Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
The Righting America Blog | Righting America

The Debate over Biblical Cosmology: A Case Study in Gracious Forbearance

by Terry Defoe

Pastor Terry Defoe is an emeritus member of the clergy who served congregations in Western Canada from 1982 to 2016, and who ministered to students on the campuses of the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. He is the author of  Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and Science, a book which, among other things, chronicles his transition from Young Earth Creationism to evolutionary creation. Evolving Certainties is endorsed by scientists in biology, geology and physics, with a foreword written by Darrel Falk, former president of BioLogos, an organization that has as its goal the facilitating of respectful discussion of science / faith issues. Defoe has been educated at: Simon Fraser University (BA Soc); Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (M.Div.); and, Open Learning University, Burnaby, British Columbia (BA Psyc).

A Representation of Early Cosmology. Illustration via DustoftheBible.com.

Biblical cosmology is phenomenological — reflections of earth-bound observers seeking to explain various aspects of the natural realm. The ancients were without the benefit of modern science and its associated technologies. Their understanding was limited to what the eye could see. In the Old Testament book of Job, (42:3), Job admits his lack of knowledge of both material and spiritual realities when he says, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” The issue of phenomenology is at the root of much of the current conflict between science and faith. Old Testament professor John Walton of Wheaton College says, “There is not a single instance in the Old Testament of God giving scientific information that transcended the understanding of the ancient Israelite audience” (106).

The author of Genesis is not aware of the limitations of his own knowledge. In the Hebrew Scriptures, important theological truths are often embedded in prescientific contexts. Modern-day believers do not base their faith on scripture’s statements about the natural world. Denis Lamoureux asserts that

The earth “looks” flat, “seems” to be surrounded by water, and “feels” stationary; the sky gives the “impression” of being a blue body of water overhead, and the sun “appears” to cross the dome of the sky, rising and setting every day.… to ancient peoples like the biblical authors and their readers, these are descriptions of the actual structure and operation of the universe.

The Firmament

The Hebrew word translated “firmament” or “expanse” is “raqia,” or metal pounded flat. The ancient authors of scripture believed that the firmament supported God’s footsteps. Job 22:14 in the New English Bible says, “He walks to and fro on the dome of heaven.” The ESV translation says, similarly, “He walks on the vault of heaven.” Job 37:18 has a question for God’s servant: “Can you join God in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?” And Isaiah 40:22 says, “God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and his people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.”  The builders of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) were convinced they could build a tower that would reach the firmament.

The Israelites believed that the stars were quite small and fixed to the firmament. The stars sometimes dislodged, falling to the earth. This idea was carried forward into the New Testament (Revelation 6:13), where the apostle John says “… the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.” In the fifteenth century, some scholars (called “philosophers” in those days) began to question the idea of a firmament. Luther (1483-1546) insisted on a literal interpretation of the relevant texts:

Scripture says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters… It is likely that the stars are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night… We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if so far beyond our comprehension like those before as concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe that rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding (30).

Israel’s cosmology was similar to that of surrounding near eastern nations, especially Egypt and Babylon. There were differences, however. And those differences were theologically significant. For example, the author of Genesis carefully pointed out that astronomical bodies were not autonomous divinities able to control human behavior, as was believed in neighboring nations, but were inanimate entities under God’s control. 

Paradigm Shift

A typical sixteenth-century scientist, Polish priest Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was a man of faith. Somewhere around 1514 (the date is uncertain) he proposed a radical new theory, subsequently called heliocentrism, arguing that the earth orbits the sun, not vice versa. Physicist Stephen Hawking pointed out that the theory was first circulated anonymously, perhaps fearing that Copernicus would be labeled a heretic (3). Heliocentrism caused consternation among theologians because of verses like 1 Chronicles 16:30: “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” 

Galileo (1564-1642) was asked to write an account which would lay out the arguments pro and con. He was instructed not to take sides. But that’s exactly what he did. Galileo displayed what Stephen Jay Gould called “… a fatal impetuosity,” the behavior of “…a frightfully undiplomatic hothead who brought unnecessary trouble on his own head” (88). Incidentally, in 1992, 350 years after Galileo’s death, Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) admitted, on behalf of the Catholic church, that errors had been made by the theological advisors in their persecution of Galileo.


Martin Luther was a contemporary of Copernicus. He shared the geocentric cosmology of the  learned people of his day. Luther refused to budge from the standard scriptural interpretation which claimed that the earth did not move. This, however, is not the end of the story. The  Lutheran Church never took an official position against the Copernican theory. As Russell Moulds has established, Luther and his colleagues at Wittenberg University included the Copernican heliocentric model in their curriculum, despite the radical, counterintuitive, and exegetical problems status of that theory (40). Paradoxically, the Lutheran University of Wittenberg actually played a central role in promoting heliocentrism. 

Despite Luther’s biblically grounded skepticism, Lutherans openly considered and embraced heliocentrism without fear of reprisal. According to Moulds, “this approach fostered the study of what was current and emerging in the arts, letters, and sciences without necessarily endorsing the content as conclusive” (40). Lutherans granted early scientists the autonomy to understand nature on its own terms, and for this they played a key role in shaping the modern scientific enterprise. 

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a devout Lutheran, best known for his laws of planetary motion. As A. J. Swamidass explains

Kepler’s introduction to Astronomia Nova included a careful exegetical study, analysis of Psalm 104 and Joshua, showing these passages did not put science at odds with the Bible. . . . As a scientist, I admire Kepler’s obvious and diligent brilliance. I identify with his worshipful devotion to the Creator in his study of creation. I also aspire to Luther’s graceful forbearance of those who disagreed with him (84)

Kepler pointed out that science could assist investigators in learning about God’s creative will. (Gribbin, 2003, p. 52) Faithful individuals the likes of Augustine, Kepler and Galileo encouraged the church to acknowledge scientific advances and let those insights inform church teachings. As Ted Davis says:

Kepler used the Augustinian principle of accommodation to justify the figurative interpretation of biblical references to the motion of the sun. The Bible, he noted, speaks in a very human way about ordinary matters in a manner that can be understood, using ordinary speech to convey loftier theological truths. Thus, the literal sense of texts making reference to nature should not be mistaken for accurate scientific statements (36).


Many Christians are unaware of the fact that the Big Bang theory was initially proposed by Father George LeMaitre, (1894-1966) a Jesuit priest, friend of Albert Einstein and leading scientist in Belgium. According to the theory, the universe expanded from a high density state approximately 13.8 billion years ago. In 1951, LeMaitre’s theory was officially pronounced to be in accordance with Roman Catholic teaching. 

The earth is 4.5 billion years old. In order to assist viewers in grasping the magnitude of that number, producers of a Nova TV Special used the analogy of a vehicle traveling at the rate of one million years per minute. This vehicle would have to travel nonstop just over three days (74 hours) to reach the equivalent  of 4.5 billion years. As explained in PBS’ “Australia: First Four Billion Years” that’s at the rate of 1 million years per minute. 

A growing number of Christians today believe that God has continuously supervised an evolutionary process, a point of view called evolutionary creation. The New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 1, verse 3, says that God “… sustains all things by his powerful word.” The Apostle Paul adds “… All things were created through him, and for him: and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17) In Romans 1:20, we read: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”   

You Can’t Be a Literalist in a Metaphorical World, or, Conservatives Like Mike Johnson Have a “Daddy” Issue

by Rodney Kennedy 

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His seventh book,  Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, has recently been published. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear in April.

“Welfare Queens” by Darrin Bell. Image via Candorville.com

George Lakoff asks penetrating questions in his work, The Political Mind: “Why do certain people, most of them self-identified as conservatives, find certain acts of love—premarital, extramarital, or homosexual—more sinful than war or torture? Why should a conservative living in the Midwest find it personally threatening when gays get married in San Francisco or Massachusetts?” 

I add: Why do conservatives have such an emotional need to reduce SNAP benefits? 

Why indeed? Conservatives seem to have a single mind that informs their approach to every social issue. Lakoff, in another work, one that inspired my doctoral dissertation, argues that we live by a series of metaphors that constitute our reality. 

Conservative modes of thought are sweeping across the nation, creating a kind of soft authoritarianism. Egged on by a deep emotional fear of losing, evangelicals are comfortable with the idea of minority rule. Any form of authoritarianism – even fascism – entices those who are determined to be in charge. No conservative I know is bothered by the fact that 72% of Americans accept gay marriage. They are not deterred by the reality that more than 65% of Americans believe that there should be some access to abortion. They are not the least bit intimidated by a secular culture and progressive Christian majority that embraces diversity. 

They no longer have any qualms about reducing direct democracy, empowering the minority, or eliminating the primary guarantees of democracy.

Building on my 1993 book, The Creative Power of Metaphor, I suggest that conservatives live by a single, dominant metaphor. 

In the 1990s I thought that dominant metaphor was LIFE IS WAR. 

Now, I believe that I only discovered one of the tertiary metaphors of the conservative movement. Borrowing again from Lakoff, I think the primal metaphor is the strict father metaphor. 

Definition of The Strict Father Metaphor

Lakoff defines the strict father as the moral leader of the family, and he is to be obeyed. The family needs a strict father because there is evil in the world from which he must protect them—and Mommy can’t do it. The family needs a strict father because there is competition in the world, and he has to win those competitions to support the family—and Mommy can’t do it. 

You need a strict father because kids are born bad, in the sense that they just do what they want to do, and don’t know right from wrong. They need to be punished strictly and painfully when they do wrong, so they will have an incentive to do right to avoid punishment. 

The Strict Father metaphor depends upon a deeper metaphorical structure: God is the Strict Father. For instance, evangelicals operating out of the strict father frame struggle with the story of the prodigal son. The younger son did what all strict father adherents abhor – he wasted everything. He was lazy, promiscuous, careless with money, had evil friends, and refused to work. 

The only way evangelicals can “stomach” the prodigal son story is to turn it into a revival testimonial. In this framework, the prodigal son is a sinner in need of grace. There’s no economic reality involved in this reading. It is sloppy spiritualization attempting to hide from messy reality. 

In the strict father metaphor, we would have a different prodigal son story.

When his father saw him he was filled with indignation. He waited at the front door with his arms folded and his face showing a bit of a scowl and an ocean of indifference. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 

But the father, feeling no sympathy said to his slaves, “Quickly, get the chains and lock the boy in the cellar and leave him there with no food and water.” 

The father then called the elder son and said to him, “Order the fatted calf to be killed, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine has to learn how to be an adult in this home.” And they began to celebrate. 

And the father said to the Older Brother: “You are my son, my Beloved. You have worked hard, obeyed my every word, and you have always respected my authority. To you I leave my entire estate as your reward.” 

In the Strict Father version, the prodigal doesn’t get a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet; he gets chains on his body and the sting of a whip on his back. Disobedience must be punished. The son must once again learn the total authority of the Father; he must be obedient, and most of all, he must return to work in the field every day.

A softer version of the Strict Father prodigal story would have left out the chains and whip, but the issues remain the same: Authority, discipline, obedience, and punishment. This is the Strict Father template.

Strict Father (Mike Johnson) v. the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 

During Thanksgiving week, there is another defining example of the strict father metaphor. This one has to do with food supply. Instead of a table loaded with turkey and dressing with all the goodies, there is the reality that 30,000,000 Americans suffer from food deficiency. 

Why would an affluent member of Congress be concerned about the amount of food assistance received by a poor person? The irony of affluent members of Congress debating food assistance for poor people without consulting a single poor person is thick.  

When Speaker of the House Mike Johnson claims that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is “our nation’s most broken and bloated welfare program,” he conveniently ignores the facts that 41 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, and that the alleged fraud in the program doesn’t exceed 2% of the budget. As for the emotional argument that SNAP is “bloated,” the reality is that SNAP comprises a very small portion of the federal budget and it is not a key driver of our federal debt. In 2022, spending for SNAP made up 2.4 percent of total federal spending. 

Johnson’s miserly politics looks suspiciously like Pharoah cutting the rations of Hebrew slaves and nothing like the amazing generosity of God. Walter Brueggemann says, 

From the outset, Pharaoh, blessed by God’s Nile, was the leader of the breadbasket of the world (see Gen. 12:10). By his own actions and those of his food czar, Joseph, Pharaoh advanced the claims of the state against his own subjects, achieving a monopoly on land and on the food supply. That land and food supply became a tax base whereby wealth was systematically transferred from the peasant-slaves to the central monopoly.

The strict father operates on merit, competition, hard work. In a strict father family, hierarchies of power and wealth are justified on “merit.” If a person is “given” food benefits, the desire to compete, to win, to provide disappears. Conservatives really believe that cutting welfare benefits will build discipline, improve lives, and make America great again. 

President Reagan Gave Conservatives a Permanent Metaphor for Opposing Welfare Benefits

Conservatives are not void of metaphorical construction. Ronald Reagan, for instance, invented the metaphor of the “Welfare Queen,” and it served as the defining principle of conservatives for decades. 

Whether or not the Welfare Queen was a total fabrication, or a real woman, is not relevant. The power of the metaphor is that the Welfare Queen came to stand for all African Americans on welfare. She was a lazy, uppity, sexually immoral black woman who was a cheater living off of the taxpayers, driving a Cadillac paid for by taxpayers, having children just to get money for them. 

Despite the fact that most welfare recipients are white, and few own vehicles of any kind, conservatives eagerly accepted Reagan’s metaphor. Match “Welfare Queen” with “Strict Father” and you have a shotgun wedding made in conservative heaven.

Reagan’s description of the Welfare Queen driving a Cadillac enabled him to reach southern poor whites. The Cadillac symbolized something valuable and upper-class that was not earned. He also deftly employed the racist and sexist tropes that whites were above nonwhites, and men were above women. 

The rhetorical trope for this was metonymy. The definition of metonymy: the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant. For example, “suit” for business executive, or “track” for horse racing. 

Here’s how metonymy works: In Reagan’s created frame the welfare recipient is a lazy uppity immoral black, and that fits a social stereotype of blacks. Eliminating welfare is giving those unworthy blacks what they deserve—nothing! 

Reagan’s prodigious powers of persuasion convinced poor, white, worthy welfare recipients to vote against their own self-interest. They supported Reagan’s stand against welfare because they already lived out of a more powerful metaphor: the Strict Father. They knew that Reagan didn’t include them in the Welfare Queen trope. They were on welfare, but they didn’t drive Cadillacs. 

The Welfare Queen and Strict Father metaphors explain how Speaker Johnson can ignore facts and reality to insist on cutting SNAP benefits. The “Welfare Queen” haunts the dreams of all hardline, strict father legislators. 

“And I Will Show You a More Excellent Metaphor” 

In the rich language of the Bible there are better metaphors to live by than the strict father. There’s a phrase that appears frequently in the Bible: “Made a feast.” From Abraham making a feast for his guests with unleavened bread to Jesus feasting with his disciples at the table with bread and wine, there is a sense of joy and generosity in the air. 

Instead of the clutching greed of the Strict Father guarding all the benefits, we get God’s inexhaustible creation, limitless grace, relentless mercy, enduring purpose, and fathomless love. No wonder the Strict Father metaphor struggles to find its footing in the kingdom of grace. 

The feast that God provides gives us a vision of God “cutting a rug” with all peoples of all backgrounds – rich and poor. When you think about it, an appeal to rhythm makes perfect sense: without the satisfaction of certain appetites, nothing gets born – neither songs nor babies. 

Imagine feasting, singing, dancing, the sense of rhythm in the nurturing God’s kingdom as the ingredients for a stronger metaphor. 

The Hebrew prophet Isaiah imagined the reality: 

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)

The shroud in this passage is the Strict Father metaphor – the illusion of white male superiority – that separates the rich from the poor, and from God. Strict father types believe that extravagance is waste, that generosity is a sign of weakness, and that feasting is somehow not acceptable. 

Evangelicals have “daddy issues;” more seriously, evangelicals need better metaphors for framing reality. Evangelicals need a new primal metaphor. 

Roger Miller sang, “You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.” Well, you can’t literalize in an ocean of metaphors and symbolic language.

Pot Calling the Kettle Black: Ken Ham Attacks “Secular Media” for Its Lies

by William Trollinger

House of Representatives Speaker, Mike Johnson, poses next to Ken Ham with the Ark filling the background behind them.
Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (right) with Ken Ham (left). Image via Answers in Genesis.

Ken Ham has to be thrilled. 

Mike Johnson – young Earth creationist, anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion extremist, and election denier – is now Speaker of the House. More than this, Johnson has done legal work for Ark Encounter, helping to ensure that Ham’s big (albeit unseaworthy) boat annually receives a sales tax rebate of $1.825 million, as part of Kentucky’s tourism development program.

But despite the fact that his ideological and work buddy is now, after the Vice President, next in the line of succession for the presidency of the United States, Ham is angry, angry that news stories on Johnson and Ham make the point that “Kentucky taxpayers helped fund” the Ark:

Do we even need to be reminded that we can’t trust much of the secular media and that they will lie for the purpose of maligning those they don’t agree with . . . At Answers in Genesis, we have stated so many times that the Ark was funded 100% by private funding. Let me say it again: the Ark Encounter project and the Creation Museum were both funded 100% by private funding.

Let’s leave aside the question of whether the sales tax rebate qualifies as public funding. For all of his self-righteous bluster re: the “secular media,” Ham conveniently and consistently fails to acknowledge that the little town of Williamstown provided the Ark with all sorts of public assistance:

  • The town gave Answers in Genesis (AiG) $175,000.
  • The town gave the Ark 98 acres for the princely sum of $1.
  • Most important, the town underwrote $62 million of junk bonds for the Ark construction project, in the process (and here’s what makes this deal so sweet) agreeing that 75% of the Ark’s property taxes would go to repaying the bonds, and not to the local government.

If this is not public funding, I don’t know what is.

Of course, Williamstown agreed to subsidize the Ark in hopes that this fundamentalist tourist attraction would result in an economic boon for the town. The town was sold on this dream thanks to AiG’s feasibility report, which claimed that the Ark would attract an estimated 1.6 million visitors in the first year, and that these numbers would go up for the next decade by an average of 7% each year after that. 

Well, Ark Encounter annual attendance has never reached 1 million. And last year (July 2022-June 2023) the Ark welcomed 782,660 visitors – not an insignificant number, but only 36% of the 2.18 million that had been projected. 

Williamstown has not come close to enjoying the economic boon it had imagined when it was sold on the junk bond deal by AiG. As David MacMillan – featured in the brilliant documentary “We Believe in Dinosaurs” – has put it, “Ham fleeced a town that gave him his Ark Encounter.” 

But not only does Ham refuse to come clean about the fact that Williamstown helped subsidize the Ark, but he has (appallingly) claimed that this little town has only itself to blame for its lack of economic growth, in that it happens to be on the wrong side of the interstate (which, of course, is precisely where it was located when AiG made its sales pitch).

Do we even need to be reminded that we can’t trust much of what Ken Ham has to say? 

Not to mention his compatriot, Mike Johnson.

Mike Johnson: Not for the People, and Not a True Evangelical

by Rodney Kennedy

House of Representatives Speaker, Mike Johnson, stands shoulder to shoulder to Donald J. Trump, both men smiling.
Donald Trump with newly elected Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson. Image via rightwingwatch.org.

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His seventh book,  Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, has recently been published. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear in April.

Rep. Mike Johnson and I are Louisiana natives. We both were born and raised in North Louisiana. We both were raised as Southern Baptists. We both graduated from LSU, he from the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, and I from the Ph.D. program in the Department of Communication. 

I imagine that he, like me, attended the Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport numerous times in his childhood. I am sure that he, like me, grew up pulling for the LSU Fighting Tigers on Saturday nights. 

He has become a powerful politician and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I am an American Baptist preacher and writer. 

We both profess to be evangelicals. But his understanding of what it means to be evangelical is dramatically different from mine. Perhaps the differences in a pair of Louisiana guys maps the major differences within American evangelicalism, within American Christianity: 

  • Johnson is an election denier who believes Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. I know that Joe Biden was legitimately and fairly elected as our president. 
  • Johnson is a MAGA supporter of Donald Trump; I believe Trump is the most dangerous and evil politician in America. I have written two books attempting to tell evangelicals the truth about Trump. In The Immaculate Mistake I argue that evangelicals gave birth to Trump and his demagoguery. In Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, I argue that Trump is philosophically, biblically, rhetorically, and politically evil, as his political alienation, demagoguery, violence, and authoritarianism are shaking the foundations of democracy. 
  • Johnson is a young Earth creationist who believes the world was created 6,000 years ago. He has defended Ken Ham, the Creation Museum, and the Ark Encounter in court, helping Ham receive millions of dollars in tax breaks and funds from the Kentucky Department of Tourism. I find young earth creationism to be fake, false, and unchristian, as the Creation Museum is nothing but the visualization of right-wing ideologies. 
  • Johnson is a virulent opponent of the LGBTQ community, even to the point of lamenting the dissolution of anti-sodomy laws in a dozen states. Perhaps his most egregious statement came when he claimed,
    • “Homosexual relationships are inherently unnatural and, the studies clearly show, are ultimately harmful and costly for everyone. Society cannot give its stamp of approval to such a dangerous lifestyle. If we change marriage for this tiny, modern minority, we will have to do it for every deviant group. Polygamists, polyamorists, pedophiles, and others will be next in line to claim equal protection. They already are. There will be no legal basis to deny a bisexual the right to marry a partner of each sex, or a person to marry his pet.”  
    • In contrast, I am a supporter of the LGBTQ community and am the interim pastor of a welcoming and affirming American Baptist and UCC church. 
  • Johnson is a hardline anti-abortionist, to the point of asserting that doctors who give abortion care should be “imprisoned at hard labor.” I am not a hardline anti-abortionist, and am appalled by the unending crusade to criminalize more and more people who are involved in helping women.
  • Johnson believes America was founded as a “Christian nation, following the lead of the American history “hobbyist,” David Barton. But Barton’s views have been convincingly contradicted by the overwhelming majority of actual historians in America, including some very conservative ones. In contrast with Johnson, I know America was not founded as a Christian nation. 
  • Johnson is a Christian Nationalist, and his Christian Nationalism is rooted in an American Gnosticism and idolatry that is but one example of the failure of the Southern Baptist Church to be the church. On the other hand, I believe that Christian Nationalism is a form of idolatry. 
  • Johnson opposes the separation of church and state. Maintaining my Baptist roots, I am a firm supporter of the separation of church and state. 
  • Johnson defines his Christianity as a commitment to culture war politics. I define my Christianity as a commitment to the politics of Jesus – an alternative to the secular politics of violence and death. 

I will address two problems that I have with Rep. Johnson’s political/theological understandings: His use of the word “people” and his claim to be an “evangelical.” I want to clarify who Johnson actually is; that is to say, I want to clarify what makes him so dangerous. 

Johnson Doesn’t Care about the “People” 

I don’t trust smiling, hand-shaking, back-slapping politicians and Baptist preachers going on until doomsday about the “people” and loving the people. There’s an agenda hidden behind the theatrics. 

He voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victory. He even wrote a court brief that argued that polling irregularities stemming from COVID protocols invalidated the results in four key states. He has been willing to violate Constitutional rules to do permanent damage to democracy. Thomas Friedman has reminded us, “The peaceful, legitimate transfer of power is the keystone of American democracy. Break it, and none of our institutions will work for long, and we will be thrust into political and financial chaos.” The new Speaker of the House attempted to halt the peaceful transfer of power, and in so doing he was trying to break the ties that bind us together as one people. 

All this political activity may be deemed necessary by Johnson, but it’s not a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It is a government of right wing culture warriors and the rich. Over the course of the last ten years, Republicans like Johnson have resurrected a social Darwinism that allows the strong to control the majority with strict laws and authoritarian ways. These strange Republicans push for a lack of government intervention in issues that matter to them – Wall Street, evangelical church “freedoms,” and the environment – while at the same time demanding extreme government intervention in the sex lives of the people. These folks have no empathy for the poor and no desire to enlarge the social safety net, and they are persistent in their effort to reduce voting rights, especially for minorities. In the name of “the people,” Johnson’s party works hard every day to destroy truth, decency, patriotism, national unity, racial progress, and U. S. democracy.

Mr. Johnson made it clear what his agenda will be as Speaker: “You’re going to see an aggressive schedule in the next few days and weeks ahead. You’re going to see Congress working as hard as it has ever worked, and we are going to deliver for the American people.” 

Crack open Johnson’s agenda, and you will not see one benefit for the people.  Mr. Johnson, like the ancient Gibeonites, is the hewer of wood and drawer of water for Trump. 

The promise that the new Speaker will work hard for the “American people” can’t be trusted. 

Johnson Is Not a Real Evangelical 

The media has already made a big splash about Johnson being an evangelical. But while Johnson was born in what was once the “Bible Belt,” his birthplace of Shreveport, Louisiana, the region is now the “Gambling Belt.” Where the First United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church of Shreveport once dominated Shreveport, they have been replaced by Bally’s Shreveport Casino & Hotel, Boomtown Casino Hotel Bossier City, Eldorado Resort Casino Shreveport, and Margaritaville Resort Casino Bossier City. Shreveport has gone from the Bible Belt to the Altar of Mammon. 

The same erosion has afflicted evangelicals in general. The word “evangelical” has morphed from “preacher of the good news,” to political supporters of the right-wing of the Republican Party. Evangelicals “ain’t what they used to be.” 

I challenge the right of Christians like Mr. Johnson to even use the word “evangelical.”  Prior to the 20th century evangelicals were preachers and prophets who called for justice, who honored the teachings and example of Jesus, who asked his followers to act as peacemakers and to care for “the least of these.” Evangelicals supported voting rights for women, rights for African Americans, working people, and care for the poor. 

Today’s evangelicals are much less substantive as they promote a religion based on success, the prosperity gospel, and “church growth.” With the triumph of right-wing Christianity, evangelicals are not nearly as interesting. The people who once “turned the world upside down” in defiance of Caesar have now made alliance with Caesar to obtain worldly political power. 

Evangelicals, for centuries, had a biblical calling: “The kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the good news!” To repent is not to feel bad but to think differently. But evangelicalism, in its concern for gaining power and control, has confused the kingdom itself with the benefits of the kingdom. So, the prosperity gospel preachers, the positive-thinking preachers, the charismatic preachers who promise that God will make you rich, healthy, and happy have an individual prescription for life. But all this is not the Gospel, nor is it historic evangelicalism. 

The historian Randall Balmer has suggested 

an evangelicalism for the twenty-first century that takes seriously the words of the Hebrew prophets who called for justice, an evangelicalism that honors the teachings and the example of Jesus, who asked his followers to act as peacemakers and to care for “the least of these.”  Such an evangelicalism, I am confident, would look rather different from that of recent years.

Amen. But this is not Mike Johnson. He is not a true evangelical, and he is not for “the people.”  

He is, however, perfect for MAGA Republicanism.

Racist Birds and Woke Conservatories: Ken Ham’s Colorblind Racism Knows No (Logical) Bounds

by William Trollinger 

A black woodpecker with a red plume stands at a tree.
An acorn woodpecker in an affluent section of Los Angeles. 2023: Genaro Molina, LATimes.

Ken Ham’s obsession with denying structural racism has gone completely off the rails. 

Take, for example, his bizarre response to a Los Angeles Times article that discusses how there are remarkable contrasts in bird species in different parts of Los Angeles, as “wealthier, and typically whiter, areas attract a larger and more diverse population of birds.” Drawing upon an article in Ornithological Applications, the author points out that 

the difference in bird populations [in Los Angeles] is a lasting consequence of racist home lending practices from decades ago, as well as modern wealth disparities.

So here we have a fascinating, sobering, and powerful article that draws upon a wonderfully researched study. More than this, it builds upon decades of scholarly work that has demonstrated the long-term impact of historical redlining and contemporary maldistribution of wealth in America.   

Ok, this is one response to this article. Then there’s the response from Ken Ham. In an Answers in Genesis (AiG) blog post entitled “Is the Los Angeles Bird Population Racist?” – no, I am not joking – Ham argues that 

those who look at the world only through the lens of so-called race will see racism everywhere – even observing “remarkably segregated” birds! Such ideas are permeating our culture.

What? What is Ham talking about? Does noticing the effects of historic housing discrimination equal birds that are racist? Is this what counts as a logical argument in the world of AiG apologetics

Not satisfied with inanities about racist birds, Ham goes on to assert that:

This kind of thinking can now be found everywhere – from bird studies like this to which classical music is selected for students to learn to play. I was recently speaking with a piano and voice teacher who has a passion for high-quality music education. He shared that progressivism has completely overwhelmed the fine arts, including music, to the point where the standard canon of Western classical music (think Bach, Beethoven, Handel, etc.) is being ignored in favor of only [Ham’s emphasis] minority or underprivileged group music (so music isn’t selected based on merit or even historic value but on intersectionality).

There is so much to be said here:

  • In contrast with the nicely researched LA Times article, there is no evidence here, there is no listing of all the conservatories that teach only “minority or underprivileged group music,” there is no listing of all the major symphony orchestras that play only “minority or underprivileged group music.” This article was supposedly “written with the assistance of AiG’s research team”; surely this research team had an hour or two to list all of the conservatories and all of the major symphony orchestras that have eliminated from their syllabi and from their repertoires music by white male composers.
  • In contrast with Ham and his “research” team, I spent 15 minutes on the website of the famous Juilliard School. There I found a statement by the Dean of the Music Division, in which he notes that we are “taking important steps to broaden our knowledge by creating a faculty-research list of works by Black composers to embrace and work toward a more representative world of classical music.” So is that the problem? Noticing that for centuries the classical music world shut out composers (and conductors) who were people of color (not to mention women)? That is to say, is the point that Ham and AiG hate seeing anyone disturbing the white male (and unrepresentative) classical music world?
  • And it is here where Ham’s racism becomes more blatant. Once that you decide to intentionally include classical music by people who have been traditionally left out (that is, people of color and  women) you will end up with music that “isn’t selected based on merit or even historic value but on intersectionality.” Not very subtle, Ken.

(Side note: according to article #29 (!!) in the AiG Statement of Faith, “the concepts of ‘social justice,’ ‘intersectionality’ (my emphasis), and ‘critical race theory’ as defined in modern terminology are anti-biblical and destructive to human flourishing (Ezekiel 18:1-20; James 2: 8-9).” Of course these Bible verses have virtually nothing to say about rejecting social justice, intersectionality, and critical race theory . . . and I say of course because article #29 is not about aligning with biblical faith, but, instead, about aligning with MAGA politics.)  

In a recent talk at the First Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri, historian Jemar Tisby – speaking to a predominantly white audience – asserted that 

If I could get all the White Christians in the room – all of you, all together – and I could teach you one thing, it would be that racism is not solely an issue of attitudes or interpersonal relationships, but racism has its doing in institutional manifestations . . . [But] that’s controversial for a lot of people. That’s what they’re arguing against when they cry ‘critical race theory’ or ‘wokeism.’ They don’t want to deal with the systemic aspects of racism.”

Yep. That’s Ken Ham and AiG. They are resolutely determined not to see systemic racism. 

Instead, how about those racist birds and woke conservatories?

Amish Culture Prizes Peace − But You Wouldn’t Necessarily Know It from a Stop in Amish Country Tourist Towns

by Susan Trollinger

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at The Conversation. We are grateful to republish it here at rightingamerica.

A brown-yellow wall features a flag decoration that says '2nd Amendment Is My Gun Permit' and two crosses in the colors of the U.S. flag.
Gift items for sale in Walnut Creek, Ohio, in May 2023. Photo by Susan Trollinger

Ohio’s Amish Country, located in the northeastern part of the state, draws over 4 million visitors every year – second only to Cedar Point amusement park as the Buckeye State’s most popular tourist attraction. 

October, with its cooler temperatures and spectacular colors, is the region’s peak month for tourist traffic. Hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the area in the fall to shop for Amish-made furniture, enjoy buggy rides and visit small towns that many Americans romanticize as bucolic escapes from the world. 

And what will they find in the shops that line the main streets of towns like Berlin, Sugarcreek and Walnut Creek? Among other things, a plethora of items that feature Christian nationalist motifs, intense patriotism and ominous suggestions of violence – all antithetical to the core values of the Amish.

The reality is that Amish Country tourism has long been at odds with the plain and simple life of the Amish – a discrepancy at the heart of my 2012 book Selling the Amish: The Tourism of Nostalgia.

A life apart

Descended from Anabaptist immigrants who fled religious persecution in Europe, the Amish typically live in rural areas where they seek to live a different sort of life, resisting aspects of contemporary American culture that undermine their commitments to church, family and community.

A simple, open-top horse-drawn carriage with a man and woman inside, going down a paved road.
An Old Order Amish couple drive their buggy through an intersection in Berlin, Ohio. Photo by Susan Trollinger.

To live at a slower pace, they drive horse-drawn buggies instead of cars. To pursue their calling to follow Jesus rather than chase personal ambitions, they stop school after eighth grade. To avoid the distractions of consumer culture, they prohibit TVs and internet connections in their homes. And to keep themselves humble, they yield to communal rules about dressing plainly, living in modest homes and keeping their businesses small.

Seeking to follow Jesus, they embrace nonviolence and find inspiration in the story of a 16th-century Anabaptist, Dirk Willems, who was imprisoned for his faith. He escaped, but because of his commitments to love his enemy, he turned back when he saw that his captor had fallen through the ice. His captor survived to witness Willems being burned at the stake.

Out of their deep commitment to separation between church and state, the Amish refuse to swear oaths, receive Social Security benefits or join the military. That’s why you won’t see an American flag in an Amish school or hear Amish students recite the Pledge of Allegiance. 

The ‘Amish brand’

Yet tourist towns capitalizing on what has become the “Amish brand” are full of gift shops selling merchandise you would not expect to find in an Amish home – Uncle Sam cutouts, Mickey Mouse yard flags, ornate lace curtains and Elvis Presley figurines.

As a scholar of rhetoric and religion, I’ve long been curious about Amish Country tourism, since it seemed – at least on the face of it – to have so little to do with the Amish themselves. Selling the Amish was my attempt to explain why many Americans found Amish Country so compelling. 

My answer was that Amish Country tourism afforded visitors a nostalgic experience of a “simpler time” when Americans could imagine that they were in control of technology; that men were “men” and women were “women”; and that families sat down to Mom’s home-cooked meal every evening. 

The region’s tourist towns play into this nostalgic desire that visitors have for a future that resembles an imagined past. In that imagined future, they would, like the Amish, escape cultural forces that they think have compromised America’s ability to be the Christian nation it supposedly once was.

A glimpse of real life

Since 2008, I’ve taken students from the University of Dayton to the Amish settlement located in Holmes and Wayne counties in northeastern Ohio.

A simple sign advertising homemade goods and candy outside a white farmhouse.
A Swartzentruber Amish farm in Wayne County, Ohio, where tourists can purchase homemade treats and handwoven baskets. Susan Trollinger

In the course of the day, we visit a two-room school run by New Order Amish, whose rules for daily life are among the least strict among the Amish. Then we’re off to a candle shop owned and operated by five Old Order Amish sisters, followed by a visit to a Swartzentruber Amish farm. The Swartzentrubers are among the strictest Amish groups. In the small shop located between the house and a woodworking shop, a young woman sells woven baskets, homemade preserves and wood furnishings crafted by her father. We also enjoy meals and conversation at two Amish homes.

Of course, the stops we make are part of the tourism industry. And many Amish make their living from that industry, whether they are crafting solid wood furniture, serving diners in Amish-style restaurants or preparing hotel rooms for guests. 

Importantly, the Amish don’t own the big Amish-style restaurants or gift shops or hotels. And because I want my students to have conversations with the people they have been studying, we spend very little time in these tourist towns. 

When I was invited to present a paper last summer on Amish Country tourism – an update of “Selling the Amish,” as it were – I was obliged to spend some time in those tourist towns. 

Guns and crosses

What I saw blew me away. There I was in the heart of the biggest Amish settlement in the world, when measured by the number of congregations. This area is home to nearly 40,000 Amish people deeply committed to pacifism: people who would rather suffer solitary confinement and reduced rations – as some did during World War I – than participate in “the war machine,” and who would never sing the national anthem. 

Store shelves show pointy, bullet-shaped silver and gold items next to novelty mugs.
Beverage containers and coffee mugs for sale in Berlin, Ohio, on May 30, 2023. Susan Trollinger

Yet, I saw the Stars and Stripes everywhere: on T-shirts, ball caps, decorative wreaths, candles and, perhaps most strikingly, wooden crosses. There were concrete statues of soldiers kneeling at crosses, patriotic bunting and images of the Founding Fathers, with facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments and the Pledge of Allegiance nearby.

A large display in one Berlin shop featured merchandise from “Hold Fast,” a company whose website says its merchandise is designed “for freedom loving Americans who want to see Biblical values preserved and are taking a stand and letting their voices be heard.” Flags figure prominently across the merchandise, along with messages like: “One nation under God. Psalm 33:12. Hold Fast.”

I was even more taken aback by home decor items announcing that the “2nd Amendment is my gun permit,” along with thermoses challenging government authorities to “come and take it” – “it” being a gun – and coffee mugs that listed gun calibers (.22, .380, 9 mm, .40, .45) and proclaiming, “All faster than dialing 911.” 

Amish Country tourism has never simply been about the plain and simple life of the Amish. But these days, sites that fuse Christian symbols and sacred texts with a brand of nationalism that celebrates masculine bravado, guns and the military marks a further and dramatic remove from the character of Amish life. 

Still, if one ventures down a back road and ends up behind a slow-moving buggy, or ducks into an Amish-owned shop selling bulk foods, handmade brooms or half-moon pies, they can still encounter a people whose life is wildly at odds with so much that characterizes mainstream America today.

Heartland Institute Says There Isn’t Warming

by Paul Braterman

Paul Braterman is Professor Emeritus in Chemistry, University of North Texas, and Honorary Research Fellow (formerly Reader) at the University of Glasgow. His research has involved topics related to the early Earth and the origins of life, and received support from NSF, NASA, Sandia National Labs, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He is now interested in sharing scientific ideas with the widest possible audience, and was involved in successful campaigns to persuade both the English and the Scottish Governments to keep creationism out of the science classroom. He is a regular contributor to 3 Quarks Daily, and blogs at Primate’s Progress, paulbraterman.wordpress.com.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at 3 Quarks Daily. We are grateful to the editors for their permission to republish it here.

A distant sun shines at the horizon lighting up the blue sky with streaks of beautiful orange contrasting the cracked and dry earth spanning miles in every direction.
Image via newsweek.com.

The Heartland Institute tells us that there is not, and cannot be, a climate crisis, because for most of the past 12,000 years the climate was warmer than it is today. A recent (October 5) posting by James Taylor, president of the Institute, states as follows (full text; fair use claimed):

CLIMATE CHANGE: The so-called climate crisis is a sham

There cannot be a climate crisis when temperatures are unusually cool.

  • Scientists have documented, and even the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has admitted, that temperatures were warmer than today throughout most of the time period that human civilization has existed.
  • Temperatures would have to keep warming at their present pace for at least another century or two before we reach temperatures that were common during early human civilization.
  • There can be no climate crisis – based on the notion of dangerously high temperatures – when humans have thrived in temperatures much warmer than today for most of the last 12,000 years.

None of this is true. Here is a graph of climate change in the past 12,000 years; note the value for 2016, on the right-hand axis of the main figure, as well as the rapid rise over the past century shown in the inset, which also shows the Mediaeval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. I have seen Heartland’s claim before, accompanied by graphs such as the one below, but without the insert and recent date, thus effectively suppressing everything that’s happened in the last century:

Image via Wikipedia, where a full description can be found. Reproduced under Creative Commons.

For people familiar with the Heartland Institute, this is just a dog bites man story. But it still matters, because it shows the extent to which discourse is being deliberately degraded.

Heartland is a major organisation, with an annual budget of almost four million dollars. It hosts its own climate change conferences, and has links to other powerful right-wing organisations such as the Heritage Foundation. It has seen its model legislation adopted by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together state legislators and private sector representatives).

Heartland does not disclose its funding, although it is known to have received funding from ExxonMobil, the tobacco company Philip Morris, assorted right wing pressure groups, and the Walton family foundation.

Heartland could not have chosen a wore movement to make this claim. This just in; not only have we just seen the hottest September on record, but it is the hottest September on record by a record amount:

A graph detailing the Monthly Global Temperature Anomalies showing that the year 2023 is distinctly different from every decade going back to the 1950s.
Zeke Hausfather via Ars Technica; h/t The Grumpy Geophysicist

In contrast with Heartland’s “sunny” pronouncements, the news could hardly be worse.

The Descendants of Jim Crow Segregationists Are Carrying On the Tradition of Suppressing Voting Rights

by Rodney Kennedy 

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His seventh book,  Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, has recently been published. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear very soon

Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana are callously ignoring the rulings of U. S. Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, ordering them to create legislative maps that give African American voters a greater chance of having a second majority representation district. In this they are repeating the sins of the era of segregation. They are spitting on the Voting Act and the Civil Rights Act. 

Governor DeSantis and the other old-time Southern politicians and preachers have exhumed the corpse of Jim Crow and pronounced him to have been a good man at the time of his demise. The practical result intends to restore the power of majority-white legislatures to repress the vote of African Americans. Same old Crow. 

The Supreme Court has already ruled against Alabama, but the Alabama Attorney General is delaying and attempting to block the ruling of the Supreme Court. Louisiana is dragging its heels on the drawing of the new legislative map. North Carolina Republicans flipped their Supreme Court to overrule its own previous decision to prevent racial gerrymanders benefiting Republicans. At stake are voting rights for all Americans. 

While insisting they are not racist (the new defense for being racist), these Southern states claim they are only trying to eliminate fraud in voting. That no evidence of fraud exists only magnifies the arrogance of these Dixie states. 

In February, 2023 white representatives in the Mississippi House approved a bill to create a new district—that includes all of the majority-white neighborhoods in Jackson, a capital city that is 83 percent Black. 

State Rep. Trey Lamar, the white Republican sponsor of the bill, holds a seat once held by his grandfather, Leon Hannaford. Representative Hannaford introduced a 1962 bill that would have stopped James Meredith from filing suit to enter the University of Mississippi.

Rights are slippery entities. Rights bestowed in one generation can be retracted, eliminated, and removed in a new generation. Even the twin mountains of the Bill of Rights and the U. S. Constitution have trouble maintaining the rights of African Americans. The tangled history of voting rights is largely explained by the persistent struggles over maintaining a majority for the Republican party. 

The Fog of Revisionist History

Lurking behind these southern state legal shenanigans of southern states is an evangelical fog of revisionist history. In Florida, for example, the legislature has passed a law attempting to ensure that white students not be made “uncomfortable” with the stories of our nation’s racist past. This revisionist history is not history; it is propaganda. White preachers once defended slavery and segregation with the Bible. Now, they defend white privilege with the same Bible. Same old story. Same old white people. 

Racism is the core of this upheaval of assailing the voting power of African Americans. Robert Rowland argues that this nationalist populism appeals to whites who believe they have lost status. They are moving to consolidate “white power” by promising a return to the national greatness of an earlier time when “real Americans” – white people – were in charge. 

Whites, the true patriots, want walls to prevent non-white immigration. Facing minority status by the middle of the 21st century, they want laws that reduce Black voting power. 

Revisionist history hides under an alleged “color blindness” that allows whites to take out their resentment on minorities while crying, “We are not racists” or “We are color blind.” Dissipating this fog of propaganda reveals the false purity of racial innocence. The naïve attempt by whites to write a different story than the actual American story is doomed to failure. 

The corollary to having no story is the claim that the current generation of white people were not there. They didn’t enslave people, segregate from Blacks, or lynch them. This is a historical fallacy because we are all linked to all humanity. For a people who insist on tracing their origin back to a literal Adam, it seems odd that they would want to excise entire histories of their existence. Biblical literalists can’t get back to Adam by excising the generations from 1619 to the present from history. There are no innocent people in America’s racist existence. 

Once upon a time, the slavers, segregationists, and lynchers lifted up their eyes in Hades. They cried, “Father Abraham, send one of those Black boys to get me a cup of water.” But Abraham said, “Remember that during your lifetime you were rich and powerful, and you mistreated and murdered Blacks.” All the tortured white people cried, “We have ancestors who are following in our tracks. Send someone to warn them so they they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham told them, “They have the Bible; they should read it.” But the whites screamed, “Send someone from the dead and they will repent.” He said to them, “If they do not listen to the Word of God, neither will they be convinced by a messenger from the grave.”

The voices of the dead are crying out. If you put your ear to the ground in the black soil of the Mississippi Delta, you can hear them still. Southern oak-lined lanes fill with honeysuckle, but if you look closely you will see the blood stains. 

Voices, some silenced by murder, now cry out from southern soil to protest a new outbreak of white politicians attempting to repress the votes of African Americans. Burned into our brains is the picture of Governor George Wallace standing in the door of an Alabama public school to prevent the end of segregation. This should be the poster ad for the current attempts not to have a second African American majority district in Alabama.

George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, stoically blocks the doors of the University of Alabama with three State Troopers standing alongside him.
George Wallace at schoolhouse door. Via HoustonChronicle.com.

There are portraits hanging in the Hall of White Memory that will not fade into obscurity or be covered by the fog of propaganda. The sins of whites can’t be rendered invisible by state laws passed by the descendants of slavers, segregationists, and lynchers. 

Pictures Destroy the Fog of Propaganda

In 1961, a busload of Freedom Riders received a brutal beating from a white mob in Birmingham, Alabama. The riders made it as far as Montgomery where another mob gave them another vicious beating. 

A group of African American "Freedom Riders" stand next to, and sit on the ground beside, a burning Greyhound bus, with smoke billowing out of the entrance door.
14 May 1961, Anniston, Alabama, USA — Passengers of this smoking Greyhound bus, some of the members of the “Freedom Riders,” a group sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), sit on the ground after the bus was set afire 5/14, by a mob of Caucasians who followed the bus from the city. The mob met the bus at the terminal, stoned it & slashed the tires, then followed the bus from town. BPA2# 47. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

In Tylertown, Mississippi, where police officers just went out and systematically whipped on a large number of Negroes every Saturday night, where there was a designated “Beating Ground” not far from the city.

Mississippi Lynching. Image via icp.org.

In the Winona, Mississippi jail, African Americans working for voting rights were beaten by prison guards. One of the leaders of the movement, Mrs. Hamer described the beating of a fifteen-year-old girl: 

I could hear them licks just soundin’. . . . But anyway, she kept screamin’ and they kept beatin’ on her and finally she started prayin’ for ’em, and she asked God to have mercy on ’em, because they didn’t know what they were doing. And after then. . . . I heard some real keen screams, and that’s when they passed my cell with a girl, she was fifteen years old, Miss Johnson, June Johnson. They passed my cell and the blood was run-nin’ down in her face.

Fannie Lou Hamer. Image via eji.org.

Charles Payne, in I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, describes what then happened to Mrs. Hamer: 

When Mrs. Hamer’s turn came, the guards, perhaps tired by this time, had her lie face down on a bunk and ordered two Black prisoners to beat her with a studded leather strap until she couldn’t get up.

Has anyone bothered to ask the men and women forced to live in the wake of the beating of John Lewis, the lynching of Emmett Till, the firebombing of Percy Julian’s home, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers if they believe American history should give comfort to “whites?” 

Here’s an entire wall of pictures of white Americans grinning back at us in lynching photos while singing, “Shall We Gather at the River,” listening to sermons, and then watching the lynching. They look like those salt-of-the-earth Americans whom we lionize in our culture and politics because they are. The new generation is just “carrying on an old family tradition.” 

Learning from a Tragic History of Repression

The history of the Civil Rights movement still teaches us about living in the present. The descendants of the white men who beat, tortured, arrested, and murdered African Americans protesting for freedom now carry on that tragic family tradition by inventing new ways to restrict the right to vote.  

A tan-colored map of the Southern states of America with orange dots of varying sizes detailing the number of lynchings in the South. Philips County, Arkansas, is highlighted with the densest amount of orange dots, stating that 237 people were lynched in 1919 during the Elaine race riot.
Map of lynchings. Via nytimes.com.

As James Baldwin noted, 

To accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.

Giving young people a history that they can use doesn’t require any bending of the record. Quite the contrary. The more precisely and complexly we can render the history, the longer it will be useful.

And this history will not judge kindly Gov. DeSantis and the other arrogant, brazen public officials who – like Gov. Wallace in the schoolhouse door –are continuing the tradition of seeking to restrict the rights of African Americans. 

Dear Williamstown: Sorry for Misleading You About Ark Encounter – My Bad! 

by William Trollinger

The large circular entrance to the Ark Encounter shows an Ark Encounter bus letting off a line of people so to enter the exhibit.
Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY. Image via JoeMyGod.

It has been exactly ten years since Williamstown, Kentucky, underwrote $62.5m worth of bonds that made possible the building of Ark Encounter. This anniversary seems the perfect opportunity for Ken Ham to (finally) apologize for the fact that his big unseaworthy boat has not come close to producing the attendance numbers and economic impact that Answers in Genesis (AiG) promised in seeking support from this little town. 

Of course, Ken is a busy guy, fighting the atheists and secularists who, as he said on Facebook this past weekend, “are becoming increasingly intolerant of Christianity—in fact, trying to outlaw the Christian worldview in many places.” (Interestingly, the current book-banning campaign “target[s] stories by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” and not stories by and about Christians. Oh well: for Ken, this is apparently the good sort of intolerance.)

Because he is so busy warring against the forces of evil, I wrote the following letter in his behalf. And Ken, there’s no need to thank me. Just sign your name and send it along to the Williamstown powers-that-be and enjoy the good feelings that come with a sincere (albeit ghost-written) confession!   

September 26, 2023

Dear Williamstown City Council: 

Greetings from the gigantic fundamentalist tourist attraction on the other side of I-75! It has been a decade since you so generously underwrote the $62.5 worth of junk bonds that made it possible to build Ark Encounter . . . and you not only underwrote the bonds, but you also agreed that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes would instead go to paying off the loan. Yes, I know that I go on and on and on about how government is hostile to Christianity in America, but wow, this was a fabulous subsidy. Thank you, Williamstown!!

Of course, I know very well that you said yes to providing us with this wonderful windfall in good part because of what we said in the Ark Encounter feasibility report that we provided you. As I know you will recall, we told you that our attendance numbers would an “estimated average of 1.6 million visitors” in the first year. More than this, we told you that these attendance numbers would simply keep going up. And for July 2022-June 2023, our “scientific” formula projected an attendance of 2,177,737.

Oops!! We have never even made it to one million paid visitors in a year. Here’s a breakdown from this past year (and yes, that busybody Dan Phelps makes it his business to collect and publicize these numbers, instead of allowing us to come up with our own numbers, which I can tell you would look much better!): 

  • July 2022: 110,098
  • August 2022: 83,638
  • September 2022: 68,301
  • October 2022: 74,864
  • November 2022: 39,125
  • December 2022: 37,959
  • January 2023: 14,724
  • February 2023: 23,020
  • March 2023: 66,390
  • April 2023: 70,700
  • May 2023: 82,585
  • June 2023: 111,256
  • TOTAL: 782,660

Yes, yes, yes – I know. This total is only 36% of attendance we told you we would have this year. 

So that’s why I am writing. I am so sorry that we “misled” you so badly. Sure, some of this is on you. You should have conducted a closer analysis of the information we gave you. But I don’t want to play the game of blaming the victim (that is, you!) Instead, I want to own the fact that what we told you in our feasibility report was, well, false. Sorry about that!

Speaking of blaming the victim, I am also sorry for saying that the reason Williamstown has not enjoyed an economic boom is that Williamstown is on the wrong side of the interstate. Of course, your town was on the wrong side of the interstate when we were selling you on underwriting the bonds, which was NOT a point we brought up during our sales pitch. Oh well, that’s capitalism . . . but again, sorry about that!

All this said, I hope you keep in mind that we at AiG are soldiers in the Christian army saving America from the radical Marxists (not exactly sure what this means, but we know that these folks are bad!), from the hordes of LGBTQ militants storming the cultural gates, from the Critical Race Theorists (not exactly sure what this means either, but we know that these folks are bad too!), and from the vaccine-crazy climate cultists. 

That is to say, members of the Williamstown City Council, we are on your side (unless, of course, you belong to any of the aforementioned groups or are liberal)! So we are confident that you will forgive us for misleading you. And in turn, we will pray for you and your local economy.

Your brother in Christ –

Ken Ham

Enough with the “Secession” Rhetoric

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His seventh book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, has recently been published. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear soon. 

The face of Marjorie Taylor Greene, House of Representatives (GA) overlayed with illustrations of a Civil War battle.
Marjorie Taylor Greene: Secession. Image via Reddit.

Marjorie Taylor Greene has made plenty of headlines since being elected to the House of Representatives. As off-the-wall as she often is, with her conspiracy theories and desire to impeach President Biden, nothing is as anti-American as her repeated calls for secession. 

In February, she declared, “We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government.”

On September 11, Greene went for the secession argument again. On a day of memory of the lost American lives in a terrorist attack – perhaps no orator has ever had less of a sense of the appropriate – she called for secession: 

If the Biden administration refuses to stop the invasion of cartel-led human and drug trafficking into our country, states should consider seceding from the union. From Texas to New York City to every town in America, we are drowning from Biden’s traitorous America Last border policies.

Greene should have nothing to say about secession, considering her declared adoration and support of Putin. We know that Putin has long engaged in campaigns designed to divide America, and if Greene is aiding and abetting such misinformation, she should say more that might convince us of her patriotism, and less of the rhetoric that makes her sound like a traitor. 

But Greene is not alone. There has been a cacophony of calls from various politicians for secession. Secession. What a horrific term. I certainly thought secession had been consigned to our past. 

Regrettably, I was wrong. 

Those who speak of secession and procreate division among us get no respect from me. That said, I can also say unequivocally that I would rather have the United States of America made up of the “babble” rhetoric of Marjorie Taylor Green than to lose our Union. I would rather continue to debate, argue, and dissent from Donald Trump and MAGA then not have the United States of America. 

For me the withdrawal of the Southern states from the Union remains a blot on our region. As deeply enmeshed in the consequences of that war as the South has remained, I still insist on the Union now and forever. 

And I wish that our politicians who insist on talking “secession” would bring as much wisdom and love to the debate as did those who debated the same subject prior to the outbreak of the Civil War: 

  • Robert Lee: “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution.”
  • Stonewall Jackson: “I am much gratified to see a strong Union feeling in my portion of the state … For my own part I intend to vote for the Union candidate for the convention and I desire to see every honorable means used for peace, and I believe that Providence will bless such means with the fruits of peace.”
  • And as Texas made the fateful decision to secede in February, Governor Sam Houston ominously predicted, “To secede from the Union and set up another government would cause war. If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country—the young men.”

The strong, powerful voices of the Unionists needs to be heard above the howling of the “secesh” crowd. The United States of America has survived all the disparate, dissenting voices because that is the power of democracy. The ongoing struggle for democracy is both a part of our past and our present. Josiah Ober reminds that “opportunistic politicians” exacerbate “unstable perversions of democracy” because of an “absence of adequate civic education.” 

These perversions of democracy have always been heard, and always dismissed. The primary ideology of America is a commitment to democracy, and that has always absorbed all rivals. 

This has worked well since our nation’s founding. If we can have more of the reasoned deliberations of democracy and less of the irascible, irrational rhetoric of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the nation will be better off, and it will still be the United States of America. 

Righting America Blog Categories

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Righting America blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.