On Monday, I will post a new conversation with former The King’s College president Greg Thornbury. He is currently Senior Vice President at the New York Academy of Art in Tribeca NY, a school founded by Andy Warhol. You can watch the first interview here.
Donald Trump couldn’t make his strategy any clearer: class warfare.
The “suburban housewife” will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker in charge! @foxandfriends@MariaBartiromo
The rule Trump rescinded required proof of compliance with the Fair Housing Act. Trump has interpreted it as a wedge to keep poor people away from the middle class. Given the intent in 1968 to stop racial discrimination in housing and Trump’s actions blow a racial dogwhistle as well.
Obviously, Trump is only president of people who like him, and among those people, the middle class and the rich. Low income people (too bad poor MAGAs) are considered invaders who make suburban neighborhoods unsafe and bother the white housewives who inhabit them. It has long been clear that Trump has distain for low income people; this just makes it transparent.
I leave this with some Scripture from James 2 –
My brothers,[a] show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
A feature of the evangelical world since Trump was nominated and elected has been the inability of many of Trump’s evangelical supporters to see Trump’s flaws. John Fea (who will be one of my guests in a future interview) coined the term “court evangelical” to describe these evangelical leaders. Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell are often named among these court evangelicals. Another evangelical figure which has puzzled many observers due to the strength of his dedication to Trump is Eric Metaxas.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
Metaxas once attributed the quote to Dietrich Bonhoeffer but it doesn’t appear in any of his works or speeches. Instead of acknowledging this and making a public correction, Metaxas has just stopped attributing the quote to Bonhoeffer. Consequently, hundreds, if not thousands of people continue to cite Metaxas as the source of a bogus Bonhoeffer quote.
In our interview, Thornbury analyzes Metaxas, but that is not the most riveting part to me. When Greg describes his journey from evangelical college president to where he is now, I believe many evangelicals will relate. There has been pressure to adopt Trumpism as an evangelical and those who don’t go along lose social capital in that world. Students of American religious and political history will be interested in hearing about Greg’s experience. Greg was in the inner circle and describes what it was like to see conservative Christians first tolerate then venerate an unworthy President.
Trumpism is the newest theme in my 15 years of blogging but in a way it is an extension of many themes I am familiar with. The narcissism of celebrity pastors, the false history of Christian nationalism, the anti-science dogmatism of many evangelical leaders, and the single-mindedness and bias of culture warring all come together in Trumpism.
So as a new friend in this struggle, I thank Greg for his time and talents.
Gregory Alan Thornbury, Ph.D., has been a college philosophy and theology professor, dean, and president of The King’s College in New York City. In addition to several books on theology and culture, he is the author of Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock (Random House, 2018) – a critically acclaimed biography that has been reviewed by The New York Times, The New Yorker, National Public Radio, and was awarded as the most influential book in arts and culture by Christianity Today for 2019. A popular writer and speaker on philosophy, religion, and the arts, he currently serves as Senior Vice President at the New York Academy of Art in Tribeca, founded by Andy Warhol. He is also a consultant for Good Country Pictures, who is currently working on film adaptations of the short stories and novels of Willa Cather, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor for film and television.
Here we are in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic and Donald Trump is going to have another indoor rally, this time in a church. If you get sick, you can’t blame anybody but yourself. In fact, as with the rally in Tulsa, you have to sign a waiver to get in.
The rally is being held in The Dream Center (a mega church), and is put on by Turning Point USA’s Students for Trump. I wonder if parents have to sign for the minors who attend.
In any case, no one is responsible. Another way of saying it is that many people are irresponsible.
Dream City Church must not be too confident that their new ionization technology to kill all the COVID-19 in the place. Hat tip to the Friendly Atheist for this item. Although the church has since taken down the video, this Twitter user has it:
A megachurch is hosting Trump’s rally on Tuesday in Phoenix. These two con-men falsely claim they’ve installed a system which kills 99.9% of COVID-19.
Earlier today, I wrote the company, CleanAirEXP, and asked for the research backing. I haven’t heard anything yet. The company has tried the technology on a surrogate virus, not COVID-19. Other companies have studied this approach and some use it on airplanes. Limited work has been done on COVID-19 in small spaces. According to a presentation posted just today on YouTube, small spaces can be neutralized, but they did not say if a large church space has been tested with people singing and yelling. The salesman for the technology suggested sneezing or coughing next to a person would allow COVID-19 to spread to people in close proximity.
Whatever the capability in this church, none of the people hosting or running the event want to be responsible for any sickness and death that come from it. I hope it obvious that no one should attend this event, even if you support Trump.
This month marks 15 years of blogging and this is my 5,000th post. I always thought it might be fun and light but this one is not. It is a lament.
Yesterday evening in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump told a Rose Garden audience that he had deployed the National Guard to disperse crowds and stop violence. It wasn’t clear at that moment but his order was being carried out as he spoke. Not far away in Lafayette square near St. John’s Episcopal Church, peaceful protestors populated the area. Around 6:30pm, the Guard began actively pushing the assembly from the area with shields, tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades. Once the area was cleared, Trump walked to the same area with an entorage of officials for a photo op holding a Bible in front of St. John’s church. In short, Donald Trump ordered force on peaceful protestors so he could get a picture using religious images.
This is a frightening new low. There wasn’t an effort to hide it. Ample eyewitness accounts and video exist. This was a power play. Apparently, Trump and his advisors believe his base — including white evangelicals — will fall in line.
Below, I have posted video and various accounts and reflections on the event.
The following is a portion of an eyewitness account of the event from Gina Gerbasi (click the link to read her entire post):
Around 6:15 or 6:30, the police started really pushing protestors off of H Street (the street between the church and Lafayette Park, and ultimately, the White House. They started using tear gas and folks were running at us for eyewashes or water or wet paper towels. At this point, Julia, one of our seminarians for next year (who is a trauma nurse) and I looked at each other in disbelief. I was coughing, her eyes were watering, and we were trying to help people as the police – in full riot gear – drove people toward us. Julia and her classmates left and I stayed with the BLM folks trying to help people. Suddenly, around 6:30, there was more tear gas, more concussion grenades, and I think I saw someone hit by a rubber bullet – he was grasping his stomach and there was a mark on his shirt. The police in their riot gear were literally walking onto the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with these metal shields, pushing people off the patio and driving them back. People were running at us as the police advanced toward us from the other side of the patio. We had to try to pick up what we could. The BLM medic folks were obviously well practiced. They picked up boxes and ran. I was so stunned I only got a few water bottles and my spray bottle of eyewash. We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear. We were pushed back 20 feet, and then eventually – with SO MANY concussion grenades – back to K street. By the time I got back to my car, around 7, I was getting texts from people saying that Trump was outside of St. John’s, Lafayette Square. I literally COULD NOT believe it. WE WERE DRIVEN OFF OF THE PATIO AT ST. JOHN’S – a place of peace and respite and medical care throughout the day – SO THAT MAN COULD HAVE A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH!!! PEOPLE WERE HURT SO THAT HE COULD POSE IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH WITH A BIBLE! HE WOULD HAVE HAD TO STEP OVER THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES WE LEFT BEHIND BECAUSE WE WERE BEING TEAR GASSED!!!!
“An ally of all peaceful protestors” said Donald Trump in his speech; an ally unless those protestors get in the way of his photo op.
The caption to the next video reads: “It began with Attorney General Bill Barr standing with his hands casually in his pockets, not wearing a tie, surveying the scene at Lafayette Park across from the White House, where several thousand protesters had gathered for more demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd.”
Here is another eyewitness account which was posted as a comment on court evangelical Johnnie Moore’s fawning description of Trump.
I was there. Trump is a coward. This is what he did to clear the street. Sent a militarized police after peaceful Americans.
The bishop of the diocese of the St John Church, Miriam Budde, reacted with condemnation of Trump’s action.
Tonight President just used a Bible and a church of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for. To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard. 1/1
We are followers of Jesus. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. We stand with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd through the sacred act of peaceful protest.
To use the Bible in a photo op, after clearing peaceful protestors from Lafayette Park with, The Hill reported, “tear gas and smoke bombs hissing” so he could walk to a church, was simultaneously unhelpful to the current situation and at odds with the message of that Bible.
Former political editor at Christian Post, Napp Nazzworth took Johnnie Moore to task:
Johnnie, my goodness, how did you become so out of touch? Firing teargas into a crowd of peaceful protesters so you can use the Holy Word of God as a political prop is the act that hinders our national healing, not those trying to bring awareness of injustice.
So this is a lament. I recall similar worries, although in a much younger mind and body, in the 1960s. I had a youthful optimism then and while I am still hopeful that our institutions will hold, I am more realistic now. We must all rehearse our rights and remind each other about them. I hope Trump’s base will see through this and turn lament into change.
UPDATE: Trump’s court evangelicals are out in force to spin Trump’s photo op.
NEW: Johnnie Moore, Informal Evangelical Advisor to @realDonaldTrump Admin with blunt words for Episcopal & Catholic Archbishops: “…they were part of the problem today, not the solution.” Says they were, “spreading misinformation” like China & Iran. Read Full statement pic.twitter.com/eZKRbf5Dj6
Earlier today, Louisville Baptist pastor Joel Bowman posted this open Facebook letter to likely incoming Southern Baptist Convention president Al Mohler regarding his support for Donald Trump in 2020.
Open Letter to R. Albert Mohler, President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dear Dr. Mohler,
I am writing to you in this medium, because the likelihood of you meeting with me face-to-face is quite low. Moreover, your public remarks require my public response.
Sir, you said during the 2016 election cycle, to support then candidate, Donald J. Trump, would cause evangelicals to lose moral credibility. You also said if you were to support him, you would owe President Bill Clinton an apology, given your judgement of his character. Now, you are endeavoring to be president of the SBC, and suddenly, you announced not only your support for Trump, in 2020, but that you would vote Republican for the foreseeable future. Given your position, as well as the position you endeavor to hold, you did not have to voice support for any candidate or party, in 2020. Further, I think it would have been wise for you not to do this.
1. You owe Clinton an apology. Not to give him one speaks of lack of integrity on your part.
2. Given your influence among Southern Baptists and white evangelicals, as a whole, you have inextricably tied the evangelical movement to the Republican Party, for better or for worse, and,
3. Your book, “Conviction to Lead” no longer has a place in my library. It wreaks of hypocrisy and ecclesiastical opportunism.
It grieves me to say you have, in my estimation, lost all moral credibility. You no longer have a prophetic voice. Now, you simply blend in with popular, politicized evangelical thought. Rather than being an apologist for the Gospel, you have become an apologist for political conservatism. Your assertion that a vote for Trump or a Republican candidate is THE expression of a Biblical world view is myopic and tribalistic.
You once had my high respect, though we disagreed on some secondary and tertiary issues. As a Louisville pastor for 21 years with affiliation within the Louisville Regional Baptist Association, Kentucky Baptist Convention, and some involvement in the SBC, I am deeply disappointed. I feel like ripping your chapter out of the book, “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention”. It is all meaningless chatter, empty rhetoric to me, now.
There was a time I was working toward stronger involvement within the SBC, through the Cooperative Program. Due, in part, to your recent remarks, I am placing this on hold. As an African-American of evangelical theology, I lack confidence in your leadership in the area of Biblical justice.
I pray the Holy Spirit convict you in this area. I say all of this with every ounce of love and respect I can muster, as your brother in Christ.
Rev. Joel A. Bowman, Sr.
Founder & Senior Pastor
Temple of Faith Baptist Church
I feel pretty sure that white evangelicals on average do not comprehend how differently their black brothers and sisters on average see the endorsement of Donald Trump. This is a key sentence:
I feel like ripping your chapter out of the book, “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention”. It is all meaningless chatter, empty rhetoric to me, now.
Here is the most recent illustration of the vast gulf between Donald Trump, his supporters and the minority perspective. Donald Trump tweeted this about the angry, armed, white men who stormed the Michigan Capitol Building in a re-open Michigan protest.
The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.
I cannot believe the results and reaction would have been the same if those protesters would have been angry black men carrying weapons into the Capitol. What a perfect example of white privilege that they were not arrested and got a commendation from the president.
Some of the rallies feature Confederate flags and Nazi slogans and Trump does and says nothing to discourage it. The protesters like him and that’s what matters. You simply have no credibility with most African-Americans if you tolerate white supremacy. There is nothing pro-life about that.
Democrats and media aren’t demanding indefinite lockdowns for public health reasons. Democrats know the booming economy was Trump’s biggest political advantage, so they made the deliberate decision to destroy tens of millions of jobs and livelihoods for their own political gain.
The editor of The Federalist Sean David tweeted this yesterday.
Let’s back up a minute. Who recommended the lockdowns? Why President Trump’s own coronavirus guidelines! Also, most state governors of both political parties imposed stay at home orders because of evidence of community transmission. The President’s own task force recommends the stay at home orders and compliance with state orders.
Let’s back up a little bit more. Why are the lockdowns in place? Because COVID-19 is highly contagious and potentially deadly. Did the Democrats do that too, Mr. Davis? Did over 40,000 Americans die to hurt Donald Trump? Did all the nations of the world lockdown their economies just to hurt Donald Trump’s re-election chances?
Is the virus a Democrat, Mr. Davis?
It is sad and discouraging that The Federalist has an audience for this perverse reasoning.
We aren’t even close to the election yet, so I suspect there will be other entries in this category. But for now, this is my front runner for most bizarre tweet of the COVID-19 season.
Today in nearby Mercer PA, a small protest against PA’s stay at home restrictions was held and a friend took this photo:
Starting Sunday night, Governor Tom Wolf requested “as many people as possible wear a nonmedical or homemade mask when leaving their homes.” Apparently, this woman has no idea what slavery is or was because there is nothing equivalent about slavery and a requirement to wear a mask to prevent the spread of disease. It is impossible to take protests like this seriously when this kind of absurd and racially insensitive rhetoric is featured.
This same woman is not permitted to walk down the middle of the street or drive on the wrong side of the road. These rules are for her good and the safety of others. Today I wore my mask when I went out and I plan to protect myself and others for the duration.
It is beyond belief that Donald Trump has done nothing to discourage these protests. He has actually promoted them with his tweets to “liberate” three states with Democratic governors. I can’t think of a comparable situation in my lifetime where an American president says one thing to the public but provokes his followers to ignore what he says. He could put a stop to this by calling out the protesters. They are carrying Trump signs and flags. Some are carrying Confederate flags. He has every reason to discourage the protests for public health reasons but he winks and nods and they continue.
In Harrisburg, PA today, an antivax message was prominent as a part of the protest.
By now, those who keep up on religion and politics are aware that president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and nominee to be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Al Mohler, has endorsed Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Mohler did not endorse Trump in 2016. In fact, he criticized Trump and cast his opposition as being consistent with his criticism of Bill Clinton on moral grounds. After citing an article decrying Clinton’s morals, Mohler said in 2016:
I cite that article I wrote during the Clinton crisis to document arguments the importance of sexual morality and character to leadership. I read those words because I want to make certain I am consistent over time and not bending my argument to the political urgency of the moment. If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton. I would have to admit that my commentary on his scandals was wrong. I don’t believe I was. I don’t believe evangelicals who stood united that time were wrong.
Several commentators have pointed out Mohler’s flip flop in articles that are well worth reading: Jonathan Merritt, John Fea, David French. My interest in this post is demonstrating just how far from his former position he has moved. During the Clinton years, Mohler was one of several evangelical leaders who took a very persistent stance that Bill Clinton’s character disqualified him from office. Here are some illustrations.
Lying Destroyed Credibility in 1998
In September 1998, Mohler was quoted as calling for Clinton’s resignation over the Lewinsky affair.
Mr. Mohler, the Southern Baptist theologian, has called for Clinton’s resignation, as have other leaders of Clinton’s own denomination.
“An apology requires moral credibility, and the president has destroyed that moral credibility,” he says. “Basically, he’s saying to the American people, ‘I lied to you, I lied repeatedly, I lied even most recently, but I am not lying now.’ That just does not wash.” (1)
called on Clinton to resign because restoring trust to the presidency “can only be accomplished by your relinquishing your office.”
Apparently, we no longer need to trust the president.
Character Mattered in 1999
On February 18, 1999, the Baptist Press reported that Mohler made his third appearance on “Larry King Live” to discuss, among other things, Clinton’s character. The article quoted Mohler at length:
“I think what we see here is a great culture war, the great moral divide in this country being made very apparent. … [People] saw the president’s sins, and the resulting consequences which should come of them, in entirely different worldviews. It was impossible for persons on one side of that divide to understand the other.
“I think we’re all losers here. … I think we’ve learned something new about the moral climate of America, something very disturbing.
“There is sin all around. No one has any right to act as if there is no sin in him,” Mohler said, reflecting comments from some of the other guests who noted the sick and dark condition of Americans’ hearts and souls.
“The issue is what do we as culture … rightly expect to be the moral standard whereby our leaders should live and be accountable to the American public?” Mohler asked.
“The real issue is the president’s character … [and] the way we have separated sin from consequences. That is fatal for a society. … We’re becoming very satisfied with an inconsequential understanding of moral evil.”
Mohler said later generations will be “greatly harmed” by some of the immoral messages afloat in American culture, including the message sent by the senators who acquitted Clinton.
Apparently, the president’s character is no longer an issue when the president is a Republican.
Core Evangelical Values in 2016
In 2016, Mohler questioned whether Trump supporters adhered to core evangelical values.
MOHLER: We have taken comfort in the fact that there have been millions and millions of us in America. And a part of that evidence has been the last several election cycles, with the evangelical vote being in the millions. And now we’re having to face the fact that, evidently, theologically-defined – defined by commitment to core evangelical values – there aren’t so many millions of us as we thought.
On CNN, Mohler told Don Lemon the election of 2016 was a disaster for evangelicals. He didn’t favor Hillary Clinton but had special criticism for Trump. Watch:
This quote is haunting: “When it comes to Donald Trump, evangelicals are going to have to ask a huge question: Is it worth destroying our moral credibility to support someone who is beneath the baseline level of human decency for anyone who should deserve our vote?” Apparently, it is worth it to Mohler to destroy what moral credibility evangelicals as a group have left to endorse Trump.
Character Still Mattered in 2018
Mohler probably needs to apologize twice to Clinton because as late as June 2018, he was banging on Clinton for his morals. In a column reacting to Clinton’s inadequate answer about his lack of apology to Monica Lewinsky, Mohler wrote:
That’s the twisted, convoluted, moral world that many of us remember from the 1990s and the play out of the sordid affairs concerning Bill Clinton as president of the United States. I bring it up today on The Briefing simply because of this. We need to remember that this kind of action has consequences, and the consequences continue.
I could go on but I think the point is made that Al Mohler has used Bill Clinton as a punching bag since the late 1990s, was consistent when judging Trump at first, but has now flipped. He owes more than Bill Clinton an apology. He owes every Christian who listened to him an apology.
As David French pointed out in his excellent commentary, Mohler’s endorsement comes as Donald Trump presides over a dismal performance as president during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we speak, Trump is undermining his own COVID-19 task force by encouraging civil disobedience among his supporters. Instead of telling his supporters to go by the social distance guidelines, he tweeted for them to “Liberate” their states. Trump’s unfaithfulness may no longer involve women, but it has consequences nonetheless.
After all is said, the only thing I get out of Mohler’s turnabout is that he has done what he said he didn’t want to do – bend his “argument to the political urgency of the moment.”
Trump sure sounded like he meant all of that to me. However, one of his court evangelical apologists said he was “speaking hyperbolically.”
Trump was speaking hyperbolically, trolling those who fear his taking over as dictator. It worked. Meanwhile well-spoken Gov Cuomo pushed through a bill for abortion into the 9th month & even celebrated that violence & savagery as a Women's Rights victory. Just not unborn women.
Greg Thornbury disagreed and they continued their conversation. However, it is uncanny to me how anyone could watch those exchanges and think Trump did not take himself seriously. In fact, today he tweeted this:
Tell the Democrat Governors that “Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!
I don’t actually fear Trump being able to take over as a dictator in certain respects. However, he did stonewall the Congressional investigation into Ukraine and Robert Mueller’s investigation as well. He got away with ignoring Congressional oversight. He seems to believe he has this power and apparently wants to use it.
I know it has been asked before, but can you imagine the gnashing of teeth from conservatives if Obama said something like this?