Republicans are Always Evil Everywhere

I still remember my days at Harvard Divinity School when most if not all of my friends mocked Ronald Reagan as a boob and a divorcee who had snowed God’s faithful within the Moral Majority. In fact, every nominee of the GOP since Goldwater (in my memory) has been of dubious character and intellect. That makes evangelical support for Republicans the height of hypocrisy, not to mention a threat to the Republic.

I went to church with some of my friends on a number of occasions, mostly to see what they were teaching their followers. While I disagreed with much of it, I couldn’t help but like the people I met there and admire their sense of community and devotion to something bigger than themselves. I took part in discussion groups with church members too, and again, while I thought much of it was intellectually indefensible, the intent was genuine and their desire to do good in their communities laudable.

I could not for the life of me understand how these good people could vote for someone like George Bush and Dick Cheney — oil funded war hawks who spent their political careers wrecking social programs for the poor and doing everything in their power to trash the environment. The contradiction between their personal humility and willingness to vocally support and vote for greedy millionaires with a penchant for violence in the Middle East was completely alien to me.

So why be shocked if those same evangelical Protestants vote for Trump? Because he is so much more wicked?

White evangelical Christians came out in droves to support Donald Trump — a man who exemplifies literally everything Jesus Christ stood for. Trump is a rich braggart who has made a name for himself flaunting his wealth. He openly denigrates women, has a lurid history of sexual assault, insults minorities and holds petty grudges against anyone who speaks out against him. In no rational universe can these two completely contradictory beliefs be reconciled. If you believe that the gospels accurately depict the life of Christ, then supporting a man who calls women “pigs” and “dogs” and has spoken about grabbing them “by the pussy”, you cannot be called a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.

Did this narrative of Republican depravity help either evangelicals or editors at the New York Times tell the difference between decent and vulgar GOP nominees? Not really, but one of the blessings of Trump is adding nuance to perceptions of the Republican Party (barely):

This uniquely American phenomenon of equating greed, misogyny and racism with moral righteousness appears to be getting more and more pronounced. In retrospect, George W. Bush was a shining example of moral virtue when compared with Donald Trump.

Hmm. What if the mainstream media had treated George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney — all persons who had served in public administration and were serious politicians (compared to Trump) — as real players in U.S. politics rather than benighted fools of questionable morals? Perhaps the electorate might have had the tools to discern the difference between Trump and John Kasich. Maybe some voters would not have sensed that they were damned no matter for which Republican they voted.

But from the perspective of the elite press rooms, spotting the difference among Republicans is as unusual as white Americans thinking Asian Americans look different.

I guess evangelicals are guilty of introducing self-righteousness into politics, but I blame the Puritans and all graduates of their universities, you know, the schools from which anyone worth a darn graduates (think Harvard and Yale).

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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.

You Can't Spell Billy with Two Ks

Our Pennsylvania correspondent sent an email with the poster (the image used here) attached. The text, which appears with a close-up of Billy Graham, old but still looking good, runs as follows:

The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren, and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.

Graham, who has always been vulnerable for consorting with Republican presidents and presidential candidates, threatens to go out of this mortal life with another questionable. This advertisement comes in various formats and can be downloaded and printed for bulletin inserts, bulletin boards, and is even filling up billboards. It also follows on the heels of news that Graham met with Mitt Romney and that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has removed Mormonism from its list of cults, which would appear to make safe the way of Graham’s endorsement.

Since Graham has a complicated (at best) relationship with presidents and has exhibited (in all about my estimation) a remarkable naivete about U.S. politics, I am not inclined to conclude, as some have, that Graham may be ruining his legacy. As a preacher of fairly crass decisionism, Graham has not impressed this “vinegary Old School Presbyterian” (how one colleague puts it) as having made the greatest contribution to Protestantism. I have admired his ability to avoid the kind of personal failings that seem to go with the baggage of itinerancy. It is also hard not to be impressed by the longevity and strength of his organization. At the same time, since Graham has a history of sidling up to political candidates — without apparently considering whether he is actually the one being used — I am not going to throw a flag or raise a card. Billy is what he is.

But the language used in this poster does deserve some comment. First, support for the nation of Israel may be a responsible foreign policy for U.S. presidents, but it hardly follows from the teaching of Scripture since the church, which transcends national borders, is the new Israel. But old habits of dispensational premillennialism die hard. Second, biblical teaching on marriage is hardly a uniform call to the God vote since Protestants and Roman Catholics have pretty different understandings of the relations between man and wife, at least whether marriage is a sacrament, not to mention the kind of instruments spouses may use to enhance or restrict the fruit of their womb. And that leads to the third problem in Graham’s message — how would he or his supporters feel if Muslims sponsored billboards that called upon Americans to vote for candidates who upheld marriage as defined by Sharia Law?

Rather than clarifying dilemmas confronting voters, the introduction of religion only makes matters more confusing. That’s not to say that deciding on a candidate in this election should be all that hard. Looking at the political philosophies of both parties, instead of their religious affirmations, should provide a clear choice. Then again, those FroPo Cons have a habit of making even a simple political decision difficult.

On the bright side, at least one of the figures identified in my book is making a splash this electoral season. Thanks for nothing Sarah.

Political Reflections — Pious or Otherwise

The debate last night has many Americans thinking about politics, not to mention the presidential campaign more generally. What these moments bring out are a host of observations on the nature of politics by believers. Some, like the Alliance Defending Freedom, have declared this coming Lord’s Day to be “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Pastors are supposed to use sermons to evaluate the presidential candidates according to “biblical truths and church doctrine.” Brian Lee, a URC pastor in Washington, D.C., doesn’t think much of this effort:

But most pastors are reluctant to exchange their spiritual freedom from politics to demonstrate their political freedoms for politics. A survey of 1,000 mainline and evangelical protestant pastors released this week suggests that only 1 in 10 believe they should endorse a candidate from the pulpit, despite the fact that almost half plan to personally endorse outside of their church role.

Furthermore, previous studies have shown that this reluctance isn’t based on belief that the government has a say on the content of their speech. Clearly, many pastors are constrained by the sanctity of their office, and in particular, the pulpit. They recognize the very real tradeoff that in our polarized age political speech may offend and drive off many members of the flock they are called to shepherd.

Furthermore, the New Testament offers no encouragement for direct political action. When Jesus was asked a trick question about the propriety of paying taxes — is there any other kind? — he asked whose name was on the coin, and told his followers to “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Later, when on trial for his life, he did not deny his royal authority, but instead claimed “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Then there are those instances where Christians try to strike a balance — avoid extremes at all cost. Justin Taylor offers an example of this:

It is true that “this world is not our home,” but it’s not true that “I’m just passing through” like a leisurely amusement park ride.

We are dual citizens, responsible and active members of both God’s spiritual kingdom and earthly kingdom. And if we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength—and to love our neighbor as ourselves—then we should care to some degree about politics and elections and the role of government in our land. . . .

Some argue that we should be invested in evangelism or preaching or social justice instead of politics. But most of us can care about both. Let me offer two reasons why we, as Bible-believing, gospel-centered evangelicals, should care about politics at varying levels and degrees.

First, we care about politics because we care about God’s glory and God’s good gift. Everything is designed to be from God and through God and to God (Rom. 11:36)—including our government. Everything we do—from drinking our coffee in the morning to having a sandwich for lunch to voting at the booth to serving as an elected official—is to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). . . .

Second, we care about politics because we care about the good of our neighbors and the good of our country. If you have to choose between evangelism and politics, choose evangelism. Saving an eternal soul is more important than fixing a temporal need. But most of the time, we don’t have to choose.

In point of fact, we do need to choose based on how we reflect on this stuff. If evangelism is more important than transforming the city or electing the right candidate, it will mean that we treat cities and candidates as less important. People who aren’t invested in Major League Baseball don’t care about the playoffs, even if they care in some way about the players who are citizens or their neighbors who are fans. Our powers of assessment affect the time we devote to certain activities. Priorities matter. And that is why some members of the Gospel Coalition are trying to find ways to elevate the importance of the arts, cities, and Christian cultural (and political) engagement. One of the easiest Christian strategies is to follow Abraham Kuyper and call such activity “holy.” Then the temporal and earthly gains the significance of the eternal and the heavenly. I wish the folks at Gospel Coalition would mind the priority of their organization’s name.

This leaves the best reflection of all on politics — the one uncluttered by religious outlook. Here I cut and paste from a post earlier today at Front Porch Republic.

The blogosphere is filled with opinions on last night’s debate between the president and the challenger. The chattering classes has gotten a whole lot larger. Unless you are a historian and follow the posts at the History News Network, you probably didn’t see Leo Ribuffo’s reflections. A good friend who teaches history at George Washington University, is writing a biography of Jimmy Carter, and calls himself a McGovern Democrat, Leo is also wittily acerbic. Here is a good example (the rest is here):

Romney obviously won. The question is why. Quite possibly he won because he was channeling his inner Governor George Romney, a moderate Republican in the context of his era. In other words, having secured the Republican nomination, Mitt looked confident and relaxed because he was no longer confined to saying only things he didn’t believe. Perhaps if Romney is elected this inner George would prompt him to restrain the cultural conservatives and limited government zealots who dominate his party. I wouldn’t bet on it, but who knows? Lack of principle made Richard Nixon a better president for the welfare state than anyone expected.

Perhaps Obama lost the debate because he was having an off night. Or because he was over-confident. Or conversely, sensing the precariousness of his situation given the high level or unemployment, he channeled his inner Tom Dewey and decided to sit on his lead in the polls. Or perhaps, channeling his inner Michael Dukakis, he actually thinks a presidential election is about competence, not ideology. But I would speculate further that Obama had trouble mounting an effective and spirited defense of the welfare state because at heart he is a “new kind of Democrat” skeptical of government programs.

Whatever the reasons, Obama was lousy. Some pundits instantly attributed his abysmal performance to his “professorial” demeanor. This dopey short-hand has now become standard, akin to Jimmy Carter the engineer (wrong) and George W. Bush the “faith-based” president (even more wrong). Let’s abandon this cliché. Actual professors by definition hold jobs, which means that we had at least one successful job interview in which we looked people in the eye, explained our merits, and showed enthusiasm about our past work and future plans. Then, after being hired, we figured out how to adapt our complex and sometimes esoteric ideas to reach the audience at hand. As my old friend Warren Goldstein of the University of Hartford emailed me in mid-debate, “Most of us have to be 10 times better than that to keep 20 year olds awake in class.”

Baseless?

I am not in the habit of making political predictions, nor do I follow the polls or pundits sufficiently to feel comfortable doing so. But I did tweet on the eve of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare that if the President’s plan was upheld, then he would lose the November election. The reason is that the Supreme Court’s decision would energize the GOP’s base at a time when its November candidate is hardly inspiring too red meat conservatives.

Obama had no control over the Court’s decision or timing (on the eve of the election), but he has had some say in other matters that are also energizing social conservatives, such as immigration or gay marriage, and for some reason the Obama campaign doesn’t seem to worry about riling up all of those people who listen to Rush, Sean, Bill (Bennett), Michael (Medved), and Hugh (Hewitt). Maybe these guys are the smartest people in the nation. Or it could be that they are tone deaf to Red State politics.

A further indication of Obama unwittingly helping Romney came yesterday with the news that Wheaton College is joining with the Catholic University of America to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. In an interview with Christianity Today, Wheaton’s president Phil Ryken explained why despite the timing this should not be construed as a partisan political act:

Wheaton College is not a partisan institution and the effect of our filing on any political process has played no part at all in any of our board discussions on the issue. The timing of things is driven primarily by the mandate itself. Wheaton College stands to face punitive fines already on January 1, 2013, and I am welcoming incoming freshmen in two weeks. It’s already an issue for us in terms of our health insurance and what we provide for this coming academic year. Although we wanted to wait for the Supreme Court decision out of respect for the legal system, we do not believe that we can wait any longer.

I too regard this as simply the prudent action of a college administration in response to unwise federal policy. And that is what is remarkable. Wheaton College is hardly part of the Religious Right. Ryken is no culture warrior. In fact, if anything the college is as uncomfortable with the GOP as many evangelical colleges and universities (compared to the 1980s). And yet, Obama and company have put Christians, with all sorts of reasons to be sympathetic to him, on the defensive at a time when they may revert to Republican habits of vote.

Odd.

Can We Get a Little Moral Clarity Here?

In the light of Newt Gingrich’s recent surge in the polls, let’s see how the fortunes of the Religious Right are developing:

A weak week ago Mitt Romney was leading in the polls and some even talked about his sowing up the nomination after South Carolina and Florida.

Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife did an interview this week in which details of Newt’s infidelities were in full view.

South Carolina may be the most evangelical state in the union, prompting some to call for Christians to migrate to the Palmetto State.

Today, pundits are calling the South Carolina Republican primary a toss-up between Gingrich and Romney, despite Romney’s obvious practice of family values and Gingrich’s marital past.

So where does this lead? First, evangelicals rally behind Tim Tebow who disregards the fourth commandment. Second, evangelical leaders tried to identify Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic who doesn’t even number the Ten Commandments (let alone interpret them) as evangelicals do (or used to). Now, apparently some evangelicals are willing to overlook the seventh commandment in favor of a conservative Republican.

I personally don’t care how evangelicals vote. Voting is not an act of devotion and is a matter of Christian liberty. But I do grow weary of the constant refrain of faith’s importance for politics when it is so obviously untrue, when a paucity of political ideas forces believers to wrap politics in Christian language. All of us are hypocrites. But not all of us make such a big deal of calling attention to our hypocrisy. If the Religious Right wants the rest of America to take them seriously, they need to acknowledge and explain their selectivity. I have advice — adopt 2k theology which means that you recognize the fallenness of the world and its politicians and so make the best of a bad situation. But if you’re going to insist that religion forms the only adequate basis for morality, and if you’re going to demand political candidates who have a faith that produces the kind of character needed for holding public office, then you better have a ready explanation for your vote for candidates who openly violate the Ten Commandments.

And it would also be good to explain how your identification of political acts with Christian devotion is not a violation of the First Commandment. Admittedly, Karl Barth had his problems as an interpreter of the Reformed tradition. But he certainly recognized the damnable error of investing political parties with religious significance (beyond the indefinite meanings supplied by providence).

Two-Kingdom W— V— in Iowa

Mikelmann has been on a roll lately as the GOP hopefuls have rolled through Iowa. The inconsistencies that evangelical faith and w— v— convictions place upon Iowa’s citizens and the Republican’s candidates is indeed staggering. It even shows how faith-based political engagement is seriously hurting the integrity of Christ’s followers. But apparently the stakes in the greatest nation on God’s green earth are higher than those of kingdom of grace.

I draw attention to two particular posts. In the first, MM comments on the danger of divided political loyalties (as if the Republican candidates differ all that much) dividing the church:

After the election there will likely be groaning about how the evangelical vote broke up. But mourn not; it’s not always a bad thing to break up. Think of it as an opportunity. Think of it as an opportunity to see that there is no one way for a Christian to vote. Think of it as an opportunity to realize that looking at candidates from an alleged biblical worldview does not inexorably lead to one candidate or another. Maybe selecting political leaders isn’t the same as selecting church leaders. And for those who, like Michele Bachmann, want more political speech in the church maybe it’s a good demonstration of how folks get politically divided and a reminder that we shouldn’t bring that division into the church. Because breaking up a church over politics would be a bad thing.

In the second, MM observes the inadequacies of w—- v—-ism for finding the right candidate:

People who call themselves Evangelicals tend to have a bit of a bandwagon mentality – in part because of their self-perception of belonging under the Evangelical tent – and they may have hopped on board the Worldview Express with the general idea of living Christianly when, really, the worldview commitment is more specific and theologically loaded than that. . . .

The fault isn’t with the voters; it’s with worldview. What does worldview say about federal enforcement vs. state enforcement of marriage and abortion? What does it say about immigration? Does it tell us whether Iran should have nuclear weapons? Subsidies for ethanol? Tax reform? The answers are “nothing” and “no.”

Meanwhile, evangelical parachurch leaders are busily engaged in discussions to find a candidate who is not a Mormon. The last I checked, the U.S. Constitution forbade any religious tests for holding public office. Granted, the Constitution also grants citizens the freedom to use religious tests to oppose candidates. But the flip side of that freedom is the embarrassment to which Christian Americans are entitled when they observe such folly. If you don’t care for Romney’s policies or even his persona, fine. Don’t support him. But don’t use religion as an excuse to oppose the Mormon and then find reasons to support the divorced Roman Catholic. (Such hypocrisy is moving me to support Romney and even to feel a Chris Matthews tingle in my leg at the thought of the nation’s first Protestant president.)

Only Christians May Rule In A Secular State (Huh?)

Many have weighed in on Pastor Jeffress’ comments about Mitt Romney and Mormonism. What caught my eye was the disparity between Jeffress’ application of a religious test for holding public office and his implicit endorsement of religious liberty.

Let me explain.

I do not have any fear that Pastor Jeffress wants to ban Mormonism or Mormons from the United States. I suspect that he values and defends the sort of liberty that allows the United States to tolerate the religious practices of a host of believers, including Mormons. In other words, I doubt that Pastor Jeffress would actually support legislation to suppress Mormonism or Roman Catholicism. He is a good American (read: tolerant).

But what Jeffress seems to miss is that his view implies that only a Christian magistrate may enforce or uphold religious toleration. In other words, only a Christian can properly tolerate idolatry or oversee the sort of freedom that allows many Americans to violate God’s law. In which case, his test for office puts believers in the awkward position of having a duty to approve of false religion and wickedness.

It is a breathtaking reversal of the older Protestant teachings on the magistrate. Formerly, the churches taught that the magistrate needed to uphold the true religion, suppress false faith, and punish wickedness. They were not explicit about requiring a Christian to hold office, though it’s hard to imagine how a non-church member could ever hold office under a Constantinian arrangement. Now in the American context, evangelical Protestants are so attached to their nation’s ideals and its alleged Christian roots that they require a Christian to hold office and perform functions that do the exact opposite of what the older Reformed creeds taught – protect freedom to disobey Scripture.

This argument would have gotten the average citizen, magistrate, or pastor banished (at least) from Geneva or Scotland. In the United States it is part of the warp and woof of our Protestant civil religion. Should be a fun presidential season.