Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Throckmorton: "Dear Robert Jeffress: The President’s Authority to Wage War Does Not Come from God"

From Dr. WT here. A taste:
Historically, Baptists Believed in Church-State Separation

Biblically and politically, Jeffress is just wrong to insert himself as a spokesperson for God into the situation.He should turn in his Baptist card.

During the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period, Baptists were among the staunchest supporters of separation of church and state. Now the Baptist-in-name-only Jeffress advises Trump that God has given the green light for lethal action in North Korea.

Romans 13 Doesn’t Apply

First, in our non-theocratic republic, the authority for Trump’s actions comes from the Constitution, not God. America is not a new Israel where the prophets advised the King when to attack an enemy. Jeffress is not God’s mouthpiece to the president with orders from on high.

Second, the Romans passage doesn’t apply in this situation.

Although rulers come and go in accord with God’s providence, the rulers do so within God’s timing and the political structure of their state. Paul does not establish a mechanism for a ruler to discern God’s plan.
Regarding citizens of a nation, they are to respect the authority of that nation’s rulers. The words are addressed to citizens of a nation, not to our president about strategy for deposing rulers of other nations. This isn’t a mandate for America to become take out evil dictators around the world. While in some cases it may further America’s interests to do so, the authority and mandate don’t come from these verses.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Taking David Barton Seriously

From Religion in US History here. A taste:
Charlie pointed out to us that white evangelicals often take the brunt of academia’s ironic superiority. There is perhaps a no more popular (and, for some, no more deserving) target of this academic ridicule than David Barton. Circa 2012, when his publisher Thomas Nelson pulled his book The Jefferson Lies from print after finding “some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported,” Barton found himself the topic of numerous biting blog posts. For a while, academics had a field day on the internet with a collective reaction of “can you believe this guy!” coupled with “this is crazy, right?” Barton’s book, and his obtrusive Texas flag button-downs, became a meme for bad scholarship.
Yeah, I realize there is a much larger and more interesting world relating to religion and the American Founding than David Barton's missteps.

It's interesting the position we have found ourselves in. It's almost as though in order to begin discussing the topic, whether one is on the left, right, center or libertarian, one is obliged to give Barton a (metaphorical) kick in the stomach and then get to business. It's almost like a throat clearing "may it please the court" that appellate attorneys give during oral arguments.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Chris Rodda on New White House Chief Of Staff, Constitution, Oaths & Affirmations

Check it out here. A taste:
Really? As George Washington was about to step out on the balcony to be inaugurated somebody suddenly thought, “Oh shit, we need to have some kind of oath for him to take?” But this is the ridiculous story that the new White House chief of staff actually believes is “generally accurate” — a story that would be hard to believe even if the president’s oath weren’t right there in the freakin’ Constitution. But it is in the Constitution, a “piece of paper” that you would hope that someone who has risen to as influential a position as John Kelly has would be intimately familiar with.
When Ray Soller, who deserves the credit for catching Kelly’s historically absurd oath story, emailed a number of people, including myself, about this back in May, I was appalled by it for two reasons — not only because I’m someone who has been fighting the Christian nationalists’ revisionism of American history for over a dozen years, but also because I work for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and have been watching with horror as the same historical revisionism that for years has been steadily making its way into our public schools, the halls of Congress, and even Supreme Court opinions, has also been creeping into our military, with the most well-known Christian nationalist historical revisionist, David Barton, speaking at our military bases and his books and videos being found in military base libraries — including the libraries at several of the military service academies and the military’s other colleges.
Not only did Kelly tell his completely insane story (which of course also included the long-ago-debunked myth that George Washington added the words “so help me God” to his oath) at the commencement at one of our military service academies, but his not knowing that the president’s oath is in the Constitution went completely unnoticed by every news organization that covered this commencement. The only attention at all that was given to John Kelly’s incredible display of constitutional ignorance came from a few bloggers who, thanks to Ray Soller’s alerting them to it, posted about it on their blogs.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Reynolds, Throckmorton and Baker

On religion and the American Founding.

The estimable John Mark N. Reynolds sparked a discussion on the proper way to understand religion and the American Founding and picked fellow Drs. in the American Christian academy Warren Throckmorton and Hunter Baker as worthy discussants.

Here is Dr. Reynolds' introduction. A taste:
Christians in the academy disagree on many things, but nearly universally reject the historical analysis of David Barton. This is not because they are liberal (though some are) as many of his critics are very conservative politically. It also is not because the “guild” is protecting anything: good high school teachers who compare what Barton claims to the source material one can Google are disappointed in his work. Barton is, at the very least, incompetent.

Let’s move past Barton. How should we view the Constitution?
Here is Dr. Throckmorton's first. A taste:
Despite Sherman’s confidence in the liberal times, the delegates approved the motion without opposition. Pinckney later wrote that he included the no religious test clause because it was “a provision the world will expect from you, in the establishment of a System founded on Republican Principles, and in an age so liberal and enlightened as the present.”

Compared to many of the states at the time, Christianity was not denied, but rather dethroned by the national Constitution. The rule of law and the liberty of conscience was elevated. People of any and no religion can believe what they want in their hearts but the Constitution is the law of the land. In my opinion, the Constitution is neither godless nor biblical. Rather, it is god-neutral, where the believer and unbeliever stand on equal ground before the law.
Here is Dr. Baker's first. A taste:
But what did the founders think of religion?  I’ve made a case that they largely avoided the matter in the federal constitution in deference to the states.  But what about the men, themselves?  They are a mixed bag.  Jefferson was more of an enlightenment deist.  Thomas Paine certainly continued to move in that direction.  Benjamin Franklin probably fits there is some sense, too, but he was also highly pragmatic and was a great friend of the Great Awakening mega-preacher George Whitefield.  Patrick Henry was quite devout.  Benjamin Rush was a Christian.  George Washington sounded like a deist, but also was careful to observe the Christian faith by attending the Falls Church.  I think Philip Hamburger is correct in his assertion that the founders believed different things but were practically united in their conviction that a free people need to be virtuous and religion is critical to virtue.  For that reason, I doubt they intended to found a model secular republic.
Here is the link to Drs. Throckmorton and Baker responding to one another.

First Baker:
I think I could find my way toward agreeing with this statement if we were talking about the second half of the twentieth century.  My view is that the founders intended nothing so grand (or outrageous in the minds of the people of 18th century America) as “dethroning Christianity.”

As I have stated before, the U.S. Constitution is not a document about ultimate truth or even something that sets out the proper course of law and religion.  It had the specific purpose of navigating this new type of government in which the states (traditional governments of inherent authority) would coexist with a federal government that possessed only limited powers delegated by the states and the people.  Surely, it has grown into the type of thing Dr. Throckmorton talks about, but it wasn’t that sort of thing at the time.
Next Throckmorton:
... However, I don’t believe the historical record supports a view that the delegates were united in believing that state governments ought to maintain religious tests or have a state religion. For instance, Jefferson opposed that view. He authored and Madison supported Virginia’s statute on religious freedom which passed in 1786.

In 1780, Ben Franklin wrote to Richard Price about religious freedom in Massachusetts:
I am fully of your Opinion respecting religious Tests; but, tho’ the People of Massachusetts have not in their new Constitution kept quite clear of them, yet, if we consider what that People were 100 Years ago, we must allow they have gone great Lengths in Liberality of Sentiment on religious Subjects; and we may hope for greater Degrees of Perfection, when their Constitution, some years hence, shall be revised.
Seven years prior to the Constitutional Convention, Franklin took the long and liberal view and hoped Massachusetts would revise the state Constitution to eliminate religious tests for office. This was the liberal and enlightened view adopted by the national Constitution in 1787 and which is true in the states today.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Caron on Hamilton & Christianity

See this link for a very moving story from the current Dean of Pepperdine Law School, Paul Caron. It references Dean Caron's personal faith, the currently popular Hamilton play, and a scholarly article I have long championed that I think gives the best account of Hamilton's religious journey. Yes, Hamilton did not become an "orthodox Christian" until the end of his life, after it all came crashing down, after his son died in a duel.

A taste:
For me, the "grace too powerful to name" is the central message and beauty of Christianity.  It alone is what empowers Eliza to forgive Hamilton and restore their marriage amidst "unimaginable" pain.

Seeing this wondrous depiction of forgiveness in the play left me hungering for more detail. What enabled Eliza to forgive Hamilton?  What was Hamilton's actual faith journey? Thankfully, a reader sent me a wonderful article that answers both of these questions:  Douglass Adair & Marvin Harvey, Was Alexander Hamilton a Christian Statesman?, 12 Wm. & Mary Q. 308 (1955).

The article lays out the case that Hamilton's extraordinary fall led him to faith:
Hamilton, who in the years of his early success had almost forgotten God, who in the years of his greatest power had tried to manipulate God just as he manipulated the public debt to increase that power, began sincerely seeking God in this time of failure and suffering.
For twenty-five years his genius, his driving ambition, his energy, his will had carried him from triumph to triumph. His pen and literary talent had transported him from his obscure and unhappy status in the West Indies to what seemed to be the beginning of a respectable, but dull, professional career in provincial New York. Then, adventurer with his obsessive ambition and his arrival coincided with the outbreak of cataclysm that not only overstimulates ambition in some men, but also provides opportunities of magnificent scope for those who dare to take advantage of them. Now his talents and luck carried him ahead by leaps and bounds. By the time he was twenty-two, Hamilton had begun that association with Washington — the most potent figure in all America — which was to serve him so marvelously for the next two decades. By the time he was twenty-five he had allied himself with the Schuylers and automatically gained a top position among the elite of New York. Ten years more and he was Washington's "prime minister," the most influential man in the nation after his chief. Then after 1797, though Washington voluntarily resigned his supreme authority in the state to bumbling John Adams, the President's Cabinet was still made up of Hamilton's men, who could manage Adams for him. When the first test came in the war crisis of 1798, Hamilton, in spite of Adams's violent objections, gained control of the new army recruited according to his own specifications. With his army, and with a certain French war impending, Hamilton could feel he had the game in his hands. He had enemies, it was true, but they were no longer dangerous; for now no competitor could threaten his power and his ability to drive the United States along the path he knew it ought to follow. In 1798 everything that Hamilton had willed had come to pass; everything that he still desired had almost been achieved. His virtuous pursuit of power — to be used virtuously, of course — had been successful even beyond the soaring dreams of the immigrant boy of 1772. Who can blame him for feeling omnipotent? Who can wonder that by 1799 Hamilton confused himself with God.
But within one year Hamilton's power vanished, first by slow degrees, then with sudden and cataclysmic completeness. ... Perhaps never in all American political history has there been a fall from power so rapid, so complete, so final as Hamilton's in the period from October, 1799 to November, 1800. Twelve months earlier his party had seemed stronger than at any time since 1792. His position in the party was unchallenged and seemed unchallengeable. He had every reason to believe that soon his party would advance him to the chief magistracy. ... By 1801 Hamilton, whose will had mastered every obstacle, whose power so recently had seemed firmly consolidated and impregnable, suddenly experienced the nightmare sensation of impotence. ... [T]his sudden political tempest had wrecked his hopes, stripped him of his last chance for glory, ended his power to do good for his country, and stranded him a derelict on the shoals of a petty civilian life. No wonder Hamilton felt himself a failure in 1801. No wonder he suffered the tortures of a potent man suddenly become impotent. No wonder that in his despair he finally turned to God for help and support. ...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Why John Fea Does What He Does

He explains here. A taste:
My critique of the court evangelicals is a natural extension of my ongoing criticism of conservative activist Barton and other Christian nationalist purveyors of the past.  It is not a coincidence that First Baptist-Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress often preaches a sermon titled “America is a Christian Nation.”  In this sermon he says. among other things:

We don’t restrict people’s right to worship [they can] worship however they choose to worship.  But that doesn’t mean we treat all religions equally.  This is a Christian nation. Every other religion is an impostor, it is an infidelity.  That is what the United States Supreme Court said.

Someone can correct me, but I think First Baptist–Dallas is the largest Southern Baptist church in the world.  Jeffress is an influential figure.  He goes on Fox News and claims to represent American evangelicals.  His profile has risen immensely since he announced his support of Trump.

It’s important to remember that Jeffress’s political theology (if you can call it that) is based on a false view of American history.  And it is not very difficult to trace it to the teachings of Barton.

In the aforementioned sermon, Jeffress comments on a recent Barton visit to First Baptist–Dallas.  He then says, referencing the prince of Aledo, Texas, that “52 of the 55 signers of the Constitution” were “evangelical believers.” This is problematic on so many levels.  First, only 39 people signed the Constitution.  Actually, I think Jeffress might be referring here to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Second, to suggest that most of them were “evangelical believers” is a blatant misrepresentation of history.  In fact, Jeffress doesn’t even get Barton right here.  Barton says (wrongly) that nearly all of the signers of the Declaration had Bible school and seminary degrees.  Jeffress is confused about his fake history. But that doesn’t matter.  People in his massive congregation applaud and cheer when he preaches this stuff.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fea & Throckmorton on Barton's Contuined Use of an 1813 John Adams' Quote

I'm trying to lighten up on following David Barton's continued historical malfeasance. I think other people are better suited to it than I am and there's a world beyond him that interests me. However, sometimes when those other people make a good point, I will chime in, now and then.

John Fea and Warren Throckmorton have good posts on David Barton's use of a "proof quote" from one of John Adams' letters to prove the "Christian America" thesis.

This is from Fea:
 In the second and third paragraphs, Adams notes that the group who met in Philadelphia was so religiously diverse that the only ideas holding them together were the “general principles of Christianity.”  What does he mean by this phrase?  It is hard to tell at first glance.  But if there were indeed “deists” and “atheists” in the room, these “general principles” must have been understood by Adams as a system of belief that was far less orthodox than the Christianity of the ancient creeds.  An “atheist” might be able to find common ground around a Christian moral code (say, for example, the Sermon on the Mount), but could not affirm the existence of God. A “deist” would have rejected the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and, in some cases, God’s providence in human affairs, but he could certainly unite behind a moral code based on the teachings of Jesus. (I titled my chapter on the highly unorthodox Thomas Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson: Follower of Jesus”). So let’s return to our original question.  What did Adams mean when he said the Continental Congress was held together by “the general principles of Christianity?” If we take the beliefs of the “atheists” and the “deists” (and, I might add, the “universalists, “Socinians,” and “Preistleyans”)  seriously, the “general principles of Christianity” was a phrase Adams used to describe a very vague moral code that all of these men–the orthodox and the unorthodox–could affirm.

[...]

The fourth paragraph tells us that Adams believes that these “general principles” of Christianity and liberty could be easily affirmed by a host of secular writers, including Hume and Voltaire, two of the Enlightenment’s staunchest critics of organized Christianity. These “general principles of Christianity” must have been pretty watered-down if Hume and Voltaire could affirm them.  Again, the reference here is to a vague morality, not the particular teachings of orthodox Christianity.
Here is a rule I follow: In general it's not a good idea to quote John Adams or Thomas Jefferson to prove the "Christian Nation" thesis. However, it's a really, really bad idea to quote the correspondence of Adams and Jefferson in the year 1813 to try to do such.