O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Merry Christmas 2019

This is a tradition on the blog:

Recorder artist Victoria Rigel played two recorders at once in this 2008 performance of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I accompanied her on the guitar. She adds the second recorder at the beginning of the second verse.

Thanks for reading through the year and however you celebrate I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and holiday season.

Does Romans 13 Support the Case for Keeping Trump?

In response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today op-ed calling for President Trump to be removed from office, Peter Leithart at First Things appeals to Romans 13 as one reason to put up with a bad executive. I have heard this in defense of Trump, but I don’t think it is a correct application. First, here is the passage:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

It seems obvious that governing authorities involve more than the president. Congress is an authority, the Judicial branch is an authority. There are state and local authorities. Critically, the Constitution via the Supremacy clause is the law of the land. Paul did not specify a form of government. In our form of government, the authority is the Constitution. Rulers are elected by the people and are considered public servants. Citizens and rulers are subject to the Constitution which is the governing authority.

Thus, it is important for Christians to respect Congress and who God has placed in office there. Many Christian Trump supporters right now are myopically focused on the executive branch. However, I believe they have encouraged President Trump to violate Romans 13 by supporting his resistance to subpoenas and parroting his rhetoric about a witch hunt. I think a case can be made that Trump is in violation of Romans 13 since he will not bring himself under the authority of Congress and the Constitution.

Trump supporters might counter by saying he has a right to go to court to seek a favorable interpretation of the law in his resistance to Congressional oversight. While that is true, it should be noted that he has argued that the president has absolute immunity from investigation and indictment while in office. The president could commit a crime in broad daylight and according to the argument he has advanced, he could not be investigated until he leaves office. This is an extreme position and has not prevailed in any court challenge thus far. The Supreme Court will hear related cases soon.

Trump’s legal strategy aside, my main point is that current Christian Trump supporters must find a way to respect all of the authorities. I think Leithart is clearly wrong to say Christians should put up with bad behavior in our Constitutional form of government when Congressional oversight exists.

In Leithart’s article, I read no argument for why Christians must honor the executive branch more than the legislative branch. Trump Christians have shown a consistent bias on this front. The Constitution gives impeachment power to the House. Trump Christians such as Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, and Robert Jeffress blasted the impeachment procedures as biased and unfair. In fact, the House leaders had the right to conduct the business as their preexisting rules dictated. Giving Congress honor and respect as an authority was not at all what these leaders did. Instead, they left their religious callings and became partisan political players.

Now, Senate Republican leaders are threatening to dishonor the Constitution by making the trial a sham. Christians should insist on a trial which brings forward evidence. Christians should publicly call on the president to obey subpoenas and submit the authority over him — the Constitution. Christians should honor the Constitutional order for the role of the Senate. The Senators take an oath to be impartial. Christian Senators who follow Romans 13 should strive to follow that oath. Christian citizens should call on the Senate to follow their oath and honor them for doing so.

In short, governing authorities involve more than the executive branch.  Christians need to support the legitimate work of the legislative branch and insist that the president honor the Constitution. There is no reason to elevate one branch over another in our system since the law of the land isn’t a potentate but the Constitution.

UPDATE: This post at American Creation blog is a nice summary of Calvinist views of Romans 13. Gregg Frazer, Dean of The Master’s University and historian of the founding era wrote to address Calvin’s perspective on political rebellion. In short, without some governmental sanction for resistance (e.g., impeachment), Christians should not rebel. However, impeachment and removal is built in to the Constitution and therefore legitimate. Christians should not appeal to Romans 13 as a reason to oppose impeachment.

About Eric Metaxas’ Tattooed Pilot

In a 12/20 interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN, Eric Metaxas was asked how he can support Trump given Trump’s actions. Watch:

Metaxas wants us to think Trump is just a naughty president with his bad language and womanizing. Here’s the thing; I don’t care if Trump has tattoos. I really don’t care that much that he has been married three times. It is relevant that he paid off women to keep his affairs secret but even that isn’t the main event for me.

Sticking with the pilot analogy, I want to know if the pilot get his license by bribing the person who tests pilots? Did he cheat taking the pilot’s exam? Did he lie to get it or keep it? Has he been accused of any crimes as a pilot? If so and he’s investigated, does he lie about matters related to the charges? Does he hide pertinent documents?  Does prevent witnesses from talking?

Metaxas is infuriatingly dense on this point. He portrays his opponents as legalistic prudes. This is simply dishonest.

Trump right now is keeping his staff from providing Congress with information. He is withholding documents from Congress. He lies to the public and Congress about his “perfect” call to Ukraine’s president. He lies about being exonerated by the Mueller report. If Trump is a tattooed pilot, being tattooed is the least of our concerns. He’s dangerous and needs to be grounded.

Christianity Today Calls for Trump to Be Removed from Office; Fireworks Ensue

Yesterday afternoon, Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli wrote an editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump from office. Since then, Christianity Today has trended nearly non-stop on Twitter and Trump has rage tweeted several times with attacks on the publication. Trump’s court evangelicals are up in arms and have commented with the aim of minimizing the damage.

Mark Galli placed CT’s position in the context of the magazine’s stance on Bill Clinton when he faced impeachment. CT advocated for impeachment then and Galli and the magazine’s editorial board now believe Trump’s conduct in office, most recently during the Ukraine scandal, is of similar bad character.

Of course, Galli and his board are correct. If the Constitution means anything and the oath taken by our legislators means anything, they must convict Trump. It is refreshing to see it print in a magazine I came to respect as an undergraduate.

Immediately, the objections come. He’s done good things. He is pro-life (unless of course you ask the Kurds, Yemeni children and their families, and Ukrainian soldiers on the Russian front). The Judges. The economy.

My reaction to those objections is one name: Mike Pence.

Convicting Donald Trump does not undo the 2016 election. Mike Pence would become president. While Pence has his own issues, there is little chance he would be investigated for them prior to the 2020 election. The people who are all in for Trump must really dislike Mike Pence. Pence would be the GOP standard bearer in 2020 and continue many of the same policies appreciated by evangelicals.

Let me continue with that thought. Removing Trump from office now does not force a choice for a liberal Democrat. Some commenters have thoughtfully suggested removing Trump leaves us with a liberal Democrat as the only alternative. However, acting on principle right now does not present that choice. There is a clear choice right now: take a stand for the rule of law, separation of powers, and an executive who is not above the law or allow the executive branch to function without accountability to anyone, not just now but in future administrations.

To make it personal, the choice right now is between Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

The CT editorial calls Congress to do the right thing. It calls Christians to do the right thing and let God handle the rest. There was a time when walking by faith and not by sight was considered a good thing. Now according to the Christian leaders among us, we need a king. We need a man who decrees this:

According to Trump, CT wants someone to “guard their religion.” He has it all wrong. If Christianity needs a president or any political power to guard our religion, then it is no religion at all. Donald Trump wants us to believe that James Madison was wrong when he said “a dependence on the powers of this world” was “a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself.” Today’s evangelicals appear to believe Trump is necessary for our religion to survive. As indicated by his tweet above, Trump sure believes it.

To me, Galli’s editorial is important because he goes beyond a political opinion and lays out what is at stake by partnering with deception and immorality to attain policy goals.

 Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

Personally, I think the horse is out of the barn for many people outside of the evangelical world. However, it is never too late to do the right thing. Here’s hoping Mr. Galli’s editorial helps that happen a little more each day.

Kay Warren Shows the Boys How to Do It

This is what I have been waiting for.

I don’t know Mrs. Warren politics. She may plan to vote for Trump, but she knows the actions of a demagogue when she see them. More than that, she called Trump out on his behavior. Imagine that, a high profile evangelical leader calling out POTUS in a sharp and direct manner. No weasel words about both sides, blah, blah; she laid it out.

Beth Moore commented on her tweet. I did not see any other high profile evangelicals. Now I realize that not everybody has to comment on every issue on Twitter and I also know that Trump has an outrage an hour so it is easy to miss some.

I will say that Warren modeled what evangelicals could do if they just would. Even those who end up voting for Trump should call out his bad behavior and risk a disapproving tweet from him. Evangelicals are most of his support right now. If they rose up and said enough, they would have some clout. Instead, most of the leaders (Jeffress, Metaxas, Graham, Morris, etc.) seem to resonate with Trump as demagogue.

If you have a Twitter account, consider showing Kay a little love today…

David Barton Features Anti-Vax Speaker at Legislators Conference

Yesteday, I wrote about David Barton’s pitch to Republican lawmakers to avoid low income, young, and uneducated people in voter registration efforts.  Today, I want to point out that Barton promoted anti-vaccine ideology to the assembled legislators by having Theresa Deisher as a featured speaker for the event.

Deisher has a PhD in microbiology from Stanford and was, at one time, a mainstream scientist. However, she converted to anti-vax ideology several years ago and has promoted the theory that vaccines cause autism via the introduction of fetal DNA. Her theories have been thoroughly examined and lack support.

One of the more recent empirical tests comes from friend of the blog Morten Frisch. Frisch and colleagues examined the population of children in Denmark and found no relationship between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. Deisher asserts autism cases are related to use of this vaccine. Here is the summary:

Participants: 657,461 children born in Denmark from 1999 through 31 December 2010, with follow-up from 1 year of age and through 31 August 2013.

Results: During 5,025,754 person-years of follow-up, 6517 children were diagnosed with autism (incidence rate, 129.7 per 100 000 person-years). Comparing MMR-vaccinated with MMR-unvaccinated children yielded a fully adjusted autism hazard ratio of 0.93 (95% CI, 0.85 to 1.02). Similarly, no increased risk for autism after MMR vaccination was consistently observed in subgroups of children defined according to sibling history of autism, autism risk factors (based on a disease risk score) or other childhood vaccinations, or during specified time periods after vaccination.

David Barton’s Project Blitz has caught on with religious right lawmakers. I would really hate to see anti-vax ideology become a part of the religious right dogma. Putting Deisher in front of legislators as an expert is troubling even if she didn’t talk about vaccines.

This is getting more serious as time goes on. Misguided parents listening to anti-vax crusaders put their children at risk. See below:

Constituents of legislators who want to expand exceptions to vaccination should be prepared to ask their legislators where they are getting their information about vaccines.

GOP Lawmakers Encouraged to Avoid Registering Poor, Young, Irreligious Voters and to Take Dominion Over Government

David Barton regularly hosts a strategy conference for state and federal legislators. For the version held this year in November, Barton posted photos which revealed some interesting details of the far right battle plan. I am surprised he posted this one:

Take note of the slide being used by George Barna. I assume this is from a talk on election strategy, Barna’s slide encourages selective voter registration. The audience is encouraged not to register young, uneducated, lower income, and irreligious people. Barna told the audience that those groups gravitate toward socialism.

In addition to the rather undemocratic tone of this advice, I don’t think he is correct. While it was true at one time that college-educated voters on average went for the GOP, now the trend has reversed. College-educated voters now are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate.

Wallnau Climbs His 7 Mountains

Another revealing photo from the conference gallery is this one of Lance Wallnau teaching lawmakers about 7 mountains dominionism. Simply put, this view of Christian involvement in culture mandates a takeover of seven aspects of society: Religion, Family,Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment and Business.

Wallnau is clearly teaching the legislators about the seven mountains mandate. Since these Christian legislators are considered government level apostles, their job is to take dominion in the mountain of government. This is the objective of Project Blitz which is supported by Barton via financing by his Wallbuilders organization. Project Blitz seeks to pass legislation which privileges Christianity in Congress and in state legislatures.

Barton and his group of Christian nationalist lawmakers aren’t interested in pluralism. They want to empower Christian Republican voters to enact a legal structure that privileges conservative Christians. Even though this is their right to pursue, in my view their aims are contrary to the vision of the framers who crafted a framework for pluralism and freedom of conscience for all.

 

 

 

Trump Foundation Pays Damages and Dissolves

In any other administration, this would be huge news and perhaps rise to the level of impeachment talk. In early November, the state of New York filed a settlement with the Trump Foundation which required the organization to close and give nearly $4-million to charities. That sum includes a $2-million fine and the remaining $1.8 million in Foundation assets.

Read the Trump Foundation Settlement Here

I have been reporting on churches, Christian nonprofits and other charities for several years and have seen some corrupt dealings. This one ranks high on the corruption scale. Trump used this foundation as a kind of slush fund to pay off debts, support his campaign, and in some cases make other political donations. Even though foundations are supposed to remain separated from the for profit business side of an enterprise, Trump regularly mixed the two worlds to advance Trump’s interests.

The New York Attorney General publicly announced an investigation into the Foundation on September 13, 2016. If you read through the settlement, you will notice that the efforts to repay funds taken from the Foundation and used for various non-charitable purposes came after that date in late 2016 or in 2017. After the NY AG started investigated, the Foundation then started to pay back taxes on donations and funds used for non-charitable causes.

One of the key issues in the case was a fund raising event for veterans that occurred in Iowa during the 2016 campaign as a joint effort of the Trump Foundation and the Trump campaign. Trump skipped a debate there and hosted a rally which led to funds being raised and given to veterans’ groups in campaign related events, thus mixing campaign work with the Foundation. In making her ruling about damages, Judge Saliann Scarpulla referred to this event along with Trump’s general negligence which is described in more detail below.  About Trump’s management of the Foundation, Judge Scarpulla wrote:

As a director of the Foundation, Mr. Trump owed fiduciary duties to the Foundation, pursuant to N-PCL § 717; he was a trustee of the Foundation’s charitable assets and was thereby responsible for the proper administration of these assets, pursuant to EPTL § 8-1.4. A review of the record, including the factual admissions in the Final Stipulation, establishes that Mr. Trump breached his fiduciary duty to the Foundation and that waste occurred to the Foundation.

Mr. Trump’s fiduciary duty breaches included allowing his campaign to orchestrate the Fundraiser, allowing his campaign, instead of the Foundation, to direct distribution of the Funds, and using the Fundraiser and distribution of the Funds to further Mr. Trump’s political campaign. The Attorney General has argued that I should award damages for waste of the entire $2,823,000 that was donated directly to the Foundation at the Fundraiser. In opposition, Mr. Trump notes that the Foundation ultimately disbursed all of the Funds to charitable organizations and that he has sought to resolve consensually this proceeding.

As stated above, I find that the $2,823,000 raised at the Fundraiser was used for Mr. Trump’s political campaign and disbursed by Mr. Trump’s campaign staff, rather than by the Foundation, in violation of N-PCL §§ 717 and 720 and EPTL §§ 8-1.4 and 8-1.8. However, taking into consideration that the Funds did ultimately reach their intended destinations, i.e., charitable organizations supporting veterans, I award damages on the breach of fiduciary duty/waste claim against Mr. Trump in the amount of $2,000,000, without interest, rather than the entire $2,823,000 sought by the Attorney General.

The judge found violations of law but didn’t fine him as much as the AG wanted her to. The judge did issue the fine in response to the factual claim that Trump breached his fiduciary duty to the Foundation. Not only did he do so in violation of laws as cited by Judge Scarpulla in the section above, there were other instances cited. I outline those below.

The settlement outlines other offenses that both sides agreed occurred.

In one 2007 case, Trump used Foundation money to pay a lawsuit settlement to a charity. It wasn’t until after the NY AG started the investigation that Trump repaid the Foundation with interest on March 10, 2017. A Trump supporter might claim that Trump always intended to repay the Foundation. My answer is that it was illegal at the start (which Trump denied) and secondly, I am skeptical that Trump would ever have paid it back without the pressure of the AG investigation.

In 2012, the Trump Foundation gave $157,000 to the Martin Greenberg Foundation to satisfy a debt owed by one of Trump’s golf courses. Again, this is illegal. Trump didn’t reimburse the Foundation until 2017 after the AG investigation was publicly announced.

In 2013, Trump caused $25,000 to be donated from the Foundation to a PAC supporting Pam Bondi’s campaign for attorney general. While contribution itself may have been legal, the Foundation did not pay the required tax on the contribution until 2016.

Also in 2013, the Foundation contributed funds to the DC Preservation League which entitled it to an ad in the organization’s fund raising program. However, instead of advertising the Foundation, Trump placed an ad for his DC Trump International Hotel, thereby mixing the profit and nonprofit. Again, it was only after the investigation started that any remedy was undertaken.

Perhaps the most emblematic incident is the purchase of a portrait of Trump by Trump with Foundation funds. In 2014, at a children’s charity event, Trump bought his own painting for $10,000 with Foundation funds and after storing it for awhile, displayed in one of his hotels. In November 2016 — after the investigation started — the painting was removed from the hotel and sent to the Foundation.

Finally, in 2015, Trump’s real estate management company Silver Springs pledged $32,000 to a charitable organization in New York. The charitable group’s work stood to benefit one of his residences. Rather than pay that pledge himself, he had the Foundation cover it.

The settlement also requires Trump to pay the $11,525 he used from Foundation money to pay for sports memorabilia at a Susan G. Komen benefit auction.

This investigation was triggered by reporting from various groups, including Scripps going back to 2016. Given the Scripps report, Trump was fortunate to get by with just this settlement.

Read the settlement again and then read Trump’s statement about the settlement:

Trump v. Facts

Trump’s statement bears little resemblance to the truth. He says “every penny of the $19 million raised by the Trump Foundation went to hundreds of great charitable causes.”

This isn’t true. Pam Bondi’s run for AG isn’t a charitable cause. Using Foundation funds to get an ad for your for-profit business isn’t a charitable cause. Moreover, buying sports collectibles with Foundation money doesn’t seem like an honest description of the activity. Yes, a charity got some money, but they had to give you something in exchange. Giving Foundation funds to a nonprofit that benefits your real estate value doesn’t seem like a particularly generous use of those funds. That’s the definition of self-dealing.

Trump claimed in his Twitter statement that all the AG found was “incredibly effective philanthropy and some small technical violations, such as not keeping board minutes.”

This isn’t true. The settlement makes clear that the Foundation board of directors didn’t meet at all from 1999 through November, 2018. The Board of Directors had no oversight of any kind through that period. The settlement describes just the opposite of “incredibly effective philanthropy.” There were numerous violations and instances of self-dealing which resulted in the various breaches of fiduciary responsibility noted in the settlement.

It is true that the dissolution is presented in the settlement as a mutual agreement, but there is an important section which has not been discussed much in the news accounts about this case. The judge specifies what Trump and any future charity must do if Trump is ever on the board of a charity. Trump cannot serve on a board where a majority of members are family or have business relationships with him. The charitable organization must not engage in related party transactions with any entity owned or controlled by him. If Trump forms a new charitable organizations, he must ensure that annual reports are filed with the state for a period of 5 years. The details of what must be in the reports are spelled out. In short, Trump must comply with the law.

Furthermore, recall Judge Scarpulla’s assessment of Trump’s actions: “A review of the record, including the factual admissions in the Final
Stipulation, establishes that Mr. Trump breached his fiduciary duty to the Foundation and that waste occurred to the Foundation.”

Let me repeat, the judge and AG did not find “incredibly effective philanthropy.”

Finally, Trump’s spin about the $2 million donation to 8 charities is laughable. The court ordered him to pay that sum in damages (“I award damages on the breach of fiduciary duty/waste claim against Mr. Trump in the amount of $2,000,000”.

So even after being caught in numerous violations of law and stipulating to them in public documents, Trump cannot bring himself to tell the truth about it. As noted, in a normal time, this might be article of impeachment number three.

 

Mercury One Exaggerates Relationship with the Lincoln Library and Museum

Last week, I wrote about Mercury One’s place in a scandal involving the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois. In 2018, Glenn Beck and David Barton borrowed a copy of the Gettysburg Address from the Lincoln Museum for a Mercury One exhibit in Dallas. A anonymous complaint triggered an investigation by the IL Inspector General into allegations that the Gettysburg Address was improperly loaned out to Beck and Barton. The IG report confirmed those allegations. The report asserted that the former museum executive director should not have loaned the document given the slipshod logistical arrangements for the transfer and exhibit and the poor reputation of David Barton as a historian. The executive director was fired and the chief operating officer was allowed to resign.

After writing about the IG report, I noticed that Mercury One still lists the Lincoln Museum as a partner on a website devoted to one of the organization’s exhibits — 12 Score and 3 Years Ago. On that page, Mercury One claims: “For the first time, the exhibit is partnering with five world-class organizations including: The African American Museum of Dallas, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Frontiers of Flight Museum, and Dallas Historical Society.”

I asked Dave Kelm, general counsel for the museum, if the Lincoln museum had any kind of partnership. After some research, he responded as follows:

So there was no partnership. Mercury One bought some pictures of the 13th Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation. Mercury One tried to borrow the Emancipation Proclamation from the Lincoln Museum and the museum staff turned them down because of David Barton’s reputation and the faulty processes used in the transfer of the Gettysburg address.

I think this is called spin or reputation management. Certainly the truth is different than the hype. In fact, the Lincoln museum declined to lend Mercury One an article because “under no circumstances” should the museum “be associated with him [David Barton].” Here is the expanded quote from Dr. Samuel Wheeler, Illinois state historian and Carla Smith, museum registrar:

Dr. Wheeler said that based on what he later learned about Mr. Barton, he believed that “under no circumstances” should the ALPLM be associated with him. Ms. Smith said that if she had known what she later learned about Mr. Barton’s reputation, the 2018 loan would have been an “instant no.”