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.

 

Why Trump’s Anti-Migrant Ad is Terrible but May Work

President Trump has approved an ad which is wrong on so many levels but may work as he hopes. Watch:

The ad uses misinformation and the vivid case of an unrepentant cop-killer to provoke fear. Then the ad offers the protective strategy of voting for Republicans. The ad is terrible because of the misinformation and stereotyping but may work because it gives a strategy to address the fear it creates.

Here are the problems:

Shock! The Ad Isn’t Truthful

The ad claims Democrats let the convicted murderer, Luis Bracamontes, into the country and then let him stay. In fact, he came and went during both Republican and Democrat administrations. Bill Clinton deported him but he came back into the country during George Bush’s presidency. At one point, Trump ally Joe Arpaio had him in his jail but then let him go. It is misinformation to blame Democrats alone for his presence.

Stereotyping through Insensitivity to Sample Bias

Bracamontes isn’t a representative sample of the caravan participants. He is one person who committed horrible crimes. When one actually considers what larger samples of immigrants, documented and undocumented, have done in communities, it is clear that Bracamontes is not representative of them. Crime rates are lower in many of these neighborhoods. Crime rates are not higher in states with large immigrant populations.

The ad seeks to associate Bracamontes with the migrants who seek asylum as a vivid case of a brown skinned person who wants to enter the US. The migrants moving toward the U.S. want to be vetted and want asylum. That is not Bracamontes’ history.

Social psychological research has shown that vivid cases such as Bracamontes persuade people to believe unflattering stereotypes. With this ad, Trump leaves no doubt that he wants voters to fear asylum seekers as dangerous criminals.

Fear Based Appeals Work

Research also shows that fear based appeals are persuasive if a strategy to address the fear is offered. Trump’s fear mongering is for a purpose. He clearly links Bracamontes with the caravan seeking asylum and implies those people will be as terrible as Bracamontes.

This ad is awful in many ways. It is lamentable that it may keep some wavering people in the Trump fold. To me, it is disgusting that the Republicans would condone this ad (anytime) so soon after the Pittsburgh shooting given that the shooter may have been motivated by a perception that Jews were helping the migrants.

Update: A similar ad has been pulled from CNN, FoxNews(!), and Facebook.

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. 

Donald Drains the Swamp – New Book by Eric Metaxas

After books on Christian heavyweights Bonhoeffer and Luther, Eric Metaxas tackles the heaviest weight of them all – Donald the Caveman. I haven’t seen a pre-publication copy as yet, but I can only imagine the wonders within this prehistoric prose.

I do wonder how Metaxas will delicately handle a full treatment of Donald the Caveman’s swamp draining. How, for instance, will he depict the Access Hollywood episode and all that grabbing?

The Stormy Daniels payoff chapter should be a delicate one for a children’s book. Maybe the book will carry a parent’s advisory.

Will there be an entire chapter on Donald the Cavemen’s golf escapades? You have to fill the swamp before you can drain it, I guess.

How about a chapter about the S***hole countries, the very fine neo-Nazis, John Dean the rat, our allies the enemies, and his good friend and mentor Vlad.

Should be amazing.

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Fair use of image from Amazon book 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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Wayne Grudem Channels Trump on Immigration

We Need a Wall Because the Bible Has Walls

Yesterday, Wayne Grudem came out on the side of building a wall along the Southern border. His reason: The Bible has walls.

Walls gave peace and security. In the world of the Old Testament, people built walls around cities to protect themselves from thieves, murderers, and other criminals, and from foreign invaders who would seek to destroy the city. People could still enter the city, but they had to do so by the gate, so that city officials would have some control over who was coming in and going out. Today’s debate is about a larger area – a national border, not a city – but the principles are the same.

The principles are the same, says Grudem. We need a wall to keep out all those thieves, murderers, and criminals who are invading. He seems to be channeling Trump who famously said in 2015:

They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

It doesn’t sound like either person has a very high view of people seeking to come here.

Coming to America

Throughout his article, Grudem doesn’t seem to recognize that people can seek asylum legally.

Objection: “We should be a nation that welcomes immigrants.” I agree wholeheartedly – if they come legally. But it is no kindness to them if the lack of a wall tempts them to risk death by walking across miles of parched desert, at the mercy of violent gangs, and then come into the US without legal documentation, only to live here as a permanent legal underclass, easily exploited, living in constant fear of discovery. In addition, it diminishes respect for the law and destabilizes the nation when millions of people exist in the shadows, living outside the legal recordkeeping functions of the nation.

Grudem says we should welcome immigrants if they come here legally. It is legal to request asylum. A wall won’t change that. People will still need to make the journey from unsafe homes to request asylum.

A Wall Isn’t a Policy

Grudem seems to assume that a wall is a policy.

Objection: “These are good people who are just seeking a better life.” Yes, many of them are, and we should welcome them – if they come legally. But we can’t ignore the fact that many others will not become “good neighbors” – some are drug runners, gang members, and even terrorists. A wall makes it possible to screen out the people who have previously been deported for felonies and others who are most likely to commit crimes or simply become a drain on the economy rather than getting a productive job.

An effective border wall would also be the best way to keep children together with their parents. Under the present system, families (1) enter the US illegally and (2) are caught, then (3) they plead for asylum, and (4) they are incarcerated until their asylum petition can be evaluated. But if we had a completed wall, such requests for asylum would be decided at the border, before they ever entered the US. We would never have to detain either parents or children on US soil in the first place.

I don’t believe a wall by itself would do anything he says it would. The present system is the way it is because of a mash up of current law and Trump administration policy. A wall alone doesn’t create the policy which governs what happens with people who want to come into the country.

Congress must craft legislation to make sane and compassionate policy. According to polls most people want families kept together, and DACA recipients to remain in the country.  Most oppose the wall.  Most citizens don’t want open borders, but rather secure borders with compassionate application for refugees searching for a safe and better life.

America Doesn’t Use the Bible to Settle Policy

I don’t think the Bible has much to say about walls in a republic which is not a theocracy. America isn’t a Christian nation so it doesn’t matter much if the Bible seems to teach it or not. We need a consensus which is humane and compassionate while protecting everybody’s interests. In my opinion, Grudem badly misses the mark.

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