Why Aren’t Evangelical Trump Supporters More Curious About Trump’s Behavior Toward Russia?

The easy answer is that evangelical leaders don’t want to mess up their power relationship with the president. It is easier to rationalize his actions. Even though the same actions from a Democrat president would bring outrage, they have tasted political dominance and don’t want to give it up.

There may be other factors. Social psychologists study the role of consistency and cognitive dissonance in maintaining attitudes. Taking a public position helps to solidify that attitude. Also, dissonance over a position can often be resolved by finding a sufficient justification for it. Subjects in studies have been induced to lie and say dull, boring tasks were fun. Subjects only paid a small sum to lie later said the tasks were interesting in contrast to those who were paid 20 times as much money to lie. The well paid group had sufficient justification to lie whereas the low pay group did not. The low pay group resolved their dissonance by later rating the tasks as more interesting than all other subjects.

Evangelical leaders may tell themselves that getting judges or support for some other policy or access to the president is justification for lack of scrutiny of the president’s behavior toward Russia. They may tell themselves that Russia isn’t really that bad after all. However, to people outside of the circle of his evangelical supporters, the president’s actions are very troubling.

If this article interested you, you probably have heard that the FBI investigated Trump’s possible ties to Russia after he fired FBI Director James Comey. Over the weekend, it was also reported that Trump has taken steps to keep his meetings with Vladimir Putin highly secret. There are other signs which have been documented elsewhere and summarized below. In short, Trump has deferred to Putin and Russian interests in ways that depart sharply from previous U.S. policy.

Even actions which appear to signal a willingness to respond firmly to Russia raise questions. Some supporters of the president point out the administration imposed tough sanctions on Russian interests, including those very close to Putin. An incurious supporter of the president will stop there. However, even the tough actions aren’t always what they seem to be.

For instance, in April 2018, the U.S. imposed tough sanctions on a group of Russian interests. One such person whose name is recently in the news was Oleg Deripaska. However, the action was delayed by the Trump administration almost a year past the time when it would have done the most good. Congress wanted sanctions imposed much earlier but for reasons never made clear, Trump delayed imposing them. In that time frame, the targets (who were well aware they were coming) had time to move funds into locations which are not covered by the sanctions.

Now the administration is lobbying to remove sanctions from companies previously associated with Deripaska. It isn’t clear to me how much Deripaska personally would benefit from the action but the timing of request should raise questions. However, Trump supporters don’t seem to ask questions.

As a child of the 60s, I am in disbelief to see evangelicals numb to Russian efforts to destabilize our elections. To hear Trump excuse Russian aggression is jarring and raises so many red flags. Trump’s behavior with Putin and in relation to Russian interests are truly and objectively troubling. Even Andy McCarthy, a Trump defender writing at the National Review, saw it recently. McCarthy doesn’t support the Mueller investigation but wrote, “If Mueller’s highly elastic warrant is to probe Trump “collusion” with the Kremlin, why would he stop if the president keeps giving him reasons to continue?”

McCarthy then lists Trump’s unbelievable support for Russian rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan, his praise of Putin as a leader in the face of evidence that he ordered the murder of dissenters, his obsequious response in Helsinki to Putin’s denial of election meddling, and his lies about having business dealings in Russia as reasons why someone might want to investigate. Trump supporter McCarthy doesn’t think Trump is a Russian agent, but he understands why someone might question Trump’s behavior.

In contrast, evangelical and other supporters of Trump just close their eyes and minds. Although I think it is highly likely that there is compromising information known by the Russians which motivates Trump, I will withhold judgment until Robert Mueller completes his work. However, whatever motivates our president, his actions are not helpful to the U.S. and demand a response from Congress and the people.

 

Jerry Falwell is Wrong About the Poor

There are several head scratching quotes from Jerry Falwell, Jr. in his New Year’s Day interview with Joe Heims in the Washington Post. One such quote which caught my eye is this:

Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.

While job creation might be out of reach for many low income people, charitable giving is something the poor do often. As Relevant magazine pointed out, Christian college president Falwell appears to have forgotten Jesus’ teaching about the widow and her few cents. Beyond Falwell’s insensitivity to the Bible, he is wrong about the poor and charitable giving. Actually, low income people as a group give a lot and on average they give more as a percentage of their income than rich people.

Given Falwell’s role as a fund raiser for his college, I am surprised he isn’t aware of this. In philanthropy literature, the link between income bracket and giving is well known. Although the truly poor don’t often itemize charitable gifts, lower income brackets are responsible for significant amounts of charitable giving compared to higher brackets. This is especially true of religious giving.

A 2007 Indiana University study found that donors making under 100,000/year gave nearly $60 Billion to religious organizations compared to $8.6 Billion given by donors making over $1 million/year. The per donor gift was much smaller in the lower income group, but together the lower income group represented nearly 60% of all giving to religious causes. In contrast to Falwell’s claim, that’s some real volume. No doubt Falwell’s college gets many widow’s mites on a monthly basis to help keep those doors open.

I realize that $100,000/year is not poor. However, this bracket is more likely to include large families with limited resources. As noted above, people in the lowest income groups don’t often itemize contributions and so it is harder to capture those data via the Indiana U. methodology. However, other research supports the contention that lower income persons give more as a percentage of income than the rich.

For instance, a 2014 study published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that the wealthy reduced their giving during the economic downtown while lower and middle income donors increased giving. The lowest income bracket – those making less than $25,000/year – increased their giving by 17% from 2006 to 2012. The lowest income group demonstrated the highest percentage increase of all groups.

The 2014 study wasn’t unusual. Much prior research has found that those in low income brackets give more as a percentage of income than the wealthy. According to researcher Roger Barnett, “Research in the area has established that, on the average, high income donors give more to charitable causes than do people with low incomes. However, in Britain (and in the United States) the poor have for decades been observed to donate proportionately higher shares of their income to charity than the financially better off (emphasis in the original) (p. 520).

Falwell, Jr.’s college has been helped out in the past by big gifts (e.g., self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon) so perhaps he is influenced by the big donors. However, as a group, the poor do give and they give a lot. He is wrong and shouldn’t spread this misinformation. If I were a low income donor to Liberty University, I would have to rethink my contribution.

 

Trump’s Dirty Deeds: Is This an Off-Ramp for Evangelicals?

Yesterday President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in prison for several crimes, including campaign finance violations. In his remarks prior to receiving his sentence, Cohen said he was sorry he helped cover up Donald Trump’s “dirty deeds.”

According to Cohen, Trump directed him to make hush money payments to two women for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential campaign. If Cohen (and Dept. of Justice prosecutors) are right, Donald Trump deceived the American people when he told reporters that he didn’t know about the hush money payments. Putting aside the intricacies of campaign finance laws, the evidence is mounting that Trump told the nation a story he knew wasn’t true.

Evangelicals in 1998 and Evangelicals Now

I am old enough to remember when presidential lying about personal moral behavior set off spasms of indignation among evangelicals. In 1998, some of them put pen to paper with an admonishment and solemn call for integrity.* They said the Clinton presidency was in “crisis.” Now, many evangelicals think we are in the best of times. My, how times have changed.

The entire statement is here. Let me bring out a couple of segments which could be written about the current crisis, if only it was seen as one.

We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

Remember this was written by evangelicals in 1998. Now we hear that a good economy and Supreme Court justices trump violations of ethical standards. Evangelicals of 1998 were “troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse.” Now they join in the debasing.

It appears clear to me that evangelical leaders no longer believe “the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda.”

Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

This statement finds new relevance in the presidency of Donald Trump for reasons which go far beyond hush money payoffs to women. It is absolutely stunning what is now acceptable to evangelical leaders. Current evangelical leaders clearly have flipped this statement. It appears to me that they believe that their political agenda is more important than the “moral character of a people.”

At least that is how it has seemed up to now. I have to wonder: Could the Michael Cohen sentencing and surrounding events be the off-ramp for evangelical leaders? It was also revealed yesterday that the National Enquirer entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors regarding the hush money to one of the two women. The effect is that they acknowledged the money was paid to influence the campaign which contradicts Trump’s story. In other words, the magazine sided with Cohen’s version of events. Will evangelicals stick with Trump if it becomes crystal clear to them that he directed felonious violations of the law in contrast to his claims?

 

*(Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency. The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998. To be released on 13 November 1998.)

Dominionism and the Actual Deep State

At one time, I wrote a lot about dominionism and the teaching that Christians were called to take over seven mountains of culture: government, education, entertainment, business, religion, family, and media (category:Dominionism). Christians who believe that often also believe America was founded as a Christian nation. Empirically the belief that America is a Christian nation has been associated with likelihood to vote for and support Donald Trump.

It is important to understand that Christians who believe America’s laws should reflect a conservative reading of the Bible don’t need everybody in power to personally be a Christian. They need a critical mass of people in a “mountain” of culture to be Christian in order to influence policy. For instance in government, as long as Trump has Christians around him influencing him to make policy they like, they don’t care that much what he does or says. According to a seven mountain resource, “The definition of reality is controlled by those that control cultural output.”

With this background in mind, please read this article by Jack Jenkins at Religion News Service. Jenkins watched the live feed of an event featuring Jon Hamill of Lamplighters Ministry.  His opening description is ominous:

But last Friday afternoon (Dec. 7), one of the hotel’s many glimmering ballrooms was transformed into a sanctuary, where dozens of worshippers held their hands aloft and spoke in tongues as Jon Hamill, co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based Lamplighter Ministries, led the group in prayer.

Hamill — whom supporters describe as a prophet — closed his eyes tightly and shouted above the chattering: “In Jesus’ name, we declare the Deep State will not prevail!”

Jenkins then described how participants see their church and the government as being intertwined.

Yet conference speakers repeatedly cast Trump administration officials as agents of God. And they urged the gathering of “intercessors” — believers who offer invocations on behalf of others — to aid the White House through prayer. Doing so, they argued, would help bring about a cosmic, spiritual “turnaround” for the nation.

According to the event organizers, there are Christians in the government who want to bring about their vision.

“We have governmental leaders throughout the Trump administration who love Jesus with all of their heart, and they are giving their all for this nation and for God’s dream for this nation,” Hamill said.

While loving Jesus is fine, attempting to enact anyone’s religious dream as a part of government service is a problem.

What is the Actual Deep State?

Hamill and dominionists describe their intentions to control the mountain of government.  For dominionists, it is a problem when others want to do the same thing, but it isn’t a problem when they do it.

Hamill worries about a shadowy deep state working to resist Trump. I am more concerned about dominionists who put their seven mountains teaching over the Constitution. The only real deep state conspiracy that I have seen evidence for is dominionism.

 

White Evangelicals Stand with Trump

Are evangelicals moving away from Trump?

Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins wrote yesterday that any suggestion evangelicals are deserting Trump is wrong. He cited research from the Pew Foundation as a support.

Contrary to media reports, Perkins said white evangelicals, young and old, are sticking with Trump and also sticking with their evangelical identification. He took his information directly from a Christian Post article which reported on a speech given by Pew Foundation’s  Alan Cooperman. One fact that Perkins didn’t report is that evangelical voters are becoming more accepting of gays and same-sex marriage, even as they are becoming more pro-life and supportive of the Republican party. This is a trend I have written about previously.

Regarding Trump, white evangelicals gave him a 71% approval rating. For Perkins, this is a source of happiness; for me, it is a discouraging fact. According to Cooperman, those who attend church frequently are more likely than infrequent attenders to support him.

Something that Perkins doesn’t mention that concerns me is the wide gap between white and black evangelicals. Just 11% of black millennial Protestants identify as Republican whereas 77% of white millennial evangelicals do. While I don’t know what this means, the difference is stunning. On the big political issues of the day, religious similarity isn’t a unifying force. It is a big problem for me that the leader of a group purporting to research the Christian family doesn’t report this as a problem for the church.

This difference jumps out at me more than anything else in this report about Cooperman’s presentation. In general, blacks and whites see many issues differently in the culture. White evangelicals want to believe that the gospel unifies. Those opposed to social justice initiatives claim the gospel is enough to unify. However, in practice, that doesn’t seem to be working out. Instead of crowing about political victories, I think white evangelical leaders should be grieving and listening to our minority brothers and sisters.

 

This Migrant Caravan Isn’t The First; Trump is Exploiting This One

For years, caravans of migrants from Central America have traveled through Mexico without a military response from the Trump administration. Like the current movement, refugees flee violence in their home countries and travel in groups to try to make the journey safer.

When the asylum process works some refugees are granted a hearing. Wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet is better than being threatened with violence back home.

Trump and the Republican leadership know that these caravans are not dominated by criminal types. Criminal types prey on the caravans. These are people who seek asylum and want a better life. There is a history of people presenting themselves at points of entry wanting to be vetted. Trump is deliberately obscuring that history by referring to the most recent caravan as an invasion and overreacting by sending troops to the border.

On average, such persons do contribute to the U.S. and benefit the economy and contribute to the social good. Trump’s stereotyping of asylum seekers as murderers and criminals and the recent caravan as a new threat is dishonest.

 

Court Evangelicals in Attendance at the August 27, 2018 State Dinner

Above from left to right: Robert Morris, Paula White, Melania Trump

A reader sent some photos of the dinner which document some in attendance which I have not seen on other lists. The most comprehensive account thus far I have seen has been put together by professor Andy Rowell (see the link below)

Evangelicals meeting with Trump at the White House August 27, 2018 – Andy Rowell

To his list, I can add Gateway Church pastors Robert & Debbie Morris, James & Betty Robison, and Marcus & Joni Lamb also from Gateway Church. Robert and Debbie Morris took a picture with Darryl Strawberry and his wife as well.

Here’s a cross section of the room showing Jerry Falwell, Jr, Paula White, Franklin Graham, Jentezen Frankin and many others.

And here are Joni and Marcus Lamb and Gateway Church pastors Robert and Debbie Morris after flying on somebody’s private jet – the Lamb’s I believe. Court evangelicals truly suffer for Jesus.

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Image: All images are fair use for the purpose of commentary and news reporting. Featured image – Melania Trump’s Instagram page. 

Eric Metaxas Says Katie Hopkins is His Hero

As yet another indicator of how far into the alt-right Eric Metaxas has drifted, here is a recent love tweet to British nativist Katie Hopkins.

In no universe should Katie Hopkins be called sweet or be anybody’s hero.

Final Solution

She lost her radio show after tweeting that a “final solution” was needed for Muslims.

Euthanasia Vans

In 2015, she advocated euthanasia for the elderly in nursing homes, telling interviewer Michael Buerk that she would deploy “euthanasia vans” if she ruled the world. According to Metaxas’ hero:

“We just have far too many old people.” Did I know that one in three NHS beds was being blocked by the elderly and demented? A third of our hospitals filled up by people who don’t even know they’re there? She’d soon put a stop to that. “It’s ridiculous to be living in a country where we can put dogs to sleep but not people.” Her solution? “Easy. Euthanasia vans – just like ice-cream vans – that would come to your home.” After they’d finished in the hospitals, presumably. “It would all be perfectly charming. They might even have a nice little tune they’d play. I mean this genuinely. I’m super-keen on euthanasia vans. We need to accept that just because medical advances mean we can live longer, it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

Sweet.

She thinks racial profiling is a “good thing,” doesn’t mind being called a racist, promotes the white genocide conspiracy theory, and advocated using gunships to thwart migrants coming into the UK. She called refugees “cockroaches.”

Regarding Metaxas’ tweet, I don’t know what he refers to by removing Trump by “any means necessary.” Numerous people have called for impeachment, but this is a Constitutional means and well within our republican government.

Metaxas’ devotion to Trump has taken him to some dark places when he considers a person like Katie Hopkins “sweet” and a “hero.”

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Over U.S. Intelligence, Donald Trump Accepts Putin’s Strong Denial of Russian Election Interference

Social media is ablaze with outrage over Donald Trump’s answer to a question about who he believes regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. In short, he said he has confidence in Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats but he believes Putin. Watch:

Let it sink in what Trump told the world. Russia mounted a cyberattack on the U.S. and he still sided with Putin. His rambling, tangential response deflected the question and yet still placed him in defense of Putin’s “strong denial.”

Ronald Reagan is dying many more deaths somewhere today. For an American president to cozy up to a former KGB agent, blame America for our poor relationship, and then to throw U.S. intelligence under the bus is collusion in real time. No need to prove anything covert. In my opinion, it just happened on the world stage.

Some readers may disagree. Let’s discuss.

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Rep. Mike Kelly’s Office: There is No Law that Requires Separation of Children from Asylum Seeking Families

UPDATE: On the 15th I received a letter from Mike Kelly’s office in response to an email I sent asking the same questions as in this post. See the letter here.

……………..

Today, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated Donald Trump’s false claim that there is a law that requires children be removed from their asylum seeking parents at the U.S. border. Watch:

Because I couldn’t find a law nor has anyone supporting the policy cited a specific law, I called my representative Mike Kelly (R-PA). The fellow who answered the phone (I didn’t get his name) said he would help me find that law. As he searched for it, he engaged in a bit of discussion with me about people illegally crossing the border. However, my question was about those presenting for asylum with children together as a family.

After searching and talking for about 10 minutes, Rep. Kelly’s staffer concluded that there is no law requiring the separation of children from their parents. He indicated that the practice fell within the jurisdiction of the border agencies and immigration officials and ultimately the Trump administration.

Thus, according to the office of my Trump supporting Republican representative, President Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are deceiving the American people by saying there is a law which they are simply enforcing. 

How low can Sanders and company go? Today she invoked the Bible after Jeff Sessions also did to justify this awful policy. Watch the video above to the end.

In one way, I am glad that Kelly’s office acknowledged that there is no law requiring the Trump administration policy. However, on the other hand, it is discouraging to know that Rep. Kelly must silently know that the story being sold to the American people is false.