged. I believe we are being judged.”

Read the entire piece here.  Morris’s conversation with her family is almost identical to some of my conversations with Trump supporters over the past several years.

More on the Liberty University’s Falkirk Center and How It Will Approach American History

Here is Charlie Kirk and Jerry Falwell Jr. on One News:

So it looks like the Falkirk Center:

  • Will attack the work of outstanding public school history teachers, the kinds of teachers I have worked with over the years through my relationship with the Gilder-Lehrman Institute and elsewhere.
  • Will attack teachers unions.
  • Will oppose an approach to American history as taught, to quote Falwell “as some sinister, you know bourgeois, white man, taking advantage of everybody else.”  (Yes, that is an exact quote). Falwell claims that this view of history is “totally opposite of what happened.”
  • Will be a center to promote Christian nationalism, the “intersection” of the Gospel with the American founding.
  • Is a culture war institution, not an educational institution.
  • Will apparently be teaching students that Alexis de Tocqueville visisted America “in the 1700s” (Toqueville visited America in 1831).

See our previous posts on the Falkirk Center here and here.

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.

Eric Metaxas Doubles-Down on His Belief That Those Who Oppose Trump are “Demonic”

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks with moderator Eric Metaxas at the National Religious Broadcasters Annual Convention at Oryland in Nashville

Last week on the Eric Metaxas Show, Franklin Graham said that the efforts to impeach Donald Trump were “almost a demonic power.”  Metaxas, the conservative pundit and court evangelical, responded with these words: ” I would disagree, it’s not almost demonic.  You know and I know that at the heart it’s a spiritual battle.”  When conservative writer Peter Wehner challenged Metaxas in a piece at The Atlantic, Metaxas said that Wehner’s piece was “PREPOSTEROUS.”  Get up to speed here.

If you have the time, listen to Metaxas yesterday on his radio show.  In an interview with conservative writer John Zmirak, Metaxas complained that Wehner and others misunderstood him.  He says:  “[Franklin Graham] did not say that everyone who opposes this president is demonic, he didn’t say anyone who opposed this president is demon-possessed–he said the opposition to this president is almost demonic.  In other words, there is a spirit that is so angry, it’s like people have given themselves permission to hate….”

I am not sure how Metaxas is saying anything different here. How can opposition to the president take place without people?  If the opposition is demonic, then the people promoting the opposition must also be under demonic influences. I am not sure what kind of semantic word-game Metaxas is trying to play here.  Perhaps I am one of the people Metaxas describes in this interview as “theologically ignorant.”  Maybe those two theological degrees from an evangelical seminary, including a course on spiritual warfare called “Power Encounters,” were all for naught.

In fact, by the end of the interview Metaxas doubles down on his previous comments and affirms again that those who strongly oppose this president and want him impeached are under the influence of “demonic forces.”

Here are some other highlights from the episode:

  • Metaxas suggests that liberal philanthropist George Soros may have been behind the negative tweets he received from his affirmation of Graham’s “demonic forces” comment.
  • Metaxas complains that no one defended him on twitter after the conversation with Graham.  Hmm…. I wonder why?
  • Metaxas says Wehner’s article and all the other negative articles about him on this issue are “fake news.”
  • In a particular’y rich exchange, Metaxas and Zmirak, diehard Trump supporters, claim that they are the defenders of “honesty” and “truth.”
  • Metaxas is upset that Wehner called his Dietrich Bonhoeffer book “slipshod” in its accuracy and scholarship.  Wehner is right.  The book has been strongly criticized by nearly every major Bonhoeffer scholar.
  • Metaxas cries about political partisanship, implying that he is somehow above the fray.  This is coming from the man who referred to Hillary Clinton as “Hitlery Clinton” and said in Wall Street Journal article that if evangelicals didn’t vote for Trump “God will not hold us guiltless.”
  • Finally, Metaxas says when you allow lies to spread “you are part of the problem.”  Again, this is rich. At last check, The Washington Post has counted over 13,000 lies and false claims made by Metaxas’s man in the White House.  Who is part of the problem here, Eric?

Liberty University’s “Falkirk Center” Will Focus on American History

What is the Falkirk Center? Get up to speed here.

Watch Falwell Jr. and Charlie Kirk talk about their new center on Fox News.

Falwell Jr. says that the center will teach “History 101” because such American history “has not been taught in recent decades.”

Perhaps David Barton, the GOP activist who uses the American past to promote his political agenda, will be the first visiting scholar at the Falkirk Center.

I also wonder what the Liberty University History Department, which recently started an online Ph.D program in history, has to say about this center?  Were they consulted? Will they be involved in any way?  How does Falwell Jr.’s comments relate to the claim that the Liberty University Ph.D program will teach students how to “apply a Christian worldview to the study of history?”  I can’t imagine that Falwell’s blabbering will help Liberty history students–undergraduate and graduate–in their attempts to find jobs in the field.

At the end of the interview, Fox host Ainsley Earhardt says, “The Atlantic says that “Christianity is in crisis” so we need you guys.”  I am assuming she is referring to Peter Wehner’s July 2019 Atlantic piece titled “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity.”  Perhaps Earhardt or her producers should have read the subtitle of this piece: “Support for Trump comes at a high cost for Christian witness.”  In other words, the piece she is referencing is an anti-Trump, anti-court evangelical piece.  This is just one small example of how Fox News manipulates the facts and reveals its incompetence.

Evangelical Theologian Ron Sider Wants to Ask the Democratic Presidential Candidates a Few Questions

sider_horzEvangelical theologian and author Ron Sider has a few questions for the candidates, and they are quite good.  Here is a taste of his recent blog post:

MEDICARE FOR ALL.

Bernie Sanders’ proposal is to end all private health insurance and put everyone on a government run single-payer system like Canada. Ask Sanders why he thinks it is not political suicide to tell the approximately 165 million Americans with private health insurance that they must promptly lose that coverage in exchange for a government program. Also demand that he tell you exactly how he will pay for it.

Elizabeth Warren also embraces Medicare for All (cost: $30 trillion over 10 years). When pushed to show how she would pay for it, she proposed new taxes on the rich. Then when criticized by Biden and others, she said she would move in two stages: first let everyone who wants to, buy into Medicare; then, a few years later, introduce a mandatory single-payer system.

Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar reject Medicare for All and instead want to let everyone choose between keeping their private insurance or buying into Medicare.

FREE COLLEGE

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders want to make tuition free at all public colleges and universities. Ask them: why should children from wealthy families get free college tuition? And why do they totally bias their proposal against private colleges and universities? Their proposal would probably destroy most Christian colleges and universities.

Would it not be better to give a greatly expanded Pell Grant ( up to the total cost of tuition at state universities) to students from lower income families and let them choose whether to use it at a state university or a private college?

NATIONAL DEBT

Our national debt is currently at $22 trillion – that’s more than our current total annual GDP which was $20.5 trillion in 2018. The national government spends more than it takes in every year. This year the deficit is close to $1 trillion and current projections (thanks significantly to President Trump’s tax cuts for the rich) mean it will go to more than $1 trillion every year beginning in 2022. That means adding $1 trillion plus to the national debt each year. Thanks grandchildren!

In my book, FIXING THE MORAL DEFICIT: A BALANCED WAY TO BALANCE THE BUDGET, I say two things: it is immoral to use our grandchildren’s credit card to keep demanding things we refuse to pay for with our taxes; and second it is also immoral to try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor (as the Republicans keep proposing) by cutting effective programs that empower poor people.

Ask all the Democratic candidates why none of them have a concrete proposal to move toward a balanced budget. And demand one.

ABORTION

Most Democratic candidates offer no circumstances where they think abortion should be restricted by law even though repeated Gallup polls show that about 50% of the US public think there should be some restrictions. Ask them why they disagree with half of the American people.

Amy Klobuchar has said she favors some restrictions in the third trimester. Joe Biden in 2003 voted for a ban on certain late term abortions. Ask both for more details

Read the rest here.

Randall Balmer on the “Other Evangelicals”

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Jim Wallis of Sojourners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here

Theologian N.T. Wright on the State of the American Church

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Emma Green of The Atlantic interviews New Testament scholar N.T. Wright about the American church.  Here is a taste:

Emma Green: Do you worry that the strong association between Christianity and politics in the United States—and specifically the alignment between the religious right, evangelicals, and the Republican Party—will permanently shape the image of Christianity?

N. T. Wright: Part of the problem here is the word evangelical. I know a lot of people who have basically abandoned it since the whole [Donald] Trump phenomenon.

In England, people are a bit embarrassed about the word. But I’ve taken the view that the word evangelical is far too good a word to let the crazy guys have it all to themselves, just like I think the word Catholic is far too good a word for the Romans to keep it all to themselves. And while we’re at it, the word liberal is too good a word for the skeptics to have it all for themselves. It stands for freedom of thought and exploration.

Everything gets bundled up together, whether it’s abortion or gun rights or homosexuality or whatever. All issues are seen as either you’re on that side, and it’s the whole package, or you’re on this side, and it’s the whole package.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Cynthia Kierner

inventing disasterCynthia A. Kierner is Professor of History at George Mason University. This interview is based on her new book, Inventing Disaster: The Culture of Calamity from the Jamestown Colony to the Johnstown Flood (The University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Inventing Disaster?

CK: Oddly, the event that inspired the book was Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the Jersey Shore (and New York City) in 2012. Because I grew up going to the shore, and still go there every summer, I found the news coverage of Sandy and the disaster relief efforts after the storm absolutely fascinating. I also noticed that the sorts of stories told about disaster victims and survivors—and the people who helped (or sometimes did not help)—were pretty much the same as after other recent disasters. This led me to wonder about the origins of this way of responding to disasters—what I call a culture of disaster.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Inventing Disaster?

CK: Inventing Disaster traces the gradual coalescence of this modern culture of disaster over nearly three centuries, in the British Atlantic world and then in the independent American republic. In the book, I argue that this new response to calamity grew out of three developments that scholars associate with the Enlightenment: the spread of information via trade, travel, and print; the belief in human agency and progress; and the growing influence of the culture of sensibility.

JF: Why do we need to read Inventing Disaster?

CK: What’s not to like about hurricanes, plagues, and exploding steamboats? Seriously, although the book includes engaging disaster stories and vivid contemporary illustrations, I believe that understanding the historical and cultural roots of our own culture of calamity is a prerequisite for assessing how we approach prevention, relief, and recovery efforts in these disaster-ridden times.

For instance, our approach to disaster today, as I said, is rooted in an Enlightenment-inspired confidence in humanity’s ability to conquer and control nature. Is that confidence sustainable now—was it ever? Should disaster prevention be a matter for government mandates, or for community voluntarism? Should disaster relief be a social priority, and, if so, which people or entities should provide aid to disaster victims and how should it be funded? Is disaster relief first and foremost an expression of sympathy, or an effort to maintain social order? How do disaster stories, in the media and elsewhere, shape our often-conflicted understandings of why disasters happen and how we should plan for them and react in times of crisis? These questions, which were first pondered during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, continue to drive the debates we have about disasters in twenty-first-century America.

For those less interested in current events, the book also offers a different perspective on topics ranging from the changing role of the state (in the British Empire and later in the American Republic) to the evolution of print and visual culture in post-revolutionary America.

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

CK: I decided to be a historian when I was in college. I entered university expecting to go to law school. But then I met some law students, saw what they were reading (and writing), and decided that history would be much more fun. I was torn between doing British and American history. Being an early Americanist seemed like the perfect compromise.

JF: What is your next project?

CK: I have several. First, I am coediting a collection of essays on American disasters. I also have two smaller-scale early American projects: a cultural history of the earliest U.S. censuses and an article-length study of a remarkably interesting and outspoken woman in revolutionary North Carolina. My next book-length project, however, will likely be a biography of Joan Whitney Payson, art collector, patron of the arts, horse enthusiast, and founding owner of the New York Mets.

JF: Thanks, Cynthia!

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Before Trump there was Andrew Johnson

Do you talk to book editors at conferences?

The inspiration for the movie It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood talks more about his relationship with Mr. Rogers

The American settler narrative

Moving beyond the five-paragraph essay

John Wilson picks the best books of 2019

The declassifying of historical documents

Wilfred McClay on food

Critiquing Obama

Thanksgiving and impeachment

James Oakes reviews three new books on Reconstruction

The “troubling history” of Thanksgiving

Celebrating the Pilgrim landing at Plymouth in 1770

Philip Christman reviewsEugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Becams the Religion of Modernity

Religious business in early America

Historian James Oakes on the 1619 Project

1619

Princeton Civil War historian James McPherson has weighed-in.  So has Gordon Wood, a historian of the American Revolution.  And now it is time for CUNY-Graduate School historian James Oakes to offer his opinion on The New York Times‘s 1619 Project.

Here is a taste of the World Socialist Website’s interview with Oakes:

Q. Can you discuss some of the recent literature on slavery and capitalism, which argues that chattel slavery was, and is, the decisive feature of capitalism, especially American capitalism? I am thinking in particular of the recent books by Sven Beckert, Ed Baptist and Walter Johnson. This seems to inform the contribution to the 1619 Project by Matthew Desmond.

A. Collectively their work has prompted some very strong criticism from scholars in the field. My concern is that by avoiding some of the basic analytical questions, most of the scholars have backed into a neo-liberal economic interpretation of slavery, though I think I’d exempt Sven Beckert somewhat from that, because I think he’s come to do something somewhat different theoretically.

What you really have with this literature is a marriage of neo-liberalism and liberal guilt. When you marry those two things, neo-liberal politics and liberal guilt, this is what you get. You get the New York Times, you get the literature on slavery and capitalism.

Q. Let me ask you about Lincoln. He’s not discussed much in Ms. Hannah-Jones’ article—

A. Yes, she does the famous 1862 meeting Lincoln had in the White House on colonization—

Q. Lincoln is presented as a garden-variety racist…

A. Yes, and she also says somewhere else that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation simply as a military tactic…

Q. Could you comment on that?

A. It’s ridiculous. Most of what Abraham Lincoln had to say about African Americans was anti-racist, from the first major speech he gives on slavery in 1854, when he says, “If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal’; and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.” Lincoln says, can’t we stop talking about this race and that race being equal or inferior and go back to the principle that all men are created equal. And he says this so many times and in so many ways. By the late 1850s he was vehemently denouncing Stephen Douglas and his northern Democrats for their racist demagoguery, which Lincoln complained was designed to accustom the American people to the idea that slavery was the permanent, natural condition of black people. His speeches were becoming, quite literally, anti-racist.

Now, he grew up in Indiana and he lived as an adult in Illinois, and Illinois had some of the harshest discriminatory laws in the North. That is to say, he inhabited a world in which it’s almost unimaginable to him that white people will ever allow black people to live as equals. So on the one hand he denounces racism and is committed to emancipation, to the overthrow of slavery, gradually or however it would take place. But on the other hand he believes white people will never allow blacks equality. So he advocates voluntary colonization. Find a place somewhere where blacks can enjoy the full fruits of liberty that all human beings are entitled to. It’s a very pessimistic view about the possibilities of racial equality. Ironically, it’s not all that far from Lincoln’s critics today who say that racism is built into the American DNA. At least Lincoln got over it and came to the conclusion that we’re going to have to live as equals here.

The statement he makes on colonization was framed as an unflinching attack on the colonizationists who were motivated by their hatred of blacks, who wanted free blacks expelled from the country simply because they were black. It’s a vehement attack on the racist justification of colonization. So Lincoln favors colonization, but he abandons it with the Emancipation Proclamation once it no longer serves the political function of promoting state abolition, and once he comes to accept that America was going to have to be a multi-racial nation.

Still, that meeting with African Americans in the summer of 1862 was terrible. As I said in a previous book, it was a low point in his presidency. But although Lincoln at that point was still sincerely committed to colonization, he was also a politician and it was also a strategic meeting. He was sitting on the Emancipation Proclamation. He knew that northern racists were going to be annoyed because they’d been saying from the start that they didn’t want the Civil War to be about freeing the slaves, they wanted it to be about nothing more than restoring the union. So Lincoln is throwing them a sop by behaving in a disgraceful, condescending manner toward a group of African American leaders in the most conspicuous, public way.

Read the entire interview here.

Liberty University Opens a Think Tank to Stop the Media from Converting Americans to Socialism

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Falwell Jr. has teamed with conservative pundit Charlie Kirk to form “The Falkirk Center” at Liberty University. (The name comes from a combination of their names).

Here is Liberty’s rationale for the new think tank:

“The need for the Falkirk Center has grown as powerful voices and institutions are increasingly seeking to eliminate Judeo-Christian principles from American culture and society. The news media, elected officials, academic institutions and special interest groups have used their platforms to deny America’s legacy of foundational Judeo-Christian principles and replace them with the creeds of secularism, influencing upcoming generations of Americans at alarming rates.”

It’s official:  Christian nationalism now has its own think tank.  And I am sure there will be a lot of Liberty University online-education tuition money available to fund it.

Learn more at The Washington Examiner.