Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with John Fea

This is the sixth interview in my series reflecting on 15 years of blogging. Messiah University history professor John Fea joined me to discuss getting history right, court evangelicals, and much more. John is a prolific writer and you can read his publishing credits in the bio below. He also hosts a podcast called The Way of Improvement Leads Home and writes frequently at his blog by the same name.

John has been an active public historian during his tenure at Messiah. He has confronted the historian misadventures of David Barton and Eric Metaxas. I became acquainted with John in 2011 when I first started to fact check David Barton’s historical claims. Not long after that, he endorsed Getting Jefferson Right, my book with Michael Coulter that addressed many claims in David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. Along with my history professor colleagues at Grove City College, John is one of several historians who have helped me along the way.

I believe historians doing history properly can provide our nation an extraordinary service. We need to know our rights and the heritage of free speech and protest. What does the Consitution say and what took place when the framers debated that document? Without full context, people are vulnerable to ideologues who selectively use historical events and quotes to create what John calls a “usable past,” a past which supports their current political aims.

As an evangelical, John has special focus on evangelicals in public life. He coined the term “court evangelical” to refer to evangelical leaders who fawn over Donald Trump and never hold him accountable. John provides a valuable overview of this concept in the interview. I hope you benefit from it.

John Fea is Distinguished Professor of American History at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

He is the author or editor of six books, including Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical IntroductionWhy Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past; and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, Christianity Today, Christian Century, The Washington Post,  USA Today,  He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.

John has lectured widely and speaks regularly to churches, school and teacher groups, civic groups, and historical societies. He appeared on NBC News, CNN, C-SPAN,  MSNBC, National Public Radio, and dozens of radio programs across the country.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Blog Theme: Trumpism – Interview with Greg Thornbury

A feature of the evangelical world since Trump was nominated and elected has been the inability of many of Trump’s evangelical supporters to see Trump’s flaws. John Fea (who will be one of my guests in a future interview) coined the term “court evangelical” to describe these evangelical leaders. Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell are often named among these court evangelicals. Another evangelical figure which has puzzled many observers due to the strength of his dedication to Trump is Eric Metaxas.

I have written several articles about Metaxas’ historical claims, notably his book If You Can Keep It.  His errors are similar to David Barton’s which is understandable once you learn that Metaxas thinks Barton is a credible historian. Perhaps the most popular blog posts about Metaxas’ approach to history are the ones where I attempt to track down the source of this quote:

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.

Metaxas once attributed the quote to Dietrich Bonhoeffer but it doesn’t appear in any of his works or speeches. Instead of acknowledging this and making a public correction, Metaxas has just stopped attributing the quote to Bonhoeffer. Consequently, hundreds, if not thousands of people continue to cite Metaxas as the source of a bogus Bonhoeffer quote.

In our interview, Thornbury analyzes Metaxas, but that is not the most riveting part to me. When Greg describes his journey from evangelical college president to where he is now, I believe many evangelicals will relate. There has been pressure to adopt Trumpism as an evangelical and those who don’t go along lose social capital in that world. Students of American religious and political history will be interested in hearing about Greg’s experience. Greg was in the inner circle and describes what it was like to see conservative Christians first tolerate then venerate an unworthy President.

Trumpism is the newest theme in my 15 years of blogging but in a way it is an extension of many themes I am familiar with. The narcissism of celebrity pastors, the false history of Christian nationalism, the anti-science dogmatism of many evangelical leaders, and the single-mindedness and bias of culture warring all come together in Trumpism.

So as a new friend in this struggle, I thank Greg for his time and talents.

Gregory Alan Thornbury, Ph.D., has been a college philosophy and theology professor, dean, and president of The King’s College in New York City. In addition to several books on theology and culture, he is the author of Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock (Random House, 2018) – a critically acclaimed biography that has been reviewed by The New York TimesThe New Yorker, National Public Radio, and was awarded as the most influential book in arts and culture by Christianity Today for 2019. A popular writer and speaker on philosophy, religion, and the arts, he currently serves as Senior Vice President at the New York Academy of Art in Tribeca, founded by Andy Warhol. He is also a consultant for Good Country Pictures, who is currently working on film adaptations of the short stories and novels of Willa Cather, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor for film and television.

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What Happened to Eric Metaxas? We May Finally Find Out!

Tomorrow, I will post an interview with former King’s College president Gregory Thornbury. Thornbury who is friends with Eric Metaxas offers a theory about why Metaxas has turned into a Trumpist. Watch:

Come back tomorrow to wthrockmorton.com for the rest of the interview with Greg. We take on Trumpism, Christian celebrity, and court evangelicals. It is a revealing and fascinating interview.

UPDATE: To see the interview, click the link.

You can see all posts about these interviews by clicking this link.

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The Veggie Tale Guy Checks Eric Metaxas on Bonhoeffer

This tweet from Veggie Tale creator Phil Vischer is wise and powerful.

Eric Metaxas is a shadow of his former self and his friends know it.

Metaxas answers with a simplication of history and current events and Vischer brings reality to the table.

Metaxas tries to lower the boom but Vischer again brings the facts.

Reversing Roe v. Wade will not eliminate abortion. It will remain legal in many states. Don’t use abortion politics as an excuse to avoid action on racism.

In my opinion, it is Vischer for the win in the Bonhoeffer match up.

Eric Metaxas Brings Back Katie “WhiteLivesMatter” Hopkins

The timing is key.

In the midst of the worst racial unrest in the United States since the late 1960s, Eric Metaxas today hosted white nationalist apologist Katie Hopkins.  Her tweet today is representative of what Metaxas is promoting on his show.

The hashtag and the article she says she stands by are horrendous. And the timing of them is an absolute slap in the face of those seeking racial reconciliation. Metaxas has made a conscious choice to work against this movement in the church by giving Hopkins a platform. The last time she was on his show, he called her his “hero.

Speaking of the article she stands by, here are some excerpts.

“No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad.

I still don’t care.

Because in the next minute you’ll show me pictures of aggressive young men at Calais, spreading like norovirus on a cruise ship. Watching them try to clamber on to British lorries and steal their way into the UK, do I feel pity? Only for the British drivers, who get hit with a fine every time one of this plague of feral humans ends up in their truck.

Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984′, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.

Once gunships have driven them back to their shores, boats need to be confiscated and burned on a huge bonfire. Drilling a few holes in the bottom of anything suspiciously resembling a boat would be a good idea, too, just for belt and braces.

The article was removed from publication and eventually Hopkins lost her column gig.

Maybe Metaxas will reveal this on his YouTube channel.

And apparently, she prefers segregated churches to a call for white Christians to examine their prejudice.

As American Christians are reflecting on the evils of racism and segregation in their churchs, Eric Metaxas today fawns over a woman who says “white Christians need to stand tall and proud” and “walk away” from calls to become allies of our minority brothers and sisters.

Read more about Ms. Hopkins here.

Eric Metaxas Uncritically Features Anti-Vaccine Proponent

Eric Metaxas has been in the hot seat lately due to his race baiting tweet in response to Joe Biden (see this post for that story). However, there is something else that in times past would relegate Metaxas to the fringe.

On his radio show last week, he gave 36 minutes to Kent Heckenlively, the co-author with Judy Mikovits, of the conspiratorial book Plague of Corruption. Mikovits is the star of the documentary “Plandemic” that made the rounds in early May. Metaxas treated Heckenlively as a serious guest with truth to reveal. In the process, he gave the anti-vax movement a huge public relations win. Watch:

In this video, Heckenlively claims and Metaxas accepts that aborted fetal tissue is in vaccines, and harmful viruses are in vaccines. The fictitious vaccine-autism link is implied along with other wild ideas. Heckenlively is allowed to provide a full recitation of the anti-vax catalog. Metaxas is completely unprepared for these claims and can’t or doesn’t want to offer any skeptical response. For all practical purposes, Eric Metaxas produced a 36 minute commercial for the anti-vax movement.

Recently, the Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today have offered warnings about conspiracy theories in the church. With Eric Metaxas favorably featuring the anti-vax movement, there is evidence they may be too late.

 

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

Eric Metaxas Goes Twitter Blackface (UPDATED)

Let me just get to the point. Here Eric Metaxas’ most recent contribution to his Christian witness.

Metaxas was reacting to Joe Biden’s comments about conservative African-Americans not being black. Biden’s point was not well stated and he apologized for it today.

The fact that Biden was out of line with his comment is no reason for Metaxas to engage in what has been called by Christian professor Karen Prior the “Twitter equivalent of Blackface.”

Anyone following Metaxas over the past three years shouldn’t be too surprised by this. Some prior guests on his show includes Katie Hopkins, (see also this link), Milo Yiannopoulos, and his good friend and opponent of the “hoards” from the third world, Ann Coulter.  And of course, there is Metaxas’ undying support for Donald Trump.

Those folks want to keep America (and Britain in the case of Hopkins) white and European.  I don’t know what’s in Metaxas’ heart, but I could never give those three a platform, let alone call them friends and heroes.

Metaxas is currently getting dragged on social media for this tweet, and rightly so. However, if tomorrow everything goes back to normal, what will it matter?

Ed Stetzer has weighed in:

Now Joe Carter:

After being ratioed all night long, Metaxas doubled down:

In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, Joe Biden was favored by 81% of black voters over Donald Trump, who was favored by only 3%. Although it was a dumb and insensitive way of saying it, Biden was not untethered to the facts.

If anyone is failing to deal with reality, it is Metaxas and his supporters. They fail to deal with the fact that there are good reasons for the disparity in the black vote. Principally, what Republicans do is criticize black voters for being captivated by “shiny objects” as if black voters don’t have reasons to favor the Democratic party.

Conservatives will make the most of Biden’s gaffe but exploitation can’t cover the fact that members of GOP fight against expanding voting access. Members of which party support Confederate heroes and symbols and find “very good people” among those who want to see a statue of Robert E. Lee remain in a honored place? Not the Democratic party.

According to a recent poll, black Americans feel that racial division has grown and that Trump is responsible for that that. They strongly disapprove of his performance and hold him responsible for an increase in racism on his watch. There are reasons for these results which Republican leaders simply don’t want to confront.

 

 

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

Eric Metaxas Finds His Moral Whisper About Harassment Claims Against Mike Bloomberg

Oh I see how it is. Mike Bloomberg’s past harassment allegations get some press and Eric Metaxas finds his moral concern.

I don’t think this was “whoa” as in “whoa, he is as much of a louse as Trump, maybe I should support him too.” I think this was “whoa” as in “whoa, that’s bad.” What do you think?

Metaxas and other Trump court evangelicals will be severely blasted if they try to play the morality card on Trump’s opponents during this election. They can’t really do it with a straight face. I suspect Metaxas only wrote a muted “whoa” because he knew he would be ridiculed unmercifully if he went for a stronger condemnation.

Recently CBN’s David Brody (a supporter of Trump) acknowledged that making an issue of Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality was not a winning play for Trump supporters since Trump has no moral high ground. Watch:

Brody just ruled out this out as a plausible strategy given Trump’s questionable behavior. I don’t think Bloomberg is going to prevail, but I can’t see how Republicans can make an issue of it if he does.

Eric Metaxas Thinks He Saved Bonhoeffer from the Cultural Marxists

David Barton (Left); Eric Metaxas (Right)

Although this is entirely predictable, I want to preserve the moment. Eric Metaxas believes he saved Bonhoeffer’s legacy from the cultural Marxist academics who study Bonhoeffer for a living.

Metaxas tweeted this in response to a statement from the International Bonhoeffer Society calling for the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. An article by Jim Wallis summarized the statement and served as the trigger for Metaxas’ tweet.

It is a fine statement of objections to Trump’s term in office and Wallis offers some sobering parallels to Christian sentiment about Hitler during the 1930s and 1940s. The cultish devotion to Trump does mimic some things said about Hitler. I can understand support for certain of Trump’s policy positions, but I cannot understand the slavish fealty to Trump as a man. This is idolatrous and dangerous.  I urge you to read the IBS statement and support their work. They are fine and serious scholars.

Metaxas’ tweet exposes more about him than it does about the Bonhoeffer Society. It is one thing to believe you have a significant perspective to add to a field, it is quite another to believe you alone have the truth. Bonhoeffer scholars have documented significant omissions and problems in Metaxas’ book on Bonhoeffer.  He scoffs at their work and fails to respond in a scholarly manner. Mostly, he told journalist Jon Ward, he ignored them:

The handful of early negative reviews of my book on Bonhoeffer have not struck me as substantive, or as anything more than ideological griping, so I have labored to ignore them.

This is the way of so many Christian celebrities. Metaxas, like David Barton and Dinesh D’Souza, portrays an arrogance about his work. They are above correction and error. Any criticism is ideological and therefore beneath them.

And so it goes. Metaxas continues his labor. It must be a hard labor because these days there is so much he has to ignore.

Eric Metaxas’ Christian Case Against the Constitution

David Barton (left); Eric Metaxas (right)

Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Eric Metaxas was allowed to opine on what he called “The Christian Case for Trump.” In essence, he argued that Trump’s failings don’t matter as long as Trump opposes abortion and supports religious liberty for Christians. I argue in response that there is no distinctly Christian reason to favor one president over another when it comes to applying the law.  Assuming for a minute that we can determine what Christian public policy is, a president who holds those policies still must abide by the law or face the consequences.

Metaxas begins by faulting the editorial of Christianity Today’s Mark Galli which called for impeachment of removal of Trump from office. Galli called the president “profoundly immoral” and stipulated to his guilt in the Ukraine affair. Metaxas objected that Galli misapplied Christian doctrine:

But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but faith in what Jesus has done.

I believe it is Metaxas who confuses the matter. Galli does not make a judgment about Trump’s salvation, but rather Trump’s fitness for office. Trump may or may not be a Christian but that isn’t at issue when it comes to conviction on the articles of impeachment. If we take Metaxas seriously, then no law breaking office holder could be held accountable — after all we are all sinners so who should throw stones?

Metaxas dismisses Galli’s proper comparison of Trump to Clinton. In Galli’s editorial, he noted that Clinton’s sins led many evangelicals to call for his ouster. However, many evangelicals now look the other way with Trump and excuse his actions. Metaxas’ justification for this is political:

In the 1990s some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Despite ultrasounds and 4-D imaging, Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity, often beyond viability and until birth. If slavery was rightly considered wicked—and both a moral and political issue—how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time, as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the president’s moral failings might be?

The last question is really the heart of Metaxas’ argument. For good measure, he paints the Democrats as favoring open borders, socialist and Christian hating. So for Metaxas, Trump’s problems are better than the only alternative he considers which is a Democratic-socialist takeover.

Metaxas’ analysis is misleading on a key point

There are several fact based problems with Metaxas analysis. I will take just his key point. Abortion was just as divisive in the early 1990s as it is now. I am old enough to remember the absolute Republican hatred of the Clintons and the belief by pro-life advocates that Hillary was evil. I was much more involved in pro-life and Republican circles in the 1990s and I can tell you the divide is the same.

In his short op-ed, Metaxas drops fact challenged hints (refers to “socialists,” the FBI’s “J.Edgar Hoovers”) that the Democratic deep state alternative universe would be so bad that Trump is a far better alternative no matter what impeachable offense he has committed. In short, Metaxas plays the role of a demagogue, mongering fear to move people away from their critical sense.

Walk by Sight Not by Faith

Another serious problem with this kind of reasoning is that fear mongering causes people to walk by sight and not by faith. Metaxas tells Christians that they need Trump. Their world will fall apart if Trump isn’t president. Abortion will be worse, you won’t be able to pray in public, the worst will happen, the sky is falling. God will not be on His Throne.

In fact, if Trump is convicted, Mike Pence will become president. This is right now the choice. Then Christians of that persuasion can vote for Pence next November. The fear based choice offered by Metaxas is a false one. Metaxas and the president’s court evangelicals aren’t acting from faith or principle, they are reciting talking points.

The only real issue for the Christian or any citizen right now is Trump’s guilt on the articles of impeachment. Christians don’t have a political team. The Christian position on impeachment and conviction is for senators now to do impartial justice as the Senate oath specifies. To argue otherwise is to make a case against the Constitution and rule of law.