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.