One Minute Video Introduction
In the first three posts in this series about Mike Pence’s masterfully crafted political advertisement to sell a morally indefensible Donald Trump to American church-goers1 we covered these broad themes:
- Racism was pervasive in a significant number of America’s white churches, especially, but not exclusively, in the South of the 1800s and 1900s.
- The Southern Baptist denomination was unable or unwilling to renounce its deep racist roots until 1995.
- Key fundamentalists in the 1900s were closely affiliated with the KKK and vigorously opposed the integration of their schools.
- The K-12 Christian school movement was born primarily to resist public school integration.
- The mission at the genesis of the Moral Majority has been fictionalized as fighting abortion, but, with its deep roots firmly in the racism of fighting to keep Christian schools white, the organization in truth had a segregationist political agenda.
- The leadership of the conservative Southern Baptist denomination in the 1970’s clearly did not oppose Row v. Wade.
- The larger fundamentalist movement found a unified and expanded political voice using abortion as its rallying cry after their failure to win the defeat of the Equal Rights Act and school integration.
- Pence and Trump’s campaign manager was Steve Bannon, who is now chief strategist and Senior Counselor for Donald Trump. Bannon is documented having “pushed racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic material into the vein of the alternative right.”
- Trump fanned a significant media presence around the support he was openly receiving from racists and white supremacists.
- Pence presented a very, very different picture than any of the above to church-goers on November 6, 2016: a racial reconciliation brought to America by the church.
- Pence stated unabashedly he is first and foremost a Christian and then a conservative.
- Pence stated that Trump would appoint SCOTUS judges that would defend the “rights of the unborn.” The unborn, as opposed to the born, are a singular, one-issue rallying cry to extreme, conservative religious fundamentalists.
- Pence then added icing on top of the cake: He promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment “once and for all.”
The Johnson Amendment
Introduced back in 1954, this amendment prevents tax-exempt organizations from publicly endorsing or opposing any candidate for public office. Simple. This amendment is a sore spot for religious organizations who, as we have seen with the issues of integration and racism, want to say and do whatever they wish and want to influence elections to achieve their religious agenda2.
Robert Glenn Sherrill, in his book3, did an exceptional job of pointing out that in the South, there is no difference between religion and politics. They effectively have been and in many ways continue to be one and the same. The line isn’t just blurred. I suspect there is no line at all. We have seen this in recent history over the LGBT marriage equality fight.
Dr. Camille Lewis, in her work, highlights the deep involvement of the Ku Klux Klan in the history of the American church, especially in the South. It’s hard to know what came first in the South: the church as a political organization or the church as an organization heavily impacted by racism. But, undeniably, it has been, and some continue to be, both.
Randall Balmer4 carefully documents the fiction surrounding the beginning of the Moral Majority, highlighting the racism at the core of the birth of this organization—a direct result of Bob Jones University losing its tax-exempt status because it refused to integrate. The organization became a powerful political force with a growing political agenda.
This intermingling of the piety, politics, and prejudices of varied stripes creates a poisonous stew that is singularly dismissed with one rallying cry: unborn. Unborn. Mention the “rights of a fetus,” and some, certainly not all5, people utterly and wholeheartedly dismiss the rights of the born. And if those born people have perspectives, ideas, beliefs, incomes, skin color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or places of birth that are too different from the norms the poisonous stew of piety, politics, and prejudices is willing to accept, then forget their rights. They have no rights until they conform to their very specific, very narrow “religious beliefs.” In other words, religion trumps secular culture and has special rights.
I guess what I personally find so troubling is that these extremists, besides rewriting history, want to justify their personal prejudices in a religious pretext and then force their values on others as the law of the land.6 I’m enough of a “live and let live” person, that I don’t care what others “believe” as long as they are not:
- hurting anybody else
- forcing their beliefs on other people.
That second thing is the sticking point for me. Using the law of the land to force others to live by one’s own religious beliefs is beyond my threshold of tolerance. Apparently, it’s beyond the American people’s threshold as well; hence, they have been leaving the church in the greatest numbers of my lifetime.
The Johnson Amendment was designed to protect the nation from this very thing: undo religious influence in the political system. Tyranny. It was passed to keep church and state separate. Prevent tyranny. Preventing religious tyranny is a core value of American democracy dating back to the very reason white people first came to these shores from Europe. Democracy not Theocracy.
The Moral High Ground
The American people have come to see the church as on the wrong side of history, moral obligation, goodness, kindness, and, above all simple fairness. As a result, church attendance has been dropping substantially. America is becoming significantly more secular because for too long now, the moors of faith have faltered and treated people wrongly. The now-diverse American people will have none of that. Fairness, not racism, is the moral high ground. As the church has sought to corner political power, Americans have left the church.
That All-important Revenue Stream
With the extensively documented decline in church attendance, church membership, and the whole Christian school industry, the revenue required to fund these huge and once highly lucrative organizations has begun to dry up.7 This can never be allowed to happen. Everything possible must be done to get revenue flowing again, a flood of new money to fuel a unified white religious/political agenda.
The Johnson Amendment stands in the way. Many of these organizations simply can’t afford to lose their tax-exempt status. And federal and state education tax dollars must be able to freely flow into religious schools, whether or not they practice segregation. Their solution: Do away with one of the fundamental tenets of our nation: the separation of church and state!8
That I’m a Christian First Thing
Mike Pence told church-goers he was a Christian—first and foremost.9 You know, my dear mother always believed she could completely trust anybody that said they were a Christian. She did. Despite the fact that many a person who donned that label took advantage of her when she was widowed, she never could let go of her naive belief that if someone claimed to be a Christian, they were a good person in whom she could fully place her trust.
My mother would have completely trusted Pence when he said he was a Christian. But his statement, claiming to be a Christian first, should frankly scare the hell out of us all. I don’t think the average person sitting in the church pew that Sunday before the election understood where Mike Pence was coming from—whose “Christian first” bidding he is doing.
The Christian movement of which Mike Pence is a part, the I’m-a-conservative-second-and-a-Republican-third extremist, Christian fundamentalist movement whose interests he serves, is determined and wholly committed to turn the US into a theocracy. They’ve been at it for 30 years. It’s no hidden conspiracy. They have been openly telling the country this for the past 30 years. He’s a Christian first, and the whole country is going to be Christian next, one way or another.
They are determined to send public funds to their private Christian schools. They will legislate who the American people can love and who they can not. They will insist on giving religion special privileges the American people don’t want religion to have. They will take control of women in despicable and misogynistic ways. Religious freedom is, of course, doublespeak. They will ensure the supremacy of their “white” religion—getting rid of “those Muslims.”
And, above all, they will make sure they get fabulously wealthy. Greed. Yes, greed is at the heart of it all. Frankly, everything else is just fluff.10
The Johnson Amendment is their first step: let the tax exempt organizations say and do as they please. Let them con the people in the pew to do their political bidding as a call from God: to bring their version of God’s kingdom to the United States. And let me say it one more time: make them, God’s humble and selfless servants, fabulously, excruciatingly wealthy.
This sounds like no message of hope or salvation I’ve ever heard of or of which I want any part.
Who Has Pence’s and Trump’s Ear about the Johnson Amendment?
According to Alissa Wilkinson in her piece, Mike Pence’s church pitch, the Johnson Amendment, and the decline of the religious right, the Johnson Amendment was first mentioned by Trump on June 22 “when Trump met in New York City with hundreds of evangelical leaders in a closed-door meeting in New York City.” The press was not aloud to attend or report on the event, but a transcript of much of the audio of the meeting has emerged at this Yahoo news link.
These are the religious leaders who are identified as speaking with Donald Trump at that meeting, a who’s who of extreme conservative fundamentalists, and, like Mike Pence, proud of it:
- Jerry Falwell Jr. (president of Liberty University)
- Franklin Graham (president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
- James Dobson (founder of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council—the latter is labeled a hate group by the SPLC)11
- Tony Perkins (president of the Family Research Council—labeled a hate group by the SPLC)
- Ronnie Floyd (former president of the Southern Baptist Convention)
- David Jeremiah (senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church)
- Samuel Rodriguez (president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference)
- Kelly Shackelford (president and CEO of First Liberty Institute law firm)
- James Robison (founder of LIFE Outreach International)
Dr. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee also attended and spoke.
The Questions Before the Christian Church
Ok. So, the American church-goers were duped. I get it. Pence was slick. He was the best I’ve ever seen. But, what are church-goers going to do about it? How will people of faith resist Pence’s efforts to turn the nation into a religiously extreme theocracy (a Christian first and foremost nation) that will actually push the country even further away from true faith? How is the church going to reclaim its witness and its voice for that which is good in the nation and in the world? These are some of the critical questions before America’s churches.
We can not forget that the American evangelicals have not always been this way. In fact, this focus on greed, theocracy, homosexuality, and abortion is a rather recent trend. I highly recommend Randall Balmer‘s12 50 minute video, below, documenting the astonishing, even riveting history of the evangelical movement in America starting all the way back to the colonies. (If you wish to watch a sorter 35 minute video in which he begins the historical summary in the early 1970s watch the video in the footnote. However, the longer version blindsided me about the progressive roots of the movement. Best yet, watch both!)13
To consider that the evangelical movement was progressive, anti-slavery, supported women’s rights, opposed unfettered capitalism, opposed unjust wars, supported public (common) education and supported social programs as part of their responsibility to model the kingdom of God on earth is all but inconceivable to us today. The longer video is must-see. It was recorded just a few months before Pence and Trump were elected, and, in it, Balmer talks about the support theTrump/Pence ticket was receiving from the extremist fringe of today’s evangelical fundamentalist movement. He ends with:
I believe that religion functions best on the margins of society and not in the councils of power. Once you begin to crave, lust after, political power, I believe you compromise your prophetic voice and your prophetic witness. And that, I think, is the tragedy of evangelicalism over the last half century.
He calls on the church to reclaim its witness. Church-goers must insist on this. And those who do not attend church must resist, through every legal means at your disposal, the efforts of these ultra-religious extremists to legislate their brand of faith as the law of the land. We don’t call it a “public policy relationship with God” and we must never! For faith practice to be efficacious, it must remain personal and never become a matter of public policy, public funding and common law. Never!
The Other Posts in this Four-Part Series on Pence’s Speech to Churches
- Introductory Overview
- Mike Pence’s Speech to Churches (Part 1)
- Conned By a Christian? (Part 2)
- Still Outraged by the Big Con (Part 3)
- Selling You Soul (Part 4: this post)
Let me be clear that I personally believe that the vast majority of American church-goers are good people who sincerely want to do what is right! ↩
All of that basically means that they want to force you to live by their beliefs, whether you agree with them or not. ↩
Gothic Politics in the Deep South ↩
Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, An Evangelical’s Lament ↩
Apparently not even nearly a majority:
“While many people worry about the potential threat to Roe v. Wade that the impending Donald Trump presidency represents, recent findings from the Pew Research Center show that 69 percent of Americans don’t want the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned.
Vaginal ultrasounds is a perfect example. “Keep the government out of our lives,” but let us force the government into women’s bodies. Unspeakable! ↩
For example, Bob Jones University, once touted as the bastion of fundamentalism, appears to have been struggling for years now to keep the doors open and the lights on. It’s enrollment is a shadow of its former self. ↩
By the way, is this foundational tenet of American history even in the Christian school movement’s textbooks? ↩
We will certainly be exploring that more in the future here at PenceWatch.US. ↩
If you want an interesting read, may I suggest The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Paperback – June 2, 2009) by Jeff Sharlet ↩
James Dobson and Mike Pence mutually admire and respect one another. In fact just over a month before the election, in a radio interview with Dobson on October 5, 2016, Pence seems to say that being interviewed by James Dobson is
“the greatest honor of my life. It’s wonderful to see you, Dr. Dobson. You know how much Karen and I admire you and Shirley and all you’ve meant to the people of faith across this nation. Thanks for having us.”
He may also have been saying that running on the Donald Trump Republican party ticket is the greatest honor of his life. It’s difficult to know exactly. You can listen to the beginning of the interview to decide for yourself. Without doubt, however, he admires Dobson.
You will notice that Dobson makes a point of saying that he is not violating the IRS rules for a tax-exempt organization by interviewing Pence. He says that he extended an invitation to Tim Kaine who respectfully declined. I respect that Dobson did the right thing by inviting Kaine for an interview as well. Certainly Dobson wouldn’t want to have to pay taxes on his highly lucrative tax-exempt business.
I would also like to point out that both Dobson and Pence support “conversion therapy” which basically amounts to torturing an LGBTQ person in an effort to make them straight. ↩
He himself is evangelical. ↩
This is Balmer’s shorter history of the fundamentalist movement, documenting it’s true origins beginning in the 1970s.