Could Billy Graham Stand in Alan Jacobs’ Great Day?

Jacobs is a smart fellow and should have enough sense to beware of crowds. If the group is running one way, to paraphrase Glenn Loury, “head for the other.” Right now, group-think is decidedly against any evangelical who supported or voted for Trump.

I did not vote for Trump nor am I an evangelical. So I am a neutral in all the Trump- and evangelical-bashing.

Jacobs recently attributed Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s folly in coddling up to the current POTUS to the poor education he received from his father, Jerry Falwell I:

Point the first: Jerry Falwell, Jr., though not a pastor and holding no advanced degrees in Bible or theology, graduated from two institutions founded by his pastor father for the express purpose of offering seriously Christian education: Liberty Christian Academy and then Liberty University. (JF Jr.’s college major was Religious Studies.)

Point the second: As is evident from the statements that French discusses in his post, Jerry Falwell, Jr. shows no evidence of having even the most elementary understanding of what the Bible says and what the Christian Gospel is.

The problem, as discerning readers will already have noted, is how to reconcile these two points. How could someone raised as Jerry Falwell, Jr. was raised, educated as he was educated, living as he now lives, say that Jesus “did not forgive the establishment elites”? Could he really not know that Jesus said of those establishment elites who killed him, “Father, forgive them”? And this is not an isolated incident. Quite often in recent months JF Jr. (like a number of other evangelical leaders) has made statements that clearly contradict some of the best-known passages in the Bible.

Notice what happens if you apply these standards to Billy Graham. Did his “decisionism” actually express the gospel faithfully? You don’t need to read white papers from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to know that the greatest evangelical of all time may have not used the best of methods or theology to reach the unconverted or lukewarm. Just listen to Tim Challies:

Last weekend Billy Graham preached at what may be his final crusade, preaching before up to 82,000 people at a time. A headline at Pastors.com proclaimed the crusade a great success, indicating that some 12,000 people made decisions for Christ. In a previous article I expressed concerns with Graham’s ecumenism and the fact that Roman Catholic counselors would be present at the event and any people who made decisions and indicated they were from a Catholic background would be directed back to their Catholic churches. Today I’d like to examine the idea of the “decision” that weights so heavily at these crusades.

If you were to do a survey of church history, reading books and documents from the first century all the way to the early nineteenth century, you would find no mention of “decisions for Christ.” Similarly one would find no reference to the altar calls which are the culmination of every modern evangelistic crusade. Those elements, which are found in nearly every evangelical church today, were inventions generally attributed to evangelist Charles Finney who lived from 1792 to 1875. He emphasized the need for a decision, usually made by “coming forward” to approach the altar. Becoming a believer became synonymous with making a decision and proving that decision by taking physical action. It is important to note that this system is entirely foreign to the Scriptures.

Bam!!

By the way, Billy Graham’s theological education was not exactly first-rate, but it didn’t prevent him from preaching his entire life. Nor did it raise questions about the institution where Alan Jacobs used to teach — Wheaton College — which in 1943 granted Graham a degree in — wait for it — anthropology.

In addition to Jacobs’ fastidiousness about Falwell’s theology is the professor’s distaste for the Liberty University president’s politics. Just say Donald Trump and you’ve said all you need to.

But just how reassuring were Billy Graham’s political ties during his long career? What would Jacobs’ have written about Billy Graham conducting worship services in the Nixon White House? And it went beyond worship:

Rev. Billy Graham, the Montreat-based, world-renowned evangelist, long ago addressed some of his troublesome interactions with President Richard Nixon, but disclosures about their behind-the-scenes connections have kept surfacing.

Now, formerly classified and otherwise hidden parts of the daily diary kept by Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, have added even more to the record on Nixon and Graham’s tight relationship.

Last week, on the day before Graham celebrated his 96th birthday, the Nixon Presidential Library posted most of the previously unreleased parts of Haldeman’s “candid personal record and reflections on events, issues and people encountered during his service in the Nixon White House,” as the library describes the diary.

The records add a new level of detail on how Nixon and Graham consulted and bolstered each other during contentious times, with dissent over the Vietnam War sweeping the country, the Watergate scandal erupting, and both men sizing up their standing in national debates.

Most of the records came in the form of audio recordings, which can be heard below.

They expand on how Graham advised Nixon to make more effective speeches, clinch his 1972 re-election bid, address the nation’s spiritual woes and conduct matters of war and diplomacy.

“I talked to Billy Graham during the day,” Haldeman, who ultimately became the key conduit between the preacher and the president, noted in one newly released tape from May 8, 1971, the day Nixon made a major address on his decision to expand the war in Southeast Asia.

“And he said to tell the president to get tough, that that’s what people wanted.”

The point here is not to besmirch Billy Graham. If you were an evangelical you had to scratch your head a lot. Instead, the point is to wonder about the bar that critics of evangelicals like Alan Jacobs are now raising for the likes of Jerry Falwell II. Old Life holds no brief for Mr. Falwell’s mix of religion and politics. But some can wonder where the critics were in the days of Billy Graham.

As the Church Lady used to say, “isn’t that convenient.”

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Professional Historians Don’t Do Religion

That is one way to explain why the editors of the American Historical Review, the flagship journal for professional historians in the United States published by the American Historical Association, let Randall Balmer, a long time student of American evangelicalism, open his book review of Darren E. Grem, The Blessings of Business — when will this sentence end!?! — this way:

On the face of it, the evangelical embrace of capitalism and free enterprise should be a tough sell. Jesus himself warned that rich men face long odds against entering the kingdom of heaven and that it is impossible to serve both God and Mammon. First-century Christians, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, held goods in common, a nascent form of socialism. So how is it that many contemporary evangelicals who trumpet their fidelity to the Bible have become such ardent evangelists for affluence and free-market capitalism? How could Jerry Falwell plausibly argue that “God is in favor of freedom, property, diligence, work, and acquisition”? (AHR, June 2017)

Does this mean that the AHA favors socialism even though it requires members to pay upwards of $200 to attend annual conferences where hotel rooms often go for at least $150 per night? Are we supposed to believe that in a socialist world the workers would unite to underwrite historians gathering annually to hear and present papers, meet with editors, and wine and dine with old colleagues?

Or could it be that Balmer thinks the Bible, which talks about the sin of stealing in pretty big letters, favors “a nascent form of socialism,” one without Gulags or walled cities?

And how is it that Balmer, historian of the United States, is such an expert about religion and society in first-century Palestine? “On the face of it” is not the kind of intellectual muscle needed to master the kinds of research techniques that antiquity requires.

And does Balmer actually believe that Jesus is opposed to property but favors freedom, especially liberty for consenting adults to experience sexual pleasure?

My sense is that the editors understood they had no dog in this hunt — the evangelical left versus the evangelical right — and let Balmer take his swipes.

I do wonder though how Balmer gets up in the morning and goes to lecture in classrooms at Dartmouth College, an institution which boasts an endowment of $4.5 BILLION (according to Google). That, my friends, is a lot of property that resulted from a lot of acquisition. Does Balmer ever trumpet Jesus’ teaching about rich men and serving Mammon with Dartmouth’s administration?

Jesus for President

He’s about the only one left when it comes to a presidential candidate with character. Alan Noble laments:

In just five years, white evangelicals went from overwhelmingly denying a division between private and public character to overwhelmingly embracing the division. It is very difficult for me to imagine an explanation of this shift other than the candidacy of Donald Trump.

I do not want to speculate here on what exactly in Trump’s candidacy caused this shift in white evangelicals. Most of the possibilities are grim and warrant their own thorough exploration. But right now evangelicals can turn back to our traditional teaching that character matters and correct the mistake of supporting Donald Trump.

He concedes that Hillary has issues (which is why Jesus is left standing in that great day):

Some evangelical leaders have claimed that we just have two morally flawed candidates. They point to Hillary Clinton’s flawed character and her sins and conclude that since they are both sinners, we have to simply judge them on their policies. But that does not reflect a Christian conception of character and behavior.

Like many evangelicals, I cannot vote for Clinton because I do not believe she would be a good president for my neighbor. Since I believe that life begins at conception, Clinton’s intention to repeal the Hyde Amendment so that federal funds can be spent on abortions reveals a profound flaw in her character.

But her flaw does not magically make Trump’s flaws any less grievous.

What I enjoy about Trump’s candidacy as someone with a seat in the theater of American electoral politics, is how fundamentalists are now in fashion for both evangelicals and Democrats:

Having grown up as a conservative evangelical during Bill Clinton’s administration, I believe that character matters. This is what leaders on the religious right taught me when Clinton was caught in his affair with Monica Lewinsky. At the time, some people tried to shrug off Clinton’s infidelity as a private matter: Of course he shouldn’t have done it, but this didn’t affect his ability to be president. But conservative evangelicals rejected this logic, and they were right.

In response to President Clinton’s infidelity, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials”:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 9-11, 1998, in Salt Lake City, Utah, affirm that moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character; and

Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.

So is Noble ready for the isolation that always comes to evangelicals who scold modern America for its sins? I thought evangelicals wanted a seat at the table, and fashioned a kinder, gentler Protestantism (than fundamentalism) to get there.

Now Falwell and Co. were right? Who knew?

Mitt ’16

Trigger warning: what follows is a post on a series with lots of profanity and — get this — lots of prayer. If you want to contemplate the disparity between profaning and praising God’s name, see what Curmudgeon has to say.

Like Curmudgeon, I agree that Last Chance U. is a terrific series. It even evokes aspects of — watch out — The Wire since it explores the way college sports functions in African-American boys’ lives and possibly offers a way out of the hood.

The series is so good that the missus did a little research on the director, Greg Whiteley, which took us to his 2014 documentary about Mitt Romney, with the title (of all things) Mitt.

Some think that if this movie had come out during the campaign, Romney might have won. Since the movie ends with the 2012 election returns and Romney’s concession, it’s hard to imagine how the movie might have come out during the campaign. But the movie does humanize Romney in ways that once again raise questions about media coverage of the contest and the mileage anti-GOP folks obtained from Mitt’s 47% remark.

The movie also makes you wish Romney were running now. He seems so much more impressive than either Trump or Clinton. No one has any trouble reminding you what a buffoon the Republican candidate is. Just listen to a ward leader in Philadelphia:

I am writing this letter primarily to the Republicans and Independents of the Ninth Ward (Chestnut Hill and a little bit of Mount Airy). Normally I write to Democratic voters to motivate them to get out and vote in the election. But in this unusual election cycle I think it is important that we talk.

The issue, of course, is Donald Trump. He is a candidate unlike any other that we have seen and, frankly, someone who deeply concerns me and I suspect also concerns many of you. In brief, he is not fit to be President. I say this after a few months of appalling behavior that reveals much about his character.

It is not a question of slips of the tongue or being politically correct. Rather his behavior reveals much about him. These statements show he is not fit and should not be President / Commander in Chief. From the sexist insults of Megan Kelly and many other women, to ridiculing a disabled New York Times reporter, to calling out the Mexican American federal judge as unfit to judge him, to attacking the gold star parents of Captain Kahn, he has revealed his character.

So you vote for Hillary and look the other way when someone asks about character? Where on the spectrum of bad character does a candidate become acceptable, even fit for office? Hillary’s at the good spot on the bad character spectrum? And was this Democratic official standing by Hillary’s man when the president seemed to reveal a few flaws of his own? Now some people know what it feels like to be Jerry Falwell.

Of course, Mitt may overdo Romney’s character. Maybe he’s not that wholesome and easy going. Maybe his family is not so pleasant when the camera is off. Maybe the candidate praying with his family on their knees — in Christ’s name, no less — was phony.

But if Trump could be this year’s candidate, why not Romney? At one point Romney says he is everything the Republican Party is not — he’s northern, rich, and Mormon while the party is southern, populist, and evangelical. Well, what is Donald Trump? Southern? Populist? Christian?

What he is is anti-elite and anti-PC. J.D. Vance explained it to Terry Gross (via Rod Dreher):

… so my dad is a Trump supporter, and I love my dad, and I always say, Dad, you know, Trump is not going to actually make any of these problems better. And he says, well, that’s probably true, but at least he’s talking about them and nobody else is and at least he’s not Mitt Romney. At least he’s not George W. Bush. He’s at least trying to talk about these problems.

Romney was far more regular than the press or his campaign made him seem. But he was too much part of the establishment — though not enough to get the blessing of the mainstream media — (Harvard, governor of Massachusetts) to attract “poor white trash.”

That’s too bad.

We're Closer to Turkey than You Think?

This may be the most important context for considering the controversy over Islam at Wheaton College, namely, that Americans themselves are not all that comfortable with secularity and Islam reveals where the lumps in the mattress are. Rod Dreher quoted a poignant part of Ross Douthat’s column on how the West views Islam, as either as conservatives believe “radically incompatible with Western liberal democracy, and can never be reconciled to it; or, as many liberals believe, it is capable of assimilating to become as tame and non-threatening as most forms of Christianity and Judaism in the West.” In the Protestant world, either Larycia Hawkins or Tim Bayly. According to Douthat:

The good news is that there is space between these two ideas. The bad news is that we in the West can’t seem to agree on what that space should be, or how Christianity and Judaism, let alone Islam, should fit into it.

Devout Muslims watching current Western debates, for instance, might notice that some of the same cosmopolitan liberals who think of themselves as Benevolent Foes of Islamophobia are also convinced that many conservative Christians are dangerous crypto-theocrats whose institutions and liberties must give way whenever they conflict with liberalism’s vision of enlightenment.

They also might notice that many of the same conservative Christians who fear that Islam is incompatible with democracy are wrestling with whether their own faith is compatible with the direction of modern liberalism, or whether Christianity needs to enter a kind of internal exile in the West.

It almost sounds like Turkey’s war between Islamic friendly politicians and secularists, from a piece quoted sometime back from Mustafa Akyol:

As you probably well know, Turkey has long been stressed by political tension between religious conservatives and secular nationalists, the latter also known as the Kemalists. However, that main fault line is somewhat passé these days given the emergence of a new kind of tension between the religious conservatives who had triumphed together in (OR: previous) tension from years gone by. This time, it is the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and the powerful Fethullah Gülen Movement that are at odds with each other. . . .

The term I translated here as “referee” (“hakem”) is a powerful word in Islam, referring to a neutral and fair judge who can settle disputes. And it is interesting that Ms. Eraslan, a pious, headscarf-wearing Muslim, thinks that this “referee” may be none other than secularism. Of course, this would not be the type of secularism that Turkey’s Kemalists have imposed for decades. That peculiar ideology, called “laiklik” (from the French laïcité), was based on the assumption that there was something wrong with religion and therefore it needed to be suppressed by the state.

What Ms. Eraslan probably implied, and what Turkey indeed needs, is a more American-like secularism. In other words, it should be based on the recognition that there is a problem not with religion, but with the concentration of political power.

Unlike Turkey, though, and the conflict between religion and laicite, could the struggle in the U.S. be the one that animated fundamentalists and modernists during the 1920s? The political left in the United States, like modernists, does not advocate the removal of religion from public life. They like religion (think Martin Luther King, Jr.). Jim Wallis is not a threat to them.

So too, the right also likes religion of the right sort (see what I did there?). It used to be Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Now it’s Rick Santorum and Kim Davis.

The problem is that both left and right embrace a form of American exceptionalism that needs religion to endow the United States with a righteous or holy purpose.

In that case, if we are still living with the dynamics of the fundamentalist controversy, has the United States learned lessons it can pass on to the Muslim world?

The Forgotten Mark Hatfield

The governor of Oregon and U.S. Senator, Mark Hatfield, died last Sunday. For many evangelicals born after 1970, Hatfield’s name is obscure. But during the 1960s and 1970s he was a model for evangelical political engagement. Only after the rise of the Moral Majority under Jerry Falwell and the Reagan Revolution did Hatfield’s brand of liberal Republicanism disappear as an option for born-again Protestants. But now that a younger generation of evangelicals, recovering from Falwell and Bush fatigue, is looking for a less conservative and (even) more compassionate way of doing what Jesus would do in the public square, reflections on Hatfield’s legacy will likely be positive.

Hatfield makes an important appearance in From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin as a representative of what might have been had Falwell and the Moral Majority not come along. As important as Hatfield was, especially by inspiring the likes of Jim Wallis, he committed the same error as Falwell — baptizing politics in the name of Jesus. Here is an excerpt from the book:

Hatfield initiated any number of pieces of legislation on domestic and foreign policy that struck many as naively idealistic. From American consumption of food, and dependence on fossil fuels to the United States’ production of a nuclear arsenal, Hatfield was often ready with proposals that reflected his own understanding of what would Jesus do if he were an American Senator. Aside from legislative proposals, the Oregonian also used his own limited bully pulpit to prick the conscience of fellow Americans. Two resolutions from the 1970s stand out. In 1974 Hatfield called for a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer on which Americans would humble themselves, acknowledge their dependence on their creator, and “repent of their national sins.” The Senator’s home newspaper referred to the proposed day as the time “we all eat humble pie.” The same year, Hatfield proposed a “Thanksgiving Resolution” that would have called upon Americans to identify with the world’s hungry, and encouraged fasting on all holidays between Thanksgiving Days of 1974 and 1975. To publicize this resolution, Hatfield hosted a luncheon in the Senate where eaters were treated to a one-course meal consisting of a hard roll.

Hatfield’s political sensibility made no sense to conservatives leaders in the GOP but it resonated with the young evangelical desire for a religiously motivated politics. In several books, such as Between A Rock and A Hard Place, Hatfield insisted that politicians and citizens who followed Christ should be committed to four basic ideals: identifying with the poor and oppressed against exploitative institutions and social structures, opposition to all forms of violence and militancy, resisting a materialistic life-style, and understanding political authority as essentially a form not of rule but service. “Our witness within the political order must hold fast,” Hatfield wrote, “with uncompromised allegiance, to the vision of the New Order proclaimed by Christ.” As such, the role of the Christian politician was always prophetic — the Senator drew much inspiration from the case of the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. “Our allegiance and hope rest fundamentally with [Christ’s] power, at work in the world through his Spirit, rather than in the efficacy of our world’s systems and structures to bring about social righteousness in the eyes of God.”

For Hatfield, whose close exposition of the Bible was more substantial than most of the evangelicals who were writing about politics, a fundamental tension existed between Christianity and politics. This world’s structures of governance and economic productivity were essentially corrupt. Rather than regarding the role of the civil magistrate as one of restraining such evil until the return of Christ and the establishment of a new order, Hatfield believed the Christian politician’s duty was to implement those longed-for patterns of justice and righteousness in the present. As utopian as such an ideal might appear, the Oregonian’s reliance on the Bible forced evangelicals to take him seriously. For the younger evangelicals, and especially those attracted to an alternative form of politics, Hatfield’s arguments expressed exactly the themes that should characterize Christian social concern. But even older evangelicals, who were more comfortable with the label of conservative and who channeled their political energies into the GOP, could not dismiss Hatfield because of his standing in the Senate and his appeal to Scripture. If evangelicals had actually been comfortable with political theories derived from reflection on human nature and the created order, they might have dismissed Hatfield as just one more radical idealist who happened to know his Bible. Because he spoke the language of Bible-based, Christ-centered social activism and political responsibility, Hatfield was another in a long line of American Protestants who thought he was doing the Lord’s work.

A Proposal On Which All Anti-2kers May Unite

I know that not all anti-2kers get along. Heck, the Baylys seem to have banned Rabbi Bret from participating in all the fun over at their free wheeling discussions. Meanwhile, Dr. K., who may be the longest winded of 2k critics has appeal to Bret but may be too Dutch for the Baylys. Then there is the transformer of transformers, Tim Keller, who is not outspokenly critical of 2k but whose theology confuses the kingdoms on route to the polis. And despite Keller’s desire to Christianize the culture, it does not measure up to the standards set by the Baylys, Rabbi Bret, or Dr. K.

So I propose the following statement as a basis on which all transformers, left or right, theonomic or benevolently imperial, Geneva or Big Apple, may unite (no fair doing a Google search to look for its origins):

God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ embraces the whole of man’s life; social and cultural, economic and political, scientific and technological, individual and corporate. It includes man’s natural environment as exploited and despoiled by sin. It is the will of God that his purpose for human life shall be fulfilled under the rule of Christ and all evil be banished from his creation.

Biblical visions and images of the rule of Christ such as a heavenly city, a father’s house, a new heaven and earth, a marriage feast, and an unending day culminate in the image of the kingdom. The kingdom represents the triumph of God over all that resists his will and disrupts his creation. Already God’s reign is present as a ferment in the world, stirring hope in men and preparing the world to receive its ultimate judgment and redemption.

With an urgency born of this hope the church applies itself to present tasks and strives for a better world. It does not identify limited progress with the kingdom of God on earth, nor does it despair in the face of disappointment and defeat. In steadfast hope the church looks beyond all partial achievement to the final triumph of God.

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”