Tag Archives: evangelicalism

“American Jesus” – The Movie

I watched last night a documentary by Aram Garriga, who I believe is Catalan. The title (ripped off from a book by Stephen Prothero) was American Jesus. Here’s how Garriga describes the film:

The film focuses on a nation-widespread variety of Christian organizations, controversial and relevant figures of the Evangelical community, Christian Pop Culture & Music specialists, secular analysts, Apocalyptic Preachers and the End Times, Prosperity Pastors, Christian Bikers & Cage-fighters, Mega-churches, Snake Handlers, the Creation Museum, Atheists, Christian Surfers and Cowboys, to name just a few. Their personal testimonies and perspectives will draw a map with all of the ideological and social positions covered and properly represented.

The main goal of the film will be triggering the debate and the questioning, from a non-judgmental perspective, on what’s the current state of American Faith and what are its real social and political implications.

“Non-judgmental”–ha ha. That’s a good one.

american-jesus-posterThis film was both intriguing and disappointing. Intriguing because of its whirlwind tour of proliferating American evangelical identities, especially in relation to forms of popular culture: Christian rodeo, Christian bikers, Christian cage-fighters, Christian stand-up, Christian alternative music, Christian outsider art. Although the film didn’t overtly call attention to this, I was particularly intrigued by how many of these forms of evangelical practice were trying to make evangelicalism compatible with some conventional image of masculinity. That is, these are often contemporary iterations of “muscular Christianity.” Judging from this film, American evangelicals are struggling to get men into the pews but take for granted the commitment of women–although why evangelicalism appeals to them, this film has little to offer by way of explanation.

Which is one of the things that’s disappointing about the film. Additional disappointments–thinking especially about this film as a potential resource for teaching–are as follows:

1. The film lands so briefly on the different groups it showcases that there’s not much material to work with for the ethnographic purpose of understanding these adherents’ worldviews from the inside out. That’s because…

2. The film is basically an American evangelical freakshow. The film isn’t really trying to help viewers understand why these evangelicals organize their lives the way they do. The film shows you just enough to give you grounds to think, “Oh my God, these people are crazy!” before hustling you along to the next freak in the line-up. Leading to…

3. The film is ultimately a rant against the New Christian Right. Frank Schaeffer is featured at length–here’s a interview subject on whom the film finally settles down to linger–explaining how evangelicals have become the “fifth column of insanity” in American politics. All those crazy people we saw earlier in the film vote! They’re driving the policies of the Republican Party! They’re gleefully promoting apocalypse in the Middle East! I’m a European filmmaker who had no idea! I must warn the world!

But “from a non-judgmental perspective,” of course.

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Adhan at Duke . . . oops, nope

A couple days ago, former fellow UNC alums posted to Facebook the news that Duke (where many of us took classes) had granted permission for Muslim students to perform the adhan–the call of prayer–from atop the campus’s iconic chapel bell tower. (A weekly Friday prayer service is held in the chapel basement.) “How nice,” I thought. “Good for the Dukies.”

Now the word is out that the administration has rescinded permission. A key player in that abrupt reversal is Franklin Graham, who lambasted the adhan plan on Facebook, then elaborated to the news media as follows:

“As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism,” Graham wrote on Facebook.

In an interview Thursday before the reversal, Graham told The Charlotte Observer that Duke should not allow the chapel to be used for the call to prayer. “It’s wrong because it’s a different god,” he said. “Using the bell tower, that signifies worship of Jesus Christ. Using (it) as a minaret is wrong.”

Graham did say Muslim students should be allowed to worship on campus. “Let Duke donate the land and let Saudi Arabia build a mosque for them.”

And referencing the recent terrorist attacks in France, Graham added, “Islam is not a religion of peace.”

(Charlotte Observer, Jan. 15, 2015)

The inevitable irony: Omid Safi reports that threats of violence were made against people at Duke by opponents of the adhan plan.

And who says Duke is losing its historic Christian identity?

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Still an ethnic church, but…

Last month, my husband and I attended a posada organized by Guatemalan immigrants living in the Price Hill area of Cincinnati. Afterward, we took the dog (who was waiting bundled up in the car) for a little walk down the street. On the corner was an old church. A sign in German carved over the door identified it as the First German Evangelical Protestant Church, founded in 1886. However, the German immigrants long since became upwardly mobile and moved out. The building is now in the hands of a different ethnic minority: new signage, in Spanish, identified the building as home to the Hispanic Nazareth Evangelical Church. Still an “evangelical” group–but in a different sense of the word.

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Interfaith dialogue…. courtesy of the campus secularists

This past week, I moderated an “interfaith panel” organized by our campus’s Secular Students group. The scare quotes are because it turned out not to be a conventional panel, where there are a few designated panelists fielding questions from the audience. Instead everyone sat around in a circle and passed me questions on index cards, which I was supposed to then select and toss out for anyone in the room to respond to. I ran with that, but I also ran a tight ship–moved on to a new question as soon as the discussion has shrunk down to an interchange between two or three people; chose only open-ended questions to pose to the group, not the kinds of questions that serve as pointed challenges. At one point I told an evangelical and a Jew that their increasingly impassioned interchange was predictably scripted, and if they wanted to finish performing that particular timeworn debate, they should take it outside.

The participants were overwhelmingly secularists–since their group had sponsored the event–with conservative evangelicals being the second largest group (though none of them identified as the e-word; they were mostly “Reformed Christians,” plus a campus minister who was simply a “follower of Jesus”). There was also a stray Catholic, a Reform Jew who heads up our campus’s Chabad group (yep, I had the same reaction), and a “Hindu agnostic.” Naturally, the conversation was mostly secularists and evangelicals justifying themselves to one another, which may not be far off as an accurate microcosm as that generation’s religious demographics.

As the evening ended, I told the group that interfaith dialogue interests me, as an object of study, because of what goes on under the surface of the conventional explanations for why people come together to engage in this activity–to promote better understanding, to reduce interreligious friction, etc. Inevitably, there’s more than that going on whenever people get together for interfaith dialogue. For instance, I said, some Christian participants had used this opportunity to do some witnessing; and I was holding a stack of index cards which included some questions that looked like secularists trying to poke holes in theism.  I wasn’t judging that, I added, but it did mean that there was something more complicated going on this evening than simply people coming to understand one another better. So, I asked: What do you all think happened here tonight? Why were you willing to dedicate the past hour and a half to this activity?

Their answers were disappointing to me–a series of conventional little pluralist testimonials about how much they appreciated being able to sit down and gain a better understanding of people who were different from them. I don’t recall that anyone commented on how much they appreciated being able to articulate their own beliefs to people who they feel frequently misunderstand them. Nor did anyone say they valued this event as a chance to raise the profile of their group on a campus where they feel invisible and marginalized.

A student then turned the tables: What did I think of what had happened here? “It was . . . interesting,” I said, and then paused to figure out how to explain why I felt so tepid about it. I’m fundamentally skeptical about the value of these kinds of events, I said. You came together, you had some kind of “experience,” you get to feel noble about what you did here–and now you’ll walk out and go on living your lives just as you did before. The student who appeared to be in charge of the Secular Students club nodded and said, “Yeah”–like that had been precisely what they set out to do.

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John 8:32 on campus

I was in my office on campus today (yes, on a Saturday), grading papers. At one point I looked out my window at an arch that cuts through my building. Over the arch is a quotation from the New Testament, John 8:32. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” I thought: Why have I never blogged about this?

The arch as seen through my window. Taken with the cheap digital camera on my MP3 player, so the slogan's illegible.

The arch as seen through my window. Taken with the cheap digital camera on my MP3 player, so the slogan’s illegible.

Upham_Archway

A legible version.

I’m not aware that there’s any other building on campus adorned with a biblical quotation. The building was constructed shortly after World War II, so I assume we should attribute the quotation to the “religion boom” that also inscribed the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. The John 8:32 quote has the virtue of being biblical yet non-descript–hinting at a Christian or Judeo-Christian heritage while leaving the contents of “the truth” wide open. Perfect for 1950s-era religious liberalism.

While surfing the web for photos of the arch, I discovered a student essay published in the campus newspaper last year. The student, a conservative Christian evidently, complains that too many at the university no longer believe in absolute truth. Thus 1950s-era religious liberalism has become a nostalgic refuge for 21st-century Christian conservatism.

Recently I was walking under the famous Upham Hall arch. […] I have made this walk countless times, but on this occasion the block letter words spanning across the apex of the arch caught my attention. Coldly graven into the moss-tinted cement were the words, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” I was surprised the iconic Miami building had these words boldly posted on it. Ironically, many of the professors and students who work and study between the walls of Upham Hall do not believe in Truth. […]

The engraved words about truth now perched across Upham Hall were once spoken by Jesus 2,000 years ago. Interestingly, near the time of his crucifixion he was asked the same question many of us are still asking today. […] Pilate showed an indifference to what Jesus had to reply, revealing he did not really want an answer to his question. I wonder sometimes if we truly want an answer. Do we really want to know truth? Or are we satisfied asking the question, reveling in our sophistication, but not waiting around to hear a coherent answer? Until we decide we want to know the truth, we will never find the answer, and words about truth will continue to be cold, meaningless and moss-covered symbols on our campus.

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Evangelical Protestants and Secular Conservatives Form a Political Alliance

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).


A Rocky Relationship: Evangelical Protestants and Secular Conservatives Form a Political Alliance in Spite of Ideological Differences
By Matthew Durot

If you are at all like me, a 22-year old college senior with a merely casual interest in politics, it is unlikely that you have given much thought to the complex inner-workings of the Republican Party. However, if you paid any attention to the most recent presidential election, I would assume that you are at least vaguely familiar with a group commonly referred to as the Religious Right. Berated by Democrats and embraced by Republicans, the group appeared to command the media’s constant attention.

Lacking any historical frame of reference, it seems logical to assume that the Religious Right’s relationship with the Republican Party has been longstanding and mutually beneficial. However, as you will soon find out, the series of events that strategically bound these two allies together occurred more recently than you might think. Furthermore, despite their public expressions of commitment to the alliance, each party has suffered a series of disappointments that have led them to reconsider their support of one another.

Origin of the Alliance

For the first hundred years of the Republican Party’s existence, an alliance with the white evangelical Protestants that make up the current Religious Right was unfathomable. As Robert Booth Fowler points out in his book Religion and Politics in America, “the traditional Republican party promoted business interests” and had been responsible for ending slavery. This legacy placed it at odds with a group primarily made up of poor southerners. Furthermore, Fowler notes that “evangelicals long viewed with distaste political participation, which they saw as an engagement with the sinful world from which god wished them to abstain”.

The 1960’s counterculture was viewed by evangelicals as a threat to their traditional values.

The 1960’s counterculture was viewed by evangelicals as a threat to their traditional values.

However, this all changed with the arrival of the countercultural 1960’s. A postwar increase in affluence described by Fowler resulted in the movement of many evangelicals to cities and suburbs where they could no longer avoid what they saw as an “increasingly secular and intrusive culture that threatened their traditional values”.This led evangelicals to mobilize politically through a series of successful grassroots movements. Among the most significant achievements of these campaigns was the defeat of a 1977 gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida.

Having suffered consecutive electoral defeats in 1974 and 1976, the Republicans took notice and sought to embrace this energetic and previously unaccounted for demographic that made up 35% of the American population (Gallup Poll).

Compromising on Priorities

In his book Religion and Politics in the United States, Kenneth D. Wald describes how secular Republican strategists “offered assistance in the form of financing and political infrastructure to the emerging leaders of the evangelical conservative movement”. In return, these leaders were expected to “embrace a more comprehensive conservative program”. Although traditional social issues remained the priority of evangelicals, they agreed to dedicate their resources to a wide array of secular conservative causes. In order to justify this arrangement to their followers, evangelical leaders framed initiatives like increased defense spending “as a way to keep the nation free for preaching of the gospel”.

Together, the allies would launch what Wald describes as a “a full-frontal attack on big government as a threat to traditional religious and economic values”. Having, at least in principal, entered into this mutually beneficial alliance, the parties set out to retake America from their liberal opposition.

The Elections of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush

Republican candidate Ronald Reagan consults with Jerry Falwell, founder of evangelical political organization the Moral Majority

Republican candidate Ronald Reagan consults with Jerry Falwell, founder of evangelical political organization the Moral Majority

During the 1980 presidential election, the Republican Party’s efforts to appeal to its new constituency were on full display. According to Wald, “the leaders of the GOP granted considerable symbolic recognition to the Religious Right, featuring the group at its national convention and adding to its platform a constitutional amendment to restrict abortion as well as legislation to legalize prayer in public schools”. In return, the Religious Right mobilized for the GOP’s candidate Ronald Reagan, “encouraging pastors to sign up churchgoers to vote and to impress upon them the necessity to express their religious convictions in the polling booth”.

Due in large part to the unprecedented number of votes cast by evangelicals, Reagan went on to win the presidency in a landslide. The fact that evangelicals were so united in their support of Reagan is symbolic of their newly steadfast commitment to the Republican Party. After all, Reagan who is described by Fowler as “a divorced Hollywood veteran and intermittent churchgoer” had been opposed by an evangelical in Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Evangelicals remained politically active throughout Reagan’s successful reelection campaign as well as that of his successor George H.W. Bush. During his first campaign, Bush gave limited emphasis to conservative cultural themes. However, facing reelection with a struggling economy, Wald observes that “Bush pushed evangelical’s pro-family agenda much more aggressively”. Although he would go on to lose, Wald argues that Bush’s defeat can be attributed primarily to “the concern of moderate voters about the Christian Right’s capture of the party”. Therefore, it should not be viewed as an indication of diminishing evangelical support, but instead a sign of the group’s influence within the GOP as perceived by both party elites and the American public.

Unfulfilled Promises While in Office

Despite twelve consecutive years with a Republican White House, the Religious Right failed to secure any significant policy reform. In his article “Dead Wrong”, conservative columnist David Frum argues that many within the Republican elite viewed the Religious Right as nothing more than “a nuisance to be managed.” Evangelicals could not have been fully aware of these ulterior motives purportedly held by many of their supposed allies. However, Wald argues “it was clear to them that neither Reagan nor Bush had made social conservative issues clear priorities of their administrations”.

The proposed amendment to legalize prayer in public schools was voted down in the Senate. Additionally, a tuition tax credit championed by evangelicals for religious schools was never implemented. Yet the Religious Right did not turn away from the Republican Party. Instead, Wald argues that they reasoned their failed efforts had merely been the product of an American political system “whose fragmented structure and multiple centers of power were designed to resist radical policy change”.

A Change in Strategy

Ralph Reed, Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, is featured on the cover of Time Magazine

Ralph Reed, Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, is featured on the cover of Time Magazine

Having experienced the difficulty of achieving major policy reform at the national level, the Religious Right underwent a significant strategic shift in the years that followed. According to Wald, many leadership positions previously held by ministers were turned over to “seasoned political operatives recruited from secular conservative organizations.” Under the direction of these campaign veterans, newly created organizations such as the Christian Coalition were able to expand their outreach and fundraising capabilities through streamlined networks of local chapters and churches.

However, while these new leaders proved to be valuable from an operational standpoint, their secular influence was increasingly pervasive. All of a sudden, expansion had become the top priority. In an attempt to garner votes from outside of the evangelical community, Wald notes that the Religious Right “modified its agenda to include a broader set of issues appealing to other religious and secular conservatives”. Similarly, the language with which evangelical groups communicated their message was fundamentally altered. In his book The Evolving Politics of the Christian Right, Matthew C. Moen argues that in order to avoid alienating this new target audience, religious messages were disguised and replaced with “the liberal language of rights, equality, and opportunity”.

By placing the secular conservatives in power, the Religious Right risked losing its own identity. Having done more than their fair share to promote the alliance’s success, evangelicals expected to be repaid for their loyalty this time around.

The 1994 Midterm Elections

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich outlines the Republican’s “Contract with America”, for which the Religious Right lobbied enthusiastically

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich outlines the Republican’s “Contract with America”, for which the Religious Right lobbied enthusiastically

Despite how you may feel about this secular shift in evangelical politics, there is no denying that the new leaders of the Religious Right transformed the movement into a well-oiled political machine. Wald notes that “during the 1994 congressional election, the Christian Coalition alone distributed thirty-five million voter guides and made telephone calls to three million voters”. Such efforts played a pivotal role in a sweeping Republican takeover of both houses of Congress. However, in what was becoming a recurring nightmare for evangelicals, these elected representatives again proved unreceptive to their needs once in office.

The Religious Right had lobbied aggressively for the Republicans’ “Contract With America”, which Wald describes as “a legislative program emphasizing secular policies such as welfare reform and a balanced budget amendment”. However, in spite of their support for the plan, evangelical priorities such as “a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration” were absent among the legislation ultimately enacted. Furthermore, major components of the Religious Right’s own “Contract with the American Family, including traditional calls to restrict abortion and shield Christian schools from state regulation” were repeatedly put off by the Republicans and ultimately ignored.

According to Wald, this was the last straw for many of the movement’s most influential activists, prompting them to call for “an evangelical retreat from politics”.

George W. Bush: One of Their Own

President George W. Bush speaks at a gathering of fellow evangelicals

President George W. Bush speaks at a gathering of fellow evangelicals

This may very well have signaled the end of the Religious Right’s alliance with the Republican Party had it not been for the candidacy of George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election. Frank Lambert’s book Religion in American Politics argues that “in George W. Bush, the Religious Right found a born-again Christian who, unlike Jimmy Carter, spoke their language and subscribed to their views.”

According to Wald, Bush was not shy about declaring “that he regularly talked to God for political guidance”. Furthermore, Lambert notes that in addition to his belief in “the right of religious groups to a fair share of public funds”, Bush framed his policy in distinctively Protestant terms. For example, in promoting the War on Terror following the attacks of 9/11, Bush described America as a nation “called on a mission to root out radical Islam”.

If there was ever a candidate well-suited to promote the interests of the Religious Right, George W. Bush was certainly it. In spite of their past dissatisfaction with the GOP, evangelicals proved willing to give the Republicans one more chance. According to Fowler, Bush would go on to win the presidency “in large part thanks to a surge in conservative religious voters”.

Abandoned By Its Golden Child

President Bush looks on as his pro-life candidate, Samuel Alito, is sworn in as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

President Bush looks on as his pro-life candidate, Samuel Alito, is sworn in as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

During his Presidency, George W. Bush, made a concerted effort to provide evangelicals with what appeared to be unprecedented access to power. Wald notes that “in order to signal to evangelicals that his candidates belonged to pro-life churches, Bush made opposition to abortion a litmus test for Supreme Court appointees”. Furthermore, he “appointed a large number of evangelical stalwarts and approved their appointments of fellow activists to lower-level positions”. According to Wald, the evangelical presence within the Bush administration was so pronounced that it led Jimmy Carter to “alarmingly announce the Christian Right’s capture of American public life”. However, evangelical support for Bush would eventually sour.

Reflecting on his time in office, evangelicals found that like Reagan and his father before him, the younger Bush had not made their goals a priority. Wald argues that “secular goals central to the GOP agenda got all of the administration’s resources and generally secured legislative approval”. Meanwhile, Bush gave only a “half hearted effort to cherished goals such as faith-based federal programs and the ban on gay marriage”. These policies were either victimized by severe compromise in Congress or were voted down all together. The candidate who had provided the Religious Right with so much hope ultimately proved to be as disappointing as his predecessors.

Future of Evangelical Politics

Decades of disappointment with the Republican Party have left many evangelicals questioning their involvement in politics altogether. Whether due to a system resistant to radical change or an abusive ally concerned only with electoral gains, the Religious Right has been largely unsuccessful at accomplishing its social goals through the political process. Furthermore, in his book What’s the Matter With Kansas, Thomas Frank argues that by aligning themselves with the Republican Party, “less affluent evangelicals have effectively promoted economic policies that further undermine their life chances”

Additionally, Wald notes that many evangelicals worry “involvement in politics, an inherently messy business, has compromised the integrity of evangelicalism”. In addition to the secular influence examined previously, a number of infidelity and corruption scandals involving evangelical politicians have angered a religious group for whom morality reigns supreme.

Does the GOP Even Want the Religious Right?

On the other hand, its experience with the Religious Right has a faction of the Republican elite wondering if an alliance with conservative evangelicals might no longer be in its best interest. In fact, Wald argues that many within the party have long opposed the courting of a group whose agenda contradicts their libertarian stance on social issues. These same Republicans attribute the party’s recent string of defeats to the alienation of its traditional base in response to an increasingly intrusive social agenda. Despite the size of its evangelical constituency, the Republican Party cannot obtain a national majority with the support of the Religious Right alone. The question is, can the GOP survive without it?

Conclusion

Having become increasingly integrated into mainstream American society, it is no longer possible for evangelicals to abstain from the political process that dictates how they live their lives. Furthermore, the Republican Party simply cannot afford to lose the support of a religious group that as recently as 2012 made up 39% of the American electorate (Pew Research Center). Therefore, in spite of their growing disillusionment with one another, it is likely that evangelicals and secular conservatives will continue to co-exist as a political alliance moving forward.

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Compromise and the Religious Moderate

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).


American Protestants Respond to Secularization: Compromise and the Religious Moderate
By Kyle Bush

The history of the United States of America is one of its settlers–of religious refugees in search of freedom. The discussion of how that religious freedom would come to play itself out in the formation of a fledgling nation would set many a man’s blood to boil in its time.

After the boil would come the spill, as America’s religion (protestant Christianity) would soon tie in to its revolution, and later, it’s Civil War. Many political leaders of that time were hell-bent on creating a Christian nation, but the argument of how to do so would split the State–and the protestant church in America–in two.

Over time, the split grew to a chasm, with mainline and evangelical Protestants fighting for political power in a Christian dominated culture. There are several times in American history where the conflict reaches a climax, the latest being during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. While similar tensions exist today, they are less tight, as Protestant Christianity is holistically conforming to the post-modern society it has created.

I set out to research this essay with one question guiding my efforts; where do the ties between political and religious (mainly, protestant) affiliations in America stand today? However, a seemingly simple question, at least as it seemed to me in my naivety, led to many more questions needing answers, and a very broad essay topic.

I have looked at the history of the relationship modern and fundamental Christians have had with each other, as well as the political affiliation each interest group has traditionally displayed. I’ve examined the levels of activism each “side” has illustrated throughout the United States’ maturation.

One of the challenges I ran into was finding sources both current and pertinent to my topic. But what I have come to conclude is this–it is difficult to ascribe a political group a religious affiliation, or inversely, a religious group to a definitive political affiliation. The theme of individualism, seen throughout Protestantism, has the final say.

395726943History

Nine of America’s original thirteen colonies employed a state church, with multiple denominations represented. As the Revolutionary War began, and the colonies began to unionize, there was a decision to be made about the freedom of and from religion. The founders, when drafting the constitution, “realized both the uniquely religious underpinnings of American identity, brought forward by the justifications for most early settlements in America, and their desire to create a nation centered on equality, freedom, and common values of virtues,” according to Lippy’s The Encyclopedia of Religion in America.

Ushered forward by the work of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, religious freedom was secured for America in its newly formed constitution. However, while religious freedom had been instilled as a right to U.S. citizens, the cultural influence of protestant Christianity was equally as strong.

In Religion and Politics in America, Fowler would ascribe this to the Puritan Temper. As emigrants leaving England, this religious group settled in to the New World with the hope of establishing a “pure” nation of their own. Their beliefs and culture pervaded the American culture and continues to do so today:

The Puritans bequeathed to Americans strong civic institutions, a sense of national mission, and a reformist impulse that continues to American society and political culture.

As the United States was being molded, it was subjected to this widespread “reformist impulse.” However, how to carry out the national mission would be much disputed, and Protestants would slowly divide into conservatives and liberals, both religiously and politically.

The Religious Right

The right side of the political spectrum is generally referred to as conservative, but how that word is interpreted varies greatly. To those that share the conservative beliefs, they see themselves as standing for something and point to what they see as flaws in liberalism. The Right is passionate about right-to-life advocacy (or the overturning of Roe v. Wade), promote fiscal conservatism, and fighting to keep same-sex marriage illegal.

Conservative Evangelicals tend to side here politically, fearing that the rise of modernist, liberal Christianity will eventually dissolve Protestant influence in America completely. As Fowler eloquently suggests:

As modernity advances, secularism spreads in its wake, eroding the social and cultural significance of religion. With religion’s gradual decline, theorists conclude, we can expect to see religious involvement in politics decrease in the long run.

Evangelicals see mainline, or liberal, Protestants as too passive; if one claims to be a Christian, how can he/her sit back while their country is riddled with disbelief and modernity?

The Religious Left

The left side of the spectrum (liberals) takes a different approach to the relationship between religion and politics. Policies that limit choice (or freedom) are seen as against God; free will is a gift, and those who have it should not be penalized or marginalized for believing differently. The righteousness of God should not be imposed on the nation’s citizens; rather, citizens should choose to receive it.

In his book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, Lerner diagnoses America with a certain stupor brought on by, as he claims, the Religious Right. He continues to speak on the oppression of the political Left by the Right, whom he accuses of acting antithetically of their bible-based beliefs. Lerner writes, “there is a radical split between the caring that gets shown on the personal level and the hostility some of the Religious Right manifest toward those in wider society who do not share their political beliefs.”

Liberals are puzzled by the opposition from conservatives at government funding for the needy, as generosity is a seemingly apparent virtue in Christianity. Other issues they are passionate about include healthcare, affirmative action, and environmental protection.

The Compromise

In his book Moral Politics, author George Lakoff spells out most of the qualms that the Right has with the Left, and vice versa. For example, he points out that liberals don’t understand how conservatives can support capital punishment but advocate against a woman’s right to abort. Inversely, the Right does not understand how liberals claim to support the welfare of children, but vote for the rights of criminals (which include kidnappers, sexual harassers, etc.).

The Religious Moderate has emerged in recent decades as a response to such questions, and is the result of an overarching compromise between the religious right and lefts. For the sake of furthering the protestant influence, conservative and liberal Christians are slowly lowering their weapons in order to find agreement in mission and regain political power as one holistic proponent of Christianity.

This has led to compromise–as a result, we see more “progressive conservatives,” as well as “traditional liberals.” America is witnessing a turn from argument to discussion on these issues, with vehemently held pillars on each side being laid down to find more inclusive alternatives. An example of this thinking would be a voter who considers themselves politically liberal, but socially conservative; one who votes for the legalization of marijuana, but crusades against its recreational uses.

This individualistic thinking, which is a uniquely protestant trope, has decreased the polarity of the conservative/liberal divide for the sake of the national mission described by the Puritan Temper. President Barack Obama summed up this mission, combined with the present political context, in his 2006 speech at Sojourners:

If progressives shed some of their biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country…We might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal.

Return to Mission

In short, America was born of religion. Protestant emigrants arrived from Europe in hopes of settling and creating a “chosen” land. With this hope (and the diversity amongst settlement groups) came the ideal that the people must have the freedom to choose their belief system- thus, the first amendment.

Furthermore, the freedom of religion allowed for freedom from religion, and protestant forces were made uneasy. The question arose as to how to fix the spiritual crisis of disbelief in the Christian God. How to answer that question became a major stumbling block in Protestant America’s mission- to advance the kingdom of God.

The protestant Church in America began to split–those who were more modern, and advocated choice, became the liberal, mainline, leftist Christians. Those who desired to impose Christian values into politics became the conservative, evangelical Right.

As the divide grew to a chasm, both sides began to lose power, as America itself became more secular. Modernity is often a symptom of this, and as the nation developed, it began to move away from religious politics.

In response, the Protestant American Church has begun to compromise with itself- as President Abraham Lincoln said, “A nation divided cannot stand.” As a result, we see the individual religious moderate emerging- whose political/religious affiliations are more loosely defined than most of those the past three centuries–quietly crusading for the sake of the Protestant national mission.

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Televangelists and the Persuasive Tactics They Use to Recover from Scandals

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).


Televangelists and the Persuasive Tactics They Use to Recover from Scandals
By Cheyenne Woodall

Many people wonder what exactly makes Televangelism successful over other religious programs. The answer is simple; they use specific persuasive tactics to attract their audience and keep their interest by appealing to their wants and needs. But some may ask, what happens when there are scandals involving televangelists? Does this affect their audience base? How must they (televangelists) handle the repercussions of their actions? The televangelists must handle their situations very carefully in order to please their audience and to not push them away to the point where they lose viewers. Two televangelists that have been in a scandal or two, throughout their careers are Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Both of these men handled their situation in similar ways but there were still some differences. The commonality between all televangelists, including Swaggart and Bakker, is their goal to spread the word of God to all people. For the purpose of this essay, only the element of persuasive tactics Swaggart and Bakker use to influence their audience will be analyzed. Overall, it is apparent that in order to come back from a “scandal”, televangelists must be very effective at using persuasive tactics to retain their viewer’s trust and to continue being successful.

Basics of Televangelism

A basic understanding of what televangelism is and how it is differs from tactics used by different churches is essential to understand. Televangelism is a form of television religious advertising that differs from mainline denominations in a couple ways but all groups do have some similarities. Both mainline and televangelists see the purpose of religious broadcasting to be to recruit converts but they are different in the ways in which they recruit these followers. According to Schmidt and Kess, televangelists differ from the mainline in the belief that they see media as “God’s provision of the means by which to carry out His Will.” (36) They also believe that every person should be able to hear the gospel, which makes television a very helpful tool in spreading this message. Another way Schmidt and Kess found that broadcasting televangelism and mainline churches differ is in the fact that televangelists must pay for their broadcasting time, while “television stations have traditionally donated the time used by these other denominations.” Since televangelists do not receive outside support and depend mainly on their viewers, it is very important to handle scandals appropriately so viewers are not lost.

Televangelist broadcasting has certain characteristics that make it different from other shows that are commonly watched. The shows have commonly been described as being generally fast-paced and highly entertaining. Schmidt and Kess characterize the broadcasts to be divided into a series of short segments, which include “songs, a variety of speakers, interviews, film clips, and in most cases, also a sermon.” Having fast-paced and entertaining aspects to the television broadcast are important because if the show cannot keep the attention of their audience, they will not be successful in getting support (funding) from their viewers. Kennedy captured the necessity of donations by the audience when he reported that, “A half-hour of television on cable network can cost more than $11,000, which is more than the Christian education budget for an entire year for many American churches.”

Persuasive Tactics

Throughout much research, there has been three common persuasive tactics that can be found in many sermons of televangelists. Those three tactics are manipulative persuasion, names as mini-advertisements, and saying things indirectly. Each of these tactics has helped televangelists be successful in receiving funding from their audience as well as sharing their message with the world.

Schmidt and Kess summarize the definition of manipulative persuasion as a frequent repetition of a name or product in order to get the audience to remember what the speaker is trying to get across. From analyzing telecasts, Schmidt and Kess found that most of the manipulative persuasion took place in sermons in order to get the audience to remember the names of who is being spoken about or the preacher themselves. By repeating the televangelists name multiple times, it will help the audience recognize the name within society and may influence their choice by unconsciously reflecting on what the preacher had said before. This is also a way to “brand” the televangelist and their broadcast.

Televangelists often use names as mini-advertisements in order to help spread the names of their greatest financial contributors. This tactic not only keeps the contributors happy but also gives them the opportunity to gain more customers from the televangelists spreading awareness of their company. As they gain more customers, they will be willing to donate more towards the televangelist.

The last tactic that will be analyzed is saying things indirectly. Schmidt and Kess describe this tactic as “conveying information that must be interpreted through processes of convention or conversational implicate.” An example of this could be when a televangelist uses specific word choice that could have multiple meanings and the audience is forced to decipher the meaning, which may influence their choices in the outside world. This tactic also helps the televangelist to be persuasive without coming right out to the public and saying it straightforward on topics that may be viewed as controversial by some.

Jim Bakker

Jim_BakkerThe first televangelist who will be analyzed is Jim Bakker. Bakker is the founder of the first Christian talk show “The 700 Club”. He then founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which according to the jimbakkershowwebsite, “still beams around the world with 24-hour a day Christian programming.” After this accomplishment Jim Bakkerhelped create The PTL Club, The Inspirational Network, and Heritage USA.

In 1987 Bakker resigned as President of The PTL Club because of a scandal that was brought to light by the public. The scandal consisted of an affair with a woman in which Bakker attempted to pay the woman $265,000 to conceal the actions. The funding for this cover-up was said to come from “lifetime resort partnerships, “ and of course these funds were not supposed to be used for those purposes. As a result, Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Bakker only served five years of the sentenced years because his case was overturned and dismissed.

In order to handle the backlash of the situation, Bakker issued a public apology towards the mistress and his viewers. In his apology he stated that “It was a terrible mistake and I believe Christ has forgiven me.” When acknowledging the monies from the funds had been paid to the woman, Bakker said that he was not aware that any money had been set aside and he learned about it after his loved ones did what they could to protect the ministries name and Bakker himself.

While Bakker was in prison he wrote multiple books, which consist of “I Was Wrong”, “The Refuge”, “Prosperity and The coming Apocalypse” and “Time Has Come.”The overall theme of these books is one of “grace and total restoration.” Bakker is not afraid to speak of his past and try to help others going through similar struggles that he may have. Bakker promotes the idea of the “redemptive power of love” and believes if God is able to restore Bakker and his wife’s lives then God can do the same for anyone.

Bakker is currently preaching on The Jim Bakker Show, which is a daily broadcast that reaches audiences in the United States and Canada through Direct TV, Dish Network and other satellite providers. The fact that Bakker is still able to have an audience to broadcast to after his scandal shows that his public apologies and books had effective persuasive skills that kept parts of his audience still interested in his message. Kennedy reported that even though “the scandals took their toll on the televangelist audience and donor support, there has been a gradual recovery.” This gradual recovery is portrayed with Bakker’s current broadcast.

When reflecting on the previous persuasive tactics mentioned before, it is clear that two are embraced by Jim Bakker since his current telecast is named after himself; The Jim Bakker Show. The two tacticsused are names as mini-advertisements and manipulative persuasion. The example is a mixture of the two strategies because he uses his name as a recognizable characteristic that could catch his audience’s attention within society and it is repeated multiple times, which makes it a form of manipulative persuasion as well.

Jimmy Swaggart

jimmy_swaggart2Jimmy Swaggart is another televangelist who has had a scandal and found a way to recover from the situation so he would not loose all of his followers. In the prime of his broadcasting days, Swaggart’s programming was “transmitted to over 3,000 stations and innumerable cable systems each week.” His telecasts were also seen by 500 million people worldwide, which made it the most widespread preaching of the Gospel.

Swaggart’s scandal is similar to Bakker’s in that it involves sexual scandal and a public apology. The difference between the two televangelist’s situations is how Swaggart addressed his apology. As a result of his infidelity to his wife, the Assemblies of God directed him to stop preaching for a year but he defied this order and returned to the airwaves for his apology. Instead of aiming his apology towards the audience as Bakker did, Swaggart made his directly towards his wife. He was “tearfully begging forgiveness from his wife,” reported Kennedy.

Instead of dwelling on his past mistakes, Swaggart sings of God’s mercy on his weekly telecast. This telecast is seen “nationwide and abroad on over 78 channels in 104 countries and live over the internet.” Swaggart’s apology contained specific persuasive skills that were very effective in order to retain most of his audience during his scandal.

When Swaggart appeared on the air, crying and begging for his wife’s forgiveness, this is an example of the persuasive tactic of “saying things indirectly.” Swaggarts actions are an example of this tactic because he is trying to convince the audience that he is truly sorry without publicly addressing just the audience about his actions. If Swaggart wanted to only address his wife and apologize to her only, he could have apologized in private with just his wife and no one else observing. His actions show that he acknowledged that this scandal could be detrimental to his number of viewers so he took action in order to try to keep their views.

American Society and Televangelism

From analyzing the actions taken by Swaggart and Bakker to appeal to their audiences after their indiscretions, it is clear that these televangelists understand the wants and needs of their viewers. Since both of these men were able to come back after such scandals and still have a following base to continue production, it is clear that the protestant ideals of forgiveness are very strong. The importance of the protestant belief in forgiveness is found within Martin Marty’s creencias. The creencias are deeply held protestant beliefs thatinfluenced the way Protestants shaped and continue to shape America. Both Swaggart and Bakker knew that in order to keep their funding from their audience, they had to publicly apologize for their actions, even though they did not directly affect the viewers. If their following base did not have these strong protestant ideals of forgiveness, then these televangelists may not have been able to come back and continue broadcasting. With the help of manipulative persuasion, names as mini-advertisements, and saying things indirectly, Swaggart and Bakker were able to continue receivingfunding from their audience, which led to a recovery with minimal amount of damage to their audience base.

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Protesting a Hindu invocation in the Senate

I was aware of this 2007 incident, and of an earlier controversy over a Hindu invocation in the House in 2000. But I’d never seen footage of the incident until the video showed up on my Facebook wall a couple of days ago (very belatedly).

The protesters, who you can hear praying and quoting scripture off screen, were Ante and Katherine Pavkovic and their daughter Christan, members of Operation Rescue. (From North Carolina, I understand–former stomping grounds of mine.) The cleric whose meditation they interrupted was Rajan Zed, from Nevada. Just to make things a little more interesting with an eye to religious pluralism: Zed had been invited to serve as guest chaplain by Harry Reid, a rather rare Mormon Democrat.

This was the first time that a Hindu had been invited to serve as the Senate’s guest chaplain. Some Christian Right organizations and publications objected to the Hindu invocation on the grounds that Hindus don’t worship the Christian or Judeo-Christian God acknowledged by the Founders.

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Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham

My husband is in the other room, listening to the live stream of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate occurring now at the Creation Museum, south of us. (We pass it every time we drive to the Cincinnati airport. I’m curious to go, but not curious enough to pay the $30 entrance fee.) I’m half-listening because I feel obligated, since I’m teaching two courses right now that this debate is relevant to. But I can’t actually sit and watch it–it’s too squirm-inducing.

I’m a bit surprised that Nye agreed to the debate, since by doing it he lends Ham a kind of validity, as contrasted to the strategy of acting as if creation science is beneath notice. In terms of the ongoing (it will never end) tension around teaching evolution in public schools, Ham’s proudly fundamentalist style of creation science is beneath notice, since the Supreme Court has already rejected it as unconstitutional. The more pressing challenge comes from intelligent design, which is more modest and not overtly Christian in its claims, although that movement, too, got slapped down in the federal courts a decade ago in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

I wonder: Could Nye be debating Ham in order to link creation science and intelligent design in the public’s mind–an association that intelligent design proponents have been keen to avoid? Or is that too generous a reading of Nye’s capacity for subtlety?

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