Julia Duin, who has a long history of stellar religion writing, yesterday published at Politico a deep dive into the world of Trump prophets and prophecies. I urge you to take the time to read it. The business of the charismatic church right now is in disarray because the prophets can’t get their prophecies straight. Some think Trump is about to return to the throne and others think those prophets are foolish.
I am not very bothered by this. I have never had much confidence in modern day prophets. Although I think some of them are good guessers, I doubt any of them have an inside line on God’s will. They all wanted Trump to win so badly that they groupthought their way into near unanimous predictions of a Trump landslide. They were listening to each other, not God or the majority of Americans who were fed up with the Narcissist in Chief.
Some like Jeremiah Johnson can admit this, but others like Johnny Enlow and Greg Locke are providing evidence for cognitive dissonance theorists. The key source for understanding reaction to prophecy discomfirmation is Leon Festinger’s book, When Prophecy Fails. Festinger and his co-authors describe the distress true believers experience when their prophecies fail. I can also recommend in Religion Dispatches a nice summary of more recent work of prophecy disconfirmation which provides a fuller account of the bizarre reactions to prediction failure.
Theoretically, what is the situation of the individual believer
at the pre-disconfirmation stage of such a movement? He has a
strongly held belief in a prediction – for example, that Christ will return -a belief that is supported by the other members of the movement. By way of preparation for the predicted event, he has engaged in many activities that are entirely consistent with his belief. In other words, most of the relations among relevant cognitions are, at this point, consonant.
Now what is the effect of the disconfirmation, of the unequivocal fact that the prediction was wrong, upon the believer? The disconfirmation introduces an important and painful dissonance. The fact that the predicted events did not occur is dissonant with continuing to believe both the prediction and the remainder of the ideology of which the prediction was the central item. The failure of the prediction is also dissonant with all the actions that the believer took in preparation for its fulfillment. The magnitude of the dissonance will, of course, depend on the importance of the belief to the individual and on the magnitude of his preparatory activity.
In the type of movement we have discussed, the central belief
and its accompanying ideology are usually of crucial importance in the believers’ lives and hence the dissonance is very strong and very painful to tolerate.
Festinger predicts that the magnitude of the dissonance generated by prophecy disconfirmation will hinge on the importance of the belief to the individual. He says the person’s central belief and accompanying ideology are of crucial importance. As is very obvious for all to see, the dissonance for the Trump prophets is “very strong and very painful to tolerate.” For Trump prophets, it appears that their central ideology is about Trump being in charge. Instead of Christ, they have put their trust in Trump.
The focus on Trump at all costs is what is so frustrating to other charismatics like Michael Brown. Brown and some others are forming a rival group of prophets who know the election is over and, despite their apparent belief in predicting other futures, are trying to keep some real in reality. From Duin’s Politico article:
In a December 15 article, Michael Brown, a longtime charismatic revivalist and scholar in Charlotte, North Carolina, had sharp words, warning co-religionists: “There is no reality in which Trump actually did win but in fact didn’t win. … To entertain possibilities like this is to mock the integrity of prophecy and to make us charismatics look like total fools.”
In his interview with Duin, Brown seems to describe well the primary ideology held by the Trump prophets:
“How did we become so politicized?” he wonders. “How did so many of us end up with an almost a cultlike devotion to a leader, compromise our ethics for a seat at the table and drape the Gospel in an American flag?”
Actually, Brown should know the answer to this in that he often defended Trump against criticism during his term. However, he now sees accurately the result. Reality is here. Trump lost. For some, however, Trump became so integral to their religion that they can’t quit him. They can’t see reality without him. The dissonance is to great. To recognize Trump’s loss might do damage to their faith in God.
At some point very soon, there will be a final disconfirmation. Some will go quietly. Some will accept reality. Some will blame the Satanic forces of their ideological opponents. While I doubt any of these public preachers will give up the gravy train of their ministry, many every day Christians who have been hoodwinked by these false prophets might indeed resolve the dissonance by deciding that none of that god stuff was ever true and become another casualty of the Trumpvangelical transformation.
Since the Nashville Statement was published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a focus of criticism has been Article 10 which states:
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
The president of the Council is Denny Burk. About Article 10, Burk wrote:
That is why Article 10 of The Nashville Statement is as important as any other article before you today… We are not arguing today about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We are not spinning our wheels about adiaphora or some issue of moral indifference. We are declaring what it means to be a male or female image-bearer. We are defining the nature of the marriage covenant and of the sexual holiness and virtue. To get these questions wrong is to walk away from Jesus not to him. There is no more central concern than that.
Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.
Some observers have interpreted Article 10 as a claim that GLBT Christians and those who affirm them are not Christians at all. Saying that those who reject the Nashville Statement are “rejecting Christianity altogether” appears to be a strong statement about salvation and so it isn’t completely clear what the CBMW authors and signers have in mind.
Over the past week, I asked several Nashville Statement authors and signers how they understood Article 10. Most said the article wasn’t a statement about salvation. However, the CBMW and leaders involved in the group (e.g., Denny Burk) haven’t answered direct requests for an interpretation.
Differences of Opinion Among Signers
One signer, radio host and minister Michael Brown, said God is the “ultimate judge” of who is saved and who isn’t. However, he added that, in his view, the article is pertinent to the topic of salvation. In response to my question about the meaning of Article X, Brown told me
God alone is the ultimate judge of who is saved and lost, but yes, I believe this is equivalent to a couple living in adultery. The Word says those who practice adultery will not inherit God’s kingdom, and therefore it is heretical to state they will (1 Cor 6:9-10).
But definitions are important here.
If by “gay Christians” you mean practicing homosexuals, I would say they cannot follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at the same time. (Again, God is their ultimate judge and He knows whether they are in ignorance or rebellion.) If you mean people who struggle with SSA but seek to honor the Lord, of course they can struggle while following Jesus. They are champions with whom we stand strong.
Can I say that someone is not saved if they affirm homosexual practice? Certainly, I cannot say that.
Can I say they are embracing heresy? That they are no longer evangelical? That they are endangering their souls and the souls of others? Absolutely.
This has been my position all along, so it was easy for me to sign on here.
Brown seems to hedge a bit but leans toward doubting the profession of salvation by a GLBT Christian. On the other hand, signer and Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior believes Article 10 refers to orthodoxy and not salvation. She said:
I see an important and crucial distinction between the word “faithfulness” (the word used in the statement) and the word “faith.” A departure from “Christian faithfulness and witness” is not the same as a departure from “the Christian faith.” I was surprised and dismayed that some people seem to see those two words as having the same meaning.
This is an important question. If the Nashville Statement authors and signers intend to limit salvation to those who affirm the statement, then Romans 10:13 will need to be reworded.
Those who call on the name of the Lord and affirm the Nashville Statement on GLBT issues shall be saved.
Nashville Statement signers, what do you think Article 10 means?
If you signed the statement, please leave a comment. What do you think Article 10 is all about? If you didn’t sign it, what is your impression of it?
A story that has been around awhile (since Barton’s 1989 book Myth of Separation) is his claim that Thomas Jefferson incorporated the Bible and Isaac Watts hymnal into the curriculum of the Washington D.C. schools while Jefferson was president. This claim has been thoroughly debunked before by others, notably Jim Allison and Chris Rodda. While those authors documented well their rebuttal to Barton, I like to consult the primary sources for myself. Here I lay out Barton’s claim followed by the truth.
Listen to Barton on Line of Fire:
When he became president of the United States, the Constitution authorizes that Washington, D.C. be run by the federal government, not by any state. So the schools of Washington, D.C. are under federal control. This is a new city when he moves in, he’s the president, he’s the first president to have a full term in the White House, everything else was in New York and Philadelphia, so he gets a full term, brand new city to him, he is now in charge of Washington, D.C. public schools as well. So he’s on the school board for Washington, D.C. public schools, they have to start the system, he authors the plan of education for Washington, D.C. public schools and he installs two reading texts for Washington, D.C. public schools, one is Isaac Watts hymnal, which is where we get the hymns like Joy to the World, etc., that’s what they learned to read from, and the Bible is the other one, and so Jefferson did that.
Barton refers to this story in The Jefferson Lies:
In 1805 President Jefferson was elected head of the board of trustees for the brand new Washington, DC, public schools. 51 He told the city council that he would “willingly undertake the duties proposed to me – so far as others of paramount obligation will permit my attention to them”; 52 that is, he would do what he could for the city schools with the caveat that his presidential duties came first. Robert Brent therefore served as head of the trustees instead of Jefferson; but as a trustee, Jefferson contributed much to the new school system. In fact, James Ormond Wilson, the first superintendent of the Washington, DC, public school system, affirmed that Jefferson was “the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington.” 53 When the first report of the Washington public schools was prepared and released to document the progress of students, it announced:
Fifty-five have learned to read in the Old and New Testaments and are all able to spell words of three, four, and five syllables; twenty-six are now learning to read Dr. Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables; ten are learning words of four and five letters. Of fifty-nine out of the whole number admitted [enrolled] that did not know a single letter, twenty can now read the Bible and spell words of three, four, and five syllables; twenty-nine read Dr. Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables; and ten, words of four and five letters. 54
Most can probably visualize the Bible as a text to teach reading, 55 but what of Watt’s Hymns? Isaac Watts was a Christian theologian and hymn writer, penning some of the strongest doctrinal anthems in Christendom, including classics such as “Jesus Shall Reign,” “Joy to the World,” “O God our Help in Ages Past,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” “At the Cross,” and others. It was this hymnal, along with the Bible, that was used to teach reading to students in the school system whose plan of education was directly attributed to Thomas Jefferson.
Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 1813-1832). WND Books. Kindle Edition.
Jefferson was elected to the D.C. school board in 1805. He accepted in a letter to Robert Brent and at the time told Brent he would “willingly undertake the duties proposed to me, so far as others of paramount obligation will permit my attention to them.” In other words, being president had to come first. After this, Barton’s claims are mostly false.
Did Jefferson Write the Plan of Education for Washington, D.C. Schools?
Barton says in his book that Jefferson authored the plan of education. However, the source he cited doesn’t say that. About Jefferson’s involvement in the D.C. plan of education, Wilson (Barton’s own source) wrote:
A notably comprehensive report, setting forth in detail the plan of the entire educational system from an academy to a university, was prepared by a select committee and adopted September 19, 1805. Mr Jefferson’s early and liberal contribution in money and his accepting and holding the offices of trustee and president of the board of trustees of public schools so long as he resided here show his personal interest in their establishment, and the fact that he had several years earlier proposed a quite similar plan of education for the state of Virginia and a few years later, in 1817, vigorously renewed his proposal, make a strong probability that he himself was the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington.
Barton’s quotation of Wilson is where the mischief is. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton wrote:
In fact, James Ormond Wilson, the first superintendent of the Washington, DC, public school system, affirmed that Jefferson was “the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington.”
But look at what Wilson wrote and notice what Barton omitted in The Jefferson Lies. Wilson said Jefferson’s donations and his prior work on education in Virginia
make a strong probability that he himself was the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington. (bold print is what Barton left out of his quote)
Wilson did not affirm that Jefferson wrote the plan, he guessed Jefferson authored it based on circumstantial evidence. We don’t know what Jefferson’s role was in writing the plan.
Did Jefferson Make Sure the Bible Was Used in D.C. Schools?
Even if Jefferson did write the plan with his own hand, it destroys Barton’s claim because Jefferson didn’t include Bible in it. Wilson’s history provides a description of the 1805 plan:
In their plan the board of trustees said:
The academy shall consist of as many schools as circumstances may require, to be limited at present to two, one of which shall be situated east of the Capitol and within half a mile of it and the other within half a mile of the President’s house, it being understood that these positions are considered by the board as temporary, and consequently subject at any future time to alteration. In these schools poor children shall be taught reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, and such branches of the mathematics as may qualify them for the professions they are intended to follow, and they shall receive such other instruction as is given to pay pupils, as the board may from time to time direct, and pay pupils shall, besides, be instructed in geography and in the Latin language. The schools shall be open each day, Sundays excepted, eight hours in summer and six hours in winter, to be distributed throughout the day as shall be fixed by the board, except during vacation, which shall not commence prior to the first of August, nor continue after the 10th of September, and whose duration shall be fixed by the board. (emphasis added)
There is no mention of the Bible or a hymnal by Watts or anyone else.
So where does Barton get the idea that Jefferson incorporated the Bible and Watts’ hymnal?
A little later in his article, Wilson described some developments after Jefferson left office.
In 1812, the Washington schools switched their methods to allow a D.C. school to follow the approach of an educator named Joseph Lancaster. Then in 1813, a report of the progress under the new educational plan was submitted. Wilson provides the entire report; I will cite the part of it misused by Barton:
In 1813 Mr Henry Ould made the first report of a Washington public school of which we have any record.
It reads as follows : February 10, 1813.
This day 12 months ago I had the pleasure of opening under your auspices the second genuine Lancasterian school in America. The system was set in operation (as far as the nature of the room would admit) in this city on the 10th of February, 1812, in an inconvenient house opposite the General Post Office, but notwithstanding the smallness of the school-room there were 120 scholars entered on the list during the first three months. I was then under the necessity of delaying the admission of scholars, as the room would not accommodate more than 80 to 100 scholars. It now becomes my duty to lay before you an account of the improvement of the scholars placed under my direction in your institution, which I shall do in the following order:
130 scholars have been admitted into your institution since the 10th of February, 1812, viz., 82 males and 48 females, out of which number 2 have died and 37 left the school for various employments, after passing through several grades of the school, which therefore leaves 91 on the list.
PROGRESS IN READING AND SPELLING
55 have learned to read in the Old and New Testaments, and are all able to spell words of three, four, and five syllables; 26 are now learning to read Dr Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables; 10 are learning words of four and five letters. Of 59 out of the whole number admitted that did not know a single letter, 20 can now read the Bible and spell words of three, four, and five syllables; 29 read Dr Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables, and 10, words of four and five letters.
Thomas Jefferson left the presidency in 1809 and retired to Monticello, no longer president or a member of the D.C. school board. This 1813 report summarized the work of one school which was implemented in 1812. Barton gets his claim that Jefferson included the Bible and Watts’ hymnal in his plan from a report about another plan implemented in one school and submitted nearly four years after he left town.
Barton’s mash up of the facts is clearly wrong and has been since 1989.
What Did Jefferson Say About the Bible in Schools?
Joseph Lancaster believed in using the Bible as a reading book. Thomas Jefferson on the other hand did not. In Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, he directly addressed the use of the Bible in schools:
The first stage of this education being the schools of the hundreds, wherein the great mass of the people will receive their instruction the principal foundations of future order will be laid here. Instead therefore of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious enquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European, and American history. — The first elements of morality too may be instilled into their minds such as when further developed as their judgments advance in strength may teach them how to work out their own greatest happiness by showing them that it does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed them but is always the result of a good conscience good health occupation and freedom in all just pursuits. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 154. (emphasis added)
In sum, David Barton claims Thomas Jefferson wrote a plan of education for the Washington, D.C. schools which included instruction in reading from the Bible and a hymn book. The very source Barton cites as evidence debunks these claims and demonstrates that Barton is willing to mash up the facts to get a story useful for his overall narrative about Thomas Jefferson.
In the midst of his campaign for Ted Cruz, David Barton took some time to appear on Michael Brown’s Line of Fire radio show. While they didn’t mention my name, I suspect the Pennsylvania psychology professor was me. I did learn that I don’t hold to “basic Christian teachings” (which ones, David?) and that none of his critics were history guys. I don’t know how he sleeps at night.
He said a bunch of stuff he usually says (and whichI havedebunked) but, in light of Michael Brown’s praise of primary sources early in the program, I was struck by one quote Barton attributed to Jefferson.
You can go to the website to listen at 10:53 where they discuss using primary sources. Then at 21:06, Barton claims Thomas Jefferson said it was his duty as chief magistrate of America as a Christian nation to go to church. Below, I have both segments together in one clip.
Barton quotes Jefferson as follows:
When he became president for 8 years, he went there at the Capitol. When asked, ‘why do you attend church at the Capitol?’ he [Jefferson] said, ‘I’m the chief magistrate of this Christian nation and it’s my duty and responsibility to set this example and so Rev. Ethan Allen there in D.C. that’s who, he explained that to him. I’ve gotta make sure people see me going to church at the Capitol.
Off the cuff, Barton adds to the quote a little. He tells Brown’s audience that Jefferson said these words to Ethan Allen.* However, that is not what Monticello library documents. Monticello researched the following quote attributed to Jefferson:
Quotation: “Sir, no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man, and I as chief magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”
Monticello consulted the existing body of Jefferson’s writings and other papers where his statements are recorded. The first recorded instance of this quote is in 1857 in the papers of Allen. Monticello’s assessed the quote as “questionable.”
Comments: This quotation appeared in a handwritten manuscript by the Reverend Ethan Allen (1796-1879). The story was related to Allen by a Mr. Ingle, who claimed to have been told a story that Jefferson was walking to church services one Sunday,
“…with his large red prayer book under his arm when a friend querying him after their mutual good morning said which way are you walking Mr. Jefferson. To which he replied to Church Sir. You going to church Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it. Sir said Mr. J. No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir.”2
The story comes to us third-hand, and has not been confirmed by any references in Jefferson’s papers or any other known sources. Its authenticity is questionable.
So after claiming the scholarly high ground as someone who uses primary sources, Barton used a questionable quote which comes to us third-hand.
*This is Ethan Allen the Episcopal priest and church historian. Allen was born in 1796 and would been a young boy when Jefferson was president and so Jefferson did not utter this quote to Allen who didn’t come to Washington, D.C., until long after Jefferson retired to Monticello.
Alan Noble at Christ and Pop Culture posted an article yesterday that is actually a rebuttal to an article at Gospel Coalition by Voddie Baucham. I am linking to it because it has so much to offer in addition to the response to Baucham. Even though Baucham has been the victim of systemic racism, he relies on an explanatory framework which leads to a number of false dilemmas. I won’t review them all since Noble examines them well. Here is just one example from Baucham’s article:
I [Baucham] have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”
Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.
Baucham seems to see the problem in this situation as either sin or systemic racism. Can’t it be both? Systemic racism is sin but reframing what Baucham, and countless other African-Americans, go through as sin alone in some vague manner doesn’t help address the problem in the real world. Furthermore, racism exists in the church where everybody agrees sin is bad. Being against sin hasn’t kept white Christians from racism. Baucham’s analysis isn’t totally false, but it is incomplete and therefore unhelpful.
I have been in churches where everybody believed in sin but didn’t believe segregation and exclusion was sin. Unless the script to keep African-Americans down is named and confronted, nothing will change. The whites in the pews thought they were treating others with dignity but wanted the dignity to stay down the street at the black church.
As a teen, I sat in a church where white members didn’t want blacks to worship in the same building. In my hometown, I recall blacks being refused service at various establishments, including a bowling alley and swimming pool. When my father took over as principal at an integrated school, he was told that there were two sets of rules, one for the whites and one for the blacks. My dad’s answer: “Like hell there is! Not while I’m here.” My dad wasn’t an evangelical Christian but he did a very Christian thing without believing he was fighting sin in some theological sense.
Baucham calls the concept of white privilege “Gramscian” and “neo-Marxist.” This is stunning coming from someone who has experienced something because he is black that I have never experienced as a white man. I have never been stopped by police for reasons other than my conduct (i.e., my lead foot as a young man). I was never chased out of an establishment because of the color of my skin. I have never worried about my son being targeted because of the color of his skin.
It is simply true that I have never experienced what many black men experience due to the difference in skin color. There is no virtue in dismissing a truth because it is unpopular with one’s ideological mates. Calling the concept of white privilege Marxist doesn’t make it false.
Noble closes with a hope that we can go deeper than an either-or analysis:
What Ferguson has demonstrated in a very public way is the deep divisions between the various ways that Christians understand race in America. While I am glad to see many in the evangelical church speaking out and having important conversations about race, we must be able to imagine a way forward which does not rely on an overly simple view of personal responsibility and causality.