The Rushmore Report: Which Presidents Were the Most Religious?

Consistency is something of an American tradition – at least as far as our presidents are concerned. Forty-four individuals have served as Commander-in-Chief. (Grover Cleveland held two non-consecutive terms.) They came from 18 states, have all been male, and almost all claimed to be Christians. Only three were religiously unaffiliated: Jefferson, Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson. But who have been our most religious presidents?

Six stand out.

Jimmy Carter

Famous for being a Baptist Sunday School teacher, Carter is recognized as the first “born again” president. Prior to serving, Carter took a missionary journey in which he knocked on strangers’ doors and said, “I’m Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer, and I’m here to talk to you about Jesus Christ.” Carter read the Bible and prayed daily throughout his time in office, yet he would ultimately be rejected by the emerging evangelical right.

George W. Bush

This second-generation president was one of the most comfortable when it came to talking about his faith, as he courted religious leaders, and used overtly religious language to justify policy decisions. Bush once famously remarked,”I believe God wants me to be president.” So intense was his spiritual fervor that Steven Mansfield concluded, “Whatever else the presidency of George W. Bush imprints on American history, it will at least have granted the nation an opportunity to rethink the role of religion in public life.”

William McKinley

A proud Methodist, McKinley avoided drinking, swearing, and smoking. He was a regular church attender while in office and according to eyewitnesses was quite an enthusiastic hymn singer. He also believed that the government had a duty to spread both democracy and the Christian religion abroad. McKinley’s last words before death were reportedly, “Goodbye, goodbye all. It’s God’s way. His will, not ours, be done. Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee.”

James Madison

President Madison was a faithful Episcopalian who signed a federal bill to appropriate funds for Bible distribution. Madison served on the Congressional committee that established and selected Congressional chaplains and he encouraged all public officials to openly declare their faith. Later in life, Madison retracted many of his beliefs – arguing that government-paid chaplains and president-led prayers were unconstitutional. But he is still one of America’s most religious heads of state.

Abraham Lincoln

Though he often struggled with faith and even doubted the divinity of Jesus Christ, Lincoln often utilized religious language and quoted the Bible in public speeches. Many of Lincoln’s friends attested to his personal conversion, but Lincoln never explicitly declared it. He was not a formal member of any church, but only about a quarter of Americans were in 1860. Even still, Lincoln’s faith has been intensely felt among Americans since the time of his presidency, perhaps due to the conditions under which he served.

James Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the only clergyman to serve as Commander-in-Chief. He was lauded for his skill as a preacher, and he learned Greek in order to better understand the New Testament.

About the Author

Jonathan Merritt writes and blogs on issues pertaining to faith and culture.

The Rushmore Report: Jesse Jackson – ‘Trump Not Going to Heaven’

Imagine that a white conservative religious leader had said that President Obama wasn’t going to heaven. Imagine that, say, Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell, Jr. said Obama “would not qualify to get into Jesus’ kingdom.” Well, that’s exactly what Rev. Jesse Jackson just said about President Trump. That deafening silence you hear is the response of the mainstream media.

The civil rights activist said this week that the Electoral College “must come down,” and then warned that President Trump may have trouble making it into heaven because of his views on immigrants.

Jackson said that Trump demands people “speak English, be qualified and have a job skill,” The Daily Wire reported.

“Jesus would not qualify to come into Trump’s country, and Trump wouldn’t qualify to get into Jesus’ kingdom,” Jackson said, going on to quote the Book of Matthew’s passage about helping the underprivileged.

Jackson also called for reminders of the Confederacy to be removed from public view, adding that “the statues must come down.”

It’s not clear why these so incredibly offensive statues never registered a complaint from Rev. Jackson over the past 60 years of his public life.

We live in amazing times. A leading religious leader can say the sitting president of the United States isn’t going to heaven, and no one says a thing. Had a conservative, evangelical leader said the same thing about President Obama, they would be criticized from within their own ranks, not to mention the outrage we would hear from every late night comedian and pundit on every television network.

But it is okay for a black liberal religious leader to do this. And no hate speech is off limits, so long as Mr. Trump (or his family) is the target.

The most prominent civil rights leader and black religious leader of the past 50 years just said, essentially, the president of the United States is not going to heaven. And it’s not even reported by the mainstream media.

This is not the American I grew up in.

The Rushmore Report: Hillary Clinton’s Pastor Compares Her Election Loss to Jesus’ Death on the Cross

After Hillary Clinton suffered a devastating loss in the 2016 presidential race to Donald Trump, her longtime pastor compared her loss to the death of Christ on the cross. Rev. William S. Shillady, who currenlty serves as executive director of the United Methodist City Society in New York, told CNN that Clinton leaned on her faith in the wake of her political loss, and compared the loss to the death of Christ.

Shillady says Clinton is considering opportunities in the church, including lay preaching, a long-held tradition in the Methodist Church. He said, “I think she is going to look at occasionally doing that [preaching] and sharing the good news without it being a politically charged environment.”

The pastor added, “She is very comfortable in the pulpit. It’s something that comes naturally to her, and she knows the Bible. That’s why I think she’d make a great preacher.”

But it is the comparison to the death of Christ that is baffling. Shillady says her loss was “so devastating” that it “might have been comparable to what the disciples experienced when Jesus died.”

He continued, “I woke up that morning [after the election] and it felt like maybe what the Apostles experienced on Good Friday. Their leader, master, and savior was dead and gone and they didn’t know what to do.”

I don’t know the pain of losing a presidential election I was expected to win. I’m sure it is traumatic. But to compare the loss Clinton suffered, and the grief of her followers to the death of Christ on the cross and the grief of his followers is a bit much. For one, Hillary didn’t die. Second, if her pastor’s metaphor is accurate, those who considered her their “leader, master, and savior” really need to aim a little higher.

The Rushmore Report: Who Attends Weekly White House Bible Study?

To the horror of Americans for Freedom from Religion and other far-left groups, many in the Trump Administration are gathering once a week for group Bible Study. A report by the Christian Broadcasting Network confirms that many of those in the weekly group are high-ranking government officials. While the practice is not unique to this administration, the criticism has reached unprecedented levels.

Regular attendees at the Bible Study include Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also attend the meetings when their schedules permit.

The sessions are led by Ralph Drollinger, a former NBA basketball player who turned to the ministry after his injury-shortened career. He also leads two Bible Study classes per week on Capitol Hill for members of the House and Senate. For his part, while he does not attend the Bible Studies, President Trump has requested, and receives, weekly notes on each lesson.

This is not the first administration to host weekly Bible Study groups. Under the blessing of former president George W. Bush, his staff held a weekly Bible Study and prayer group. Often, ordained minister and Attorney General John Ashcroft would lead the studies.

There are no rules against studying the Bible in a federal building, though the U.S. government issued guidelines in 1997, titled “Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace,” that stresses the importance of supervisors being careful to not press employees to participate in any way.

“Because supervisors have the power to hire, fire, or promote, employees may reasonably perceive their supervisors’ religious expression as coercive, even if it was not intended as such,” the guidelines say. “Therefore, supervisors should be careful to ensure that their statements and actions are such that employees do not perceive any coercion . . . and should, where necessary, take appropriate steps to dispel such misperceptions.”

Is it a good idea for top-level government officials to gather for weekly Bible Study and prayer on government grounds? In 2017, I can’t think of many ideas I like more.

 

The Rushmore Report: President Trump’s Thin Evangelical Line

We all know that Donald Trump is a blunt, brash New Yorker. He’s a street fighter and he won the presidency that way. Tens of millions of Americans love his tenacity and penchant for brawling. But there’s a line – in the minds of his strong evangelical support. It is a line he must not cross if he hopes to maintain their undying affection. And the president is at risk of crossing this thin evangelical line.

The evangelical attraction to Donald Trump was strong during the GOP primaries and reached even greater heights during the General Election when a record number of evangelicals – 81 percent – voted for him. But he needs to be very careful if he wants to duplicate or even improve on that number next time around. Calling out the media is one thing, but too often Trump makes it personal. That’s another thing. Evangelicals don’t mind President Trump’s unorthodox ways or his fighting spirit. They like it when he socks it to Washington bureaucrats and phony politicians. But a pattern of petty personal insults will put Trump in danger of “evangelical voter apathy” in 2020.

Diehards will stay with him no matter what, but that won’t be enough to win in 2020. He needs those “anti-Hillary evangelicals.” Will they show up and vote for the next Democratic nominee? No. Many of them may just not show up at all. If 81 percent turnout becomes 77 percent evangelical turnout (especially in key swing states), then he’s toast. It’s that simple. He needs evangelicals and he knows it. Any slippage and it’s game, set, match. He can’t afford to go down this road. It’s not worth it for him.

Look, the art of this deal is pretty simple if President Trump wants to seal the deal with evangelicals going forward: he can bash the media, the “deep state,” and disingenuous politicians all day long. He just shouldn’t make it personal. Evangelicals are watching. And honestly, is it worth it? I get it. They insult him multiple times daily and Trump’s instinct is to punch back ten times harder. But sometimes it just gets way too personal and it can cause him more political harm than good.

This seems like a good time for a Bible verse, not just for President Trump, but for all of us. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

About the Author

David Brody is the Chief White House Correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

The Rushmore Report: ‘A Friend Among Friends’: Evangelicals Pray Over Trump – Again

A group of evangelical leaders prayed over President Trump in the Oval Office, with Vice President Mike Pence in attendance as well. Following a meeting hosted by the Office of Public Liaison last week, the evangelical leaders met with Trump and other Administration leaders. Johnnie Moore, president of the KAIROS Company, snapped a photo of the men laying their hands on Trump in prayer.

In a statement emailed to The Christian Post, Moore described the event as “a very special moment, but it was also not an unusual one.”

Moore continued, “Various ones of us have prayed with him many times and have been praying for him a long time. We believe we are a praying nation, and we begin by praying for our leaders. As you know, most evangelicals believe it’s a sacred responsibility to pray for the president, and this is very much in our tradition as Americans who once took – and sometimes still do take – this responsibility seriously.”

Moore also noted that while he and other evangelical leaders had prayed for former President Barack Obama, “it’s different with President Trump.” He says, “When we are praying for President Trump we are praying within the context of a real relationship, of true friendship.” Moore called it “a visit among friends.”

When he first declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2015, Trump’s relationship with evangelicals was a tenuous one. Many prominent evangelical leaders endorsed other Republican candidates, especially U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.

However, after securing the Republican nomination and since taking office, Trump’s support among evangelicals has grown and remains steady despite his controversies.

Moore is not the only evangelical leader to see the Trump Administration as offering unprecedented welcome for evangelicals.

Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said there has “been no American president in history who has reached out to evangelicals to the extent that Trump has.”

About the Author

Michael Gryboski is a writer for The Christian Post.

The Rushmore Report: Marco Rubio Mocks Politico for Saying Proverbs Is Republican

GOP Senator Marco Rubio blasted left-leaning media, Politico, which published an article commenting that he was tweeting “the most Republican part of the Bible,” referring to his use of verses of the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. “Proverbs is the Republican part of the Bible? I don’t think Solomon had yet joined the GOP when he wrote the first 29 chapters of Proverbs,” Rubio wrote.

Politico had written, “Each day, the Florida senator is quoting a verse from Proverbs, the GOP’s favorite part of the Bible.” The article didn’t stop Rubio from quoting Proverbs.

Hours after commenting on the Politico article, the senator’s tweet read, “Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but those who restrain their lips do well. Proverbs 10:19.”

The author, Joel. B. Baden, professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, wrote that the senator had been tweeting Bible verses since May 16.

“He has tweeted a biblical verse almost every day since then. Almost all of them come from the Old Testament, and specifically the book of Proverbs,” Baden wrote, remarking that “Proverbs is probably the most Republican book of the entire Bible.”

The author said other Republicans also like to quote Proverbs, citing Ben Carson as an example.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Carson “compared himself favorably to the blustery style of then-candidate Donald Trump by quoting Proverbs 22:4. ‘By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life.'”

Gerald Ford’s favorite Bible passage was Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust wholeheartedly in the Lord, put no faith in your own perception; in every course you take, have him in mind: He will see that your paths are smooth,” Baden added. “Ford repeated this when he served in the Navy during World War II, throughout his presidency and in his swearing in.”

When Rubio first started posting Bible verses to Twitter, there were some negative reactions, which Rubio described as a “Twitter freak out.” One political blogger called the Bible verses “oddly terrifying.”

Despite the left-wing criticism of posting Bible verses on his personal Twitter account, the senator does not plan to stop anytime soon.

About the Author

Anugrah Kumar is a frequent contributor to The Christian Post.

 

 

The Rushmore Report: President Trump’s Message to Catholics

On behalf of the President, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast last week, using his speech to sell the crowd of religious leaders and devotees on the spiritual bona fides of the new administration. Pence emphasized the need for religious freedom, both domestically and globally, and said the U.S. is dedicated to ensuring liberty for all faiths.

“America condemns the persecution of any faith, in any place, at any time,” Pence said. “And we will confront it with all our might.”

But the vice president spent a good part of his speech selling the crowd on Trump’s commitment to religious issues.

While Pence was raised Catholic, he converted to evangelical Christianity in the 1990s and has been unabashed in speaking out about faith-based issues. The vice president has worked closely on policies related to religious freedom and abortion during this early period of the administration.

This includes an executive order Trump signed last month that he said would promote religious liberties by shielding religious organizations who take political stands from tax consequences and by asking federal agencies to consider loosening requirements that employers cover contraception in their insurance plans.

Many religious leaders, particularly evangelical Christians, have said they feel the executive order does not go far enough, however. Pence touted the policy Tuesday as an example of Trump’s work on safeguarding religious liberty.

“I can assure you this president believes that no American should have to violate their conscience to fully participate in American life,” Pence said. “And he has not just talked about it, he has taken action to protect men and women of faith in the public square.”

As for the president, Trump had an audience with Pope Francis last month, which Pence described as a rich discussion of global issues. Observers said the pope, who has publicly criticized Trump’s plan to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, looked uncomfortable meeting the president.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said last year. Trump responded that the pontiff’s remarks were “disgraceful.”

Still, many of the Catholics attending last week’s prayer breakfast did not seem bothered by Trump’s comments or religious record.

About the Author

Andrew Bahl writes for Yahoo News.

The Rushmore Report: Trump Prayed for Wisdom at Western Wall during Jerusalem Visit

President Donald Trump prayed to have God’s wisdom as he touched the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first American president to make such a visit. “I visited the Western Wall and marveled at the monument to God’s presence and man’s perseverance – I was humbled to place my hand upon the wall and to pray in that holy place for wisdom from God,” he said in a speech at the Israel Museum.

Prior to going to the Western Wall, Trump visited one of Christianity’s most sacred sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which some believe is the place where Jesus was crucified. The trip to Jerusalem was the second stop on Trump’s first international trip as president.

His flight to the Jewish state was also historic in that he flew directly from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a flight pattern that never happens. In Saudi Arabia, he gave a speech to leaders of over 50 Muslim-majority countries, challenging them to drive terrorists out of their lands.

The speech struck some theological notes, particularly when he said that Muslim religious leaders must urge their followers to reject barbarism. “If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned,” he said.

The faith of the 45th president has been a subject of much speculation in American political life.

The thrice-married businessman originally from Queens spoke clumsily about religion during the election cycle, infamously joking about “Two Corinthians” and saying that he never asked God for forgiveness during the campaign. Yet the vast majority of white evangelical Christians, most of whom are staunch supporters of Israel, voted for him on Election Day and Trump has solicited the support and input of conservative evangelical leaders.

At the signing of an executive order protecting religious liberty earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence, who is known for his sincere faith, introduced Trump as a “believer” who “loves his family and loves his country with unshakable faith in God.”

His daughter, Ivanka Trump, has converted to orthodox Judaism. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is Jewish.

As The Christian Post reported May 5, CP Executive Editor and Southern Evangelical Seminary President Richard Land, who dined at the White House with the president and his evangelical advisory board last month, said that the president is “comfortable around evangelicals; it’s obvious that he likes us and he’s fascinated by us. I don’t think he was around people like us much before he ran for president.”

Evangelist James Robison, president of LIFE Outreach International, told CP last November that several advisers were instructing Trump to avoid certain kinds of expressions of faith, especially excessive contrition for past sins, because it will be seen as manipulative and pandering.

About the Author

Brandon Showalter writes for The Christian Post.

The Rushmore Report: A Christian Response to Missile Strike on Syria

The United States’ missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Syria took out 20 percent of their aircraft, in response to Syria’s April 4 chemical attack that killed over 80 innocent civilians. This was America’s first direct military action in Syria’s six-year civil war that has taken the lives of 400,000 people. Reaction from the world community has been swift. But what is the proper Christian response to President Trump’s action?

First, we must acknowledge there is no easy answer. Count Jack Graham, pastor of Dallas’ Prestonwood Church and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, among the supporters of the American response. Graham tweeted, “America stands up to terror and sends the right message to all evildoers.” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, issued this statement: “The world community cannot sit idly by while brutal dictators like Bashar al-Assad are allowed to terrorize their own people and defying every international law and convention in the process. Our continued inaction would be our complicity. Too many lines have been crossed and too many lives lost. Thankfully, it seems the days of allowing such atrocities to be left unchecked are over.”

But other religious leaders take the opposite view. While Pope Francis decried the Syrian action, he has not spoken in support of America’s response. Other Catholic leaders have been outspoken in their criticism, suggesting violence is never the answer to violence. America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said this: “This limited attack will not end the ongoing genocide that has resulted in the death, injury, rape, torture, and displacement of millions of innocent Syrians whose only ‘crime’ was seeking freedom and self-determination.”

So while there is not a clear, universally accepted “Christian” position on the American response to Assad’s inhumane attack on his own people, there are a few principles we should all be able to embrace.

1. Man is powerless to bring peace to the mess he has created.

There is an old Imperials song that says, “There will never be peace until Christ is seated at the conference table.” This is not to say President Trump should have done nothing to punish the Syrian regime. Inactivity and empty threats did not serve the Obama Administration well; a different strategy was long overdue. But we would be naive to think military action will bring the answer to the real problems of pride and sin.

2. Syrian president al-Assad will not go unpunished.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to America’s missile attack with a Scripture – “Be sure of this: the wicked will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 11:21). Sin comes with a price. Whether justice is brought by military force or eternal punishment, the barbaric actions of this ruthless, savage dictator have not gone unnoticed by the Great Judge, nor will they go unpunished.

3. President Trump needs our prayers more than our criticism.

The President’s freelancing ways have exposed him to much – and often justified – criticism. His critics are many, in and out of the Christian community. But I will say here what I said from the pulpit for over 30 years – Do not criticize a man for whom you have not prayed. We are to pray for “all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2). Agreeing with President Trump’s policies, direction, and character are not relevant for whether or not you pray for him.

4. We can all respond to the Syrian crisis personally.

In 12-step work, addicts are encouraged to make amends to those they have hurt when possible (step 9). When they are unable to make direct amends, they are encouraged to make “indirect amends” by blessing others who have been harmed, though not by themselves. It’s a biblical principle. What does that mean for us? Very few of us will be called to minister in Syria or to take in a Syrian refugee. But we are surrounded by refugees of other kinds every day. We can respond to the Syrian crisis by blessing those God has put in our paths. Feed the hungry, give to legitimate charities, and minister to the less fortunate. The real definition of pure religion, the Bible says, is to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27). And it is in blessing the poor, homeless, and helpless that we bless God (Matthew 25:40).

Was President Trump’s missile attack on Syria the right thing to do? Count me among the “yes” votes. What al-Assad started has invoked a military response from the most powerful nation on earth. But make no mistake – God will get the final word.