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Quote of the Day: What Does U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr Really Want?

bill barr

But at least since Mr. [Bill] Barr’s infamous speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, in which he blamed “secularists” for “moral chaos” and “immense suffering, wreckage and misery,” it has become clear that no understanding of William Barr can be complete without taking into account his views on the role of religion in society. For that, it is illuminating to review how Mr. Barr has directed his Justice Department on matters concerning the First Amendment clause forbidding the establishment of a state religion.

In Maryland, the department rushed to defend taxpayer funding for a religious school that says same-sex marriage is wrong. In Maine, it is defending parents suing over a state law that bans religious schools from obtaining taxpayer funding to promote their own sectarian doctrines. At his Department of Justice, Mr. Barr told law students at Notre Dame, “We keep an eye out for cases or events around the country where states are misapplying the establishment clause in a way that discriminates against people of faith.”

In these and other cases, Mr. Barr has embraced wholesale the “religious liberty” rhetoric of today’s Christian nationalist movement. When religious nationalists invoke “religious freedom,” it is typically code for religious privilege. The freedom they have in mind is the freedom of people of certain conservative and authoritarian varieties of religion to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove or over whom they wish to exert power.

This form of “religious liberty” seeks to foment the sense of persecution and paranoia of a collection of conservative religious groups that see themselves as on the cusp of losing their rightful position of dominance over American culture. It always singles out groups that can be blamed for society’s ills, and that may be subject to state-sanctioned discrimination and belittlement — L.G.B.T. Americans, secularists and Muslims are the favored targets, but others are available. The purpose of this “religious liberty” rhetoric is not just to secure a place of privilege, but also to justify public funding for the right kind of religion.

Mr. Barr has a long history of supporting just this type of “religious liberty.” At Notre Dame, he compared alleged violations of religious liberty with Roman emperors forcing Christian subjects to partake in pagan sacrifices. “The law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy,” he said.

Barr watchers will know that this is nothing new. In a 1995 article he wrote for The Catholic Lawyer, which, as Emily Bazelon recently pointed out, appears to be something of a blueprint for his speech at Notre Dame, he complained that “we live in an increasingly militant, secular age” and expressed his grave concern that the law might force landlords to rent to unmarried couples. He implied that the idea that universities might treat “homosexual activist groups like any other student group” was intolerable.

This form of “religious liberty” is not a mere side issue for Mr. Barr, or for the other religious nationalists who have come to dominate the Republican Party. Mr. Barr has made this clear. All the problems of modernity — “the wreckage of the family,” “record levels of depression and mental illness,” “drug addiction” and “senseless violence” — stem from the loss of a strict interpretation of the Christian religion.

The great evildoers in the Notre Dame speech are nonbelievers who are apparently out on the streets ransacking everything that is good and holy. The solutions to society’s ills, Mr. Barr declared, come from faith. “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct,” he said. “Religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.” He added, “The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.”

Within this ideological framework, the ends justify the means. In this light, Mr. Barr’s hyperpartisanship is the symptom, not the malady. At Christian nationalist gatherings and strategy meetings, the Democratic Party and its supporters are routinely described as “demonic” and associated with “rulers of the darkness.” If you know that society is under dire existential threat from secularists, and you know that they have all found a home in the other party, every conceivable compromise with principles, every ethical breach, every back-room deal is not only justifiable but imperative. And as the vicious reaction to Christianity Today’s anti-Trump editorial demonstrates, any break with this partisan alignment will be instantly denounced as heresy.

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“What does Bill Barr want?”

The answer is that America’s conservative movement, having morphed into a religious nationalist movement, is on a collision course with the American constitutional system. Though conservatives have long claimed to be the true champions of the Constitution — remember all that chatter during previous Republican administrations about “originalism” and “judicial restraint” — the movement that now controls the Republican Party is committed to a suite of ideas that are fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution and the Republic that the founders created under its auspices.

Mr. Trump’s presidency was not the cause of this anti-democratic movement in American politics. It was the consequence. He is the chosen instrument, not of God, but of today’s Christian nationalists, their political allies and funders, and the movement’s legal apparatus. Mr. Barr did not emerge in order to serve this one particular leader. On the contrary, Mr. Trump serves a movement that will cynically praise the Constitution in order to destroy it, and of which Mr. Barr has made himself a hero.

— Katherine Stewart and Caroline Fredrickson, The New York Times, Bill Barr Thinks America Is Going to Hell, December 30, 2019

Quote of the Day: The Rise of Christian Fascism

chris hedges

The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”

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Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.

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The ideology of the Christian fascists panders in our decline to the primitive yearnings for the vengeance, new glory and moral renewal that are found among those pushed aside by deindustrialization and austerity. Reason, facts and verifiable truth are impotent weapons against this belief system. The Christian right is a “crisis cult.” Crisis cults arise in most collapsing societies. They promise, through magic, to recover the lost grandeur and power of a mythologized past. This magical thinking banishes doubt, anxiety and feelings of disempowerment. Traditional social hierarchies and rules, including an unapologetic white, male supremacy, will be restored. Rituals and behaviors including an unquestioning submission to authority and acts of violence to cleanse the society of evil will vanquish malevolent forces.

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Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. We will transform American society to a socialist system that provides meaning, dignity and hope to all citizens, that cares and nurtures the most vulnerable among us, or we will become the victims of the Christian fascists we created.

— Chris Hedges, Truthdig, Onward, Christian Fascists, December 30, 2019

The United States Has an Evangelical Problem

evangelist don hardman
Evangelist Don and Laura Hardman, Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Late 1980s. Notice the huge flag. That should tell you all you need to know about my political and social agenda at the time.

In the late 1970s, Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, birthed a Christian political action group called the Moral Majority. Falwell, a graduate of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, started Thomas Road Baptist — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — in 1956. The church quickly became one of the largest churches in the United States. Today, the church claims it has almost 25,000 members. In 1971, Falwell founded Lynchburg Baptist College, now known as Liberty University. Liberty, an accredited university, is the largest Evangelical college in the United States. Most Evangelicals of my age likely remember Falwell’s weekly television program, The Old Time Gospel Hour. It was through his educational and media empire that Falwell pushed the Moral Majority’s agenda: to take back America for God.

In 1979, my wife and I attended a Moral Majority-sponsored outdoor “I Love America” rally at the Ohio State House. We later went to a pep rally of sorts held at a downtown Columbus location. All Polly remembers is discreetly breastfeeding our infant son during the rally. I, however, remember the thrilling speeches about returning the United States to its Christian roots. Dripping with manifest destiny and American exceptionalism, these speeches stirred my heart, and for many years, I devoted myself to waging what become known as the “culture war.”

In 1989, after successfully helping elect Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan to two terms as president, the Moral Majority disbanded. Falwell said at the time, “Our goal has been achieved…The religious right is solidly in place and … religious conservatives in America are now in for the duration.” Today, Evangelicals, having sold their souls for bowls of pottage, rabidly support Donald Trump, the most unqualified man to ever be president. Eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. If the presidential election were held today, Evangelicals would, yet again, overwhelmingly vote for Trump. Even if Trump was thrown out of office, Evangelicals are satisfied that Christian America will be safe in the “godly” hands of Evangelical and True Believer® Mike Pence.

It is clear to anyone who is paying attention that Evangelicals have taken over not only the federal government but many state governments. Here in Ohio, Evangelicals (and conservative Catholics) rule the political roost. Now having a super-majority, Evangelicals — who are overwhelmingly Republicans — are able to enact their agenda at will, with only the courts standing in the way of them turning Ohio into a theocratic state. And now that Trump is packing the federal courts with conservative Christian jurists, the only recourse we have to beat back Evangelical sharia law may soon be gone.

Secularists love to point to studies showing that Evangelicalism is in numerical decline. While this is certainly true, that doesn’t mean the political power amassed by Evangelicals is in decline. It’s not, and as things now stand, it could take decades to undo all the damage done to our Republic by primarily white Evangelicals and their Mormon and Catholic cohorts.

I live in rural northwest Ohio. Donald Trump and the Republican Party dominate local and state politics. Local Democratic groups are largely ineffective or lifeless. And even among these groups, you will find that the conservative political beliefs espoused decades ago by Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority have deeply influenced their thinking. I can tell you this much: true liberals around here are almost as rare as ivory-billed woodpeckers. Fearing social or economic retribution, what few liberals there are maintain a low profile. Of late, local Democratic operatives have taken to writing letters to the Defiance Crescent-News. While I appreciate their efforts — having been a regular writer of letters to local newspaper editors for almost 40 years — I fear that they operate under the delusion that their letters will change the minds of local Trump supporters. They won’t. At best, their letters to the newspaper remind other Democrats/progressives/liberals that they are not alone. Changing hearts and minds? Not a chance.

Due to the local sports photography work I do, I am connected with numerous locals on social media. Many of them are like me, using social media to share photos and cat videos. Others, however, regularly post things in support of Donald Trump. One woman, a relative of mine, went off on a rant over Trump’s impeachment, calling Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton all sorts of vile names. People such as I are routinely pilloried. I say nothing, having learned that talking politics on social media is a waste of time. Oh, it feels good to rip a right-winger a new one now and again, but to what end? Instead, I quietly unfriend such people. And it’s not just locals either. I am “friends” with several family members who routinely post all sorts of right-wing nonsense. No lie is too absurd to post, and no action by President Trump is so vile, extreme, or un-Christian that they won’t find a way to defend him.

Trump knows that the key to maintaining political power is convincing Evangelicals that he is a defender of Christian orthodoxy and a warrior in the battle against libtards, atheists, and socialists. So far, Evangelicals think that Trump is some sort of manifestation of God’s plan for Christian America. In the end, the joke will be on them, but by then the United States will lie in ruin.

The only way to beat back the Evangelical horde is for people of good will and reason to understand that Evangelical power and control is an illusion. As things stand today, atheists, agnostics, and nones are as large a demographic as Evangelicals. Hillary Clinton, a polarizing and weak presidential candidate if there ever was one, defeated Donald Trump by three million votes. Unfortunately, it is the arcane, outdated Electoral College that decides presidential elections, and not the popular vote. To keep Trump from being re-elected in 2020, millions and millions of new voters must be mobilized, and countless lazy Americans must be dragged from their beds to vote on election day. So far, nothing I have heard from the 3,023 people running for the Democratic nomination says to me that Democrats truly understand how to unseat Trump and take back congress. Maybe someone will rise to the top of the pile and mount an effective defense of American republicanism and secularism, but as of today, I have my doubts. If Democrats don’t figure it out soon, we are looking at four more years of Trump. Imagine the depths of the damage that will be done by Trump and his henchmen if they are given another term in office.

Democrats wrongly assume that our democracy can withstand whatever Trump and Company might do. While I thought this very thing at one time, I no longer believe it to be true. The United States is teetering on the edge of ruin and collapse. And this, remember, is exactly what Evangelicals want. Progressivism, secularism, pluralism, and socialism must be destroyed in order for the Evangelical Jesus to be enthroned as the king and ruler of the United States. Don’t believe it for one moment when Evangelicals “say” they don’t have theocratic ambitions. They do, as Evangelicals made clear in their racist attacks on Barack Obama, their unending attacks on LGBTQ people, their support of anti-immigrant, anti-poor policies, and their criminalization of abortion. Now that conservatives control the U.S. Supreme Court and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is living on borrowed time, Evangelicals know the time is ripe to roll back the social progress of the last sixty years. Want to know what a Christian America might look like? Take a look at countries ruled by Sharia law. Look at what’s going on in India today. Once a proud secular state, India now faces the establishment of a theocratic state by Fundamentalist Hindus — India’s version of Evangelicals.

Part of me wants to say, “Fuck it, I give up. I am going to die soon, and if death doesn’t get me, global climate change will.” Quite frankly, I am worn out. But then, I think of my children and grandchildren. What will they say about me if I give up now?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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Why Evangelicals Wear Jesus-Themed Clothing

jesus is my savior

I live in the United States of Jesus H. Christ. The Christian blood cult has over 300,000 temples scattered across America. Every temple has at least one high priest who performs weekly rituals and instructs members in the tenets of the one true religion. These temples are subdivided into sects. Evangelicalism is one such sect.

In 2016, the Evangelical blood cult was largely responsible for electing Donald Trump as president of the United States. Eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Trump. If another presidential election were held today, most of these people would likely vote for Trump again. The president is a lying narcissist who committed impeachable acts against the United States. He has the sexual morals of an alley cat in heat and has been accused of rape and sexual assault by numerous women. You would think, then, that the Evangelical cult would oppose Trump on moral grounds alone. Sadly, Evangelicals have sold their souls for a bowl of pottage, and they go to great lengths to defend Trump, even if it means lying or distorting the truth. Evangelicals have, in effect, become whores for their pimp, Donald Trump. The president pretends to care about Evangelicals, supporting their social agenda, but make no mistake about it, Trump sees Evangelicals as a means to an end. Once they are no longer useful, he will cast them away like an empty Whopper wrapper.

This unholy alliance between the Evangelical cult and the Republican Party is on display everywhere. One need look no farther than the t-shirts and other apparel Evangelicals wear. Much like LGBTQ people, Evangelicals want non-believers to know that they are out, loud, and proud. Evangelicals want people to know that they are on Team Jesus® or that they resolutely support God’s anointed man, modern-day King Cyrus, Donald Trump. Why do Evangelicals wear such clothing?

Virtually everyone in the United States knows about Jesus and the Christian blood cult. I live in a tri-county area that is home to over 300 hundred Christian temples. I doubt Sir Henry Stanley, of Stanley and Livingstone fame, could find one person in this area who has never heard about Jesus or doesn’t know that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Yet, everywhere I look I see Evangelicals wearing Jesus-themed shirts. Some local Evangelical churches have custom t-shirts printed advertising their temple for congregants to wear. Surely, congregants know one another, so why the shirts?

Go to Evangelical homes and what do you find? Automobiles sporting religious bumper stickers, anti-abortion or religious cliché signs in their yards; and inside, walls and tables covered with Evangelical kitsch. What’s with all the Jesus Junk®? On one hand, who cares, right? Evangelicals are free to wear whatever they want. Want to show your support of our Pervert In-Chief? Have at it. Want to advertise the local temple you attend? Go ahead. Want to identify yourself as a follower of a virgin-born, resurrected-from-the-dead miracle worker named Jesus Christ? Fine, by me.  All that I ask is that you don’t delude yourself, believing that you are all decked out with Jesus so the lost, dying world will hear the gospel and be saved. You see, the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world don’t care about you being a walking billboard for Jesus or your temple. What matters to them is how you treat others. What matters is what you say about LGBTQ people, immigrants, Democrats, liberals, mainline Christians, Catholics, atheists, Muslims, people of color and anyone else who is different from you. What do your social media pages say about your “love” and “compassion” for others? Your behavior tells us everything we need to know about you and your beliefs. Is it any surprise that Evangelicalism is one of the most hated religions in America? You reap what you sow, Evangelicals.

Why, then, do Evangelicals wear Jesus-themed clothing? The same reason any of us wears themed clothing. When I wear a Cincinnati Reds or Cincinnati Bengals hat/shirt, I do so because they are my teams. It’s my way of saying to fellow Reds and Bengals fans that I am on their team. Evangelicals wear what they wear because they want other Evangelicals to know that they are on the same team. I am sure readers are wondering if I wore Jesus-themed clothing back when I was an Evangelical Christian and pastor. The short answer is no. I have never worn a Jesus shirt, put Christian cliché bumper stickers on my cars, or hung religious kitsch on the walls of our home. I preferred to let my life do the talking. Besides, if I was driving like a maniac, I didn’t want anyone to know there was a Christian behind the wheel. Just saying . . .

All of us are free to advertise the people and groups we identify with. Want to be an out-and-proud Trump supporter or atheist, by all means, do so. We live in a country where citizens are free to proclaim their beliefs. Oh wait, not really. You see, Evangelicals believe their cult is the one true faith. Jesus is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. In their minds, the United States is a Christian nation, founded and governed by the triune God and the Protestant Bible. They expect and demand preferential treatment for their cult (and scream PERSECUTION when denied). That’s why Evangelicals love Donald Trump. He is willing to trample over the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Civil Rights Acts, and the separation of church and state so Evangelicals can have their way. Evangelicals want to be free to advertise and promote their blood cult; but let non-Christians do the same, and there’s no end to their faux-offense and outrage. Evangelicals want the freedom to push their beliefs anywhere and everywhere, yet when atheists and other non-Christians ask for the same rights, Evangelicals scream bloody murder. “How dare they attack our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!” “How dare they mock Christianity.” “How dare they want to put up a winter solstice display next to the créche on the courthouse square.” One need only watch Evangelical outrage over the Hallmark Channel’s pro-gay wedding advertisement or Chik-Fil-A’s change of heart about supporting anti-LGBTQ groups to see how Evangelicals view the world. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the issues of prayer in secular public schools decades ago, yet Evangelicals continue to infiltrate our schools and push their sectarian agenda. Evangelicals continue to demand that public school children be taught “Biblical” sex education and creationism. Evangelicalism may be dying — and it is — but they have no intention of going quietly into the night.

As Evangelicals continue to push their theocratic demands in the public square, it’s hard not to see people wearing Jesus-themed apparel as enemies of secularism, pluralism, and freedom. History tells us that when church and state are one, freedoms are lost and people die.  I try to look on a person’s heart, and not their clothing when sizing them up, but I am tired of dealing with self-righteous, prattling Evangelicals. There are times, I admit, when I see someone wearing a Jesus shirt or some other flashing neon sign advertising their peculiar beliefs, that I just say to myself, “there’s another asshole for Jesus.” When I see an Evangelical sitting in a coffee shop wearing a Jesus or Trump shirt and reading the Bible or a religious book, I want to say to them, “Dude, don’t you know you should wear pants in public?” Without saying a word, this person is telling me all I need to know about them. He might be a “good” person, a great father, an awesome husband, and help the poor, but all I see is his Bible-approved circumcised dick hanging out.

Put your dick away, Evangelicals, and focus your attention on following the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount. (A sermon, by the way, in which Jesus declared what was required of those who said they were his followers.) Jesus said in that sermon: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16) That they (the world) may see what? Your good works, not your Jesus shirt. Do you really think that Jesus would have worn a t-shirt that said “This Blood is for You” or some other nonsensical Evangelical cliché? I think not.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Attorney General William Barr Wages War on Secularism

Cartoon by Jen Sorensen

He [U.S. Attorney General William Barr] is a devoted Catholic who has said he believes the nation needs a “moral renaissance” to restore Judeo-Christian values in American life. He has been unafraid to use his platform as the nation’s top law enforcement officer to fight the cultural changes they believe are making the country more inhospitable and unrecognizable, like rising immigration and secularism or new legal protections for L.G.B.T. people.

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A series of assertive public appearances in recent weeks, laced with biting sarcasm aimed at adversaries on the left, have brought a sharper focus on Mr. Barr’s style and worldview, both of which share aspects with the president’s.

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He [Barr] has painted a picture of a country divided into camps of “secularists” — those who, he said recently, “seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience” — and people of faith. The depiction echoes Mr. Trump’s worldview, with the “us versus them” divisions that the president often stokes when he tells crowds at his rallies that Democrats “don’t like you.”

His politicization of the office is unorthodox and a departure from previous attorneys general in a way that feels uncomfortably close to authoritarianism, critics said.

“Barr has believed for a long time that the country would benefit from more authoritarianism. It would inject a stronger moral note into government,” said Stuart M. Gerson, who worked in the Bush Justice Department under Mr. Barr and is a member of Checks & Balances, a legal group that is among the attorney general’s leading conservative detractors. “I disagree with his analysis of power. We would be less free in the end.”

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He’s [Barr’s] offering a fairly unabashed, crisp and candid assessment of the nature of our culture right now,” said Leonard A. Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society and a prominent advocate for socially conservative causes. “There’s certainly a movement in our country to dial back the role that religion plays in civil society and public life. It’s been going on for some time,” Mr. Leo added. “That’s not an observation that public officials make very often, so it is refreshing.”

Mr. Barr helped make the case for conservatives to shift to war footing against the left during a speech at Notre Dame Law School in October that was strikingly partisan. He accused “the forces of secularism” of orchestrating the “organized destruction” of religion. He mocked progressives, asking sardonically, “But where is the progress?”

And while other members of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis have acknowledged that the sexual abuse crisis has devastated the moral authority of the church in the United States and is in part to blame for decreasing attendance, Mr. Barr outlined what he saw as a larger plot by the left and others. He said they “have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

At one point, he compared the denial of religious liberty protections for people of faith to Roman emperors who forced their Christian subjects to engage in pagan sacrifices. “We cannot sit back and just hope the pendulum is going to swing back toward sanity,” Mr. Barr warned.

— Jeremy W. Peters and Katie Benner, New York Times, Barr Dives Into the Culture Wars, and Social Conservatives Rejoice, December 8, 2019

Quote of the Day: The Decline of White Evangelical Christianity

Republicans control the White House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. They have 27 governorships and governing trifectas in 21 states. But many conservatives — particularly Christian conservatives — believe they’re being routed in the war that matters most: the post-Christian culture war. They see a diverse, secular left winning the future and preparing to eviscerate both Christian practice and traditional mores. And they see themselves as woefully unprepared to respond with the ruthlessness that the moment requires.

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Robert Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute, estimates that when Barack Obama took office, 54 percent of the country was white and Christian; by the time he left office, that had fallen to 43 percent. This is largely because young Americans are less white, and less Christian, than older Americans. Almost 70 percent of American seniors are white Christians, compared to only 29 percent of young adults.

In 2018, Americans who claim no religion passed Catholics and evangelicals as the most popular response on the General Social Survey. That arguably overstates the trend: The GSS breaks Protestants into subcategories, and if you group them together, they remain the most populous religious group, at least for now. But the age cohorts here are stark. “If you look at seniors, only about one in 10 seniors today claim no religious affiliation,” Jones told me. “But if you look at Americans under the age of 30, it’s 40 percent.”

These are big, dramatic changes, and they’re leading Christians — particularly older, white, conservative Christians — to experience America’s changing demographics as a form of siege. In some cases, that experience is almost literal.

The political commentator Rod Dreher blogs for the American Conservative, where he offers a running catalog of moral affronts and liberal provocations. He doesn’t simply see a society that has become secular and sexualized, but a progressive regime that insists Christians accept and even participate in the degeneracy or fall afoul of nondiscrimination laws and anti-bigotry norms.

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The irony of all this is that Christian conservatives are likely hastening the future they most fear. In our conversation, Jones told me about a 2006 survey of 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, that asked 16- to 29-year-olds for their top three associations with present-day Christianity. Being “antigay” was first, with 91 percent, followed by “judgmental,” with 87 percent, and “hypocritical,” with 85 percent. Christianity, the Barna Group concluded, has “a branding problem.”

It seems unlikely that that branding problem will be fixed by a tighter alliance with Trump, who polls at 31 percent among millennials and 29 percent among Generation Z. If young people are abandoning Christianity because it seems intolerant, judgmental, and hypocritical — well, intolerant, judgmental, and hypocritical is the core of Trump’s personal brand.

— Ezra Klein, Vox, The post-Christian culture wars, November 26, 2019

The Impeachment Hearings: Echoes of Evangelicals Past

donald trump the don
Cartoon by Dave Whamond

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

History repeats itself.

I was reminded of this while listening to the impeachment hearings. Pundits are referring to Gordon Sondland’s testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee as a “John Dean Moment”: a reference to the White House Counsel whose 1973 testimony before the Senate Watergate Subcommittee implicated his boss, then-President Richard Nixon.

However, Sondland tying a quid quo pro to the man who gave him a job (ambassador to the European Union) for which he had no apparent qualifications—aside, perhaps, from the $1,000,000 contribution he made to said boss’s inauguration—is not the only echo of a scandal from the past. As venal as Donald Trump and his administration have been, there is, sadly, almost nothing new about the kinds of corruption that have marked him and it—or, perhaps more to the point, what has enabled that corruption.

People even older than I am, some of whom are lifelong Republicans, regard Trump’s administration as the most corrupt of their lifetimes. Historians are already comparing him with the most unethical leaders in American history, such as Andrew Johnson and Warren G. Harding.

The latter occupied the White House nearly a century ago. One of the darkest stains on his legacy was the Teapot Dome Scandal. Interior Secretary Albert Fall (such an appropriate name) leased oil-rich Federal lands in Wyoming in exchange for large bribes. For that, he became the first Presidential Cabinet officer to go to prison for a crime committed while in office.

Evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly supported Harding’s election, didn’t seem to care much about the scandal, just as today’s Evangelicals (82 percent of whom supported Trump in 2016) don’t seem too upset that some of his associates, including his former lawyer, campaign chairman, campaign adviser and national security adviser, have pled guilty or been indicted for crimes committed in the service of their boss.

In another bizarre parallel with Trump, Harding had a number of extramarital affairs, including some trysts that took place in the White House. Oh, and some of the Ohio cronies he appointed to prominent positions helped to keep his shelves stocked with bootleg whiskey—after he himself voted for the Eighteenth Amendment (a.k.a. Prohibition) as a Senator from Ohio. Evangelicals, who—along with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union—supported the Amendment, were willing to overlook Harding’s flouting of the law as well as standards of sexual impropriety, just as today’s Evangelicals excuse “baby Christian” Trump’s two divorces, numerous extramarital affairs and sexual assault of scores of women.

In perhaps the eeriest and most damning parallel of all, Evangelical Christians’ support of two men whose behavior directly affronted the values Evangelicals professed had, at its base, the same essential motive: preserving their idea of a “Christian” nation. Harding’s predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, helped to build the League of Nations but failed to get his own country to join it. His efforts were of a piece with his refusal to support Congressional efforts to restrict immigration: efforts that would finally succeed a year after Harding died in office, with the Immigration Act of 1924. One reason Evangelicals supported this legislation is that the massive immigrations of 1880-1920 were almost entirely non-Protestant (Catholics? Jews? Oh, my!) and were thus seen as undermining the “Christian” culture of this country. On the other hand, the League of Nations was seen as an attempt to subjugate America to the authority of outside forces that, presumably, would have opened the floodgates to people fleeing poverty, violence, natural disasters and political corruption in all corners of the world

Like the Harding-era policies supported by Evangelicals, Trump’s “America First” policy is an appeal to a yearning for a country based on “godly” American values that are undermined by immigration from poorer, darker countries. Thus, in another parallel with the Harding administration, “Christian” is conflated not only with the beliefs of a few Evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, but with whiteness and Anglo-Saxon heritage. Moreover, that vision of Christian Nation America is one free of “entanglements” with the rest of the world. That, along with the benefits that accrued to the Trump family and a few others in their income bracket, is a reason why Trump took the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord (signed by his predecessor and nemesis, Barack Obama) and other international agreements—and claimed that he did so because he was elected to “represent the people of Pittsburgh, not of Paris.” In doing so, he was able to present himself, to his supporters, as a champion of the “traditional” white “Christian” nation of which they were a part.

Such blatantly false appeals lead to the selling-out of the interests of this country. Evangelicals of nearly a century ago enabled the corruption that led to Teapot Dome and other scandals; Fundamentalist Christians of today likewise enabled Donald Trump to use the security of this country’s elections, and potentially of the security of this country itself, as currency in exchange for military aid to a country that, for decades, writhed under the oppression of Russia, its neighbor and former-US-enemy-turned-Trump-client.

History is repeating itself. Gordon Sondland helped to confirm that.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Jim Bakker Says Democrats Might Assassinate President Trump

jim and tammy faye bakker

This political fight that is going on in America is going to bring America apart, America is going to come apart. I believe there is such a hatred for our president, and I will say this and you may say I shouldn’t but I’m going to say it: if they [Democrats/Liberals] can’t get him out by courts and politically and put him in prison somehow, they want him to go to prison, they’re applauding now for Trump to go to prison—they will kill him if they have to.

—  Jim Bakker, Newsweek, Conservative Televangelist Jim Bakker Says Democrats Will Kill Trump If Impeachment Fails, November 18, 2019

Samantha Bee Shows Evangelical Trump Advisor Paula White is a Con-Artist

donald trump and paula white

Thrice divorced Evangelical pastor, evangelist, and female Elmer Gantry impersonator Paula White was recently given an adviser’s position in the Trump Administration. Slim, blonde, and attractive, White is President Trump’s favorite preacher. Of course, she is.

Last night, comedian Samantha Bee did a segment on White’s theology and her checkered past. Readers should find the following video informative, funny, and downright horrifying. That Paula White is anywhere near the White House should shock Republicans and Democrats alike. Unfortunately, Democrats have bigger fish to fry and Republicans love Jesus too much to ever criticize one of the Evangelical God’s sexy, anointed servants.

Video Link

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Paula White Demonizes Democrats and Non-Christians

donald trump and paula white

Paula White recently became Pastor-in-Chief for President Donald Trump. Thrice-married White is a political hack who seems to have no problem with Trump’s immoral, ungodly, criminal behavior. Instead of being a prophet, White shows herself to be a whore for Trump. White is just another in a long line of Evangelical preachers who have sold their souls for bowls of pottage.

A cadre of Evangelical preachers have started a politically motivated prayer ministry. Called One Voice Prayer Movement, these “preying” preachers hope to carry Trump to victory in 2020. White is the chairwoman of One Voice.

On Tuesday, One Voice held its first prayer conference call. What follows is an excerpt from White’s prayer. (All words in brackets added by Bruce.)

Lord, we ask you to deliver our president from any snare, any trap, any setup of the enemy, according to Ephesians 6:12. Any persons, entities [Democrats] that are aligned against the president will be exposed and dealt with and overturned by the superior blood of Jesus.

We know, according to Your Word, that we can clearly call out every strongman [Democrats], whether it’s the spirit of Leviathan, a spirit of Jezebel, Abaddon, whether it’s the spirit of Belial, we come against the strongmen [Democrats], especially Jezebel, that which would operate in sorcery and witchcraft, that which would operate in hidden things, veiled things, that which would operate in deception. We come against it according to Your Word.

… As we’re dealing with those spirits [Democrats], God, we thank You that the blood of Jesus is superior. So any persons, entities [Democrats] that are aligned against President Trump, the will of God, against the mantle that he would carry, against him as president, that it would be exposed and dealt with and overturned in Jesus’ name.

— Paula White, Charisma News, Paula White Cain Intercedes Against ‘Jezebel,’ ‘Leviathan,’ ‘Sorcery’ Attacking Trump, November 7, 2019

Quote of the Day: Do Born-Again Christians Have a Moral Conscience?

john stoehr

I am going to say something that I have never before said in public. I have professed my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

More than once, actually.

I don’t remember how many times. Maybe half a dozen? I do remember each time had the same empirical result, which is to say no empirical result. I was the same after as I was before. I knew nothing had changed because my Christian upbringing taught the importance of the truth. What I didn’t know then, and what seems obvious now, is that the truth isn’t The Truth.

Years later my dad asked if I was saved. It was important to him. I said yes, and I felt like a liar. Then I realized there’s no way he could prove I wasn’t. Faith, after all, isn’t falsifiable. Telling him I was “saved” had the same small-T truth to it as saying I accepted Jesus, which is to say, no truth at all. Saying the words of the profession of faith in Christ did not actuate my inner moral conscience anymore than saying abracadabra.

To born-again Christians, the event I describe here, in which you profess your faith in God who gave His only Begotten Son to be sacrificed on the Cross of Calvary so that Man might be forgiven his Sins, is seminal. The revelation of God’s Power and Glory is supposed to be a turning point one reflects on in old age in search of wisdom to pass on to youngsters embarking on their own walk with the Lord. It is the implicit or explicit lesson to every Sunday school class, every Bible story, and every sermon. Everything about born-again Christianity is bent toward the goal of your being born again. The only thing missing is how to be a good person.

For me to say that the words of profession of my faith in Jesus did not actuate my moral conscience any more than saying abracadabra did isn’t merely offensive to born-again Christians. It’s also confounding. I mean, the point of being born again is to avoid burning for an eternity in a Lake of Fire. What’s morality got to do with that? (The people I’m describing, by the way, are all white. I have no unique insight into African-American evangelical religion or culture.)

….

I’m no historian but it seems to me, as someone who has strayed (badly but gladly) from my born-again Christian beginnings, that many of today’s believers have turned the Reformation on its head in a way. Whole lifetimes can pass by without having to think seriously about what a good person is or how to put virtue into action—why, when, and how. And such apathy is made possible by the deep-seated belief that morality is the same as obedience to authority, especially obedience to God the Father. In other words, I am good because people in authority tell me I am good for obeying their authority. Take the believer out of the shadow of authority, however, and what do you have? A person who’s never developed a moral core. An empty vessel, sadly. Donald Trump and his white evangelical supporters have more in common than most people think. (Caveat: I developed a moral core, but it wasn’t easy on my own. Others often do the same.)

John Stoehr, Rewire.News, Are White Evangelicals as Concerned About Middle Eastern Christians as We’re Meant to Believe? October 21, 2019

Stoehr poses this question in the context of Evangelicalism’s professed love for Middle Eastern Christians. You can read the rest of his article here.

An Example of Our Broken, Costly Healthcare System

healthcare system

Last January, my wife was admitted to the hospital and later diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. In July, she was told she had bladder cancer and a fistula that had created a path between the colon and bladder (resulting in feces in the urine). A urologist and colorectal doctor planned to do surgery sometime in August. On August 1, I rushed Polly to the emergency room. Her catheter had come out — more precisely, blown out — and she was, to put it bluntly, shitting all over herself and the floor. After six days at the Community Hospital and Wellness Center (Bryan Hospital), the surgeons decided Polly’s surgery would have to be done at Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Late on August 6, Polly was transferred by Williams County EMS — the only ambulance service in the county —  to Parkview. Polly would later have successful bladder and colon surgery. All told, she spent eighteen days in the hospital. Total cost for the January and August hospitalizations? $200,000. And that’s what our insurance paid, not what the various service providers billed. The sheer amount of the billings and various providers is mind-boggling, even to a man who spent most of his adult life handling church and secular business finances.

Our annual insurance deductible is $3,400. Our maximum out of pocket is $6,750. On top of that, we pay $84 a week for family medical coverage. Polly’s employer pays another $19,000 a year to provide our family insurance.  This means that we personally paid $11,118 this year for medical expenses. Add what Polly’s employer pays to this amount, and our total medical costs exceed $30,000. And, all praise be to the God of American Capitalism, this starts all over again come January 1. Well, with one change: our insurance premiums go up again, as they have most years over the past two decades! (Some years, premiums remained the same, and deductible and out of pocket maximums were increased. Over the past two decades, our deductible has increased 1,000% and our family maximum out of pocket has increased over 500%)

Polly’s surgeries were a success. Last Friday, she had a colonoscopy to determine whether her colectomy could be reversed. The surgeon reported that her colon was free of inflammation and that the colectomy could be reversed. Surgery is planned for March 2020. The bladder cancer? The pathologist made a “mistake.” Polly doesn’t have cancer. The pathologist’s negligence caused untold grief for us. His error triggered a hospital-level tumor board review. The urologist who resected Polly’s bladder sent tissue samples to the University of Michigan for examination. The samples were cancer-free.

Polly having surgery in March 2020 means, of course, that we will have to meet our annual insurance deductible and maximum out of pocket again. This means that, once again, we will spend $11,118 for medical costs. Of course, this has been the norm more years than not for us over the past decade. The only difference this year is that it is Polly’s medical bills, and not mine, that are running up the tab.

And, that’s not all . . . (think of Billy Mays doing a late-night OxiClean infomercial).

We have almost $3,000 of medical bills that the insurance company didn’t pay. I spent several hours on the phone today, trying to figure out why these bills weren’t paid. Right now, my emotions run the range of going postal and weeping, wondering when we will get out from under the weight of medical costs. The EMS bill balance of $965 is ours to pay (the total billed amount for transport was almost $1,900). Polly’s transport was medically necessary and Williams County EMS was the only provider in the county. What were we to do, right? I asked both the hospitalist and nurse to make sure that the transport was covered by our insurance. They assured me that it was. And it was, with one big fuck you. Williams County EMS accepts our insurance, BUT they do not accept insurance adjustments and assignments. Polly’s insurance company paid what Medicare customarily pays, leaving us with a substantial balance. I am also dealing with pathology and radiology bills that were rejected by the insurance company due to incomplete paperwork, lack of reports, etc. Trying to find someone who could actually “fix” these problems for me proved futile. It’s up to me to contact the various players and make sure proper documents are submitted to the insurance company.

The American healthcare system is broken. And it will remain this way until our government leaders are willing to overhaul the system and take the profit out of medical care.  As long as insurance companies and large “non-profit” health care providers are in the driver’s seat, we shouldn’t expect change. In the meantime, all I know to do is send out monthly checks of $25, $50, and $100 to service providers as payment for our outstanding balances. One provider, Parkview Hospital and Physicians Group, refuses to accept payments for more than a twelve-month period. Owe them $2,400? Your monthly minimum payment is $200. Yes, they offer bill reduction if you are poor, but unfortunately, we are just over income line they use to determine eligibility. Our local hospital, thankfully, did provide us a partial bill reduction (and was, overall, substantially cheaper than Parkview). They also don’t demand exorbitant monthly payments. We have been paying them $100 a month for, it seems, forever.

I know our story is not any different from those of other Americans facing serious medical problems. We are held captive by a system that prioritizes profit over care; a system that is almost impossible to navigate. Until government leaders put the healthcare needs of their constituents first, we shouldn’t expect things to change. While the Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, Congress, along with the Federal Courts, are going out of their way to burn “Obamacare” to the ground. President Trump and Republicans promised Americans awesome health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is invalidated. I can safely say that no such “awesomeness” is forthcoming. For the Gerencsers, 2020 will be yet another year of mounting healthcare costs; just as it will be for millions of Americans. We are all dying, one medical bill at a time.

On October 2, 2019, Michael Hicks. professor of economics and the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, wrote an editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette castigating Parkview and other Indiana Hospitals for their excessive medical care costs. (We live in rural northwest Ohio. Toledo and Fort Wayne are our “big” cities, 40 miles or so in either direction.) Here’s what Hicks had to say:

Several weeks ago, a concerned citizen sent me a financial summary of Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals. He asked that I look into the issue of excessive profits by these systems.

I was skeptical that the issue would be relevant. Profits are critical to an economy; they serve as a guide to pricing and investment decisions and reward the men and women who create value. The demonization of profits is a sure sign of unformed thought. Moreover, not-for-profit hospitals have explicitly chosen to forgo profits as part of their operations, so I doubted the financial summary would reveal anything important.

I was mistaken.

What I discovered will deeply anger every Hoosier and should embarrass most hospital administrators and board members. I also expect it to cause significant changes to state policy with respect to these hospitals. This is likely to change the way we tax them, regulate their competitors and enforce antitrust laws. It will surely lead to civil litigation involving billions of dollars of excess profits.

It turns out the not-for-profit hospital industry and its network of clinics is the single most profitable industry in Indiana. These profits are so large that, when accumulated, they account for roughly 9% of the state’s total economy. As of 2017, this industry had accrued more than $27 billion – yes, billion. Yet, the not-for-profit industry in Indiana pays virtually no taxes and invests almost none of those profits locally. That money is invested in Wall Street, not Main Street.

However, they do charge Hoosiers a premium to access health care.

Earlier this year, a Rand Corporation study found that hospitals in Indiana were charging among the highest prices in the nation. While the hospital association has been fighting this excellent study, it is surely correct. I am confident the Rand study is right because I mapped these hospitals and compared the Rand price data with the lack of competition in each health care market.

In places where there is little competition, such as Fort Wayne, consumers pay more than twice the cost for a typical medical treatment as they do in places with the most competition. This is how these hospitals accrued excess profits that are roughly 12 times larger than the entire state of Indiana’s Rainy Day Fund.

This windfall of profits has happened fairly recently. In 1998, the typical Hoosier spent $330 less than the average American for health care. We now pay $819 more per person than does the average American. The only factor that can explain this is growing monopoly power among our not-for-profit hospitals.

If you are not shocked by this, nothing can shock you. In a typical post-recession year, these excess profits were so large that they shaved almost 30% off economic growth in the state. Let me highlight some particularly egregious examples.

Parkview Hospital is the most blatant example. In one recent year, Parkview Hospital in Wabash earned a 48% profit rate. By comparison, Walmart, which also has a store in Wabash, had a profit rate of 3.12% that year. Parkview Hospital’s profit absorbed a full 4.1% of the county’s gross domestic product.

Using data from a ProPublica investigative website, I found IU Ball Memorial Hospital enjoyed a lavish 23.8% profit in that year. This was more than $100 million, or a full 2.5% of the county’s GDP. Despite this, the president of Ball Memorial recently begged the city of Muncie to subsidize new luxury apartments so his doctors could live downtown.

That subsidy will cost Muncie Community Schools more than $2 million, which just so happens to be about two days of profits at the not-for-profit IU Ball Memorial Hospital.

There are literally dozens of other outrageous examples reflecting an appalling lack of governance at not-for-profit hospitals.

To be fair, there are a few hospitals that choose not to participate in this plunder of their patients and communities. These good actors, along with the not-for-profit community as a whole, are hapless victims of this outrageous monopolization of health care in our state. I feel especially sorry for the faith-based community which will surely be linked unfairly to some of these institutions. They should be among the first to call for legislative intervention and governance change in these hospitals.

Local governments are also victims. The most profitable industry in our state pays no property tax and no income tax, but overcharges schools, and city and county governments for health care. There is almost certainly a tax reckoning coming for not-for-profit hospitals, which will add much to the coffers of local government.

Maybe the only good news in all of this is that this situation is a plaintiff attorney’s dreamscape. There is a $27 billion settlement pool alongside the most abundant evidence of anti-competitive behavior I have ever seen. If you lead a school, business or municipal government that has paid health care expenses in Indiana, find a good trial lawyer, or better yet a class-action specialist.

This news about Indiana is now attracting national attention as an example of a health care system run amok. This is the most shocking thing I have seen in more than two decades of public policy research.

Monopoly pricing at hospitals is likely a contributor to our state’s nearly 10-place decline in health rankings over the past two decades.

The most similar modern phenomenon I have witnessed is the effect of strip-mining on many Appalachian communities.

To place this in historical context, the profit rates at Indiana’s not-for-profit hospitals are larger than anything the Gilded Age robber barons were able to secure. In this observation is a final lesson.

In the process of vetting this study with several colleagues, I shared it with one lifetime Republican and veteran of two GOP administrations. His response was simply that this is the single best argument for Warren/Sanders-style health care reform he had ever seen. He is not wrong, and that alone should prompt quick legislative, regulatory and legal action.

Hicks’ editorial, along with my plight, demonstrate some of the greatest reasons for a major overhaul of our nation’s healthcare system. But let us not hold our collective breaths waiting for that to happen. It seems the health of constituents is not a priority in Congress.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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