Worship Leaders Praise Trump Administration’s Work for Marginalized While the Administration Marginalizes More People

On the White House Twitter account, Gateway Church worship leaders Cody Carnes and Kari Jobe gush about Donald Trump’s work for the “marginalized” and all the great things the administration is doing. Watch:

In this taxpayer funded video, the two Christian singers tell viewers that the administration is helping marginalized people. She said:

But the thing that moved me the most is just how everyone is so for making sure we’re changing people’s lives and not leaving those that are marginalized and those that have been trafficked and those that are…A lot of times for those of us who don’t work in the White House, it can look really big and something that we can’t really end. But they are working to end these things and change these things. And I’ve just been in tears all day. It’s been incredible. I’m just so thankful to be a part of this today and to see what God is doing in our White House.

Carnes followed by saying the “faith community” was involved:

So many good things happening for the faith community and for the world. And things that we all believe in in the faith community that can change the world are being supported and are happening in this house.

In the comments under Carnes’ and Jobe’s tweet, Jobe’s college roommate left a message that confronted this rosy assessment with bright light. Jory Micah wrote:

In October, no refugees were settled in the U.S. for the first time since the 1980s. There is an ongoing humanitarian crisis happening at our Southern border. Recently, a migrant teen boy died of the flu while in custody of U.S. Border Patrol. I could go on to discuss the Kurds and the faith community there that Trump left to be slaughtered by the Turks.

There is reason to believe the Administration’s rhetoric on human trafficking is faulty.  Many of their policies toward migrants and refugees actually make trafficking worse. But because Christian leaders have stars in their eyes, they won’t challenge what they are being told or do any independent research. Because Trump and Pompeo say it, it must be true.

Christians are supposed to be monotheists. However, in the age of Trump, there are two gods in many of their lives, and as I have written before, Trump shall have the preeminence.

UPDATE:  Bethel Seminary professor Andy Rowell has a list of the worship leaders who attended the Dec. 6 event at the White House.

Glenn Beck’s and David Barton’s Mercury One at the Heart of Lincoln Museum History Scandal

In June 2018, Glenn Beck borrowed the Gettysburg Address from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. One of only five handwritten copies of the address from the time period, the document is valued at $20-million. In hindsight, the transaction, for which Beck paid $50,000, has become a political scandal in Illinois and triggered the firing of the executive director of the Lincoln museum. The Chief Operating Officer of the Lincoln museum was allowed to resign and eventually ended up working for Beck’s charity Mercury One. The IG report also contains an unflattering assessment of David Barton as a historian.

The incident, which Beck celebrated live in 2018, was investigated by the Illinois Office of Executive Inspector General due to a tip from an anonymous consumer. The report found that allegations of wrongdoing were sound and based in fact. The report states that the museum should never have let Mercury One have the Gettysburg Address given the slipshod arrangements and David Barton’s reputation as a historian.

Read the Inspector General’s Report

In the quotes below, the players are Alan Lowe, former executive director of the Lincoln museum, Carla Smith, registrar of the Lincoln museum, Samuel Wheeler, historian with the state of Illinois, Nadine O’Leary, museum chief of staff, and Michael Little, Chief Operating Officer of the Lincoln museum (and now Mercury One). Other than Beck and David Barton, Courtney Mayden is also mentioned. She is an employee of Mercury One with some unspecified training in handling historical documents.

The Hasty Gettysburg Address Loan

On June 8, Beck’s charity Mercury One and the Executive Director of the Lincoln museum Alan Lowe initiated negotiations to bring the Gettysburg Address to Beck’s Right and Responsibilities exhibit in Dallas. After only 8 days, the document was shipped to Texas. Beck displayed the document to just over 2300 people who attended the exhibit.

The complaint alleged that Lowe mismanaged the loan process. According to the IG report, that allegation was accurate. From the IG report:

Mr. Lowe made the decision to loan the Gettysburg Address and other artifacts to Mercury One in violation of the HPA Board’s 2013 Resolution, contrary to HPA loan policies, and without following standard museum practices, much less providing the heightened level of care that would seem prudent for the rare and extremely valuable artifact Mr. Lowe described as a linchpin of the ALPLM’s collection. The allegation that Mr. Lowe mismanaged the ALPLM by loaning the Gettysburg Address and other artifacts to Mercury One, without following the HPA Board’s 2013 Resolution, HPA policies, or standard museum loan practices, is FOUNDED.

Earlier this year, Lowe was fired from his position by Governor J.B. Pritzker, although he did not say why. Two other players in the drama continue to have a connection to Mercury One.

The first one I will mention is Michael Little. The IG report documents over 50 contacts with Mercury One he had prior to being permitted to resign over this snafu. As a part of leaving state employment, employees are required to divulge contacts with new employers. Little said he didn’t have any with Mercury One other than his interview. However, the IG found over 50 emails between Little and staff at Mercury One. Little was subsequently hired as the Chief Operating Officer at Mercury One. So the current COO at Mercury One misled the state of Illinois just prior to taking his job.

An Instant No

That brings me to David Barton. For fun, I will quote what the IG report has to say about Barton.

According to an online Texas arts calendar, visitors to Mercury One’s Rights & Responsibilities exhibition in June 2018 could expect to see items Mercury One was sharing from its own collection, including an exploding rat from World War II, whose designer inspired the James Bond character Q; as well as a facsimile engraving of a draft Declaration of Independence; Mary Todd Lincoln’s dress; and Lincoln’s collar. The calendar indicated that Mercury One charged $20 for adult general admission, $750 for private VIP tours with Mr. Beck, $350 for private tours with David Barton, and $250 for private tours with other Mercury One staff. According to the calendar, during the private tours Mr. Beck, Mr. Barton, and the other staff were to provide their “own unique perspective on our rights and responsibilities.”

The Lincoln museum staff didn’t know anything about Barton until after the fact. However, as the passage below shows, they did a little late homework.

Ms. Smith and Dr. Wheeler told investigators that at the time of the loan, they did not know what else was going to be displayed at Mercury One’s exhibition. Ms. Smith said that information is relevant to the consideration of whether it is appropriate for the ALPLM’s artifacts to be displayed or interpreted alongside the other items in the exhibit. Dr. Wheeler said that it is a “betrayal of public trust” to not have known what the Mercury One exhibit was about, what other pieces would be displayed alongside the ALPLM and Foundation artifacts, or how the exhibit would be presented.

The museum registrar (Smith) and Illinois state historian (Wheeler) were bothered after the fact that Executive Director Lowe had let the Gettysburg Address be displayed along with artifacts of questionable reputation. But then they got to Barton’s reputation and they were really troubled.

In addition, Ms. Smith and Dr. Wheeler said they later learned concerning information about David Barton’s reputation. In 2012, Christian publisher Thomas Nelson recalled all copies and ceased publication of Mr. Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, after it learned that “there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported.” The book was voted the “least credible history book in print” in a 2012 reader poll by the History News Network, a George Washington University online publication “created to give historians the opportunity to reach a national audience on issues of public concern.” 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.”

No to the Emancipation Proclamation

Earlier this year, Beck wanted to borrow the Emancipation Proclamation with Barton listed as Curator of the exhibit. The museum, partly for that reason, turned Mercury One down.

Ms. Smith told investigators that after she received the letter of request and facility report, she convened the ALPLM collections staff, and the staff unanimously recommended to deny the loan request. She stated that she sent Mr. Lowe and Ms. O’Leary a detailed list of reasons why staff recommended not doing the loan. The listed reasons included that some of the information provided in the Standard Facility Report was incomplete or required clarification; concerns about Mr. Barton being listed as a Curator who would be interpreting ALPLM artifacts, given his reputation as a historian; and concerns about Mr. Little being listed as the Registrar or Collections Manager, given his lack of qualifications for handling artifacts. Ms. Smith said that Mr. Little’s history of mishandling artifacts at the ALPLM was also of concern.

In the end, the museum did not loan the Emancipation Proclamation to Beck’s project, 12 Score and 3 Years Ago. That didn’t stop Barton and Beck from promoting the event as if the Emancipation Proclamation was going to be there. Here is Barton claiming those in attendance would see it.

On Beck’s Mercury One website, the nonprofit still lists the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum as a partner. However, this does not appear to be accurate. Not only was Lowe fired, current Mercury One COO Michael Little is not allowed to ever work for the state of Illinois. Given the results of this report, it is hard to see the two organizations ever working together again. It is deceptive for Barton and Mercury One to tout a relationship that not only isn’t true but is the subject of a scathing report by the Illinois Inspector General.

 

Illinois Times columnist Bruce Rushton has been on this story from the beginning and deserves credit for being on top of it.

Why is Rick Wiles on @Apple Podcasts?

Rick Wiles is a far right conspiracy theorist who doesn’t like Jews. He also promotes his own “news” service called TruNews. In a recent podcast, he blamed a “Jew Coup” for Donald Trump’s impeachment problems. Right Wing Watch and various news sites covered it; watch:

‘Jew Coup’: Impeachment Effort Prompts Another Anti-Semitic Tirade from Rick Wiles from Right Wing Watch on Vimeo.

Wiles started by saying Jews were liars and ended by claiming they planned to kill millions of Christian.

That’s the way the Jews work, they are deceivers, they plot, they lie, they do whatever they have to do to accomplish their political agenda.

According to Wiles the political agenda is impeachment and Jews have plans for those who resist.

This is a coup led by Jews to overthrow the constitutionally elected president of the United States and it’s beyond removing Donald Trump, it’s removing you and me. That’s what’s at the heart of it.

“You have been taken over by a Jewish cabal. The church of Jesus Christ, you’re next. Get it through your head! They’re coming for you. There will be a purge. That’s the next thing that happens when Jews take over a country, they kill millions of Christians.

Wiles at the White House and Apple?

This is crazy talk and racist in the extreme. Although I am sad to learn that Wiles has access to White House press credentials, I am not surprised. I was surprised to find Wiles podcasts easily available on Apple’s podcast service.

Apple has standards for podcasters and one of those includes prohibition of racist content.

Apple can fail, reject, or remove your podcast from Apple Podcasts for a variety of reasons. For example, Apple might fail, reject, or remove your podcast if the podcast or any content linked from the podcast contains any of the following:

There is a list of reasons given and one of them is this:

Content that could be construed as racist, misogynist, or homophobic.

I certify that Wiles content can be construed as antisemitic. There is nothing redeeming about spreading lies and prejudice. Wiles shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the White House or given interviews with people in the administration. Youtube removed his video of this message, now Apple should do the same. In fact a perusal of the rest of the content will quickly implicate much of it as in violation of Apple’s standards.

Don’t Like Eric Metaxas’ New Book? He Doesn’t Care.

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

After being taken to task for his kids-not-kids book Donald Builds the Wall, Eric Metaxas now says the book was not originally for kids. In an interview with John Zmirak at The Stream, Metaxas said:

METAXAS: Oddly enough I did not originally write these books for kids!!! Some of us can appreciate what this president is accomplishing. Others enjoy the outrageousness of him as a lovable cave-man character on the international stage. So we deserve a book about him that is almost as entertaining as he is. Maybe almost as outrageous and funny.

Despite the facts that he told CBN that the book is “obviously” for kids and his publisher called the book “the children’s book and political parable that America needs right now,” Metaxas is now out with this contrasting narrative. Whatever age he wants to target, he thinks his book is hilarious.

Of course he does.

The interview with Zmirak has the quality of two frat boys ridiculing non-frat boys who aren’t nearly as cool or smart as they are. There is no recognition that criticism of his book may have merit or is sincerely offered. Those who don’t find the book to be amazing and shower praise on Metaxas are “ill-informed,” “self-righteous and pompous,” or likened to “fascists.”

This is a typical response from Metaxas. When John Fea and others found multiple historical errors in his book If You Can Keep It, Metaxas reacted with astonishment and attacked Fea’s patriotism and character. Metaxas has yet to acknowledge that he helped spread one of the most popular false quotes among Christians by incorrectly citing the follow phrases attributed to Bonhoeffer:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

There is no record Bonhoeffer said or wrote this. Despite the fact that Metaxas is aware of this, he has yet to make a correction or acknowledge that he cited it incorrectly.

Metaxas told Zmirak he prays for his detractors. I don’t know how he could since he blocks them on social media when they cross him or raise a concern. He blocked me on Twitter when I raised the matter of the Bonhoeffer quote.

So, don’t like his book? Who cares. He doesn’t. Find historical errors? No, you didn’t. He doesn’t make errors. In fact, you are a loser for pointing it out. But take heart, self-righteous fascist, Rev. Metaxas will pray for you.

 

For more on what it is like to tangle with Metaxas, see my post on journalist Jon Ward’s revealing email exchange with Metaxas. 

Is It a Children’s Book or a Book for Adults? Eric Metaxas Can’t Seem to Decide about Donald Builds the Wall

Eric Metaxas loves him some Donald Trump.  Not only does he defend just about everything Trump does, Metaxas has written two illustrated books about the president. The most recent one is called Donald Builds the Wall. This one depicts Trump building a wall between the good people of the U.S. and swamp dwelling creatures of those swampy countries to our south. It is the casting of refugees as swamp creatures that has some people upset. Here is a tweet from Rondell Trevino, who founded an immigration group sympathetic to work with refugees.

Metaxas responded that the creatures weren’t migrants but politicians.

I suspect the distinction will be lost on most readers, especially young ones. Metaxas then claims the book isn’t really a kid’s book but rather “an adult HUMOR book in the GUISE of a kids book.”

However, in an interview with CBN News, Metaxas clearly stated that the book is for children.

Obviously this is for kids, so you want to make it simple, but it is kind of that simple because we’ve lost sight of the basics of what it means. If you want freedom you have to guard your freedom. You have to make sure the people who are part of your nation buy into that idea of what it is to be free and these are really heavy ideas that are not being done justice in the mainstream media and we kind of thought in a children’s book, in a humor book we can say what you can’t say sometimes in a different form.

The publisher’s description of the book on Apple books describes it as “the children’s book and political parable that America needs right now. ”

So which is it Eric?

Caravan of Troublemakers

In the introduction the book, Metaxas and his illustrator Tim Raglin call refugees a “caravan of troublemakers” who are coming to “take over the country.”

This appears to be a reference to the recent waves of refugees coming from Central America who are fleeing violence.

I suspect that this is a book which historians will see as an indicator of the bankruptcy of evangelical leadership during the Trump era. The effort to get children to associate people wanting to find a better life in the United States with “bad news,” “troublemakers,” and “swamp creatures” is clear and indefensible. In the past, refugees leaving their homes and coming to America (think Neil Diamond) have been considered noble. In the pen and ink of Metaxas and Raglin, they are “troublemakers” and “bad news.”

Currently, we have a president who allows Stephen Miller – an open white nationalist sympathizer – to serve as an advisor to the president on the subject of immigration. Last month, for the first time, no refugees from anywhere were settled in the U.S. The State Department has a freeze on resettlements and a plan to reduce such moves to the lowest level in 30 years in 2020.

Metaxas’ book lionizing Trump doesn’t appear in the hands of children in a vacuum. This administration has steadily kneecapped the flow of legal immigration, even when that means keeping brown-skinned Christians out.

Thus, Metaxas book is fiction is more ways than the obvious one. He promotes a fictional narrative about Donald the swamp drainer and Donald the freedom preserver. And Metaxas now claims he isn’t targeting children. This is just one of many stories he can’t get straight.

Future Metaxas Books

Metaxas does have a wealth of material to work with. I can suggest some future titles:

Donald Bribes a Foreign President

Donald Abandons an Ally

Donald Grabs a Cat

Donald Loses a Trade War

Think of more? Leave them in the comments.

Additional note:

In previous media interviews, Metaxas calls these books “children’s books”:

On his Facebook page, Metaxas calls the book a children’s book.

The Holy Spirit Led Metaxas to Write Children’s Books about Trump

In this CBN clip, the book is repeatedly referred to as a children’s book.

For kids of all ages…

Publisher’s description on Apple books.

How many adult books are sold on Toywiz.com?

Gary Scott Smith on America as a Blessed But Not Chosen Nation – Thanksgiving 2019

Today is the last in the series of articles by historians posted during Thanksgiving week. I deeply appreciated the contributions of my distinguished friends and colleagues John WilseyJared BurkholderBarry HankinsAndrew MitchellFred Beuttler, and today Gary Scott Smith.
Happy Thanksgiving!
…………………………….
Dr. Gary Scott Smith formerly chaired the history department at Grove City College and is now professor emeritus there. He is the author of “Faith and the Presidency From George Washington to George W. Bush” (Oxford University Press, 2009) and “Heaven in the American Imagination” (Oxford University Press, 2011) and “Suffer the Children” (Wipf and Stock, 2017) about worldwide poverty.
Thanksgiving Revisited: A Blessed But Not a Chosen Nation
In November 1620, 102 English Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod after an arduous 66-day voyage across the Atlantic. The first winter, half of their company died. Nevertheless, after the residents of Plymouth gathered their first harvest the next November, Governor William Bradford invited Chief Massasoit and other Wampanoag Indians to join them for a feast that lasted three days. Describing the first Thanksgiving in “A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth” in 1621, Edward Winslow thanked the “goodness of God” for the venison, wild fowl, and other food they enjoyed.
In 1777, during another trying time in American history, the Continental Congress issued the first official Thanksgiving Proclamation. Twelve years later George Washington proclaimed a national Thanksgiving to give gratitude to God for the newly ratified Constitution. The first president urged Americans to render unto “that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be” “our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country … for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence,” evident in the nation’s “tranquility, union, and plenty.”
This belief that God has specially blessed America has been widespread in our history. Many Americans have insisted that this country has a unique calling from God. This theme is evident in the nation’s sacred ceremonies, quasi-sacred scriptures, and presidents’ inaugural addresses. Strongly identifying with ancient Israel, many Americans have concluded that God chose us to play a principal role in bringing his kingdom on earth.
The Puritans contended that they had a “divinely appointed errand in the wilderness.” John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, whose residents came ten years after the Pilgrims, declared in his 1630 sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people upon us.” Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest theologian, expected a “great work of God” to soon begin in America. His grandson Timothy Dwight, an early president of Yale, claimed that the new nation was “by Heaven designed, the example bright to renovate mankind.”
Numerous presidents have argued that God selected the United States to perform a special mission: to spread democracy, liberty, and biblical morality to the world. They asserted that its seemingly miraculous birth; rapid spread across the continent; remarkable increase in population, industry, affluence, and might; successful assimilation of millions of people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds; modeling of republican government; and pivotal role in deciding the outcome of international wars all testified to God’s choice, use, and blessing of America.
Washington announced in his first inaugural address that “the destiny of the republican model of government” depended on America’s success. Thomas Jefferson labeled the American experiment “the last best hope of mankind,” and Abraham Lincoln called the Union “the last best hope of earth.” “Upon the success of our experiment,” alleged Theodore Roosevelt, “much depends … as regards the welfare of mankind.” “Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history,” declared George W. Bush, “to be a model to the world of justice.”
The United States’ success and support has encouraged people in countries around the globe to throw off the shackles of despotism and embrace democracy. As Dwight Eisenhower put it, “The American experiment has, for generations, fired the passion and the courage of millions elsewhere seeking freedom, equality, [and] opportunity.”
Although the conviction that God has selected the United States for a special mission in the world has contributed to some good results, it is biblically suspect. The Bible provides no basis for believing that any nation enjoys a unique relationship with God, as Israel did in Old Testament times. This Thanksgiving (and continuously) we should thank God for the many blessings our nation has enjoyed. Our geographical location, rich resources, fertile soil, unique blend of peoples, numerous liberties, and outstanding leaders have indeed been great blessings.
At the same time, we must reject the idea that we are God’s chosen people, a conviction that has helped motivate and vindicate America’s actions at home and abroad. Belief that God has assigned the United States a mission has helped inspire Americans to engage in countless acts of self-sacrifice, generosity, and charity. However, it has also contributed to imperialism, concepts of racial superiority, cultural insensitivity, and unwarranted interference in the affairs of other nations. It has stimulated Americans to fight injustice at home and abroad, but it has also contributed to simplistic moralizing, overlooking of our national flaws, ignoring moral complexities, and a hatred abroad of American hubris.
Therefore, while we celebrate Thanksgiving and give gratitude to God for his bounty, let’s remember Christ’s statement, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Hopefully this will motivate us to reach out in compassion to the needy throughout our world
For more from this Thanksgiving in history series, please click the links below:

John Wilsey on the Past as a Foreign Country

Jared Burkholder on Politics And The First Thanksgiving

Barry Hankins on Thanksgiving as the Perfect Civil Religion Holiday

Andrew Mitchell: Reclaim the Spirit of Thanksgiving

Fred Beuttler on the First Federal Thanksgiving

Barry Hankins on America’s Perfect Civil Religion Holiday – Thanksgiving 2019

The third post today is a brief note from Barry Hankins. Hankins is Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of History and Resident Scholar, Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.

Christians can celebrate Thanksgiving by infusing it with all kinds of religious and national significance.  But, people of other faiths and of no faith at all can celebrate the holiday equally.  Christians have no corner on being thankful.  Moreover, Thanksgiving has an advantage in this respect over Christmas and Easter.  Although those holidays, especially Christmas, are commercialized and secularized to a large extent, they are still specifically Christian.  In fact, they are the two central events of the Christian liturgical calendar, which means that to celebrate them commercially non-Christians have to ignore their potent religious meaning.  Not so for Thanksgiving, which commemorates a national event, not a religious event.  So, Thanksgiving is what I call “America’s perfect civil religion holiday.”

To read all articles in this series, click Thanksgiving 2019. Tomorrow I have a post from retired Grove City College history professor and first professor emeritus from the school, Gary Scott Smith on America as a blessed but not chosen nation.

Andrew Mitchell: Reclaim the Spirit of Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving 2019

Today’s second guest post is from friend and Grove City College colleague Andrew Mitchell who is an associate professor of history at the college. 

Reclaim the Spirit of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is one of only two holidays Americans celebrate that consciously looks back to a colonial past.  It also happens to be the only national holiday that is relatively free of political implications, at least on first glance.  That is quite remarkable, since Americans are, and have been, a diverse group of people—of different ethnicities and faiths—who have agreed to unite over a number of political principles.  It has been our commitment to those principles, rather than to specifically religious or economic ones, that has helped the nation endure for close to 250 years.  Recently, historians, following the general trend of academia, have directed their research at exploring American diversity, and holiday celebrations have not escaped scrutiny. By stripping away the legends associated with “Pilgrim Fathers,” a fascinating story emerges.

It is quite evident now that the first “American” Thanksgiving celebration did not take place in 1623 at Plymouth, nor in 1619 at Berkley Hundred, nor in 1610 at Jamestown, but rather on 8 September 1565, in present-day St. Augustine, Florida.  On that day a group of Spanish-speaking Catholics gave thanks to God for their safe travel across the ocean and afterwards held a modest feast, inviting the local tribe of Timucuan Indians to join them.  In fact, regardless of whether the Plymouth Separatists were giving thanks to God or to Massasoit and the Wampanoags, it is clear that the Puritans of New England and their descendants ignored them entirely.  The word “Pilgrim” to describe the Plymouth colonists only shows up in 1799; the record of their 1623 celebration first published in 1841, during a time when New Englanders and Southerners were ransacking historical sources, engaged in a fierce fight to prove that their traditions (and theirs alone) were authentically “American.”  In light of this, Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 proclaiming a “day of thanksgiving” on the last Thursday in November appears more controversial—an affirmation right before his reelection that the Northern (New England-influenced) side had won.  Indeed, despite subsequent presidents continuing Lincoln’s tradition, most Southern states did not acknowledge the day, or develop any rituals around it, until the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Sadly, the history of Thanksgiving is not devoid of political wrangling and gamesmanship.  Franklin Roosevelt—in this as in other elements of his presidency—deviated from the traditions established by his predecessors, by moving Thanksgiving a week earlier in 1939.  Roosevelt was acting on the recommendation of his Secretary of Commerce who was concerned that the lateness of Thanksgiving (30 November) would compromise Christmas-season retail sales.  The president’s decision created a significant uproar across the country.  In a response that demonstrated how politicized America had become, nearly one-half of the states ignored the presidential declaration and celebrated a “Republican Thanksgiving,” instead of “Franksgiving.”  The following year, 16 states kept to the traditional date.  In 1941, after conclusive evidence that retail sales had not significantly improved, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring the fourth Thursday in November as “Thanksgiving Day.”  Nevertheless, the reality of rationing during the Second World War meant that most Americans did not come to share in Norman Rockwell’s idealized depiction of until 1945.

Rather than being disconcerted by revisionist demonstrations that popular conceptions about our national celebration is little more than a peculiar New England tradition writ large and embellished, traditionalists should see in them a chance to celebrate.  Despite the diversity of language and creed, all European colonists to the Americas acknowledged their need for giving thanks, and demonstrated their joy through unusual periods of festivity, whether the religious ceremony was accompanied by culinary indulgence or not.  Furthermore, all of these thanksgiving celebrations, from Florida to Virginia to Massachusetts, included guests: strangers who were made welcome and encouraged to share in the community’s bounty, and for a few moments, perhaps, united in fellowship.  For these people, most of our ancestors, thanksgiving was not a single day made special through capitalization, but one of life’s essential rituals, too important to practice only once every 365 days, and too special to keep to one’s own.

With increasing evidence from the realm of psychology that giving thanks is good for the mind as well as the body, perhaps this provides Americans today with something solid to grasp.  In a society whose members are increasingly concerned about diversity and yet increasingly isolated from one another, whose daily call to self-indulgence tends to dull our physical and spiritual palates, perhaps we need to focus on the thankful theme that has united us in the past.  By scaling back our own daily consumption (starting, perhaps with the last Friday in November), by beginning to reach out in loving hospitality to the strangers in our midst, we might be able reclaim some of that attractive spirit—and lifestyle—of giving thanks that all our ancestors (and their guests) shared.

For further reading, Dr. Mitchell recommends:

Diana Appelbaum, Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, an American History.
Kathleen Curtain, Sandra Oliver, and Plimouth Plantation, Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie.
Robert Emmons, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

To read all articles in this series, click Thanksgiving 2019.

John Wilsey on Thanksgiving and the Past as a Foreign Country – Thanksgiving 2019

Today’s first guest post is from John D. Wilsey. Wilsey is Associate Professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of One Nation Under God: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America and American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea.

One of the fascinating things about the Thanksgiving celebration is its endurance in the national memory. From the “first Thanksgiving” in the autumn of 1621 to our own day, Thanksgiving as a civil religious high and holy day offers us a cultural and religious artifact in considering the process of change that occurs in a national community. Just think of Thanksgiving in terms of three benchmarks in history—1621, 1863, and the present day.
Here’s a little perspective: when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, he was more distant in time from the 1621 celebration than we are in 2014 to Lincoln. How much had changed in North America from the first Thanksgiving to the Civil War? And how much has changed from the Civil War to the present? As many historians like to point out, the past is a foreign country—but perhaps it is more accurate to say that the past is made up of many foreign countries.

It is good to remember that our present day context is different than that of the past. As a Christian, I remember that many things in the human experience do not change, namely, human nature itself. But I also remember that trying to draw a straight line from the Pilgrims to the present in an effort to make some point about “restoring America” can be dangerous, and in some ways, contrary to my own Christian tradition. That does not mean that we ignore the past. We can glean wisdom from the past without using it to advance an agenda. Considering Thanksgiving as a cultural and religious artifact helps us to do just that, while we celebrate and enjoy it in our own homes on November 27.

For all articles in this series, please click Thanksgiving 2019.

Fred Beuttler on the First Federal Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving 2019

Today’s guest post is by Fred W. Beuttler, Ph.D., the former Deputy Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives. Fred is Associate Dean of Liberal Arts Programs at University of Chicago, Graham School.

The First Federal Thanksgiving
Today, November 26, 2019, marks the 230th anniversary of the first Federal Thanksgiving in 1789, “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” to “Almighty God” for the U.S. Constitution.

In late September, 1789, on one of the last days of the first session of the First Federal Congress, the most productive in history, Congressman Elias Boudinot of New Jersey proposed that the American people should “with one voice” give to “Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them.”   Boudinot  introduced a resolution for the President to recommend “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.”

Predictably, as it was Congress, there was some grumbling.  One congressman complained that it was “mimicking of European customs,” while another suggested that maybe the people were not inclined to give thanks for the Constitution, at least until they could see if it did give them safety and happiness.  It was a state, not a federal function, one argued, “a business which Congress have nothing to do; it is a religious matter, and, as such, is proscribed to us.”  This could have been a significant objection, as the previous day the House had passed what would become the First Amendment, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

But the members of Congress did not see this call for a national day of thanksgiving as at all contradicting religious freedom.  Roger Sherman of Connecticut justified the practice of a day of thanksgiving as laudable in itself, referring to “holy writ” at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, an example “worthy of Christian imitation,” and Boudinot cited precedents “from the practice of the late Congress.”

The House of Representatives carried the resolution in the affirmative.  The Senate agreed a couple of days later, and that same day they also agreed to transmit copies of the Bill of Rights to the several states.  A joint committee of Congressmen and Senators called on President George Washington to recommend a day of national thanksgiving to “Almighty God” for the Constitution.

A few days later, President Washington submitted the following proclamation, calling upon the American people to assign Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a day of public thanksgiving for the national Constitution:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
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So this Thanksgiving of 2019, remember that the First Congress and our first President called upon all American citizens to observe “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” to “Almighty God” for the U.S. Constitution and our civil and religious liberty.  That is something for which truly to be thankful.

(End of Dr. Beuttler’s post)

My (Throckmorton) sentiments would have been with the Congressman who objected on grounds that Congress should not direct religious activity. In fact, I think this was a mistake and not in keeping with the First Amendment passed just the day before. However, as Fred documented in his post, the Congressmen had their justifications and the majority prevailed.

My view is that Jefferson and Madison (after he left the presidency) were correct about national days of thanksgiving as religious observances. Jefferson refused to commemorate them saying:

I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of affecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it.

Although Madison observed days of prayer during his presidency, he later expressed regret about it.

They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion. The idea just as it related to the Jewish nation under a theocracy, having been improperly adopted by so many nations which have embraced Christianity, is too apt to lurk in the bosoms even of Americans, who in general are aware of the distinction between religious & political societies. The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one government in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea. But reason and the principles of the Christian religion require that all the individuals composing a nation even of the same precise creed & wished to unite in a universal act of religion at the same time, the union ought to be effected through the intervention of their religious not of their political representatives. In a nation composed of various sects, some alienated widely from others, and where no agreement could take place through the former, the interposition of the latter is doubly wrong.

I do understand how judges now interpret the First Amendment through the actions of the Congress. However, I think Jefferson and Madison had the right application.

Note:

In 2014, I asked several historian colleagues to opine about what the public should know about Thanksgiving. This is one post in that series The series will run through at least Thanksgiving Day.

To read all articles in this series, click Thanksgiving 2019.