Beck’s Black Robe Brigade (by John Fea)

John Fea is a friend of mine and professor of history at Messiah College. John has an excellent new book coming out asking if America was founded as a Christian nation, a book that I heartily recommend. Recently I got a note from a pastor who asked for advice about the rise of the “Black Robe Brigade.” This topic is outside my expertise and so I approached John to see if he would post on this for us … which he has. This is a serious issue. John brings a wealth of knowledge to this issue. Enjoy.

Have you heard about the Black Robe Brigade? What are you hearing? Do you see this as an issue in the churches?

During Glenn Beck’s August 28 rally at the Lincoln Memorial he introduced a group of 240 pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams that he calls the “Black Robe Brigade.” (Despite the promotion of this group as ecumenical, I think most of them were Protestant evangelicals).  The group is named after the so-called “Black Regiment,” a term employed by eighteenth-century Tories and Anglicans to describe dissenting clergy who supported the American Revolution and took part in the rebellion against England.  Peter Oliver, one of the first Tory historians of the American Revolution, devoted several pages to the Black Regiment in his 1781 work The Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion.

Beck got the idea for the “Black Robe Brigade” from David Barton, a political activist who has become very effective at a practice that might be called “political indoctrination by historical example.”  Beck has received help in mobilizing his brigade from an all-star cast of evangelical leaders that includes James Dobson, John Hagee, Richard Land, Jerry Falwell Jr., and James Robison.  Beck wants all pastors who care about their country to join him in the fight to reclaim the religious and moral roots of the United States.

When I first heard about Beck’s “Black Robe Brigade” I knew it would only be a matter of time before local pastors would be faced with pressure to join the cause.  Recently, Scot McKnight, the author of the popular blog Jesus Creed, informed me of a pastor in need of wisdom on how to handle such pressure.  Here is a snippet of that pastor’s letter to Scot:

I pastor a church in a small rural community and this morning I met with a couple from another congregation, at their request, that are organizing a “Christian Heritage Rally” to re-educate local Christians on our civic duties and making sure God is a part of all of our lives.  I can support both of those when clarified and defined but much of this movement (at least in my local experience) has swallowed hook, line, and sinker that America is a chosen nation of God and was founded on Christian principles and so the flag and the cross march in lock-step (at least when conservative leaders are calling the shots).

Here’s a brief overview of what they’re planning locally.  They’re opening with the “Genesis of America” DVD (trailer here: http://genesisofamerica.com/trailer), then singing “America,” saying the Christian pledge and the American pledge, and then want pastors to lead the group in the Lord’s Prayer.  All the speakers are from out of town, they want to take up a collection, share about the American Defense Fund and legislative issues, and then close with “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  There is a lot in there that grieves my heart as a follower of Jesus, Anabaptist leanings notwithstanding. I can’t support revisionist (or selective) history and I’m very concerned about civil religion and nationalism.

With everything else related to the Tea Party we’ve been able to sidestep the issue and quietly raise questions that challenge our parishioners.  This time they’re actively recruiting pastoral involvement and I’m seeking advice on how to respond to what will be political at least as much as it is “religious.”  It seems to me that they’ve already decided this is the right course of action and are now drawing a line in the sand to force local pastors to be for or against it without having any input into the development of this rally.

Our local ministerial association will be discussing our involvement and these folks want pastors at the front of this thing.  At this point, I cannot be a part of this in good faith because of what they’ve expressed to me regarding it. How do I respectfully do that without breaking peace with brothers and sisters in Christ while also not neglecting my calling as a shepherd wanting to guard the flock (in our community, not just my congregation) against something that I think is very dangerous to their discipleship as followers of Jesus.

It seems to me that the more traction this Glenn Beck “Black Robe” movement gets, the more concerned Christians–especially historians who care deeply about the Church–need to step up to the plate out of a sense of vocation.  This is a time when good historical thinking must come to the aid of the Church.  We need to be educated on these matters.  I tried to make a small effort at doing this by writing Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction, but I wonder if a book has the potential to change the minds of ordinary evangelicals who do not want to hear anything about American history that they can’t use to advance their political and cultural agenda.  A few weeks ago a visiting preacher at my evangelical church said something in passing that criticized Glenn Beck and he got so many negative e-mails that he had to address the issue the following Sunday.

How might we begin educating churchgoers about how to use history responsibly?  Let me begin by saying a few words about the kind of history being promoted at the “Christian Heritage Rally” that this local pastor describes.

I just watched the trailer of the “Genesis of America” documentary.  I would encourage you to take a few minutes and watch it as well.  A lot of things that these talking heads say on the video is true.  Did the Founders see religion as important for creating a virtuous republic?  Of course they did.  I think this is something that Christians today should celebrate.  Is the idea of “providence” incompatible with pure eighteenth-century deism?  Yes.  Indeed, as I argue in my forthcoming book, few of the founders were deists.  Is the phrase “separation of church and state” in the Constitution?  No.

Did Woodrow Wilson say that America was founded as a Christian nation? Yes, he did.  That is a historical question that is easily answerable.  Indeed, Wilson believed that God held a special place for the United States.  But was he right? That is a completely different question–a theological one.

Did most, if not all, of the founders believe in some form of divine providence?  Yes.  Again, that is a historical question that is easily answerable.  But were the founders right–from a Biblical and theological perspective rooted in Christian orthodoxy– when they said that God had a special, unique, and exceptional purpose for America?  Again, this seems to be a theological question.  (It also seems to be a question that is impossible to answer if you have a high view of the mystery of God).

The Christians associated with these kinds of documentaries blur the historical and the theological.  If Washington mentioned God, they argue, then America must have been founded as a Christian nation.  There is no attempt to offer theological reflection or critique on the views of the founders because they have been presented as being above reproach.  Many of the defenders of “Christian America” believe that the founders have been specially appointed to do the work of God.

There is a lot of misinformation out there.  Not everything Barton, or Peter Marshall, or the Genesis of America people say is wrong, but it is twisted and presented in such a way that does not account for the complexity and fullness of the past.  Historians concerned with the integrity of the past and the integrity of their work must also note that John Adams rejected the doctrine of the Trinity.  They should mention that George Washington deliberately avoided taking communion.  They must also tell the whole truth about the so-called “Black Regiment.” Most of these clergymen were blatantly anti-Catholic.  Others blurred Biblical teachings on freedom (from sin) with political teachings on freedom (from George III).  These Christian America pundits tell just one side of the story because the so-called “rest of the story” does not suit their political needs in the present.  This is what I mean by indoctrination by historian example.  This is history at its worst!

I realize that all of this will not help Scot McKnight’s pastor friend.  It sounds like the people he is dealing with have already made up their minds.  I am afraid that we are going to see more and more of this kind of divisiveness in local churches and communities.

As this post makes clear, I am a historian, not a theologican or religious counselor.  But I would probably advise this pastor to work toward reconciliation and explain his opposition to this Christian Heritage Rally in clear, biblical language that the pro-Beck evangelicals can understand and respect. Many tea party Christians who I have met would be shocked to learn that their might be an alternative Christian way of thinking about these issues.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Tim Gombis

    Thanks so much for this, John, and for your service in writing your book. Evangelical leaders (Dobson, et al) draw upon the rhetoric of America’s Christian heritage with an agenda, just as our founders saw the usefulness of Christianity for a stable republic. Both are perversions, since being Christian is useful for something else, not because it is obedience to the one true God. That’s an awful surrender, and it shows up in the form of Christian practice becoming power assertion and power-grabbing, rather than aggressive public goodness through joyful service and self-sacrificing care for the poor and needy.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    I think ultimately for this pastor and many like him, the yes or no response and the explanation will have to be something they deal with explicitly, patiently and honestly. If the pastor doesn’t believe that specific tactics and/or solutions being pursued by this movement aren’t something they are on board with, then they have to say what they are and why.

    My brother in law, an elder at his church and a tea party fan, was recently approached by a man in the church who works for a local tea party-Repub candidtate about the candidate being the speaker in a Sunday morning service. My brother in law happens to be a big fan of this particular candidate and has gone to see him speak elsewhere, even though he’s not running in my brother in law’s district. In any event, he asked me and several folks he trusted about it, who all advised him the way he was leaning, which was not to invite the candidate to speak on Sunday, but offer a different time to make their building available for him to speak to folks in the community and the church (which may have necessitated making a similar offer to the Dem candidate for other reasons). That ended up being what the church leadership offered (not a Sunday), and it was turned down, and the church member working with the campaign left the church.

    My brother in law’s reasons were several, but much of them had to do with wanting people in the church to be able to worship and hear the gospel on Sunday (at least) and not tie the church’s worship and gospel to any particular candidate or party, even though he personally favored this candidate. I was proud of how he handled it.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    This is tough.

    “But I would probably advise this pastor to work toward reconciliation and explain his opposition to this Christian Heritage Rally in clear, biblical language that the pro-Beck evangelicals can understand and respect.”

    I’m trying to put my missiological glasses on to filter through what that means. What language can we use that doesn’t burn bridges? What words? Can we speak in their language and help them come to a fuller understanding of America’s history and the theological implications of the revisions and half-truths they are buying into? Or are their words too limiting? Might this require tough and painful words that don’t go over well? Do those with the gift of prophecy need to rise up and give us God’s perspective?

  • Robin

    I appreciate T’s brother in law’s response and agree with it whole-heartedly. The worship service is for worship of the triune God and should not be defiled with any political or ideological message not directly pertinent to the gospel or worship of God.

    That said, I see this entire fiasco as a massive failure on the part of pastors to teach church history. There was a post on here several days ago about the illiteracy of Christians with respect to Church history, and I really cannot just fathom it.

    Maybe it is because I come from the reformed camp, and we are very proud of both our theological and missional history, but this is really something we have never struggled with. As soon as I became a Christian I was inundated with church history and biography. I am strongest on reformation history, but we didn’t skip over colonial history as well. I wonder if my brethren that don’t look so highly on the reformers and their spiritual children have avoided church history (and lots of other history) because it doesn’t really pertain to them.

    Regardless, nature abhors a vacuum and if churches refuse to teach their members history, other people will. You can teach them a conservatively slanted or liberally slanted history yourselves, don’t wait for hucksters to come along and usurp that privelege.

  • http://www.crackedvirtue.com Brian M

    “What language can we use that doesn’t burn bridges? What words?”

    Don’t use the phrase, “social justice” if you don’t want to be written off! If you’ve seen this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht8PmEjxUfg
    you know conversation will be very hard.

  • Albion

    This is where Christians have lost the story and have made the kingdom of God subservient to the kingdom of american liberal democracy. it requires retelling the story of God’s inbreaking kingdom which knows no borders. it requires reminders that brothers and sisters live in every part of the globe, in freedom and in oppression, and that they are no less favored for their difficult circumstances.

    it also requires truth-telling: david barton and his ilk lack the integrity to tell the whole story. the argument that jefferson was a christian because he had books in his library about christianity is laughable yet it satisfies lots of people, including barton. adams rejects the doctrine of the trinity, jefferson did him one better by rejecting the divinity of jesus, the possibility of miracle, etc. and yet people desperately want to believe that “christian principles” animated the founding of the country.

    a pastor who reminds people that they follow a crucified god who commands them to pray that his kingdom come, his will be done, is a gift to any congregation.

  • Robin

    An alternative to comment (5) is to have reputable people discuss biblical issues, and not just let hucksters hijack good language. I’ll admit that I have always thought of the word “social justice” as a synonym for “liberal agenda” until I started reading Tim Keller and some other Christians that weren’t obviously trying to hijack biblical themes for their political agendas. What liberals have done with concepts like social justice is the same thing Beck is trying to do with religious history, twist it for his own purposes.

  • James

    The idea, America is a chosen nation of God and was founded on Christian principles is offensive; is offensive. How do we know American is not a chosen people? This is rather presumptuous (and I’m not even American)

    The struggle in this issue is exactly how God’s assembly sees itself, and its relationship to others. Consider [Rev 14:8-10] and [Rev 17:2] and [Rev 18:3]. What is this wine that has made the world drunk? Its questions like this modern pastors, blind shepherds, cannot answer.

    Here’s a theory; that wine is the syncretism of Babylonian humanism which is the very heart of the democracy in the United States. On the one hand we have Jesus’ kingdom, a monarchy with Jesus as its king, intolerant of sinfulness, intolerant of all other religions that say you can get to heaven without Him, or by the power of our own divinity. On the other hand we have democracy that says ALL are equal, or ALL religions have equal moral worth. This is the Babylonian syncretism (at its worst) that has made the world drunk.

    The Bible says of its elect “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for its own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” [1 Peter 2:9]. This type of thinking is not compatible with the syncretic notion of equality. This is why Christian Americans think this way, because they know they are God’s elect. If it is offensive, it is only so because it contradict what is worldly.

    Here’s another theory: As Christian’s, we don’t realize that we ARE the House of Israel in the wilderness, blind to our identity. (Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice” [Mic 2:12][Eze 34:2]).

    We assume Judah and Israel are Jews, except this isn’t what the Bible says. The House of Judah and the House of Israel were not one and the same [1 Kings 12:23]. The name “Israel” was never bequeathed to the House of Judah, rather it was bequeathed to the House of Joseph when Israel said “let my name be upon them” [Gen 48:16]. From Solomon’s death onwards Jews warred against Israel [2 Kings 16:5-9], and when has that been undone? Yet blind modern pastors, not knowing their Bible fail to teach this.

    Isaiah prophesied that the House of Israel would lose its name for a curse, but God’s faithful servants would be called by another name (not Israel) [Isa 65;15]. Here’s why: If God gives His glory to no one [Isa 42:8] how does a faithful God fulfil his promise to Abraham in [Gen 12:2] to make his name great? Simple, He allows Abraham’s descendants to carry name that points to back to God as He does in [Gen 32:28]), thus glorifying Himself. As a consequence, as long as Israel was not covered by a covenant [Jer 3:8] with God they were not entitled to the name Israel. Have we not heard over and over how God said that Israel would no longer allow his name to be profaned [Eze 20:39]?

    How is it we don’t know from Obadiah [Oba 1:10-14] that Edom coveted what had been Israel’s and reclaimed what had belonged to Judah when the Babylonians took them away; this is how Herod, king of the Jews was an Edomite AND NOT an Israelite (In fact most Sadducees, Pharisees, and
    Herodians WERE Edomites, but being citizens of Judea, they were also Jews. How else could they claim they had never been enslaved to anyone [John 8:33], given that Judah had already been twice enslaved in Egypt and Babylon?). The term “Jew” meant any citizen of Judea which included non-Israelites (this from the Encyclopaedia Judaica).

    God sifted the House of Israel though the empires of Babylon, Assyria, Greece and Rome and as he did so we were not known or seen as Israelites [Amos 9:9][Isa 30:28][Hos 1:9][Hos 2:17]. Yet Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice” [John 10:27] and sends his disciples to us [Matt 10:6][Matt 15:24]. If a non-elect nation convert to Judaism (such as the Khazars for example), and refuses to recognize Jesus, are they God’s elect?

    Yet still God says “I will be your God and you will be my People, and his is our God isn’t he?

    Fact is that as Christians, if we believe God’s word, we MUST believe we are a chosen people, and a Holy Nation. If we don’t, how can we possibly be a light unto the world?

  • http://unveiledface.blogspot.com Mick Porter

    As an Australian, I find this issue quite “foreign” but it seems to come up all over the place. Hard to see why, but so many seem to hold to this view that the USA is somehow more important to God than other countries.

    I love my American friends, but as an outsider I tend to notice the current affairs stories. A few very recent examples:

    – India rapidly developing an obesity/diabetes epidemic as American fast food takes hold.
    – Outrageous cancer and birth defect rates in Fallujah, Iraq, most likely from uranium used in “liberating” American weapons.
    – More studies showing the inefficiency of America producing ethanol from corn, and the effects on global food security.

    This isn’t just an historical issue – the USA is having a massive impact on just about every possible aspect of life across the whole world, and it’s not all positive.

  • Ted Johnson

    It seems to me that the US was founded with an understanding and appreciation for the fact that the population was overwhelmingly “christian” in it’s religious orientation and identification, the personal theology or belief of the founding fathers notwithstanding. As such, there were social and cultural values and mores which were embedded in the society which reflected and expressed that christian/religious underpinning. The overwhelming national culture at the time was not muslim, or buddist, or atheist, it was christian, and reflected the fact that the vast majority of the non-American Indian population were of christian European stock. What our society is today, or what it should be, in terms of cultural values and purpose and practice, and what role faith traditions should play in that seems to me to be issues and questions worthy of debate. The discomfort about Beck and those “tea partiers” seems to be one born more of current politics, than of some aggregious twisting or rewriting of the nations religious history.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Hey John,

    It is disconcerting to see someone like a Richard Land, armed with a DPhil. from Oxford, align with Beck. But of course really smart folks can be snookered as well. The good news is that Mohler, and especially Russell Moore of Southern, have raised concerns.

    To All: John’s book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is a terrific read on how the Enlightenment got flushed out in one rural community.

    Best,
    Dave

  • http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com Bob Cornwall

    Thanks Scot for bringing John in to address the question. As one who is a pastor trained as a historian, I found John’s answer very pertinent. I also look forward to reading his book. In the meantime, Jon Meacham’s American Gospel addresses many of these questions in a very cogent manner, as does David Holmes’ The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (Oxford). Heck Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch took this on 2 decades back!

  • jordan

    Are there any stats on how prevalent the view that, as Mick Porter puts it above, “the USA is somehow more important to God than other countries”? I grew up in a pretty heavily Republican/Fundamentalist community and I never once heard anybody say something to that effect. I’ve heard people talk about how Americans have been deeply blessed by God but that was never to the exclusion of other countries.

    I’m also unsure about this “Christian nation” thing. My experience has been that the vast majority of people who use it are speaking to the fact that the US is roughly 80% Christian (self-identified) and was founded in a Christian/Western context. I’ve never once heard it used to promote a Christian theocracy or an establishment of Christianity as the official US religion. So am I missing something here?

  • Richard

    I really appreciate the time that John Fea put into his response here and for Scot to post this. It seems to deal with the historical issues here but John also acknowledges that there needs to be a theological discussion occurring even alongside of the historical discussion. What would that theological discussion look like?

    While this discussion requires both “sides,” I’d be particularly interested in hearing from folks that would consider themselves supporters of the Black Robe Brigade because pastors are going to have to be familiar with the theology of that movement in order to engage with it in a constructive way that encourages everyone in their walk with Christ.

    If you support the Black Robe Brigade movement, how do you react to a post like this that tells a different historical narrative than the “Genesis of America” crowd?

    What biblical support is there for or against America being a chosen nation? (to put cards on the table I don’t think America is a chosen nation but we have been very prosperous materially)

    I ask these questions because, as a pastor, I want to understand some of the folks who support this and where they’re coming from and I’d like to hear directly from them as opposed to my own generalizations.

  • scotmcknight

    Robin, small point but pertains your comments yesterday: Is the word “huckster” appropriate?

  • http://danielmrose.com Daniel Rose

    This is a great article. Scot, thanks for bringing in a historian to deal with some of these issues. What continues to astound me is that so many evangelical leaders are taking their cues from a devout Mormon. These are people who would argue until their blue in the face that Mormonism is historically and theologically a false faith. So, why is it that Glenn Beck, a Mormon, receiving the blind faith and obedience of so many Christians? This answer is hard coming as I continue to ask it in a variety of places to a variety of people.

    I would love to hear thoughts on this.

  • Garrick

    I don’t think many people have brought up the un-biblicalness of actually supporting and participating in a rebellion against an established government. As an American, that is probably too much division of my own bone and marrow. Still, while historically I am thankful for the American Revolution, as a Christian it does nothing for me. The Gospel would still be as important and powerful today even if we were living in the American Territories of the United Kingdom.

  • Houghton Grandmal

    Likewise, “snookered” (no. 11) is the sort of word, when directed ad hominem at Richard Land and others that is really going to encourage those who may think differently than the trend of commentary so far to join this thread’s oh-so-civil discourse.

    I don’t think “huckster” or “snookered” are small points, given the oft-repeated claim that this blog encourages respectful and civil conversation.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    Here is yet another controversy that will probably not go away soon, and it does not serve us well when accusations and intimations start to fly that those who disagree with us (whichever side we are on) lack integrity, twist history or use it irresponsibly, that they are hucksters or have been snookered. It’s rather disappointing to see after yesterday’s threat on the tone of our discussion.

  • jordan

    Daniel,
    So, why is it that Glenn Beck, a Mormon, receiving the blind faith and obedience of so many Christians?

    How do you determine that it is “blind faith and obedience” and not something more thoughtful and intentional?

  • Keith

    The Treaty of Tripoli was ratified by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams in June, 1797. John Adams was the first Vise President and second President of the United States. He helped Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence.

    Article 11 of this treaty says, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”

  • Richard

    @ 20 Jordan

    A good and fair push back. So why do you think many Christians are following Glenn Beck after giving serious thought, not just politically but now also religiously? The second concerns me far more than the first.

    When you hear Glenn Beck tell the story, he described very wise and influential leaders such as James Dobson getting behind him. What drives that partnership?

    Are the supporters of this movement (and really any other movement that glosses over differences in the name of cooperation) in danger of sacrificing the unique majesty of Christ for the sake of achieving more temporal agendas?

  • jordan

    Richard,

    I don’t think many people are following Beck religiously.

    I think what drives the partnership is a desire for a more moral and religious life in America. I just read the “Black Brigade” link Scot gave us and that’s what I took out of it. It’s not about theology, in my estimation, it’s about “traditional values” type stuff.

    I would guess there is a danger in “sacrificing the unique majesty of Christ”, as there always is. I just don’t find that to be a very compelling reason to say Beck should be avoided. It’s the nature of working with people you disagree with for a common goal.

  • Robin

    Thank you for the correction Scot. Huckster is certainly not appropriate. I suppose I felt justified in using it since I was primarily referring to Beck who most people would infer is “on my side” since I lean conservative. But it is still not appropriate.

    My larger point is that people with agendas try to co-opt language and history, and if they are successful, it will eventually do great harm. The reason that Beck can bemoan “social justice” being liberal code language is because a great deal of the time it is, and thoughtful, liberal Christians have not spoken out to differentiate between liberal notions of social justice and biblical notions of social justice.

    Likewise, America in many senses is a Christian nation, just not in the senses that Beck is trying to claim. And if conservatives let him get by with this cooptation then future, well-intended, references to the importance of Christianity in the founding and history of America will be viewed with extreme suspicion.

  • http://vanguardchurch.blogspot.com/ Bob Robinson

    John hits it out of the park again!
    I am an avid reader of John Fea’s blog – a wealth of excellent thoughts on American history as it relates to Christianity.

  • Richard

    @ 23 Jordan

    In my comment I was more referring to the Restore Honor Rally which Beck is adamant was a religious gathering, not a political one. That’s why I would tend to agree with the assessment that the folks planning Christian Heritage Rallies are following Beck religiously as well as politically.

    I would agree with your assessment of this being about traditional values that many conservatives hold and want enforced in the legal code of the United States because they believe it will make the United States a more godly nation.

  • Bob Smallman

    I have told our people that while I will address current moral issues when they are addressed in the passage that I’m preaching on, I will not cross over and talk about political remedies. So, for example, I’ve addressed the sin of abortion (and also our self-righteous attitudes toward those who chosen abortion) but refused to take any kind of stand on constitutional amendments, etc. It seems to me that while we ought to speak out on these moral issues, the church shouldn’t to be in the business of trying to force the world to conform to its standards (especially when so many in the church aren’t!).

    I know that we have a number of “Beck sympathizers” in our congregation; but we also have the vice-chair of the county Democratic party and the Republican State Assembly rep. (And they get along!) Talk about diversity in the Body!

    Nevertheless, I get emails nearly every day from members, forwarding these patriotic/”Christian” posts, hoping I’ll buy in. I used to try and respond to them; now I mostly ignore them.

  • Lived in Wien!

    Very interesting post. I wonder what the readers’ thoughts are on the Focus-on-the-Family sponsored series “The Truth Project” by Dr. Del Tackett that also makes many presuppositions regarding our “Christian” heritage.

  • scotmcknight

    Bob, that’s wise.

  • jordan

    Richard (26)

    I don’t think many are following Beck religiously though, just because they have some common goals. My point is, I don’t think anyone is converting from an Evangelical Protestant to Mormonism because of Beck. They are more like to follow him despite his Mormonism.

    I wouldn’t be so sure on the “want enforced in the legal code of the United States” part. I think a great many of the followers want Beck/Dobson/etc. want a revival of Christian morality and religiosity (not in theological particulars) primarily, which will naturally effect the way in which people vote. Cynics will of course assert that it is primarily for the political power and not really about the moral/religious revival, but I think most of the followers don’t see it that way.

  • http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com Wesley Walker

    I think you hit the real problem with these type of “workshops.” The workshop simply sets out to prove that the founders were religious and felt America held a special place in the providence of God. That is all well in good. It provides us with history. What is lacking though is serious discussion on whether or not they were RIGHT!

    Part of that is because the American public are not Biblical or theological literate enough to practice discernment.

    http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com

  • Terry

    Bob @ 27, my practice mirrors your own. Though it has not consistently kept every hound at bay over the years regarding the agenda du jour, it has allowed me to be faithful to the Gospel and my calling on a consistent basis. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Josh Mueller

    Even if the historical facts were less ambiguous and the evidence more supportive of the Christian nation idea who exactly is going to be won over by rallies, protest marches and signature lists? This whole “muster the troops and show strength” thinking blatantly ignores Jesus’ teaching on the way of the cross and influencing society by our example of love, our intercession in secret, and by embracing weakness and suffering for Jesus’ sake instead of trying to shout the loudest.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    @ 30, Jordan

    “My point is, I don’t think anyone is converting from an Evangelical Protestant to Mormonism because of Beck. They are more like to follow him despite his Mormonism.”

    I don’t think that the concern is folks converting to Mormonism, but that they are aligning themselves with a God that is altogether unlike Jesus. When Beck speaks of God he referring to something other than Jesus. The hope of these followers, though well intentioned, seems to be in moralistic deism, rather than in Christ. That is not a uniting factor pastors should get behind if for no other reason than it verges on idolatry.

  • Rick

    Wesley #31-

    “The workshop simply sets out to prove that the founders were religious and felt America held a special place in the providence of God. That is all well in good. It provides us with history. What is lacking though is serious discussion on whether or not they were RIGHT!”

    But the “Right” aspect may be secondary to many. The nation has done well since its birth, and many attribute that success to the underlying standards (the largely Judeo-Christian religious standards of morality) set by the founders. In short: no matter the accuracy of the initial philosophy, what does matter is that it works.

  • Barb

    I don’t understand the link from “this is history at its worst!”

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    @ 35, Rick

    “The nation has done well since its birth, and many attribute that success to the underlying standards (the largely Judeo-Christian religious standards of morality) set by the founders. In short: no matter the accuracy of the initial philosophy, what does matter is that it works.”

    Well it may seem to work but what evidence is there for a correlation? America has worked for a massive amount of reasons that go much deeper than being founded on Judeo-Christian values. If that were the only contributing factor I’m sure other nations would have done equally as well, if not better.

  • BradK

    Re: #15 and #18, if we are critiquing potentially inflammatory language, it should probably be pointed out that the comment in the original post referring to David Barton as ‘a political activist who has become very effective at a practice that might be called “political indoctrination by historical example”’ might not have been an ideal choice of words either. “Political indoctrination” certainly has as negative of a connotation as “huckster” and “snookered”, doesn’t it?

  • Robin

    To defend Scot (38) political indoctrination may, at times, be cleverly used as framing language to get in a jab, but it can also be used in an honest and non-jedgemental fashion. Huckster and snookered (the first of which I used) are solely perjorative and no good intent can be inferred from their usage.

    If we are thinking about the comments of one another in the best possible light I can infer good intentions from the use of “political indoctrination” whereas the same cannot be inferred from my usage of “huckster”.

  • Robin

    My spelling and grammar suk, with a Kapital K.

  • http://www.thejesusagenda.net Dave Leigh

    Perhaps it is time for another Barmen Declaration.

  • jordan

    JoeyS (#34)

    It could be there are a lot of moral deists, I don’t know for sure, but I really don’t think most are aligning themselves with Beck’s version of God either. Like I said before, I don’t think this Black Robe Brigade or whatever is about theological alignment, and hence his followers aren’t so concerned about his Mormonism.

  • Rick

    JoeyS #37-

    “Well it may seem to work but what evidence is there for a correlation? America has worked for a massive amount of reasons that go much deeper than being founded on Judeo-Christian values.”

    It is seen as working by considering the foundational position of our nation, The Consitution.

    From Focus on the Family (I know Dobson is not there anymore, but this is from 2008- when he was still there):

    “One of the strengths of our Constitution and the success that we have enjoyed as a country derives from our “unalienable rights” endowed by our Creator. The whole purpose of government is, according to the Declaration of Independence, “to secure these rights.” John Adams spoke of the special role that religion and morality play in the successful outworking of the Constitution’s provisions: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    By the way, I appreciate and agree with your comment in #34:
    ” I don’t think that the concern is folks converting to Mormonism, but that they are aligning themselves with a God that is altogether unlike Jesus. When Beck speaks of God he referring to something other than Jesus. The hope of these followers, though well intentioned, seems to be in moralistic deism, rather than in Christ. That is not a uniting factor pastors should get behind if for no other reason than it verges on idolatry”

  • Robin

    Speaking of deism…I worked in the nursery at our church with a woman that had worked for a year as a live in Nanny to Rand Paul’s sister. She kept their children, ate meals with them, prayer with them, etc. She was utterly impressed by the Christian devotion of Rand’s sister and of their father Ron Paul. When I asked her about Rand (who I will probably be voting for) she said that from the times she met him and the conversations she had with his sister, her best guess was that he was a moral deist out of respect for the founding fathers (He could have been a Christian, but nothing in her impression of him, or in the conversations she had with his sister indicated that).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Rick said, quoting Dobson:

    “One of the strengths of our Constitution and the success that we have enjoyed as a country derives from our “unalienable rights” endowed by our Creator. The whole purpose of government is, according to the Declaration of Independence, “to secure these rights.”

    Many think of the establishment of the country and language like this in the positive sense. But I think it was done in the negative sense. Let me elaborate.

    Genesis says who created everything. It is the one single god. This is, in my view, actually a negative statement in that the reason it needs to say it like it does is so that the surrounding countries and peoples with other gods don’t assume that it was their gods that did the creation. It says that god did.

    Likewise, the idea that the country was founded with inalienable rights from god was to make the point that the monarchs of the English world were not the ones with power invested in them to make the rights of the people. They were not so much making the point that god did it, as it was not the English King that did it.

  • Rick

    DRT-

    You may be right that there was a mindset similar to the “Jesus is Lord, Ceasar is not” that we see in the NT.

    However, for the Beck supporters of today, the main concern is not necessarily the motives of the founders, or even 100% theological accuracy of the founders. Rather, it is the basic accuracy of this idea:

    “John Adams spoke of the special role that religion and morality play in the successful outworking of the Constitution’s provisions: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    To them, the success of the Constitution, and therefore the nation itself, is tied to the religious and moral life of its people and leaders. That link is what they see as the priority. The minute, detailed historic theological positions of various founders is secondary.

  • Rick

    oops- should read “Caesar”.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Rick,

    I could not disagree with you more. We have founded here a nation of laws. A nation that has the law being above the people and for the people. It is not about having a nation of people of any stature. It is about having a nation of impartial law.

  • Richard

    @ 46 Rick

    “To them, the success of the Constitution, and therefore the nation itself, is tied to the religious and moral life of its people and leaders.”

    But when Beck and his supporters are discussing the religious and moral life of its people and leaders they tend to replace “religious” with “Christian” in their minds and that’s not a one to one equation. No one is worried because Glenn Beck wants people to tell the truth, to be kind, or to have healthy marriages. People are concerned because it’s used to promote a particular subset of religious values over and above others (whether it’s prayer in the name of Jesus, being anti-abortion, being against homosexual marriage, being anti big government, or pro free market, etc).

    The United States can be a deeply religious and spiritual nation without being a Christian nation. That’s a major distinction in reading the language of the founding fathers. That same John Adams that you quote didn’t hold to the Trinity, as referenced in the original post, and also signed the Treaty of Tripoli that declared the United States wasn’t founded on the Christian religion. There’s a major difference between having similar principles and moral standards (afterall, many Muslims would agree with many of the values promoted by groups like the Moral Majority, etc and were even part of the original coalition) and being Christian.

  • http://www.philipvickersfithian.com John Fea

    I want to thank all you Jesus Creeders, especially Scot, for your thoughtful comments about my post. I had a long day of teaching and meetings and am only now beginning to process some of these ideas. Evangelicals need more history–whether it be church history or American history or world history. We need to better informed before we step out into the public square or embrace any political and social movement. I think this will go a long toward alleviating what Mark Noll has famously called “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Thanks again. –John

  • Rick

    DRT and Richard-

    You both bring up good points that should be considered by the Beck supporters.

    Please keep in mind that I am not a Beck supporter, I am simply trying to express their viewpoint in lieu of John’s post. Their priority is the logical idea that morality and religion are needed to have an effective Constitution, while the precise historical accuracy issues, that John mentioned, are secondary (to them). That is one reason why, unfortunately, many of them seemed unconcerned that a Mormon is leading this cause.

  • Chuck

    I applaud this pastor, he should be involved with this issue. I am reading “Democracy in America” and am struck by how involved the citizens were in their own governance at the founding. I think we have basically outsourced politics and governance to the ruling elites and have lost our ability to really govern ourselves and play politics. I suspect part of the reason this pastor is uncomfortable is because neither he nor the vast majority of pastors know how to engage politically in a helpful way. They are frightened (I know I am) and uncertain. But if the common man succeeds in taking power back from the elites (which is the fundamental conflict in play) they will need this pastor and many others to help them properly govern.

  • http://hannahim.blogspot.com Hannah Nedrow

    A friend of mine had a rather intense discussion about this on Facebook, and I wrote at length about some of my thoughts on my blog. Sorry, Scot, I’m not sure how to send a trackback to you, so here is the link.

    http://hannahim.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-christian-principles-are-rather.html

    Thanks so much for the great issue you bring up here.

  • Mark Ruffalo

    I’m a graduate student working on my MA in medieval history but have studied and written about U.S. history so this is not unfamiliar territory.

    1). John Adams did question the Trinity. John Quincy Adams, his son, tried to convince his father otherwise.

    2). Most members of the Black Regiment were Protestants and rejected Catholic doctrine passionately. Yes, that is true. America in the 18th century was more Protestant than Catholic. Early settlers in America were Protestants, Puritan and Reformed. Where’s the argument? Luther, Calvin, Zwingli were all “anti-Catholic”.

    3). I am not familiar with George Washington not taking communion. I will have to research that one. What I do know is some Christians misunderstand communion or think they understand it too well to participate. Some think of themselves as too unworthy to partake. I am very sure that Washington was fully aware of death that came to others at his hand, which was unavoidable as a soldier. St. Paul’s comments regarding partaking of communion clearly have an impact here (1 Cor. 11: 27-31).

    4). Regarding freedom from sin and freedom from King George: Christianity has profoundly influenced Western civilization. I think the argument could be made that Western civilization is the child of Christianity. It is often repeated that ideas have consequences and I think that Christian regeneration for the individual has ramifications for the culture. While we should not make giant leaps in logical conclusions, the Kingdom of God has subtly and gradually permeated culture (Matthew 13:31-33). Christian freedom from sin and liberty from cultural restrictions and divisions gradually leads to cultural transformation. The implications of Galatians 3:28, Col 3:11 and Romans 10:12 are obvious. What happens to a culture that takes these scriptures seriously? If all are one in Christ and no cultural divisions make anyone superior to anyone else in a Christian world view then….? Slavery in Roman times was different from the slavery of the late 16th and 17th-centuries yet the principle is the same. Paul addressed this in Philemon 10-19. If Onesimus, a slave, who is owned by a Christian, the brother in the Lord should treat him no longer as a slave. What does that look like? Multiple that by the thousands and what do you have? Slavery of the 17th century was eradicated due to the consciences of Christians. Arguments against slavery in both England and America were made in the context of a Christian world view. (Wilberforce, etc.). The Founding Fathers grappled with the contradiction of slavery. Expediency won out over conscience but most recognized that the slavery issue would have to be addressed. Disapproval of the institution of slavery was apparent but tolerance was accepted in order to get the southern states on board at Philadelphia. Abolition of slavery in America had Christian sympathies at its root.

    I understand how someone can look at early American history and see examples of Christians behaving badly. After all, many things were said and done that were decidedly contrary to the spirit of Christ (Quakers hung, Baptists thrown out of Boston, views on the Native American Indians, etc.) There is also the other side. Christians have always struggled with our dual citizenship. Mistakes were made in America as elsewhere but there were examples of grace and repentance. There were people like Roger Williams. There were Christians who questioned the break from England. Even George Whitfield and John Wesley spoke against it. What does that prove? Only that American Christianity ignited and ignites discussion about the implications of the Kingdom of God. One could go on and on, citing both sides of this issue, quoting Founders, quoting pastors, theologians, and presidents. The underlining point is unmistakable. A Christian world view permeated the culture in 17th and 18th-century America and still does.

    Finally, as a historian, I wholeheartedly agree with not using recorded history selectively to prove a point. Visit most college campuses, sit in on any class and watch how “one-sided” American history is taught. Given what I have experienced in the college environment, forgive me and others if we see the overall goodness (not ignoring the warts and all) of America. Thousands of young adults are taught American history through the eyes of Howard Zinn and his “People’s History of the United States.” Excuse David Barton and others if they try to balance things out a bit. That being said, Christianity is more encompassing than the United States of America. Nationalism is not Christianity. America however is something exceptional in the history of the world. We can learn much from a balanced approach to American history.

    How does God view America and its Founders? Maybe similarly to Old Testament figures mentioned in Hebrews 11, through the lens of faith.