Trump Trumps God in 2016

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An August 2007 article in The Economist titled Is America Turning Left? gave a historical draw on the role of the right, especially the Christian right, in shaping American politics. It started off by stating:

            The most conservative president [George W. Bush] in recent history, a man who sought to turn his  victories of 2000 and 2004 into a Republican hegemony, may well end up driving the Western world’s most impressive political machine off a cliff.

In 2004, the Republican Party aimed to distract voters from a slipping United States economy and two foreign wars by making faith a part of its platform. That year many states put issues such as gay marriage on the ballot, urging faith-based voters to cast a vote defining marriage between a man and a woman. Such 2004 right-wing fervor still exist in politics and churches, but the post-Barack Obama era appears to have weakened the base of Christian-Republicans. Traditional Republican candidates quickly dissipated in this past election season. And though Donald Trump promises to appoint conservative judges to the bench, many suspect this is a ploy to maintain Christian Republicans.

If one turned their television to a religious station or attended a church service, they might hear how America is moving down an immoral path to being the next Sodom and Gomorrah. Trump, however, has placed distanced from such language in electing to use nationalism over religion, as noted by his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again”.

Trump’s jingoistic language differs from the Puritanical faith-based thinking of past, which has garnered historical attention for centuries, starting with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, movers of the First Great Awakening, which also cemented the South as the Bible Belt. Starting in the late 1970s, those who supported Barry Goldwater in 1964, unified to shape mass politics. Goldwater was the standard-bearer of the New Right Republican Party. Goldwater engineered a disgruntled white Conservative population fearing the United States was becoming too liberal. This emerging Republican population consisted of conservative ideologues, fundamentalist Christians, and populist voters who deplored the liberal social, political, and economic trends of the 1960s and hoped to change it. Many of them were against the civil rights legislation, arguing that they were unconstitutional as they undermined states’ rights.

Just like the First and Second Great Awakening of the 18th and 19th century, evangelical leaders were content to combat what they called the forces of Satan, by asking all believers to join in an attempt to save the souls of the lost. This action took place during religious crusades and revivals. By the Fourth Great Awakening, there was no need to rally the troops at revival camp meetings. A quick hit of a TV button had the religious right advocating for political candidates and against what they saw as the sins of liberalism. It was Richard Viguerie, a right-wing publicist, who marshaled the power of the computerized direct-mail advertising as a New Right unifier. This, as well as the message of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, served as an impetus to fighting leftism.

Yet in 2016 the religious right has given their soul to Trump – not God. As I recently noted, Evangelical Christians in America must decide if they really value religious freedom or just the religious freedom of Jesus. If they value the latter — there will be a generational rebellion against them, and thus their purpose of Jesus sharing will die, as far too many right-wing Christian evangelicals have not sided with the love and empathy of Christ, but identity politics.

Do Agnostics & Atheists Have a Point?

As many of my readers know, I am fascinated with the topic of faith, religion, and spirituality. I pretty much cover the gamut on this, but more from a historical lens than that of a theological one. I love drafting posts about how people view faith and how their sense of faith transformed or is transforming human history. There are many atheist who are just bitter. They hate themselves and thus force their own sense of disdain for humanity on to others. This is true of religions too. There are those who believe in certain values which are pushed on to others. I was recently asked by a student to share my thoughts on both ends of the spectrum. Though I find this video to be very very good, it is flawed in some ways. Give it a listen and you might see why. As for me, the atheist arguments that are without validity are:

1. There cannot be a God because good people suffer and die
2. Religion causes too many wars and conflict
3. Religious people are evil and do evil things
4. Religious people lack intellect
5. Christians are the reason for racism

As for Christians, I find them silly in that they:

1. Believe the entire book of the Bible is the inherent word of God; we know this is not true as man has self selected pieces to define this cannon
2. Make silly arguments regarding time and space vis-a-vis dinosaurs
3. Seem to believe all members of society should live by their legislation
4. To be one of them — one must behave in an overly outward way of expression
5. Nonreligious people are immoral

Why I Admire Agnostics?

I have a great sense of admiration for those who define themselves as agnostic; it is here that one has not fully reached a point of distinction; he or she are still wrestling with the merits of two extremes. I mean on one hand, you are asking a person to simply have faith in that a man was born of a virgin to combat the natural elements of the universe, only to be resurrected three days later. Further, man must contend with the notion of biblical inconsistencies, particularly those in the book of Geniuses. On the other hand, science cannot explain so much about humanity nor man’s sense of place. Hence, this opens the door back up to the agnostic as he continues to seek truth.

The reality of seeking truth for this agnostic is that he may never find it. But, the thing I admire about agnostics is their lack of a solid conclusion.Paradoxically, I admire the atheist who studies Christian and religious beliefs and seeks to understand why they have their values — this being true for the atheist’s respect of Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. Religious people must also seek an understanding of why their “will” and “faith” cannot be pushed on non believers. Many have spent a great deal of time coming to this conclusion.

I myself respect the values of all people. Because of that, I concluded this past year that I cannot nor will I ever teach at a religious school that discriminates on the behalf of their belief. I have found such institutions to be narrow in seeking to understand that the world can exist outside of religious dogma. I am at a point in my career that I can demand better. To reject others and limit the knowledge base and diversity learned by students is not fair to them, nor does it fully allow for real intellectual engagement.

Christian Scholars’ Conference Panels

I am excited about the two panels I will sit on at the Christian Scholars’ Conference at Lipscomb University this June. I was able to organize a session with some brilliant folks. I was invited to join another panel at this conference too. Both panels address a great deal of my own academic work. It should be fun blogging from Nashville this summer. This will be the second time I have attended and delivered papers at this meeting.

This panel will address the “Invitation to the Voiceless Minority”

Edward Carson, The Brooks School History Department, convener

Michelle Mikeska, Houston Christian Bible Department, panelist

Stephanie Eddleman, Harding University English Department, panelist

Michael Brown, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Optometry, and Physician at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, moderator

The panelists will be addressing matters of faculty and student autonomy, academic voice, tenure, promotion, and expressions of faith, which have long been a topic of concern within faith-based institutions. Thus, the question of defining campus leadership in the 21st century lends itself to discussing the role of the voiceless minority – students and faculty members who possess a unique viewpoint due to their race, gender, ideology, or sexual orientation. The success of an institution can be measured by the intellectual freedom and voice permitted on its campus. The failure to invite this voice to the table creates a sense of isolation and works against a democratic construct of inclusiveness, inhibiting the advancement of thought in a safe community for all groups. This interactive session will consist of three scholars who will deliver individual papers relating to the theme of the voiceless minority within faith-based institutions, and concludes with a moderated question and answer period.

Professor Carson’s paper, titled, Racial Reflection and Sexual Identity: The Challenges of Silence in Conservative Institutions, discusses how black integration via political rights shaped twentieth century black studies circa 1970. Such studies, however, never fully materialized among faith-based institutions. Thus, with the advent of the twenty-first century, black faculty members and students have often been silenced by the notion of whiteness, in which one believes the world is colorblind. This is further exasperated by the identity issues in which gays and lesbians wrestle with in faith-based environments. This paper will delve into the various change agents that predominately white faith-based institutions must embrace in order to cultivate a true appreciation of diversity. Research for this paper draws on historical literature and anthropological arguments that analyzes trends in race and sexuality, as well as scriptural arguments.

Professor Eddleman’s paper, titled, Female Voices of Faith: The Untold Stories, explores how personal stories of faith are powerful things, especially at a Christian university. They encourage, instruct, convict, and inspire. But sadly, many beautiful faith stories go unheard simply because, often, there is no venue for Christian women to share their faith stories and learned wisdom with the larger university community. This paper will synthesize and present the responses of both faculty and students to this question: How would your experience at a Christian University be different if you were able to tell your faith story and/or hear the voices of women of faith?

Professor Mikeska’s paper, titled, A Nonviolent Hermeneutic: How to Promote Peace in Confessional Institutions, will discuss nonviolence as a subject rarely preached and commonly dismissed among leading Christian theologians. Jesus’ own critique of violence has either been silenced or viewed as impractical fantasy. The result is that American Christianity is commonly described as an effortless assimilation of national pride, right-wing conservatism, and religious conviction. This paper seeks to redress these assumptions by taking a deeper look into the teachings of Jesus as well as the works of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. Ultimately, the aspiration of this study is for nonviolence to be viewed as a legitimate expression of Christian faithfulness in today’s society.

The second panel will address: “How to be an Ally: Hearing and Receiving Voices from the Margins of the Church and the Academy”

Jeffrey R. Baker, Pepperdine University School of Law, convener
Edward Carson, The Brooks School, panelist
Scott Lybrand, Episcopal Charities and Community Services, panelist
Julie A. Mavity Maddalena, Southern Methodist University, Ph.D. Candidate, panelist
Dr. Jeanine Thweatt-Bates, Princeton Theological Seminary, panelist

This panel will identify and explore issues of power, privilege, and participation in the church and the academy among those historically on the margins of these communities. Panelists will consider theological, religious, ethical, political, and educational theories that sustain and challenge structures and organizations that favor dominant, homogenous voices. Toward a vision of inclusion, dignity, and justice, the panelists will critique extant structures and dynamics that silence plural voices and will suggest ideas, strategies, and actions to promote full, rich, meaningful dialog among all people in congregations and schools.

The panelists each have engaged in such efforts from diverse perspectives and experiences and from different points of influence in the church and the academy. The panelists offer scholarly perspectives on theology, ethics, history, education, and culture. The panel will speak with expertise and experience about individual congregations, universities, and communities, including experiences promoting plural voices in contexts of diversity.

Tracking Hate Groups

I used the above picture during a week-long summer history institute a year ago; I also use this image in my US history classes to illustrate the notion of American terrorism, religion, and white supremacy during Reconstruction. It seems that many believe the KKK existed before Reconstruction — but that is simply not the case. Whites seeking to recapture the South in the name of God and white supremacy sought to terrorize blacks and sympathetic whites. If you look at the image carefully, it portrays a change of the guard. At one point, blacks were enslaved and thus controlled by environmental factors that worked against them. After the 13th Amendment, blacks were legally emancipated but never fully protected by the 14th and 15 Amendments of the Constitution. If I had things my way, I would seek to posthumously impeach every American president from Andrew Johnson to Herbert Hoover for their unwillingness to enforce the Constitution. I am going to let FDR and Ike after the hook just a bit, but only because there was enough pressure placed on them to act.

Above: Map of American Hate Groups

I am very careful in my classes to illustrate that the KKK took on their  role as racist in the name of Christianity; however, the reality regardless of their justifications was one that does not speak towards Christianity. The United States consist of a number of hate groups. Many of them claim to be doing the will of God. In truth, we as Americans know this is not the case. Moreover, Americans recognize that said groups only undermine the mission and faith of many loyal followers of Jesus Christ. Before 9/11, the worst act of terrorism to take hold on American soil was that of the Oklahoma City bombing. I say this noting that home-grown terrorism by Americans is an issue.

18th Amendment

Academics at every meeting I attend believe that the drinking age of 21 is too old. They contend that it should be lowered to 18. There are two ways of looking at the conversation brewing among academics: on one hand, the Puritanical nature of restricting alcohol as some moral and biblical sin is false and unjustified; I do know that a number of religious conservative bodies (Ex: Southern Baptist & church of Christ) illustrate via teaching that anything bad for the temple (or body) that God created is bad in general. Keep in mind that the United States is driven by fast food. I have read and studied the Bible; it says nothing about the evils of alcohol, though it notes it is sinful to get drunk. Schools that restrict this such as my alma mater (Harding University) and Baylor University, as well as countless others due to scripture, are practicing the art of in loco parentis.It is hard to imagine that there are institutions that restrict the consumption of alcohol by adults. I noted the rest of my thoughts on the 18th Amendment here.

Puritans occupied a crucial position in the mainstream of American thought. The term “Puritanism” is normally used to identify the religious philosophy and intellectual outlook that characterized New England’s first settlers. But as descendents of New England migrated from the Northeast to pioneer in the West and the South; they carried with them traits of the Puritan mind clear across the continent. Many historians, therefore, have postulated a direct connection between Puritanism and subsequent development of America. Some claim that they were reactionary bigots who opposed freedom of thought, religion, liberty, and the idea of democratic government. Massachusetts Bay Colony was an undemocratic colony. The colony was dominated by a state of Puritans who formulated an oligarchy. They were of the anti-enlightenment. Thus, those such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were seen as a threat.

Thus, the Puritan premise impacted women to the extent that they created a number of “moral organizations” during the mid-nineteenth century and before. Women were leaders in advocating for both the 13th Amendment and the 18th Amendment; however, the 18th would be the one negative right inculcated in the Constitution.

Death of the Christian School Movement

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While doing some reading on why the Christian School Movement is now dead , I have listed the following as my conclusion:

1.) It grew out of religious fundamentalism and weak academics.

2.) After Brown v. Board in 1954, racism championed its cause. Many southern churches opened their basements and Sunday school classes to allow parents an option. Many parents from the South sought options that would  protect their interest from that of the federal government. By creating a school in a church, the federal government could not invoke its voice.

3.) The movement promoted and endorsed unqualified teachers. Many were not academics, but Sunday school teachers with a single agenda.

4.) Fundamentalism has shifted to the home school movement due to the financial uncertainty of the schools that made up this movement, and the limited options of other types of Christian schools that did not compromise to an overly conservative audience. Today many Christian schools seek to expand the knowledge of students by recruiting an elite faculty. Of course, such faculty members tend not to have a singular agenda. Many are highly academic. Case in point: This creates a conflict between the mission of parents who believe Bible classes should be taught like a Sunday school class, and not like an academic discipline.

5.) It lacks racial, cultural, and intellectual diversity. With small endowments and the inability to raise money, schools of this movement fail to attract a diverse population. Such schools also struggle in attracting faculty members that are both racially, politically, and intellectually diverse.

As noted in Pearl Kane and Alfonso Orsini’s work, The Colors of Excellence:

People of color, be they African-American, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever ethnic group, have spent years discovering their roots, developing a keen pride in their heritage, and accepting who they are. So don’t expect the current crop of prospective faculty to fit into your conservative profile. Many of them will not, and, frankly, I don’t think they should even try! Is that shocking? Is that unacceptable to you and your clientele? Then, perhaps, diversity is really not for you. If a turban or a dashiki pants suit offends, then so will diversity! Diversity by definition implies that the status quo will be upset.

6.) Schools try to be and function like a church. Thus, there are too many single denominational schools with little academic focus. A school cannot be nor should it be a church.

7.) Status usurped that of faith. Some parents have learned that schools cannot be a church. Schools must be institutions that offer the greatest opportunity for the future success of their student. Thus, it is the job of parents to teach their faith, not a school. Now, this does not mean a school should lack a spiritual component. Many of the best sectarian and nonsectarian schools in the nation offer this.

8.) Schools of this movement invested poorly. They were satisfied with sub par facilities and little to no endowment. Because of race and the radicalism of the 1960s, the movement lacked a vision beyond that of dogmatism. In essence, their alums were not in a position to contribute to the present cause of the school.

9.) Pluralism is highly significant to the 21st century student. Schools of this movement tend to subscribe to a wholly protective way of thinking.

Here is a summary:

Both religion and race have played important — and sometimes deeply interconnected — roles in American history. Religion was used to justify both slavery and abolition; likewise it was used to justify both segregation and desegregation. Today even conservative Christians support equality between the races, but that doesn’t mean that everything is settled or peaceful. In truth, evangelical Christianity continues to reinforce racial divides.