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Freedom Of Religion, Freedom From Religion: Christians And Trump


      Why is Christian America

      still supporting Donald Trump?

      Pastor Carl Gallups leading prayer at Trump rally -- (YouTube screenshot)

      16 JAN 2019

      Last summer, First Baptist Church of Dallas held its annual “Freedom Sunday.” The church website described the special service this way: “Celebrate our freedom as Americans and our freedom in Christ with patriotic worship and a special message from Dr. Robert Jeffress, “America is a Christian Nation.”

      Not everyone in Dallas was happy about it. Robert Wilonsky, an opinion writer at the Dallas Morning News, wrote that Jeffress and the First Baptist Church were “divisive” for claiming that America was a Christian nation. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings agreed. Atheists protested. Eventually, the billboard company contracting with the church removed signs advertising Freedom Sunday.

      This, of course, did not stop the service from going forward. The people of First Baptist Church spent the morning of the 24th waving American flags, wearing red, white, and blue shirts, singing the Star-Spangled Banner, and celebrating the United States military. Vice-president Mike Pence sent a letter of encouragement.

      Was this a religious service or a celebration of nationalism? What was the object of the congregation’s worship?

      Jeffress has been preaching his “America is a Christian Nation” sermon for a long time. On Sunday he stuck with his usual script. He indicted the “secularists, atheists, and infidels” for “perverting” the Constitution. He chided the federal government’s failure to acknowledge God in the public square. He told his congregation that academics, historians, and teachers have been lying to them about the religious roots of the United States.

      Jeffress made one problematic historical reference after another. He made the wildly exaggerated claim that fifty-two of the original fifty-five signers of the Constitution were “orthodox conservative Christians.” He peddled the false notion that the disestablishment clause in the First Amendment was meant to apply solely to Protestant denominations.

      Near the end of the sermon, Jeffress suggested that spikes in violence, illegitimate births, divorce, and low SAT scores in America are the direct product of the Supreme Court’s decision to remove prayer and Bible-reading from public schools.

      Jeffress concluded the service with an altar call. He asked people to come to the front of the church and profess their faith in Jesus Christ. I am sure Jeffress was sincere in his desire to lead people to Jesus, but after his message it was unclear whether he was inviting them to accept Jesus Christ as Savior or embrace the idea that the United States was founded, and continues to be, a Christian nation. Maybe both.


      Robert Jeffress is best known as a Fox News religion commentator and one of the first evangelical leaders to support Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. He has called Trump “the most faith-friendly president in history.”

      Within two weeks following the announcement of his candidacy, several polls had Trump leading among white evangelical GOP voters. In November 2016, 81% of these evangelicals cast their vote for Donald Trump for President of the United States. The reasons for this are complex, and we probably need to wait a generation or two before historians can begin to make sense of them, but three young sociologists have published a scholarly essay that suggests the most plausible explanation.

      Andrew Whitehead of Clemson University, Sam Perry of the University of Oklahoma, and Joseph O. Baker of East Tennessee State University argue that “the more someone believed the United States is—and should be—a Christian nation, the more likely they were to vote for Trump.” They conclude that “no other religious factor influenced support for or against Trump.”

      These sociologists found that the average Trump voter believes the federal government should: declare the United States a Christian nation, advocate for Christian values, oppose the “strict separation of church and state,” allow the “display of religious symbols in public spaces,” and return prayer to public schools. Likewise, Trump voters believe that whatever success the United States has had over the years is “part of God’s plan.”

      This essay is revealing, and it confirms much of what I have written about since the 2011 release of my Was American Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. But it does not address why and how Americans have come to believe these things. The answer to that question invites us to think historically.

      Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished in their perceived status as God’s new Israel—His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God. The defenders of this idea like to apply Chronicles 7:14 to the United States: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

      Though dissenters have always been present, the Christian culture of the United States remained intact well into the 20th century. But since World War II, the moorings of this culture have loosened, and evangelicals have responded with fear that their Christian nation is about to collapse. Robert Jeffress is correct about this.

      During the 1960's, the Supreme Court removed prayer and Bible reading from public schools, the federal government cut federal funding to Christian academies and colleges that practiced segregation, the country grew more diverse through immigration, and the sexual revolution threatened evangelical patriarchy and gave women the right to choose to have an abortion.

      The fear that America’s Christian civilization was falling apart translated into political action. In the late 1970's, conservative evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye (the author of the popular Left Behind novels), and a group of politicians who had been closely affiliated with the 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, developed a political playbook to win back the culture from the forces of secularization. Most of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 understood, and continue to understand, the relationship between their faith and their politics through this playbook.

      This playbook, which would eventual become the culture-war battle plan of the “Religious Right,” was tweaked occasionally over the years to address whatever moral issues seemed most important at the time, but it never lost its focus on “restoring,” “renewing,” and “reclaiming” America for Christ through the pursuit of political power.

      When executed properly, the playbook teaches evangelicals to elect the right President and members of Congress who will pass laws privileging evangelical Christian views of the world. These elected officials will then appoint and confirm conservative Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, defend life in the womb, and uphold religious liberty for those who believe in traditional views of marriage.

      The playbook rests firmly on the Religious Right’s understanding of American identity as rooted in its view of the American past. If America was not founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right’s political agenda collapses or, at the very least, is weakened severely.

      To indoctrinate its followers in the dubious claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right has turned to political activists, many of whom claim to be historians, to propagate the idea that the founding fathers of the United States were in the business of building a Christian nation.

      The most prominent of these Christian nationalist purveyors of the past is David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization in Aledo, Texas that claims to be “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built—a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.” Barton and Wallbuilders were the source of most of the historical information Jeffress presented in his Freedom Sunday sermon on June 24th.

      For the past thirty years, Barton has provided pastors and conservative politicians with inaccurate or misinterpreted facts used to fuel the Religious Right’s nostalgic longings for an American Christian golden age. American historians, including those who teach at the most conservative Christian colleges, have debunked Barton’s use of the past, but he continues to maintain a large following in the evangelical community.

      David Barton peddles fake news about the American past. Yet, if Andrew Whitehead, Sam Perry, and Joseph Baker are correct, his work is essential to the success of the Trump presidency in a way that I imagine even Donald Trump and his staff do not fully understand or appreciate.

      Trump does not talk very much about America’s supposedly Christian origins. His grasp of history is not very strong. But his evangelical supporters see him as a gift of God—a divinely appointed figure who has emerged on the scene for such a time as this. He is in the White House to preserve God’s covenant with America, to make America Christian again.

      The support for the President is a sign of intellectual laziness in the evangelical community. Rather than thinking creatively about how to move forward in hope, Trump evangelicals prefer to respond to cultural change by trying to reclaim a Christian world that is rapidly disappearing, has little chance of ever coming back, and may never have existed in the first place.

      The American founding fathers lived in a world that was very different from our own. In the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, America was a nation of Christians—mostly Protestants—who put their stamp on the culture.

      Yet, amid this Christian culture, the founders differed about the relationship between Christianity and their new nation. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison defended the separation of church and state. John Adams and George Washington also opposed mixing church and state, while at the same time suggesting that Christians, because Christianity taught an ethic of selflessness, could be useful in the creation of a virtuous republic in which citizens sacrificed self-interest for the common good.

      The founding fathers believed in God, but most of them did not believe that God inspired the Old and New Testaments or sent His son to die and rise from the dead as the ultimate payment for human sin. The God of the Declaration of Independence is a providential deity who created the world and the people in it, but there is nothing in this important American document that defines this God in terms of the Incarnation or the Trinity.

      The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made. Yet Barton and Jeffress invoke these founders and these documents to defend the idea that the United States was founded as a distinctly Christian nation.


      If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

      We do.

      We have.

      But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

      I know this first-hand from some of the negative emails and course evaluation forms I received after teaching a Sunday School course on the history of religion and politics at the Evangelical Free Church congregation where my family worship every Sunday. Because I was a college history professor—even a college history professor at a Christian college with strong evangelical roots—I could not be trusted.

      What David Barton does not understand is that there are hundreds of evangelical historians who see their work as part of their Christian identity and vocation. These historians are women and men who pursue truth about the past wherever it leads. This pursuit of truth is a deeply Christian pursuit, as is the case with all efforts to distinguish truth from error.

      When people like David Barton cherry-pick from the past to promote political agendas, they do a disservice to the past, fail to treat it with integrity, and ultimately harm their Christian witness in the world. They make evangelicals look foolish. This is not what Paul described in 1 Corinthians 1:18 as the “foolishness of the cross,” it is just good old-fashioned foolishness. It is a product of what evangelical historian Mark Noll has described as the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”

      Many of us engaged in trying to bring good history to the evangelical church need the support of Christians who are concerned about the direction Donald Trump, the Christian Right, and the pseudo-historians who prop-up their political agenda are trying to take the country and the church. Good history is complex. It is nuanced. And it is an essential part of truly worshipping God with our minds (Luke 10:27). Unfortunately, complexity, nuance, and intellectual discipleship are not the kinds of subjects that inspire Christians to dig into their pocketbooks.

      What would it take to fund evangelical historians to travel to receptive churches around the country and spend some concentrated time teaching American religious history, and American history more broadly, to lay men and women? Perhaps such visits could also include times of worship and prayer?

      It is unlikely that such an effort would reach the Robert Jeffress’ of the world. but there are many evangelicals who are open and willing to listen and learn. This was another lesson I took away from my Sunday School class. In fact, the criticism I received paled in comparison with the positive comments I got from those who had never heard a fellow evangelical offer a different, more accurate, view of American history.

      American evangelical political engagement is built on a very weak historical foundation. It is time that Christian philanthropists, motivated by an entrepreneurial spirit informed by the pursuit of truth and a concern for the testimony of the Gospel in the world, take the long view and invest in responsible Christian thinking about the American past. The American republic, and more importantly, the witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, depends on it.

      Additional images added by Ray Cunneff

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      My Quest For The Lost Ernest P. Worrell Commercials


          As a kid, presumably like many kids that grew up in the eighties and nineties, I watched and loved the Ernest P. Worrell movies. Starring Jim Varney, with his inimitable slapstick humor, and just plain goofy face, Ernest is a character treasured by millions.

          Before the movies, Ernest starred in a series of advertisements, the production was actually quite prolific, mainly in the Nashville, Tennessee area. Looking through YouTube at the ads that have been uploaded, there are compilations hours long, this is perhaps my favorite one. Not sure if it would fly today.

          One of the things I do whenever I'm bored and online is lookup stuff, could be anything, whatever I want to know more about at that moment. A while back, I looked up Ernest, just to know more about the movies that I used to watch. In the Wiki sites, I found something interesting. On Wikipedia, this single sentence intrigued me: "In New Mexico, he appeared in commercials for Blake's Lotaburger."

          My homestate! And a place I go that's got pretty damned good burgers, I didn't remember ever seeing any of these commercials. Presumably, I wasn't watching the type of TV that they'd run them on at the time. I had to know more, so I put my google-fu skills to work.

          Unfortunately, there wasn't much more out there on the net. Another wiki site had a few more words, but not much else, and unfortunately, no references!

          During the 1990s, he reprised his role as Ernest for Blake's Lotaburger, a fast food chain in New Mexico. In these commercials, Ernest typically would be trying to get into Vern's house to see what food Vern was eating. After a lengthy description of whatever tasty morsel Vern had, Ernest would get locked out but would continue to shout from outside.


          There's this reference to it in a book called "Summer Winds", but again, no new information about it.

          In my searching, I found this reddit thread about this very subject. redditors can be an amazing bunch, in good and bad ways, if it existed on the net, I'm sure they'd have the answer!

          But alas, they had hit the same wall as me.

          Well, I guess that's that. There was one person who said they might have it on old VHS tapes cause they worked for the ad agency, but the thread was dead and archived.

          But no! Like I'd give up like that, now it's time for me to start digging.

          I went to the Blake's site, and filled in the "contact us" form:

          A bit of an unusual request. In my time online, I've come across
          information stating that Ernest P. Worrell, the character from the Ernest
          movies, made a series of commercials for Blake's in the nineties. Other
          than a few sentences on the wiki sites, I haven't been able to find out
          any more about them, let alone a copy of any of them.
          Are they sites accurate about that, and if so, is there a chance the
          advertisements still exist somewhere?

          Their director of marketing got back to me the very next day.

          Hello- This is true…. If you can find copies of them, I would LOVE to know- because I don’t have them in our archives and would love to hear them!!!


          So now, I have a mission. I must find these commercials. For Lucy.

          I've got a couple leads, there's the redditor who claims to have worked for the advertising agency, and I am also going to try to get in touch with John Cherry III, the director responsible for much of the Ernest stuff that was shot.

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          Happy Monday!


              The Boomtown Rats released "I don't like Mondays" on 2 June, 1979. Written by Bob Geldof, of Band-Aid fan, who also played the role of "Pink" in the movie version of Pink Floyd's The Wall, the song is about Brenda Ann Spencer, a sixteen-year old girl infamous for going on a shooting spree at Grover Cleveland Elementary, in San Diego.

              On the morning of January 29, 1979, she began firing at students waiting for school doors to opened, with a Ruger 10/22 semiautomatic rifle. The principal of the school, along with a custodian, was killed, and she wounded nine others, students and a police officer. She fired thirty times.

              The principal's name was Burton Wragg, and the custodian was Michael Suchar.

              After being taken into custody, and asked why she did it, she said ""I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day."

              She was tried as an adult, sentenced to life in prison, and remains there to this day. She's 56 now.

              She feels partial responsibility for the spate of school shootings that's become so horrifically common-place since then.

              “With every school shooting, I feel I’m partially responsible,” Brenda Ann Spencer told the parole board back in 2001. “What if they got the idea from what I did?”

              Enjoy your Monday, you may not like them, but I bet you probably won't be going and shooting up a school because of that.

              The silicon chip inside her head
              Gets switched to overload
              And nobody's gonna go to school today
              She's going to make them stay at home
              And daddy doesn't understand it
              He always said she was as good as gold
              And he can see no reason
              'Cause there are no reasons
              What reason do you need to be sure
              Oh, oh, oh tell me why
              I don't like Mondays
              Tell me why
              I don't like Mondays

              Tell me why
              I don't like Mondays
              I want to shoot
              The whole day down...


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              Christmas Season In Mesilla, NM

                  Loading Tweet ... https://twitter.com/ZombieCheney/status/1072331726196756480

                  Just a few photos of the decorations and lights in Mesilla, NM. Tons of history, around the plaza is the courthouse where Billy the Kid was tried and sentence to death, tons of buildings dating back 150+ years, and the San Albino catholic church.

                  The Treaty of Mesilla was signed here, concluding the Gadsen Purchase which acquired land in the Southwest for the United States from Mexico.

                  During the Civil War, Mesilla served as the capital of the Arizona Territory of the CSA, and a couple of battles between Union and Confederate forces were fought here.

                  As communities across the United States grapple with the future of Confederate monuments, Doña Ana County also displays reminders of the area’s role in the Civil War.

                  High in the dry Chihuahuan Desert, far from the green battlefields typical of the Civil War, the newly formed Confederate States of America scored an early win in what is now Doña Ana County, and the New Mexico Territory played a role in the war — just not a decisive one.

                  “It was a sideshow, but it was widely reported back east,” said John P. Wilson, a retired researcher who collected countless documents from the National Archives on New Mexico and the Civil War.

                  At least two major battles and several skirmishes were fought in what is now New Mexico, starting in the war’s first weeks.

                  Just as the Confederate army scored a major victory back east, it scored a symbolic one along the Rio Grande in late July 1861. The First Battle of Bull Run was the big news that week, but a small Confederate force from Texas humiliated a Union force more than three times its size between Fort Fillmore (near Mesilla) and San Augustin Pass, eliciting unconditional surrender from a far larger force. If not for the scope of Bull Run, the embarrassment in New Mexico would have made much bigger news, Wilson said...


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                  Just For Fun


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                      Hitch Up Your Reindeer!


                          [History - Music Recordings]

                          I was listening to a little known James Brown recording, especially little known outside of the African-American community, and found myself repeating the call for Santa to "hitch up your reindeer". Yes, it is a Christmas song which urges Santa Claus to not forget and go directly to the homes of the less fortunate and gift their needy children. This song doesn't get much rotation, but it is a classic for those of us who grew up with mostly empty stockings for Christmas and know first hand what it means to get a gift from what was then known as "the empty stocking fund".

                          I present. James Brown, and his funky ghetto classic, hitching up that reindeer.

                          " Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto."

                          May all of you, no matter if, or how, you celebrate the Winterfest/Christmas or not, remember to help those in need during these upcoming winter months.

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                          No Credible Evidence Or No Credible Investigationssss?


                              Just because congressional republicans say there is no credible evidence that allegations against Kavanaugh, does that mean there was no credible evidence against Kavanaugh?


                              “This was a serious and thorough investigation that left no stone unturned in our pursuit of the facts,” said committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in a statement on Saturday as the panel’s Republican majority released a 414-page report. “In the end, there was no credible evidence to support the allegations against the nominee.”

                              According to the Senate Judiciary Committee report, six FBI reports on Kavanaugh over the course of his career in politics and on the bench ― probes that included interviews with nearly 150 individuals who knew him ― “did not reveal any alcohol abuse or inappropriate sexual behavior.

                              One thing Kavanaugh apparently wanted Americans to know is that he likes beer, although in his confirmation hearing, he initially said he was like a choir boy who worked his ass off to become a Supreme Court justice. He said this while under oath, and he was apparently lying. It is actually a crime to lie under oath, even if it is only about whether or not you drank too much as a teen.

                              Does this mean that Kavanaugh attempted to rape Dr. Ford when they were teens? No, but just because Mark Judge said he did not remember Kavanaugh doing what Dr. Ford said he did, does not mean Kavanaught did not do it, and if he did he is not fit to be a Supreme Court justice. A really thorough investigation by the FBI could have determined if Kavanaugh actually attempted to rape Dr. Ford.

                              Excerpts from Judge's book, Wasted, actually supports some of Dr. Ford's testimony as far as time lines are concerned. Other eyewitness accounts of whether or not Kavanaugh was lying bout his drinking contradicts Kavanaugh's testimony. But of course there is no credible evidence of sexual misbehavior. Right???


                              What did the classmate say about Judge Kavanaugh?

                              Prof Ludington, who teaches at North Carolina State University, said he had seen Judge Kavanaugh slurring his words and staggering after excessive alcohol consumption while at Yale.

                              The professor also said Judge Kavanaugh "was often belligerent and aggressive" when drunk.

                              "I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth."

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                              Moving Stills


                                  [Arts & Science - Fun Facts]

                                  One upon a time a long time ago there was an ethereality visual artist and conspiracy theorist whom went by the underground name of "Moving Pictures", I used to call the person "Myopic". Today I happened across this "still image" and my memory of that long lost innerweb personality immediately came to mind. Of course one doesn't have a thing to do with the other, but both goes to show just how peculiar are the workings of the visual receptors of the brain. Take a look.

                                  Yabberites, tell me, what's going on here? This is not a video.

                                  To halt the "still" stare at one corner of the image.

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