CBC News on the Museum of the Bible


Canadians are apparently interested in this week’s opening of the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.  I was happy to help Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Matt Kwong make some sense of this museum.  Here is a taste of his piece at CBC News:

A museum attraction on the second-floor Impact collection called Washington Revelations is feeding evangelical scholar John Fea’s doubts. The multi-sensory “4D” ride takes visitors soaring over D.C. landmarks to highlight scripture inscribed on landmarks, such as the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and the Lincoln Memorial.

To Fea, who teaches history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, the idea mirrors evangelical activist David Barton’s WallBuilders movement, which promotes a view the United States was founded as a Christian nation. A signature program of the WallBuilders is to bring ministers and state politicians on tours of Washington to show them places bearing biblical verse.

“There’s a temptation there to send the message that America is a certain kind of nation, a Christian nation,” Fea said. “A nation where the Bible should be important and prominent in shaping public life. In other words, [suggesting] we were a Bible nation from the beginning.”

Though he admires the museum project in concept, he questions whether the building just three blocks from Congress will service a conservative vision of American Christian nationalism.

Read the entire piece here.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “N.S.A. Struggles to Recover After Huge Breach of Spying Tools”

Washington Post: “Emboldened by Trump, tough-talking sheriffs put some residents on edge”

Wall Street Journal: “GE Slashes Dividend Amid Restructuring”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Why Pennsylvania is home to some of the nation’s worst gerrymanders”

BBC: “Iran-Iraq border quake kills hundreds”

CNN: “More than 300 dead in Iran-Iraq earthquake”

FOX: “Green Beret found dead had discovered SEALs’ cash scheme: Report”

The Roy Moore Case Offers a Glimpse into How Jerry Falwell Jr. Sees the World

In a piece at The Washington Post published back in July, I wrote:

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

I think this Roy Moore mess is another example of the way that evangelical Christians are going to have to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.  I don’t recognize the evangelicalism of the so-called “Christian leaders” who are defending Moore right now.

For example, here is a taste of Emily McFarland’s Religion News Service piece on court evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr.’s response to the news that Judge Roy Moore allegedly molested teenage girls:

“It comes down to a question who is more credible in the eyes of the voters — the candidate or the accuser,” said Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of evangelical Liberty University who has endorsed Trump and Moore, both Republicans.

“The same thing happened to President Trump a few weeks before his election last year except it was several women making allegations,” Falwell told RNS in an email. “He denied that any of them were true and the American people believed him and elected him the 45th president of the United States.”

Wow! I don’t even know where to begin. Falwell Jr., the president of the largest evangelical university in the world, does not seem capable of addressing this issue from a moral perspective informed by his Christian faith.  No Jerry, what Roy Moore allegedly did to these young girls does not “come down to a question of who is more credible to the voters.”

I can’t believe a Christian college president would imply that the rightness or wrongness of Moore’s supposed actions comes down to what the majority of people in Alabama think.  Is Falwell implying that if Moore is elected to the Senate, and it turns out he did molest those girls, that his actions are somehow washed clean because the people of Alabama believed his denials and voted him into office?  This may be how right and wrong is defined in a democracy, but it is not how right and wrong is defined by people committed to Christian faith.

I seem to recall that in the first half of the 19th-century the people of Alabama believed that slavery was a “more credible” position “in the eyes of the voters” of the state.  By Falwell’s logic in the Moore case, this would make slavery a morally acceptable institution.

Why the Allegations Against Roy Moore May HELP His Political Career

Roy_Moore_2017_logo40% of Alabama evangelicals are now more likely to support Roy Moore after allegations that he sexually molested young girls.  Here is a taste of Carlos Ballesteros’s piece at Newsweek:

Talk about loving the sinner!

Nearly 40 percent of Evangelical Christians in Alabama say they’re now more likely to vote for Roy Moore after multiple allegations that he molested children, even as voters across the historically red state now seem to be punishing Moore for his past actions, a new poll shows.

A plurality of evangelicals — 37 percent — described themselves as more likely to support Moore because of recent sexual assault allegations levied against him, while only 28 percent were less likely to do so. Thirty-four percent of the supposedly devout Christians said that the allegations reported last week in the Washington Post made no difference in their support for Moore.

Read the entire piece here.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Trump Team Begins Drafting Middle East Peace Plan”

Washington Post: “Trump criticized for saying Putin is sincere in denial of election meddling”

Wall Street Journal: “Trump Tempers Skepticism on Russian Meddling”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Central Pa. could see snow tonight, tomorrow”

BBC: “Spanish PM vows to end Catalonia ‘havoc'”

CNN:“Trump downplays his doubts”

FOX: “Fans plan protests against NFL, kneeling players, ‘in solidarity with veterans'”

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Trump Mixes His Messages on North Korea and Asia Trade”

Washington Post: “U.S. soldier in Niger ambush was bound, apparently executed, villagers say”

Wall Street Journal: “Hasbro Makes Approach for Rival Toy Giant Mattel”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “‘They were both good girls’: Sisters shot to death, but why?”

BBC: “Putin insulted by meddling claim-Trump”

CNN: “Trump on Putin: ‘He said he didn’t meddle'”

FOX: “Green Beret killed in Niger found with hands tied, may have been executed: report”

The Author’s Corner with Ashley Baggett

51SmfhXThCL._SY346_.jpgAshley Baggett is assistant professor of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at North Dakota State University. This interview is based on her new book, Intimate Partner Violence in New Orleans: Gender, Race, and Reform, 1840-1900 (University Press of Mississippi, 2017). 

JF: What led you to write Intimate Partner Violence in New Orleans?

AB: I have been raising awareness about and combatting intimate partner violence (commonly referred to as domestic violence) for the better part of a decade, but I started researching Intimate Partner Violence in New Orleans after noticing most historians focus on the North and leave out criminal cases. 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Intimate Partner Violence in New Orleans?

AB: Intimate Partner Violence in New Orleans argues that the Civil War upended gender expectations, and in the 1870s and 1880s, New Orleans women demanded the right to be free from violence. The legal system responded by recognizing that right and criminalizing intimate partner violence until the 1890s, when abuse became racialized throughout the South and used as a means of racial control.

JF: Why do we need to read Intimate Partner Violence in New Orleans?

AB: Intimate Partner Violence in New Orleans demonstrates that abuse was not seen as “part of life” or acceptable for much of American history. Instead, legal reform on abuse was (and is) closely tied with how we perceive men, women, race, and relationships. The book inserts the South into the historical narrative on intimate partner violence and adds important insight on the Jim Crow era. 

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

AB: As I became more aware of pressing social problems, especially sexual assault and intimate partner violence, I committed myself to making a difference. For me, that was through understanding the past. History can inform our current decisions and interactions, and to that end, I always hope my research, teaching, and outreach effect a positive change.

JF: What is your next project?

AB: My next project is on an article that examines intimate partner violence during Union occupation. I am also working on an anthology about gender based violence in American history.

JF: Thanks, Ashley!

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Senate G.O.P. Tax Bill Delays Trump’s Prized Corporate Cut”

Washington Post: “As Roy Moore declines to step aside, a tale of two Republican parties emerges”

Wall Street Journal: “Flynn Probed Over Alleged Plan to Send Back Turkish Cleric”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Record-breaking cold expected this weekend”

BBC: “Trump: US won’t tolerate ‘unfair’ trade”

CNN: “Trump’s bad timing is perfect”

FOX: “Court overturns Marine sniper’s conviction for urinating on dead Taliban fighters”

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Suburbs Revolt Against Trump, Threatening G.O.P. in 2018”

Washington Post: “Election results set off a blame game among Republicans”

Wall Street Journal: “In China, Trump Cajoles Xi With Tough Talk, Flattery”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Pa. voted for property tax relief: What’s next?”

BBC: “Saudi purge shows prince’s ruthlessness”

CNN: “Trump: I don’t blame China”

FOX: “Donna Brazile reveals ugly attitudes from Clinton campaign team”

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Voters Give Democrats First Big Victories of the Trump Era”

Washington Post: “Northam victory in Va. gives Democrats first key win in Trump era”

Wall Street Journal: “Trump Warns North Korea: Do Not Underestimate U.S.”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “With off-year elections behind us, it’s game-on for Pennsylvania politics”

BBC: “Trump in China amid N Korea tensions” 

CNN: “A very bad night for Trump”

FOX: “Trump: Virginia voters rejected Gillespie because Gillespie rejected me”

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Air Force Error Let Gunman Buy Weapon”

Washington Post: “Air Force failure enabled Texas gunman to obtain firearms”

Wall Street Journal: “Broadcom Bid Marks Upheaval in Chip Industry”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “‘Thoughts and prayers’: the phrase that people are growing to loathe”

BBC: “Trump urges N Korea ‘to come to the table'”

CNN: “Trump: North Korea is a worldwide threat”

FOX: “Air Force didn’t report shooter’s domestic-violence conviction to fed database, allowing him to buy guns”

The Author’s Corner with Adam Smith

41xrlTvJ9rL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Adam Smith is professor of history at the University College of London. This interview is based on his new book, The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846–1865 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Stormy Present?

AS: Politics in the free states in the mid-nineteenth century was characterised both by an underlying presumption that slavery was wrong and by an underlying, and self-conscious “conservative” sensibility. Consequently, war and emancipation came about when they appeared, for sufficient numbers of Northerners, to be the conservative options.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Stormy Present?

AS: Politics in the free states in the mid-nineteenth century was characterized both by an underlying presumption that slavery was wrong and by an underlying, and self-conscious “conservative” sensibility. Consequently, war and emancipation came about when they appeared, for sufficient numbers of Northerners, to be the conservative options.

JF: Why do we need to read The Stormy Present?

AS: Because it might remind us that political change happens as much through accident as design, with people coming to support potentially radical transformation for reasons far removed from what we might imagine. It will remind us, also, that for its vaunted modernity and fascination with progress, the United States has always been in many respects a profoundly conservative society, preoccupied with a decisive founding moment and anxious about threats to the prevailing order. And finally because the book offers a new interpretation of the coming of the Civil War in which the mass of white northerners—the men and women who were not abolitionists or radicals or even necessarily Republicans, but whose reactions and judgements mattered so much—are placed centre-stage.

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

AS: When I was an undergraduate I was lucky to be taught by Eric Foner, who provided such a compelling account of the Civil War era that I was totally gripped. I don’t know if that was when I decided to become a historian of the United States, but it’s certainly when I began to imagine it as a possibility.

JF: What is your next project?

AS: A study of compromise as a practice and an idea in American politics. 

JF: Thanks, Adam!

The Way of Improvement Leads Home Will Be Published on a Limited Basis Over the Next Several Weeks


We will be blogging on a very limited basis over the course of the next several weeks as I watch my daughter compete in volleyball, end the semester at Messiah College, and finish my book on Donald Trump (we may have an official title to announce very soon).

Here is what you can expect in November:

  1. Daily morning headlines on most days
  2. Twice-weekly Author’s Corner interviews
  3. Occasional posts as the spirit moves us
  4. The release of new podcast episodes

We hope to be back to regular blogging (5-7 posts a day, Monday through Saturday and Sunday Night Odds and Ends) in December at the latest.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Gunman Kills at Least 26 at Texas Church”

Washington Post: “Investigators hunt for motive after 26 killed in Texas church shooting”

Wall Street Journal: “Broadcom Proposes to Buy Qualcomm for $103 Billion”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Who is Devin Patrick Kelley? What we know about the Texas church shooter”

BBC: “Two men chased the Texan church gunman”

CNN: “Small Texas town in shock after church massacre”

FOX: “Neighbor describes harrowing, 95-mph, chase of church gunman after armed hero intervened”

What NOT to Do at an Academic Conference


Great post here by Baylor historian Beth Allison Barr.  Solid advice for those of you coming-up through the conference-going ranks.  Here is a taste:

10. DON’T BE LATE TO YOUR OWN PANEL. Sometimes there are travel delays. But, other than that, get to your panel on time. Especially when you are the first presenter.

9. DON’T FORGET YOUR PLAN B FOR TECHNOLOGY. If your entire presentation is inside a flash drive or only exists on an iPad, be prepared for failure. Technology often goes wrong at conferences. Lots of people are using unfamiliar technology with moderators who know nothing about how the technology in that room works; it is not surprising that problems are so frequent. I almost always present with my iPad; but I come prepared to do otherwise. I also come prepared with handouts in case the powerpoint doesn’t work. Finding out 5 minutes before the panel starts that you don’t have access to your presentation is bad for everyone who attends that session (and this actually recently happened to me, the only time I haven’t had a backup plan…).

8. DON’T BE HIGH MAINTENANCE. A presentation room isn’t your personal study. Making the moderator rearrange furniture and drapes and find bottled water for you isn’t their job. It also doesn’t reflect well on you.

7. DON’T ASSUME KNOWLEDGE. Most people know nothing more about your paper than the title. Despite your advanced preparation, they probably didn’t read the abstract posted on the conference website. If they need to know information for your paper to make sense, give that information in your presentation. Otherwise your audience will be googling for background information instead of listening to you.

Read the rest here.

“And meet me tonight in Atlantic City” (Trump Version)

Gabrielle Bluestone is brilliant!  An editor at Vice News and and an attorney, Bluestone also appears to be a Bruce Springsteen fan.  Here is her unique twitter-take on a Springteen classic:

Read the rest here.

Liberty University: The “Fox News of Academia”

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Education journalist Rick Seltzer has an extensive piece at Inside Higher Ed on Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.  Read it here.

A few highlights:

  • Falwell Jr. once told the Liberty University students that he is a “redneck at heart.”  (He said this while introducing comedian Jeff Foxworthy).
  • When Falwell Jr. took over in 2007, Liberty University had 27,000 students.  Today it enrolls 110,000.  Only 15,000 study on the university’s Lynchburg. Virginia campus.  The rest study online.
  • Falwell Jr. dreads public speaking.  Seltzer says that he speaks with a “resonant, wandering, mumble.”
  • The Green family of Hobby Lobby and Museum of the Bible fame have an academic building named after them on the Liberty campus
  • During the interview with Seltzer, Falwell Jr. took a call from Don McGahn, the White House counsel. #courtevangelical
  • Falwell Jr.  thinks that Liberty University needs a “Trump Tower.”
  • Many Liberty administrators thought Falwell would endorse Ted Cruz, not Donald Trump
  • When Falwell Jr.  spoke at the Republican National convention in 2016 he was instructed by a speech coach.
  • Falwell Jr.  has a habit of dismissing criticism as “grandstanding” or “publicity stunts.  He did this the other day in the Jonathan Martin incident.  In the IHE article he said that the Liberty alumni who wanted to return their diplomas to protest Falwell Jr’s support for Trump are a “joke.”
  • Kenneth Carren, the president of Lynchburg College, often consults with Falwell Jr. on local issues.  Carren said that Falwell Jr. “has always been helpful and supportive” and is “a really nice guy.”
  • Falwell Jr. claims that his support of Trump has led to a “whole lot of money” in donations.  He also says that Liberty’s student body is now “bursting at the seams” because of his support of the POTUS.
  • Falwell Jr. talks regularly with Trump.
  • Since Liberty does not have tenure, they can easily fire professors if their online programs stop bringing in revenue.  Falwell Jr. says that because Liberty does not have tenure it attracts professors who are “risk-takers.”  He claims that his “risk-taking” faculty is “one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”  I would be interested in knowing if the faculty see this the same way.
  • The faculty understand that the “rule” at Liberty University is to “keep your head down and teach.”
  • Falwell Jr. said he would be happy to host comedian Bill Maher at Liberty.
  • When asked if Liberty would invite Colin Kaepernick to campus to speak, Falwell  Jr. claimed he did not know who Kaepernick was.
  • Falwell Jr. believes that for every student who did not come to Liberty because of his politics, “I think there’s probably two that did.”
  • Falwell Jr. says Liberty is the “Fox News” of academia.
  • Falwell Jr. gets bored a lot.  When this happens he sends out a controversial tweet.