James Dobson

In the 'battle at the border,' evangelical leaders jostle for Trump-era media relevancy

In the 'battle at the border,' evangelical leaders jostle for Trump-era media relevancy

Unless you’ve been under a rock recently, you know much of the country is fixated on the mess at our border.

What’s not as visible is how evangelical Christians are fighting among themselves over all of this. In the latest development, an old foot soldier in evangelical warfare contacted all his followers to say that President Donald Trump is doing the right thing.

That foot soldier would be Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, now 83. He retired from Focus 10 years ago (although HuffPost says he was forced out), then founded “Family Talk,” a nonprofit that produces his radio programs. More on him in a moment.

With thousands of people each day forcing their way into the United States, there has erupted amongst evangelicals what I like to call the “battle at the border.”

Many of you may have heard of the spitting match between Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., and the Rev. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore was mourning the border situation on Twitter — specifically conditions endured by children — and Falwell slammed into him for being unqualified to speak about the matter.

The people following this have mostly been religion beat specialists. Amy Sullivan had one of the better descriptive lines in calling it a “tale of two tweets,” as it showed huge fissures among evangelicals. The secular media didn’t do a whole lot with this inside-baseball battle, but there’s now a term, #SBCdeepstate and a lot of grandstanding on What Would Jesus Do At The Border.

Last Friday, a Catholic bishop thought he had the answer to that one, which is why he personally escorted a family across the border even though they’d been turned back once by the border patrol.

Then you have the Rev. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, who in this Christian Post story tells of his visit to the border and how everything there is peachy keen.

Of course, the Babylonian Bee had to run a piece on the lunacy of it all.

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And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

President Donald Trump hosted a "huge state-like dinner" — as the Christian Broadcasting Network described it — for 100 evangelical leaders invited to the White House on Monday night.

What, you didn't hear about it?

Apparently, the event was not considered particularly newsworthy by major news organizations — which is surprising to me given how often Trump's evangelical supporters make it into headlines. (Hey, did you know that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the brash billionaire?)

Is what the president of the United States says to some of his strongest and most influential supporters not worthy of prominent ink? 

When I looked this morning, I saw mainly stories from conservative media, from Breitbart to the Washington Times.

The Washington Times characterized the dinner this way:

President Trump hosted a dinner of Evangelical leaders at the White House Monday night and told them that he has delivered “just about everything I promised” on policies of religious liberty and defense of life.

“The support you’ve given me has been incredible,” Mr. Trump told the group. “But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised.”

Among those attending the event were the Rev. Franklin Graham, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Pastor Paula White, a prominent spiritual adviser to the president.

Mr. Trump said under his administration, “the attacks on the communities of faith are over.” He cited actions to defend the religious conscience of health-care workers, teachers, students and religious employers; executive branch guidance on protecting religious liberty, and proposed regulations to bar taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion.

“Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re standing for religious believers, because we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. And we know that freedom is a gift from our Creator.”

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Believe it or not, Newsweek folks still don't know who Dr. James Dobson is and what he does

Believe it or not, Newsweek folks still don't know who Dr. James Dobson is and what he does

Ah, come on! Didn't I just have to write one of these echo chamber, "Here we go again" posts?

Indeed, that would be the case ("Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants"), exactly 24 hours ago.

Well, now I have to write another one, because someone at Newsweek just messed up, again, providing a variation on a screwed-up theme, once again, that has haunted copy-desk folks at that news magazine since the earliest days of GetReligion.

Here's the new headline, in that all-caps style that appears to be the current Newsweek norm: "TRUMP IMPEACHMENT MUST BE PREVENTED THROUGH DAY OF FASTING AND PRAYER, EVANGELIST SAYS."

Now, it helps to know that the "evangelist" in this case is the activist, counselor and author whose name is "Dr. James Dobson." Let's flash back to an early, early GetReligion post by Doug LeBlanc, which ran with this headline: "That's Dr. Dobson to you, punks." It noted a 2005 correction at Newsweek that humbly noted:

In our Aug. 1 issue, a sidebar on lobbying groups ("A User's Guide to the Groups") incorrect[ly] identifies James Dobson as a reverend. He in fact has a Ph.D. in child psychology and goes by Dr. Dobson. Newsweek regrets the error.

LeBlanc noted that Newsweek had to turn around and run a similar correction the following year, after the same mistake. Thus, the co-founder of this blog added, wryly:

Newsweek sure seems to have the correction in a macro somewhere. ... The style guardians at Newsweek might consider adding a stylebook entry for Dobson, James, Ph.D.

Now, it's time to slightly expand that correction. Here is the top of the new Trump-related report:

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Religion News Service offers readers one half of the 'Why did God smite Houston?' story

Religion News Service offers readers one half of the 'Why did God smite Houston?' story

I got a telephone call yesterday from an Anglican who has had lots of experience dealing with mainstream reporters in the past decade or two. He may or may not call himself an "evangelical," because he's an intellectual who uses theological terms with great precision.

This priest had an interesting question, one linked to press coverage of Donald Trump, but actually quite bigger than that. The question: Are American journalists intentionally trying to avoid discussions of the complex divisions inside evangelical Protestantism?

Yes, what punched his frustration button was the "80-plus percent of white evangelicals just love Trump" mantra in press coverage. That ignores the painful four-way split among evangelicals caused by the Hillary Clinton vs. The Donald showdown. That would be (1) evangelicals who do love Trump no matter what, (2) those who cast agonizing votes for him as a last resort, (3) those who went third party and (4) those on the left who voted for Clinton.

Now, he said, there is another option between (2) and (3). There are evangelicals who voted for Trump and now regret it. Call them the President Pence in 2017 camp.

However, when one looks at elite media coverage, it seems that no one (other than a few Godbeat pros) realize that the evangelical world is not a monolith.

Want to see another example of this syndrome? Check out the Religion News Service story with this headline: "Where are the condemnations of Harvey as God’s punishment?" Here is the overture:

(RNS) When Superstorm Sandy hit the New York metropolitan area in 2012, the floodwaters in Lower Manhattan were still rising when some pastors pointed out what, to them, was obvious.
“God is systematically destroying America,” the Rev. John McTernan, a conservative Christian pastor who runs a ministry called USA Prophecy, said in a post-Sandy blog entry that has since been removed. The reason God was so peeved, he claimed, was “the homosexual agenda.”
McTernan belongs to a subset of religious conservatives -- including some well-known names -- who see wrath and retribution in natural disasters. Usually, their logic revolves around LGBT themes. ...

Yes, friends and neighbors, we are headed into Pat Robertson territory again.

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Crikey! Top Aussie journalists insert obvious errors into serious spousal abuse story

Crikey! Top Aussie journalists insert obvious errors into serious spousal abuse story

I've never been to Australia, but I've had a large enough circle of antipodean friends to know that "Crikey!" is an exasperation often used in conversation. What does the term mean? Click here.

It fits, in some respects, to the remarkable story the Australian Broadcasting Corp., known as "ABC," has put together -- on its website and on air -- about the links between spousal abuse and religion, specifically, in this case, Christianity.

Let me assert, up front and in the strongest possible terms, that anyone who abuses a spouse or domestic partner or boyfriend/girlfriend -- anyone -- deserves to be fully investigated and if circumstances warrant, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There is no excuse, whatsoever, for any violence in the home. For reporting on faith-based connections to domestic violence, ABC deserves to be praised.

Praise isn't all the web version of story deserves, however. It also merits some scrutiny, especially when paired with a video interview with reporter Julia Baird (see clip above).

The web story, with the click-attracting headline "'Submit to your husbands': Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God," begins with a suitably dramatic (and long) retelling of a harrowing incident:

The culprits were obvious: it was the menopause or the devil.
Who else could be blamed, Peter screamed at his wife in nightly tirades, for her alleged insubordination, for her stupidity, her lack of sexual pliability, her refusal to join him on the 'Tornado' ride at a Queensland waterpark, her annoying friendship with a woman he called "Ratface"? For her sheer, complete failure as a woman?

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Press coverage of evangelicals and Trump is getting confusing, and that's a good thing

Press coverage of evangelicals and Trump is getting confusing, and that's a good thing

Do you ever have those moments when you think the software gods that run the World Wide Web have lost their minds? You know, all those Amazon-esque programs that plug into your browsing history and try to predict what you want to read, watch or purchase.

So the video at the top of this post was the first thing that showed up this morning on YouTube when I went looking to see if anyone has done a report or commentary about religious reactions to the latest Hurricane Donald revelations. As you would expect, there are more than a few prophecy videos of this kind out there, some of which are just as worthy of The Onion.

No one doubts that there are wild people who are convinced Donald Trump is God's man for this hour. A few even have names news consumers would recognize, dating back to the Religious Right era.

But in terms of serious mainstream coverage -- about the "hot mic" fiasco and related Bill Clinton 2.0 issues -- the big news is that some reporters are starting to get a handle on key facts:

* There are people who buy the Trump gospel. Period.

* Not all religious and cultural conservatives fit under that umbrella. At some point, more journalists are going to need to listen -- seriously -- to conservative Catholics, Mormons and the new generation of conservative evangelical leaders.

* The old guard of the Religious Right is not where the action is, today, when it comes to growth in conservative Christianity.

* Many, many evangelical Protestants who "backed" Trump didn't back him because they think he is the best candidate. They bit their lips and said they would vote for him because they fear a Hillary Clinton victory more than anything else.

* Quite a few religious conservatives have had enough, when it comes to Trump. Did you see the LifeWay poll about a near majority of Protestant pastors that STILL do not know what they want to do on election day? "Undecided" remains the top choice.

So what do you need to read today?

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The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

 The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

Attempting to comprehend the mystery of Donald Trump’s religion, his critics can’t decide whether to blame Peale or Paula.

Some consider that “positive thinking” guru, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), the inspiration for what they dislike. (Reports say Trump, a boyhood Presbyterian, never actually joined  Peale’s New York City congregation, which is part of the Reformed Church in America.) For other skeptics, it’s not Peale who’s appalling but Paula White.

Writers with yahoo.com and then Politico.com have recently profiled White,  a popular broadcaster, speaker, author and since 2012 senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla. This is one of America’s countless high-growth independent congregations with a “Charismatic” or “Neo-Pentecostal” flavor.

White, a 50-year-old grandmother, and her ministries deserve further reportage with two angles, Trump’s creed and a major fissure in the unruly U.S. evangelical movement.

Veteran activist James Dobson alerted media to the White connection by passing along reports that Trump, a “baby Christian,” was led to renewed faith by White. Trump and White were pals long before she helped broker his 2015 and 2016 meetings with evangelical types. Trump endorsed one of her books in 2007 calling her “a beautiful person,” appeared on White’s TV show, and White rents a New York apartment in a Trump building.

So let's turn to Trump’s fiercest evangelical foe, the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore, the Washington D.C. voice for America’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention.

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It's the (oh, no, not again) art of Trump’s deal with many old-guard evangelicals

It's the (oh, no, not again) art of Trump’s deal with many old-guard evangelicals

From the You Can’t Make This Up Department: During Donald Trump’s summit with nearly 1,000 evangelicals (GetReligion podcast here), Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. proudly tweeted out a photo of himself and wife Becki greeting the man who would be president.

Seen on the wall behind them was a framed Playboy magazine photo of Trump alongside a nubile Playmate.

Online liberal satirist Sarah Wood noted the Playmate is currently in prison for drug smuggling, and wondered why Falwell was “honored” to associate with “a thrice-married man who has more than insinuated that he wants to date his daughter, is currently racist, made money off screwing people over, and has posed for Playboy. Praise Jesus!”

Less derisively, Professor Tobin Grant, a Religion News Service columnist, quoted Trump’s new friends who not long ago warned he “can’t be trusted,” needs to “repent,” is “embarrassing,” a “scam,” and a“misogynist and philanderer” laden with “untruthfulness.” 

A second Grant piece listed words Trump never uttered during the 90-minute encounter: that would be Jesus, Christ, Bible, prayer, faith. “God” was mentioned once, however.

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The state of Donald Trump's soul: Lots of chortles and, so far, few factual questions

The state of Donald Trump's soul: Lots of chortles and, so far, few factual questions

At least once a month, I receive some kind of angry email (or perhaps see comments on Facebook) from someone who is upset about mainstream press coverage of President Barack Obama that identifies him as a Christian.

Very few of these notes come from people who think Obama is a closet Muslim. Mostly, they come from doctrinally conservative Christians whose churches clash with the Obama White House on moral and cultural issues, most of them having to do with the Sexual Revolution. What they are saying, of course, is, "Obama isn't one of us." His actions show that.

Of course he isn't one of them. But it's perfectly accurate for journalists to note that the president has made a profession of faith (numerous times) as a liberal mainline Protestant. He walked the aisle and joined a congregation in the United Church of Christ, the bleeding edge of the liberal Protestant world, and has, functionally, been an Episcopalian while in the White House. Before becoming president he was quite candid about the details of his faith (the essential interview here). Obama has a liberal Christian voice.

This, of course, brings us to the God-and-politics story de jour right now -- the online interview in which Dr. James Dobson, once the creator of the Focus on the Family operation, says that he knows the person who recently led Donald Trump to born-again faith.

You can imagine the Twitter-verse reaction to this news, coming so soon after that closed-door New York City meeting between Trump and about 1,000 selected evangelical leaders. Here is the crucial material from The New York Times, which, as you can imagine, opened with a question lede. Then:

In an interview recorded ... by a Pennsylvania pastor, the Rev. Michael Anthony, Dr. Dobson said he knew the person who had led Mr. Trump to Christ, though he did not name him.

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