Dispatches from three outposts of the evangelical world: Arkansas, Montana, and Pennsylvania.
The first article came from a friend from Arkansas, where Sarah Huckabee Sanders is running for governor. Sanders is the daughter of former governor, Baptist preacher and sometimes Republican presidential nominee Mike Huckabee. Sanders herself is probably best known for her role as Donald Trump’s press secretary and her (how do you put that delicately?) less than truthful briefings.
The Sanders campaign send-off shows the candidate smiling with the promise that as governor, “Sarah will defend our freedom and empower the Arkansans.” The bullet points contain right-wing boilerplate like saying no to “Joe Biden and the radical left,” no mask mandates, and supporting law enforcement.
But the bullet point (an apt designation, as you’ll see) that caught my eye reads, “Protect our God-given Second Amendment rights.”
As a historian, I believe context is crucial. Let’s look at the second amendment first. No, no mention of God, but consider the text: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” How curious that in all the reporting on the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, no one has yet identified the names of the killer militias.
I’ve read the Bible most of my life, and somehow I missed the fact that God gave me the right to bear arms. Oh wait, here it is – in pica type following Genesis 1. It turns out that after God created Adam and Eve, the Almighty provided them with AR-15s.
Second Amendment Divine Rights. Who knew?
From Montana comes news that the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church, someone named JD Hall, was arrested on May 11 and charged with impaired driving and carrying a concealed weapon while in state. drunk.
I had never heard of Hall, but as far as I know he made a name for himself decrying liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention. (Really!) Apparently some of his posts were so vitriolic that he was banned from Facebook, and he offered a religious freedom exemption letter, available as a PDF, to anyone who didn’t want the COVID vaccine. .
When news of Hall’s arrest surfaced, his attorneys rushed to defend him. They insisted he hadn’t been drinking, but instead suffered from vitamin D deficiency. Hall handed in his resignation to the church, which refused to accept it, posting to the place a lengthy statement, which concluded, “The congregation spoke openly to assure Pastor Hall that he should not be ashamed, that we do not care what the world thinks, for that we know the truth.
Church leaders neglected to address the weapons charge.
Finally, head to Grove City College in Pennsylvania. In October 2020, Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racismspoke at the chapel and spoke with students at Grove City College, an evangelical school in western Pennsylvania.
Tisby fondly remembers his visit there. He “found the students respectful, engaging and curious. Although some clearly disagreed with my statements about racism, they did not seem to harbor any animosity while I was present. (Full disclosure: I was invited to lecture at Grove City in 2012, and came away with similar and very favorable impressions.)
More than a year later, a group of students and parents signed a petition, complaining that “a destructive and deeply unbiblical worldview seems to be asserting itself at the GCC.” This worldview was (drum roll, please) the dreaded Critical Race Theory (CRT).
The petitioners demanded that the school’s Diversity Council be disbanded and that the school reject critical race theory “as unbiblical and inconsistent with the founding principles of the university and that all faculty members who promote it are required to stop”.
Several commissions of inquiry were formed, and the matter was brought before the board of directors, which issued a statement condemning CRT and quoted (seemingly with approval) directors who said that “inviting Mr. Tisby to speaking in the chapel was a mistake”. The board disbanded the Diversity Council and called on the president to exercise greater control over who is invited to appear in the chapel.
One of the report’s final passages reads, “To those petitioners and outside observers who may have wondered if Grove City College will ‘wake up,’ the answer is emphatically no.”
Jemar Tisby’s response, an open letter to the Grove City College Board of Trustees, was a model of grace, clarity and sobriety.
“I write to you with a heavy heart and with hope,” the letter began. Its task, Tisby said, was to address “the supposed ‘mission drift’ in the school due to racial justice education.” He noted that the report used the word “conservative” 19 times and the word “Christian” only 10 times.
Tisby called on board members to what he called “brave Christianity,” which he said “doesn’t compromise with racism, it confronts it.”
But Tisby’s most powerful statement was what he didn’t say. He simply included a photo of the school administrators. I probably don’t need to tell you that of those 29 smiling faces, not one was a person of color.
Randall Balmer is John Phillips Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College and author of