by Peggy Bendroth
Peggy Bendroth served over 15 years as executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston. She has written and edited eight books on American religion, including Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present (Yale 1993); Women and Twentieth-Century Protestantism (Illinois 2003), co-edited with Virginia Brereton; The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past (North Carolina 2015); and, Good and Mad: Mainline Protestant Churchwomen (Oxford 2022).
“We’ve been ordaining women since 1853!” Unlike most Facebook posts, this one was short and to the point. The United Church of Christ hasn’t had a lot to boast about lately, given its declining numbers and influence, but this little humble brag was probably too hard to pass up. While Southern Baptists are busily ousting congregations with female pastors, their liberal UCC cousins have only to invoke the name of Antoinette Brown, who was ordained to the South Butler, New York, Congregational Church more than a century and a half ago.
American Protestants have rarely wasted much sympathy on each other. Moral schadenfreude is an old and established tradition, going back to the earliest days of religious disestablishment, when everyone suddenly realized that the devil would take the hindmost.
This particular stick in the eye, however, set me to blogging. The statement is not just lacking in a certain Christian sympathy but it misinterprets Congregational history almost as egregiously as the Southern Baptists are misreading the New Testament. And not just Congregational history—we want to believe that today the mainline Protestant churches are a bastion of liberal tolerance, a standing rebuke to evangelical intolerance. But at least as far as women’s ordination is concerned, the story is far too messy, complicated, and discouraging for a single sentence in a Facebook post.
First of all, Brown was ordained because she could be: nineteenth-century Congregational polity allowed local churches to make their own decisions about pastoral leadership. Though women’s rights certainly entered in, practical concerns did so too. In fact, the tiny smattering of women who were licensed or ordained to lead Congregational churches in the years after 1853 took on the hardship cases, churches without enough money or influence to hire a man. Until very recently, with the influx of female pastors in the 1990s and afterwards, the so-called “big steeple” congregations were reserved for big steeple men.
And here’s the other thing: without taking anything away from Brown and her South Butler congregation, you don’t get points for doing something once, or even a few times afterwards. You have to keep on doing it, and then make it a rule. And on that score, Congregationalists, and mainline Protestants in general, have relatively little to boast about, even alongside their conservative evangelical cousins.
This is why I titled my recent book about mainline Protestant churchwomen “Good and Mad.” Though the gender politics in those mostly white, mostly northern moderate-to-liberal churches have never been as dire as the Southern Baptist case, the mainline moral cushion is hardly luxurious. Up through most of the twentieth century mainline churchwomen were prohibited from all forms of church leadership. They could not be pastors, nor could they be deacons or elders; they were all but entirely excluded from decision-making denominational boards or committees. Sometimes the reasons were related to polity and sometimes to theology, more rarely to biblical proof texting. The main rationale rested on stereotypes of women as vapid, disorganized, and power-hungry.
We now know all and more than we need to know about evangelical misogyny, the abuse perpetrated by tiny men in charge. But the historical record also demonstrates, over and over, that mainline Protestants worried about “feminization” too, if not more. In their case, fears of feminine takeover were almost justified. Women were the clear majority of church members, the vast majority of Sunday attenders, and really, really good at doing the churches’ business. Keenly aware of the institutional skills and fundraising prowess of denominational women’s organizations, the men in charge had a dilemma. They could not do without the income generated by Ladies Aid bake sales and sewing bees, much less the thousands of missionaries recruited, trained, and supported by unpaid volunteers running women’s missionary organizations. But what if the women became too powerful? What if they decided to run everything? One story line of twentieth-century mainline churches is, in fact, the dogged efforts by denominational officials to reign in this so-called “shadow church,” to co-opt by any means possible that formidable female network.
Everyone treaded lightly. For their part, the women knew that their separate power structure required compromise. They had to allow the men to at least look like they were in charge. That also meant that ordination was mostly off the table. If the pulpit was the last bastion of masculine privilege, then so be it. Why start a fight that would in the end only benefit a handful of women with seminary degrees? “Sometimes I wonder,” a Congregational woman mused in a 1940 survey, “if our Christian life would be more vital and more vigorous if our men would . . . take over all the offices of the church.”
No wonder women’s ordination took so long. Far from championing Antoinette Brown et. al., the mainline churches dragged their feet until their reluctance became unseemly. As Methodist theologian Nelle Morton lamented to a gathering in 1970, “We have learned, through heartbreaking disappointments and dehumanizing work inequities, that competence, creativity, and efficiency are not enough to deal with a male supremacy that has become a pervasive structured force in our church.”
Feminism only made headway after a series of tradeoffs, and then not until about thirty or forty years ago. It happened once the vast network of women’s organizations had been crippled or dismantled, victims of ecumenical merger agreements and quests for “efficiency.” It happened when longstanding fears of feminization became less intense than the feminist critique gathering strength in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet even today, for example, the revolution is far from over. According to one recent study by Benjamin Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin, the female minister is more a matter of theory than practice. Despite the fairly strong support for women’s ordination, only nine per cent of the respondents to a major survey attended congregations with a female minister.
Yet, in the end, if there’s anyone to feel sorry for, I don’t think it’s women in the mainline churches, or even their Southern Baptist sisters. Those most deserving of our pity are the Southern Baptist men fighting over the deck chairs on a sinking ship, now the sole owners of an institution with a depressing, if not frightening future. And not only that, the embattled patriarchy has summoned the wrath of smart, articulate, and spiritually dedicated women, thoughtful Christians with every reason to be both “good and mad.” That is something to worry about.
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 soon.
As I read Jerry Bergman’s attack on William Trollinger, I confess that I was less than interested, because he uses all the same argumentative tropes that occur when a creationist feels exposed, put down, or criticized. Like Ken Ham, Bergman mistakes criticism for personal persecution. The first line of his article reveals his insecurity and the “chip on the shoulder” that attaches to almost all evangelicals.
Why do creationist rebuttals sound the same? Why do they insist on garden-variety emotional responses? The writer is always feigning personal injury: His feelings are hurt. He throws around rhetorical terms that suggest his critic is illogical.
And in Bergman’s article, he reaches into the grab bag of an introductory public speaking textbook and inserts rhetorical tropes like “ad hominem,” “glittering generality”, and the feared “either-or fallacy.”
The most glaring rhetorical mistake in the article is the insistence that William Trollinger uses ad hominem arguments when the opposite is true. Bergman’s use of ad hominem arguments reminds me of David Barton writing a book called The Jefferson Lies when the book itself was filled with Barton’s lies, distorted facts, and misinformation.
A word about the rhetorical trope – ad hominem. Rhetorical scholar Jennifer R. Mercieca defines and explains ad hominem argument:
- Argument ad hominem (Latin for “appeal to the person,” attacking the person instead of their argument). Used by a demagogue to misdirect the audience’s attention and attack the character of their opponents. Ad hominem is a technique that shifts attention away from the issue by refocusing our attention on the person who raised the issue, or at a secondary level, on the demagogue’s attack on the person. If successful, ad hominem attacks prevent critical thinking, as our attention is no longer on the debated question and is instead on the person.
According to argumentation scholars Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst there are three variations of ad hominem attacks:
- First: “direct personal attack,” which “consists of cutting down one’s opponent by casting doubt on his expertise, intelligence, character, or good faith.”
- Second: “circumstantial attack,” which cast doubt on the “motives of one’s opponent for his standpoint” by making them appear self-interested or biased.
- Third: “tu quoque (appeal to hypocrisy),” in which “an attempt is made to find a contradiction in one’s opponent’s words or between his words and his deeds.”
And Bergman goes overboard when it comes to ad hominem attacks. The emotional dam bursts when he asserts that:
- “in examining Trollinger’s response, I was looking for evidence of mistakes of factual content in my article. However, it can be seen that Trollinger’s response was purely irresponsible name-calling from a militant anti-Christian who opposes Christian schools and the core Christian beliefs. Was Trollinger pro-Vietcong, omitting the atrocities committed by them?”
At last, an actual ad hominem argument appears, but it comes from Bergman, not Trollinger! Unpack this paragraph for evidence:
- Trollinger engages in purely irresponsible name-calling.
- Trollinger is a militant anti-Christian.
- Trollinger opposes Christian schools.
- Trollinger opposes the core Christian beliefs.
- Perhaps Trollinger was a secret Communist, supporting the Vietcong while ignoring the atrocities committed by those Communists.
Somewhere in the posteromedial cortex of what passes for the creationist’s mind lurks the ghost of the rabid anti-Communist crusader Joseph McCarthy. Rhetorically, you can’t get more ad hominem than this.
But Bergman, once he unleashed the throttle on the Ad Homimen train, can’t stop himself. He goes even further:
- “Trollinger’s article purports to be about me and my article on Darwinism and Vietnam, but I am not responsible for what others, who claim to be Christians but who do not live up to the Christian standard, say or do. His article not only attacks me personally but expands into a wholesale condemnation of the Christian church and modern Christians.”
Mr. Bergman can’t resist the name calling and the personal insults. He sounds more like Donald Trump – the king of nicknames – than a careful scholar schooled in reticence and humility.
Look in the mirror Mr. Bergman and ask thyself: “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the most ad hominem of all?”
And the mirror will respond: “You’re looking at him, dude.”
by William Trollinger
Dear Jerry (if I may):
Oh my. It appears that my discussion of your article on Darwin and the Vietnam War has struck a nerve. So it is that you have mustered your creationist weaponry in a full-scale assault on me and my critique. I am sorry to say, however, that there are 1 or 2 (ok, more like 9+ ) serious weaknesses/inaccuracies/falsehoods in your article that I must call to your attention:
- “One of the most recent critics of those who rightly put much of the blame on Darwin and Galton [for Nazism] is William Trollinger, a Catholic college professor at the University of Dayton. Trollinger instead puts much of the blame on Martin Luther, Bible believing Christians, and Creationists.”
- Jerry, it is ludicrous to assert that I blame Creationists for the Holocaust – you will need to provide chapter and verse for this absurd suggestion.
- But here is what I said in my critique of your article, material which you have conveniently left out in your attack on me: “Many scholars have convincingly argued that the Darwin-to-Hitler conceit is absurdly simplistic, and of course leaves Christianity and Christians off the hook: ‘The Anti-Defamation League has vigorously critiqued the Darwin-to-Hitler trope, pointing out that such an argument . . . neatly erases the multiple factors that led to the Holocaust, including a Christian anti-Semitism that long preceded Charles Darwin. Focus on Darwin-to-Hitler, and the slaughter of German Jews by eleventh-century crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition and its persecution of Jewish converts, and the history of Church teachings versus the Jews conveniently disappear. By focusing on the role of evolution in leading to the horrors of Nazi Germany, one does not have to consider the historical import of Martin Luther’s venomous words in ‘On the Jews and Their Lies’: ‘Set fire to their synagogues or schools . . . Their houses should [also] be razed and destroyed . . . They are a heavy burden, a plague, a pestilence, a sheer misfortune for our country’ (Righting America, 183-184).”
- Jerry, I am afraid that your monocausal explanation of Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust just does not hold up.
- “He states that he grew up in a fundamentalist church as a creationist, but his college education and reading anti-creationist publications turned him against this worldview.”
- Jerry, again, where do I say that my college education and my reading of anti-creationist literature turned me against fundamentalism and creationism? I know this is a standard trope in fundamentalist polemics, but you fail to provide evidence.
- As regards fundamentalism, it was my church’s support of the Vietnam War and opposition to civil rights that prodded me to begin my move out of fundamentalism/evangelism (a journey that began when I was 12 years old).
- As regards creationism, and as I explain in Righting America, I was never a young Earth creationist, thanks in good part to my father, who was a geologist. As an old Earth creationist, Dad was horrified when flood geology and the idea of a young Earth began to infiltrate evangelical churches in Denver (where I grew up). I confess that, for his sake, I am glad that he had passed when the Creation Museum opened in 2007.
- Trollinger “had a short stint as an assistant professor of history at the College of the Ozarks and, next, as an associate professor of history at Messiah College, both Christian colleges. Why he left the first two college positions is unknown. He ended up at the University of Dayton in the fall of 1996 teaching undergraduate courses for the Department of History and M.A./Ph.D. courses for the Religious Studies Department.”
- Jerry, here you are borrowing a classic Tucker Carlson tactic, insinuating (but not asserting) that there may be something scandalous about my departures from these two “Christian colleges.” Perhaps if you had more familiarity with higher education you would recognize my path as a rather standard professional trajectory.
- But it’s interesting that while you refer to Ozarks and Messiah as Christian colleges – thus suggesting that I had to leave because I lost my faith (which I didn’t) – you don’t refer to the University of Dayton (UD) as a Christian college. Is that because UD is a Catholic university? Is that because you agree with the Answer in Genesis (AiG) assertion that the Catholic Church “is a false church that enslaves hundreds of millions of people in a false gospel” (World Religions and Cults, vol. 1, 110)?
- “Here is an example of [Trollinger’s] ad hominem tactic: ‘Ken Ham has produced (along with many other writings making the same point) Darwin’s Plantation, a book whose title could easily lead the historically unaware reader to believe that Darwinism was responsible for American slavery .. . even though Origin of Species appeared in 1859, just four years before the Emancipation Proclamation.’ This book nowhere makes this claim, nor does Ken Ham even infer it.”
- Jerry, I confess that you are relentless at excising material that works against your argument. So, for example, here’s the sentence from my article that comes after “Emancipation Proclamation”: “And it is not just the title: the cover of Ham’s book has a photo of African American slaves working the fields.”
- It does not take a Ph.D. in visual rhetoric – it does not even take a course in visual rhetoric – to understand that, with this cover, Ham is strongly suggesting the connection between Darwinism and slavery in the United States. (See photo).
- And as I also note in the article (and Jerry, again, good job of removing material that works against your argument): “Of course, to suggest that Darwinism is responsible for slavery in the United States is a very convenient way to elide the fact that ‘in antebellum America millions of white Christians . . . stood on their literal reading of the Word of God to issue forth a raft of proslavery polemics and to deliver an almost-infinite number of proslavery sermons” (Righting America, 186).
- “The insinuation that Darwin (in England) contributed to the end slavery [sic] (in America) makes no sense.”
- What makes no sense, Jerry, is that I never made such a ridiculous insinuation. Again, where’s your evidence?
- Trollinger’s article involves “a wholesale condemnation of the Christian church and modern Christians.”
- Once again, Jerry, I have to ask: Where’s your evidence of a wholesale condemnation of the church and Christians? Or am I right to understand that, for you, Christian=Protestant fundamentalism? (See next response.)
- “In examining Trollinger’s response I was looking for evidence of mistakes of factual content in my article. However, it can be seen that Trollinger’s response was purely irresponsible namecalling from a militant anti-Christian who opposes Christian schools and the core Christian beliefs. Was Trollinger pro-Vietcong, omitting the atrocities committed by them?”
- On what basis, Jerry, are you arguing that I am a “militant anti-Christian who opposes Christian schools and the core Christian beliefs”? I am a practicing Catholic who teaches at a Catholic university, and who every Sunday recites the Nicene Creed. Talk about “core Christian beliefs”! Of course, the creed does not make reference to an inerrant Bible or to young Earth creationism, which may be your problem.
- But, Jerry, is your point that, as I suggested above, Catholics are not Christians (and the only Christians are Protestant fundamentalists, like you)?
- Pro-Vietcong? Where are you getting this, Jerry? Is this because I point out that you give short shrift to American atrocities in the Vietnam War? Is that what makes me pro-Vietcong?
- “Lastly, Trollinger claimed, ‘It is not in the least surprising that Bergman’s list of references contains virtually nothing from the best and most substantive work on the Vietnam War.’ This was another tactic intended to discredit the article: a blank assertion without documentation. He neglected to give the title of this ‘most substantive work on the Vietnam War.’ It could well be that I did consult it. This was possibly a big lie tactic.”
- Jerry, once again your reading comprehension leaves much to be desired. I am not referring to one book on the history of the Vietnam War; I am referring to the large body of exemplary historical work on the topic. There is absolutely no evidence here that you consulted any of this. And if you did make use of one of these historical studies, that should have appeared in your references. That’s what scholars do.
- And I love your use of the phrase “big lie tactic.” (Sarcasm.)
- Trollinger closed with a distraction: a blatant case of the either-or fallacy combined with a glittering generality: ‘the past and present of human history can be reduced to a binary. On one side it is a literal Genesis 1-11, young Earth, capitalism, and heaven. On the other side it is reason, old Earth, Darwinian evolution, socialism, and hell. It’s all so simple.’ In other words, agree with him or you are unreasonable.”
- So Jerry, this is either a hilarious example of not understanding what you are reading, or it is a case of malicious excision. I say this because you left out the five words preceding this quote: “For the folks at AiG.” That is to say, this quote is NOT referring to me, as I absolutely reject this ahistorical binary. I am referring to you, Ham, and the legion of culture war fundamentalists.
Jerry, four years ago your creationist buddy, Ken Ham, launched a full-scale attack on me and rightingamerica. Of course, I responded, and it turns out that my final paragraph in response to Ham works well as my final paragraph here.
- Jerry, if “Creationists Slandered About the Darwin-Nazi Connection” were a paper written by a University of Dayton student in one of my first-year classes, I would have written this at the bottom of the paper: Failure to provide substantive evidence to back your claims, and a dismaying tendency to resort to ad hominem attacks. This is not acceptable for a university-level paper. Revise and resubmit.
- And this is for you, Jerry: You have until the end of fall semester to make these revisions. I think you will need the time.
bgy 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 soon.
On July 04, 2023, America feels like an antique shop on Fifth Avenue, filled with rooms and rooms of precious, irreplaceable sets of china, rooms that have been invaded by “raging bulls of Bashan.”
One of those “bulls of Bashan” is the Rev. Dr. Robert Jeffress. I recently received a fund-raising appeal from Jeffress. He offered to send me a copy of his book, America Is a Christian Nation, in exchange for a donation. Since I have a personal rule against making contributions to scam appeals, misinformation, and false claims, I did not send Jeffress a check. Instead, I have deconstructed his argument that America is a Christian nation.
From the outset, I am happy to state my case in straightforward language: America was not founded as a Christian nation. America has never been a Christian nation. America is not now a Christian nation.
Jeffress writes, “Hello Rod, Revisionists would have you believe that our founders intended for a complete separation between Church and State.” Jeffress confuses the entire membership of the American Historical Association with “revisionists.” What Jeffress should have said was that “American historians teach us that our founders intended the separation between Church and State. They didn’t imagine the nation becoming as secular as it is today, but they certainly meant for church and state to be separate.”
The book Jeffress is hawking is a larger version of his annual Fourth of July sermon. American historian John Fea says,
I do not have the space in the book to counter in depth the false and problematic claims Jeffress makes in his “America Is a Christian Nation” sermon. But it is worth noting that his manipulation of the past to advance his Christian Right agenda and scare his congregation into political action comes straight out of the playbook of David Barton, his friend and fellow conservative political activist.
David Barton is an entire ocean of misstatements, propaganda, false claims, and bad history. Barton is a history “hobbyist.” He wrote a book called The Jefferson Lies. Conservative evangelical historians debunked the book and showed that the “lies” in the book were “Barton lies” as he manufactured sayings of the founding fathers. Barton’s misinformation was so atrocious that the book’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, took the unprecedented step of removing the book from publication.
Jeffress should come clean by admitting that “my friend David Barton, who is not a historian, but a Republican political consultant who fabricates history, is my primary source for the false claims in my book.”
In their book, The Anointed, Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson point out that Jeffress and his fellow evangelicals have confidence that liberal, secular experts at leading universities should retreat in the face of his campaign to educate children with traditional Christian principles. On Main Street, where Jeffress preaches, worships, shops, and runs his corporation (The FBC of Dallas), the insights of credentialed, experienced historical experts are demeaned.
Jeffress claims that American historians teach that “Christianity should be absent from all aspects of our government.” This is a false and easily debunked assertion, but it is a bogus and emotionally-freighted charge that is designed to scare easily-frightened evangelicals.
Jeffress follows his fear appeal with his most blatantly false statement: “Our nation was founded on Christian principles, and the founders wanted our government to uphold those principles.”
Will Campbell, no stranger to strong language, offers solid refutation of Jeffress:
They preach that America was founded by right-wing Christians, who espoused the same theology as they do. Who were these people? How about John Adams, Daniel Webster, or Thomas Jefferson? Won’t work. They were Unitarians. What of Benjamin Franklin? A deist. Thomas Payne? A self-avowed atheist. There were no right-wing pietists in the motley crew that shaped America’s earliest documents. They weren’t trying to establish a Christian nation. Quite the opposite. They were fleeing from entanglement with anybody’s religion, for they had seen where governments based on religion led. They had seen the beggary, the bloodletting inhumanity of theocracies, and wanted no part of it. Church was never to be state. State was never to be church.
Jeffress expresses certainty in his dubious view of American history:
I’ve written a book whose title boldly declares what I know to be true: America Is a Christian Nation. Many would dispute that claim, but my book provides evidence for this truth using the very words and actions of the founders themselves. The book is a short read, accompanied by beautiful patriotic photos that I think you’ll appreciate.
But it is not that historians “would dispute that claim.” They would go further, dismissing Jeffress’ claim on the grounds that it is false and easily disproved. While historians use a more refined language, they would agree with Campbell:
THERE ARE LIES BEING TOLD ABOUT THE BIBLE AND AMERICA. BY PEOPLE WHO SHOULD know better, and probably do. They pose as the Messiah’s evangelists on programs subsidized with tax exemptions and protected by the same First Amendment they frequently denounce. They clothe a blatantly political agenda in pious rhetoric and peddle it as gospel.
Jeffress claims that fifty-two of the original fifty-five signers of the Constitution were evangelical believers. False. He claims that the First Amendment applied only to Protestant denominations. False. His selective and misleading interpretations of the First Amendment and the founding fathers reach a crescendo near the end of the book when he throws the kitchen sink at the “revisionists.” He assumes, without evidence, that increased violence, illegitimate births, divorce, and low SAT scores are the direct result of the Supreme Court ruling that allegedly removed prayer from public schools. False.
Here Jeffress echoes Mr. Flood Geology, Henry Morris, who insisted that
prayer and Bible reading had disappeared from the public schools, replaced by drugs, sex education, and demands for the tolerance of homosexuality. Standards of dress, obscene language in public, teenage pregnancy, and promiscuity ominously pointed to a culture in decline. Even nativity scenes and traditional Christmas greetings were under attack.
I have no doubt that Robert Jeffress is a sincere person. His appeal in the letter is heart-felt at times. He really seems to believe that America is threatened by liberal hordes, and that all good Christians “must preserve America’s unique heritage and fight for our religious freedoms. By understanding our nation’s Christian roots, we can work to bring our country back to its founding principles.”
But notwithstanding his apparent sincerity, Jeffress’ book is chock-full of misleading and false claims. How he manages to square these bogus claims is a sheer act of acrobatic interpretation, but he pulls it off in his concluding appeal for money: “I want to make sure that you know that your donation will help us continue sharing the truth of God’s Word and provide even more resources to help you grow in your faith.”
Beware of Christian Nationalists peddling fake history lessons packaged in appeals of fear of the future and a sweeping nostalgia for a past that never existed. The belief that America is a Christian nation is the dominant idol in our nation. I define “idol” as any love that exceeds love and loyalty to God. In reality, God doesn’t need a secular political kingdom, a Christian nation.
God already has a politics: The church. The church is an alternative to a nation-state operated by Christian Nationalists. So don’t send Jeffress any money and don’t read his Barton-inspired book, because America is not now, never has been, and never will be a Christian nation. What matters is whether we are going to be the Christians who embrace the politics of Jesus – suffering, sacrificing love on behalf of the entire world.
Here’s the letter I wish Robert Jeffress would send to all his followers on this Fourth of July, 2023:
The current dis-ease in our land means that we are vulnerable. The immense violence in our midst means there is great suffering, but it is also our moment of truth about the vulnerability we share with others. For now, we can empathize with other people who live through upheavals, civil wars, and violence for years and even decades.
What should we do with this knowledge? Should we try to close this door of vulnerability? Should we try to frighten our people with false visions and dead dreams of a nation founded by God and endowed by God to be the most powerful nation in the world?
Instead, we should say to the world: We will try to learn from our previous mistakes. America was not founded by evangelical Christians. Neither were all our founding fathers “born again Christians.” There is no special divine dispensation from God for the United States. We are guests on this planet, part of the world community. We are all connected to each other, dependent on each other. As Christians we should not attempt to rule the nation, set strict rules for how others are to live. Instead we should embrace diversity, plurality, equality, and the flourishing of all peoples of all kinds.
Our vulnerability must extend – and this may be the hardest task of all – to our commitment to become suffering servants for the world and to be the honest and caring brokers of the needs of the whole world. We need to accept the reality that America doesn’t possess a righteousness that is lacking in other nations, other religions, and other races.
The evil in this world has not been the product of the bad behaviors and actions of liberals, feminists, and gays. The evil is also with us and within all of us. Only together can we move forward to create a world more just, more equitable, and more empathetic.
Sincerely, Robert Jeffress
Ok, I’m dreaming. But I wish.
On this July 4 gather with family and friends for a rousing patriotic celebration. Hot dogs, bar-b-que, cheeseburgers, crawfish etouffee, beer, picnics, fireworks, and parades from shore to shining shore should mark the day. But don’t confuse it with Christianity. Round up the bulls of Bashan and put them in a pen before they destroy the foundations of democracy with their religious pretensions!
Happy Fourth of July!
by Camille Kaminski Lewis
Camille Kaminski Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. She holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University in Rhetorical Studies with a minor in American Studies. Her book, Romancing the Difference: Kenneth Burke, Bob Jones University, and the Rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalism, was a scholarly attempt to stretch the boundaries of both Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical theory on tragedy and comedy as well as stretch conservative evangelical’s separatist frames. (The story of that publication is available at The KB Journal.) Last year she published an edited volume, White Nationalism and Faith: Statements and Counter-Statements on American Identity (Peter Lang); see here for our interview with Lewis about this book. She is currently working on an original manuscript titled, Klandamentalism: The Puzzling Intersection of Race, Religion, Revivalism in America” and an edited volume, “One Hundred Years of Women Debating the Equal Rights Amendment: An Anthology, 1923-2023 (Peter Lang, 2024).
Two weeks ago the Huffington Post published my story about the catalyst for my leaving fundamentalism. Watching Amazon Prime’s Shiny Happy People made me remember again what I had left behind when I said “no” to Bob Jones University’s campus day care: no, they were not allowed to hit my 2.5-year-old son.
As I said for HuffPo, for too many people the grace alone that they claim for their personal salvation never applies to the children in their care. Adults get grace; children get hit. Some people say it like this: in fundamentalism, you have to go through hell to get to heaven.
As I was combing through the “receipts” from our exodus, I rediscovered a folder of 2010 recordings from a ladies’ Sunday School class on parenting.
It was chilling.
This example illumines why spanking is so necessary to the process of producing Shiny Happy People like the Duggars. For these fundamentalists, hitting vulnerable children is a sacramental, painful transaction that, they claim, guarantees a child’s salvation.
It’s a sacrament.
Surveying all the conservative evangelical literature on parenting since the 1960s, it becomes plain that spanking is “a means of grace.” The parenting experts contend unequivocally that parents save their children from eternal damnation when they hit their little ones.
The particular texts I saved are from a 2010 parenting seminar in a conservative evangelical church here in Greenville, South Carolina at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.
Jan Patterson, a missionary for the Gospel Fellowship Association, handles the “discipline” talk in this 9-week series for women-only. Now “discipline” for fundamentalists is never about life-long education or what the Greeks called paideia. “Discipline” is always code for hitting. The Duggars ominously call it “encouragement.”
Patterson explains to her fundamentalist audience why they must hit their child. She says [31:42], “you spank the foolishness out … but you replace it with God’s wisdom.” She uses Proverbs 22:15 as her proof which states “folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”
Now let’s think about this for a second. Proverbs are by nature never literal. A stitch in time never literallysaves nine. That English proverb isn’t even really about sewing. It’s an easily remembered rhyme to remind us that when we do small work now, we mitigate larger work later. Clean up the breakfast dishes now so you don’t have a huge pile tonight. And it’s not even a command. It’s advice.
So, none of the “rod” proverbs are intended to be literal commands.
Look at Proverbs 22:15 again: the verse makes the “rod of discipline” the agent of the action which opposes “folly.” Discipline or instruction is the antidote to youthful foolishness. That’s the message. Of course, a child wants to eat nothing but chicken fingers and fries, but eventually through education (from parents, teachers, and life experience) that child will realize there’s a wide variety of choices out there and picking variety is better in every way.
But notice how Patterson alters the proverb. For her, the entire weight of this education rests on “you.” “You spank the foolishness out,” she says, and “you replace it with God’s wisdom.” You, alone, hit. You, alone, subsequently install godliness—like you’re defragging a hard drive or cleaning out a closet. If you map it out, you see that for these fundamentalists, the individual adult parent holds all the knowledge and wields all the power, and the child must passively receive it. No teacher, no neighbor, no aunt—not even the Holy Spirit—intervenes between that single parent hitting out the bad and replacing it with the good. And this hitting is, according to these fundamentalists, commanded by God. “There is no way to avoid this and be an obedient Christian,” Patterson concludes [16:48].
Putting the entire weight of redeeming a child’s soul through hitting that child is mind-blowing. Coding that hitting as “instruction” is twisted. And any curriculum that’s intentionally pain-based is irrational, ineffective, and sadistic.
It’s painful, but secret.
But for them the pain is essential. One of the speakers, Jana Brackbill (a Bob Jones University Class of 1973 graduate) concedes in the discipline talk that the “rod” in Proverbs might be interpreted broadly [30:00]. That is, it could be a glue stick, or it could be a wooden spoon or a piece of PVC. But that’s the extent of the variation. Whatever it could be, the “rod” must be a material instrument that causes pain.
It must hurt, she says, since “it is supposed to be corrective. It is supposed to be sufficient to cause to bring about that correction.” The parent must dispense “real pain” and should “want to give some pain,” “execute pain,” or “inflict pain.” Pain is the only means of education for these evangelicals. If there’s not pain, it’s not biblical.
Yet in the same paragraph where Brackbill is insisting on imposing pain, she warns her younger audience in a coded fashion [43:50] that “we do have to be careful about, you know, bruising or causing huge welts or things like that … [since] our children have to be in nurseries and go to the doctor.” The warning about bruising and welts is necessary not because it’s bad for the child. The warning is necessary because it’s bad for the parent. It’s bad to get caught by the legal system. These mothers must hit but they must never leave evidence of hitting. Three times these older women caution the younger ones not to do their hitting “publicly.” Brackbill vaguely explains that “there are ways that you can work around those things” where “those things” are the civil protections of children.
If hitting is so clearly commanded by God, why hide it? Is it possible that mere proverbs are not so clear after all?
Another (unidentified) woman chimes in at the end of the talk with the same infantilized voice Michelle Duggar uses, but she still speaks with an authoritative tone. She describes her recent difficulty with her four-year-old child [47:22]. She had hit him so much in one day that he was “black and blue.” It’s a startling confession after the warning about bruises.
At the end of the day in her example, the mother “went to give [her son] a hug,” and the little preschooler repeated to his mother, “and God doesn’t love me, right?” She actually said “yes” – that God didn’t love the child because of his behavior – and continued, “Your sin will always keep you away from God just like it keeps you away from Mommy and Daddy.”
Imagine being four and being told that your childlike actions cut you off from your mom and dad. It all depends on you. The transaction is all in your hands. You either passively comply and get love, or you are utterly alone in the universe.
This is terrifying.
“You” have to hit hard enough to hurt in a hidden place on a child’s body and in a hidden place in the community so that you can save your child from eternal torment. It all depends on the “you,” the parent while it all depends on the child as well.
This maniacal curriculum is what I left behind when I said “no” to Bob Jones University. God the Father commanded it in a vague proverb about instruction and leaves the individual parent to follow blindly. Jesus never enters their metanarrative, and the Holy Spirit will never dissuade them away from causing the welts and bruises God commanded. Their unholy trinity is the parent, the pain, and the child.
Is it any wonder that these evangelicals align with a maniacal tyrant to lead them? If they comply with the power, maybe they’ll be less likely to get hit themselves.
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.
One month ago today, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis appointed Martyn Iles, formerly director of the Australian Question Lobby, to the position of Chief Ministry Officer, ministry of course being Answers in Genesis’ core activity. Here’s why that matters.
Martyn Iles, a lawyer by training, was the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) from 2018 until he was abruptly sacked by the ACL Board in February 2023. Accounts of his dismissal differ. Iles described it as a result of difference in strategy; the Board wanted to move in a more political direction, making him in his own words “not the right person for that vision. I have always been a preacher first and politician second (or third…)”. The Board’s chair, however, denied that there had been any such change.
Answers in Genesis (AiG) is the world’s largest Young Earth Creationist organisation. AiG has a full-time working staff of 1200 and, according to its 2021 tax declaration, assets of almost $82 million. It owns the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter in Kentucky as well as other major assets, and its massive outreach programme includes formal publications, Answers magazine, and an extremely active website.
AiG is the property of Ken Ham, like Iles a product of Australian’s extreme Christian fundamentalist community. It was set up in 1994 after complex and litigious manoeuvres involving Ham and his previous associates, Creation Ministries International based mainly in Australia, and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). ICR itself had been set up by Henry Morris, co-author of The Genesis Flood, when disputes arose among an earlier generation of Young Earth creationists.
There comes a time in the life of every successful businessman (it usually is a man) when he starts to consider his legacy. Ham is now 71. The vigour of his early writing, which had attracted Henry Morris’ attention in the 1980s, has faded into stale repetitiousness, and his articles on the AiG website now describe themselves as produced with the help of research staff. It seemed at one time as if Bodie Hodge, his son-in-law, was his obvious heir apparent, but Hodge’s own writing is superficial and tedious. (Disclosure; both Ham and Hodge have attacked me by name in their writings.)
Iles is now, therefore, in an extremely strong position within the organisation, for which he has excellent credentials. He is a successful organiser and money raiser, and responsible for targeted interventions in Australian electoral politics. His Youtube series The Truth of It has a major following, and as we shall see is very good at what it does. Thus we can expect him to be a major influence on AiG in its direction and messaging, and to enhance its appeal and effectiveness. He has already been announced as a key speaker in next year’s homeschooling conference.
It is therefore a matter of some general concern that Iles is an extreme religious conservative, defines reality itself in religious terms, believes in male domination (while I was preparing this piece he told us that “A word like ‘independent’ is a direct assault on God’s design for women” and that a good woman is “Submissive to husbands. including imperfect ones”), is adept at promoting an intolerant agenda in the name of freedom of speech, has (ever so obliquely) inflamed concerns about vaccines, takes the historical truth of the early chapters of Genesis for granted, and thinks abortion should be illegal because God approves of population growth, among other reasons. Worst of all, he preaches that Christians must dismiss the findings of climate change science as “cultural Marxist rubbish,” because “God’s sustaining providence is crucial to our understanding of this world.”
For an example of Iles defending the indefensible, provided that the indefensible is based on religious belief, see his condemnation of Covid vaccine mandates.
To see him in unrestrained conspiracy mode, watch  his response to the World Economic Forum’s concept of a Great Reset, according to which we should use the pause imposed by Covid to rethink current industrial policy and its large-scale environmental impact. This notion offends against his core belief that the planet is in God’s hands, so that WEF’s concerns are fundamentally misguided. Like others, he presents the Reset concept, and the interest shown in it by governments, institutions, and major companies, as a conspiracy to do away with capitalism and democracy. Here, Iles is in lockstep with the Heartland Institute, a mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry and for laissez-faire economics. As a sign of this conspiracy (and here I am reminded of Q-Anon) he points to the way in which the slogan Build Back Better, which occurs in the WEF literature, is echoed by politicians as diverse as Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, and Justin Trudeau, while as co-conspirators he identifies the entire climate change movement, as well as Black Lives Matter which, like other creationist writers, Iles describes as Marxist.
Iles’ full talents are on display in his The Truth of It YouTube, Climate Totalitarianism, which I recommend to students of rhetoric. Its thousand closely argued words are a masterpiece of misdirection, false dichotomy, strawmanning and vilification of opponents’ positions (the word cancer occurs four times); emotional engagement with the concerned, leading to a promise of reassurance and erasing of anxiety; imposing an intellectual superstructure (which he calls hierarchies of control) on the Bible and then using this superstructure to argue that mere worldly science can be safely ignored; slyly referring to fossil fuels by another name (mineral resources) as put there by God for humanity to use; and hinting at massive totalitarian conspiracies behind climate policy. All reinforced by dramatic phrasing, intonation, and gestures.
The title of the series, The Truth of It, prepares us for the message that anyone Iles disagrees with has been misleading us. The individual podcast title, Climate totalitarianism, casts the entire climate issue in terms of individual freedom versus governmental overreach, echoing his recurrent motif of a conspiracy of the powerful against the godly. And his opening sentence, “Well, it looks as if in the post-pandemic world, we’re going to be increasingly preoccupied with climate change,” describes a crisis over 50 years in the making as if it was just the next thing that they want us to worry about.
Iles then gives us two examples of net zero policy in action. Firstly, the enforced shutdown of Netherlands farms, early victims of the climate juggernaut (“there will be more”). I can find no reference to these alleged closures; the most relevant EU document that I could find sought, on the contrary, to reduce the loss of farmland, but no matter; our sympathies have been engaged with the alleged victims of the juggernaut, as have our fears, since we may be next. Secondly, eating bugs rather than red meat. Clearly, the net zero policy is unnatural, disgusting, and destructive.
Where do such misguided policies come from? From evolutionary thinking, of course. “I understand why they’re getting it wrong, because they basically believe that human beings arose on this planet quite by chance, and in time proceeded to go on a destructive, and a murderous, and exploitative, and a cancerous rampage, which must now be stopped.” (The word “cancer,” in connection with any concerns about human impact on the planet, occurs three more times in this presentation.)
If only our decision-makers would pay proper attention to the Bible! There they would find (Iles gives chapter and verse) that the descendants of Adam, and the descendants of Noah, were commanded to be fruitful and multiply, that Adam and his descendants were given dominion over everything on earth, and that God promised Noah that springtime and harvest would never cease as long as the Earth endures. Those who are worried about climate change have failed to recognise the hierarchy of control, according to which the planet was created to be adequate to human needs. It is humanity’s right, and indeed duty, to get to work and enjoy what has been made available, in the secure knowledge that caring for the planet as a whole is not their responsibility, but God’s.
Notice here the construction of a vast theological superstructure on a narrow biblical foundation, followed by the claim that this superstructure is itself biblical.
Like a judo player, Iles now uses the very force of the environmental argument as a reason for rejecting it. “If I thought we were here by chance, and we were just one of the gazillions of planets and we were just very fortunate to be in the position that we are in, I would think the future was pretty uncertain, and I’d get pretty nervous.”
Fear not. This nervousness is dispelled if we remember the hierarchy of control, and what God has promised: “Genesis is quite clear that what we see in the world around us was substantially put there for human use, and enjoyment, and sustenance, including plants, water, minerals, and animals.” The word minerals is the only reference in the piece to fossil fuels, but its significance will not be lost on his intended Australian primary audience.
Governments pursuing environmental goals are in an extremely stressful situation, he tells us, since they are going against fundamental human nature, and must use totalitarian methods to impose their will. But this stress is unnecessary, if we remember the divinely ordained hierarchy. Humankind is steward of the planet, but God is an even greater steward, and we should listen to His word.
The most alarming part of Iles’ sermon is what he does not say. He simply bypasses the scientific evidence that business as usual risks unacceptable damage to the environment. Implicit in his position is the acceptance that such things, if they happen, will represent the working out of God’s will.
For those who see us as approaching the End Times, as I suspect Iles does, this is merely spelling out the obvious. For the rest of us, terrifying.
I thank Dan Phelps for useful background information about AiG’s empire, and the Rev Michael Roberts for helpful comments.
1] Disclosure. Life is short, so once I’ve got the flavour of a presentation, I just scan the transcript.
by Patrick Thomas
In 2023, the need to celebrate Pride month seems more urgent than usual. Given the increasing presence of far right hate groups at LGBTQ+ events (such as the neo-Nazi gathering at a Columbus Drag Brunch), bomb threats of queer spaces, and at least one case in which an Ohio LBGTQ+ affirming church was firebombed with Molotov cocktails – taking the time to reclaim queer joy and commemorate the roots of queer liberation feels especially important.
Of course, protests of Pride events are nothing new. In my 20-something years of attending Pride events in many different places, I’ve encountered a fair number of displeased citizens – mostly evangelical preachers armed with megaphones trying to shout down the revelry with some fiery, Sodom and Gomorrah-obsessed routine. While I am uncertain that this strategy has ever been successful in converting Pride attendees, I have always been grateful to the many “angels” who – borrowing the silent, protective counter-protest technique popularized in response to Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church’s presence at Matthew Shepard’s 1999 funeral – create a visual barrier of white cloth between Pride participants and hateful preachers.
What is more concerning this year is the number of friends and colleagues who did not attend Pride this year out of concerns for personal safety and the risk of attacks, especially with larger attendance expected in this first “post-pandemic” summer. I understood their concern; in fact, in the week leading up to my local Pride, I discussed possible exit plans and meet-up spots with the friends in case of an attack. This concern is real: with the near 30-fold increase in anti-LGBTQ+ protests over the last five years (averaging 41 protests per month in 2023 – up from an average of 3 per month in 2017-2022), Pride also feels riskier than it has in a very long time. This is because the current protests against Pride differ from those of previous years. Where there were once a few rogue preachers, there are now some strange bedfellows: anti-gay preachers are joined by the likes of Proud Boys, neo-Nazis, Moms for Liberty, and any number of far-right groups that seem ready and able to act upon the hate that conservative evangelicals have long spread against Pride events. And the new target of this increased hate? Drag performers.
One of the most popular targets of right-wing hate has been the popular practice of library reading clubs and Drag Queen Story Hours. Initiated by artist Michelle Tea in 2015, Drag Queen Story Hour provided early literacy instruction through storytelling and reading in public libraries, bookstores, and community centers. Most notable about Drag Queen Story Hour is that in addition to interacting with drag queens, children listen to and read a diverse range of books, including children’s books with LGBTQ+ characters.
The far right’s opposition to/obsession with drag queen story hour centers on their supposed concern for the safety of children. Though my research is weak on the subject, I am unable to locate a single instance in which a child was harmed by a story hour. Nevertheless, defending children from drag queens has proven to be an effective way of galvanizing conservative support against the gender-bending art form in both the public square and in state legislatures. As historian Emily Johnson notes, “There is no better moral panic than a moral panic centered on potential harm to children,” and for conservatives, the false dichotomy of if-you’re-for-children-you’re-against-drag has some real rhetorical heft. What gets lost in this framing is the fact that it relies on some horrifyingly homophobic assumptions for some measly political gains. Not to mention the fact that none of the groups protesting Drag Queen Story Hour have offered their own time to read to children.
The vitriol against drag performers is not only visible in libraries. It’s also been ushered into state legislatures. In March 2023, Tennessee passed the first law banning public drag performances in which minors might be present. While Trump appointee US District Judge Thomas Parker ruled it unconstitutional last week, the law has served as a template for at least 14 other states who have initiated similar bans for drag performers. Indeed, the Human Rights Campaign noted this bill as one of more than 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced into state legislatures in 2023 alone, a record year for legislative measures aimed at banning books, gender affirming health care, participation in sports programming, gender-related DEI curricula, and eliminating state protections for LGBTQ+ individuals on the basis of equal protections by “sex” (essentially removing protections in housing, employment, credit, and education for LBGTQ+ people).
Legislative bans on drag performers provide a rather unique – and odd – case given the rise of popularity of drag in mainstream culture (thanks in large part to the global phenomenon of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as the recirculation of classic drag films such as Paris is Burning, The Birdcage, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch on video streaming services). Anti-drag backlash is puzzling given that drag itself is an art form dead-set on not taking itself seriously. Camp, parody, and silly playfulness are the norm rather than the exception in drag performance. As anyone who has worn them can tell you, heels make it harder – not easier – to run, attack, or perform any other basic maneuver to threaten or intimidate another person. Why, then, would drag cause such concern?
Five of these bills have specified that exposure to the LGBTQ+ community is child abuse, most of these bills ban minors and ban drag performers from public spaces…six of these bills have defined drag performers as people who dressed and expressed differently from their ‘biological sex’ or ‘gender identity,’ and we have concerns that this also applies to everyday transgender people.
Smith’s reading of the anti-drag legislation is bleak, but, I fear, correct. For one thing, the assumption that “exposure to the LBGTQ+ community is child abuse” (emphasis mine) is as damning of conservatives’ true motives as it is infuriating to LGBTQ+ people – and it reeks of McCarthy-era homophobia. Banning drag performers from public spaces is a direct attempt to outlaw Pride festivals and parades – events at which drag performers are often the center of festivities as performers, emcees/hosts, and/or grand marshals.
More troubling, however, is how Smith reveals the focus on drag as a red herring for the actual target of conservatives: transgender people. By extending the definition of drag to “people who dress and express differently from their biological sex or gender identity,” drag bans provide a way to criminalize the existence of transgender individuals.
So here we see the real motive of the fervor over men in dresses reading to children, the moral panic around children’s exposure to LGBTQ+ people (despite the fact that some of these children are LGBTQ+ themselves), and the outrage over public drag performances. None of this vitriol is really about drag queens per se. Instead, drag is a cover, a conservative code word for transgender people. The real motive is not to stop drag queens from performing, but to make the existence of transgender people illegal, to make trans* identities and expressions criminal offenses.
The LGBTQ+ community and our allies must fully recognize these legislative threats for what they are: attacks on the very right to life. These attacks weaponize children to create false panic and fallacious binaries between the moral right and the queer wrong. We must use Pride as a way to come together, align our powers, and continue to fight back against the many forces conspiring to literally kill our queer families. Some simple actions that anyone can take include:
- Know LGBTQ+ Youth Rights: Consult the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Know Your Rights” updates for LGBTQ+ Youth, including the latest information on gender-affirming healthcare for trans* youth.
- Call Your State Legislators: Currently most LGBTQ+ focused legislation is passing through state legislatures, so following your state’s house and senate dockets can be a useful point of information for knowing the status of LGBTQ+ rights in your state. For reference, the Human Rights Campaign provides helpful State Roundups each quarter.
- Attend (and Speak Up!) at Local School Board Meetings: One of the most successful local campaigns against LGBTQ+ youth have been through local school boards. Extremist groups like Moms for Liberty have turned school boards against LGBTQ+ affirming policies and practices. Speaking up against anti-LGBTQ+ policies can have a countereffect.
- Support Your Local Drag Queens: Some of the most successful fundraisers in the Dayton area are the Rubi Girls, a drag troupe 40 years strong who have raised over $3 million for HIV/AIDS research, local charities, and their own college scholarship program. Find your local queens and tip them well!
by William Trollinger
While speaking ill of the dead is generally frowned upon, there are those whose passing should not blind us to the hate they spread and the harm they did. In this regard, see below for three articles in response to Pat Robertson’s death last Thursday.
- Jeet Heer, “Pat Robertson’s Genocidal God Has Called Him Home,” The Nation
- “Pat Robertson was a ‘man of God,’ so it’s worth asking what sort of God he worshiped. In 2010, an earthquake struck Haiti and killed between 100,000 and 160,000 people. Robertson took to The 700 Club to blame the earthquake on a ‘pact to the Devil’ that Haitians allegedly made when they overthrew French imperial rule in 1804. According to Robertson, Haitians ‘got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’”
- Rick Perlstein interviewed by Greg Sargent, “How Pat Robertson created today’s Christian nationalist GOP”, The Washington Post.
- “Every time a riot breaks out at a school board meeting because the board wants to recognize that gay people exist, that’s Pat Robertson’s shadow. Every time a crusade against teaching the history of race in America leads to a school limiting access to Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem, that’s Pat Robertson’s shadow.”
- Mikey Weinstein, “’One Little Jewish Guy,’ as Pat Robertson Called Me, Says Good Riddance to ‘One Little Dead Guy’”, Daily Kos
- “On several occasions over the years, the rabidly antisemitic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, and misogynistic Pat Robertson publicly and hatefully attacked both myself personally and my civil rights organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) on his CBN show ‘The 700 Club,’ [calling me] ‘one little Jewish radical’, . . . ‘one little Jewish guy’ . . . ‘one little atheist Jewish man.’”
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 sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – has recently been published. His seventh book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, is the focus of this interview. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear soon.
Some readers of my book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, are claiming that I have committed rhetorical malfeasance by claiming Donald Trump is evil. Interestingly, these critics agree on most or all of the following:
- Trump is a danger to democracy
- Trump is a serial liar
- Trump is a conman
- Trump is a cruel, insulting, mocking bully
- Trump is a philanderer
- Trump has, in the last six years, broken nearly all of the Ten Commandments
And yet, these critics still insist that I have overstated my case by claiming Trump is evil.
I have to say that I am uneasy with the fact that the focus on this claim has led critics to give short shrift to the biblical, philosophical, and rhetorical arguments I make. That said, I wish to respond to the notion that I have been wrong-minded to call Donald Trump “the incarnation of evil.”
At the outset, it’s important to note that I have not depicted Trump as some sort of mythical supernatural manifestation of Satan – a cosmic figure. The ability to overrate and embellish Trump resides with those evangelical preachers who early in 2016 insisted that Trump was “God’s anointed.” I am using “evil” in a more human, incarnational, garden-variety way.
I should note that at no point in my writing have I been unaware of the serious opposition to the use of the word “evil” that rises from theological scholars, psychiatrists, and rhetorical scholars. Terry Eagleton argues the use of the word “evil” serves “to shut down thought.” The word “evil” suggests a blanket condemnation that precludes the necessity of investigating what lies behind the atrocious rhetoric and actions of Trump.
Admitting the truth value of that statement, I believe that I was not content to simply label Trump as evil. I was looking for what was behind his atrocious words and actions.
More than this, and at every word that I plastered on the pages of my book, I was aware of the reticence that rhetorical scholars have always felt at indicting a speaker personally. Yes, my own discipline of rhetoric has historically advised analytical restraint in subjecting a speaker’s person to rhetorical investigation. This is known as the Wizard of Oz Rule. Joshua Gunn suggests that the critical distance afforded by the analyses of personae, genres, and styles enables a critic to make depersonalized, ethical observations.
There’s the possibility that I should have confined my critique to Trump’s “perspective,” instead of Trump’s person. I blew through this stop sign as if I was drag racing in a 1968 Camaro, because I felt that it was an ethical necessity to name Trump as something no other American president had ever been called: evil. I stand by that assessment in the face of my critics.
And the fact is that rhetorical scholars have already served as the canaries in the coal mine when it came to Trump. Like prophets of the Old Testament, these diligent scholars have repeatedly warned of the dangers of Trump’s rhetorical strategies:
- Bonnie Dow says that the election of Trump threatened her teaching of the principles of rhetoric “that words matter, that reasons matter, and that rational deliberation should be central to how American culture makes decisions.”
- Paul Johnson argues that Trump’s incoherent vacillations between strength and victimhood enable his white audiences to disavow hegemonic whiteness and align themselves with a marginalized, political exiled subjectivity.
- Robert Ivie focuses on demolition as the “guiding trope” of Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric.
- Jennifer Wingard portrays Trump as the “product of a spoiled bunch” rather than just a “spoiled apple in the barrel.”
- Ryan Skinnell says “Donald J. Trump is a notorious liar”.
- “Trump’s rhetoric is centered on the preservation,” says Michael J. Steudeman, “of a conception of American identity rooted in whiteness, masculinity, and heteronormativity.”
- Anna Young labels Trump a populist who traffics in rhetorics of fears and loathing.
- Joshua Gunn emphasizes that Trump’s political style is perverse.
There’s not a single good reason for disputing any of these rhetorical markers of Donald Trump. This is the primary reason I gathered all these critiques into one tropological rotten barrel of apples and extended these assertions to a basic claim: Donald Trump is a secular revivalist, an evangelical preacher who traffics in evil, flaunts evil, and makes evil appear good. As Isaiah lamented, “Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5.20) I argue that an embodied evil lies at the heart of Trump’s personhood.
I go beyond the critiques of rhetorical scholars to claim that there has never been a president that acted and spoke in terms that can be described as so completely saturated by evil. Trump’s persona and person are the same. As Gunn has asserted, “Trump on the stump is all there is—that there is nothing more to Trump than his spectacle. As co-creators of popular perception, this spectacle includes us, too.” In short, I think that judgments of Trump’s character (ethos) are unavoidable. This makes my case a study in the Aristotelian mode of proof known as ethos.
At no point do I feel free from the truthful conclusion of rhetorical scholar Roderick Hart that Trump is us and we are Trump. We are all preachers with unclean lips and we live in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Our only possible redemption is to accept God’s invitation: “Come let us argue it out together.”
Is Trump a mere bully? Is he a common conman, and if so, is he P. T. Barnum or Bernie Madoff? Trump is a serial liar. Is that indictment alone capable of making the indictment that he is evil stick? I concluded yes. After reading careful and helpful reviews of my book, I still conclude that Trump talks evil, spreads evil, and is, therefore, evil. (Here’s our interview with Rod Kennedy about the writing of Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy. And for a review of his book by one of the critics, see here.)
by William Trollinger
Below are two links you may very well find interesting, if you are interested in how Answers in Genesis (AiG) conducts itself financially, and how Taylor University administrators remain committed to removing a faculty member who attends seriously to race in America.
- AiG’s IRS 990 form: The ever-intrepid Dan Phelps has mined AiG’s IRS 990 form to uncover (among other things):
- Ken Ham has lots of relatives on the payroll.
- AiG has a corporate jet.
- Ark Encounter is losing money (but donors are making up for the shortfall).
- (not from the IRS 990 form): Answers Academy is looking for a science teacher. If you follow this blog, it’s unlikely you are an eligible candidate.
- Taylor University president and others continue to stonewall in an effort to protect fragile white evangelicals from American racism: In a public forum Taylor’s president and others continue to dodge the fact that Julie Moore was non-renewed as a writing instructor because she focused her course on racial justice, and she included a quote from Jemar Tisby on her syllabus. And there’s a recording that substantiates this claim! See here for our original article on all of this.
- The GoFundMe to support Julie Moore is still active if you would like to contribute.