Jim Jones

November 18, 1978. I remember the date well. I was a freshman at Houston Baptist University, just starting my college career. As a proud Texan who came to Christ in the Bible Belt, it never really occurred to me that people could believe in anything other than the tenets of the Christian faith.

Meanwhile, there was a 47-year-old man from Crete, Indiana, who had assembled a band of religious followers. They formed the Peoples Temple in Indiana in the 1950s, and would later move to California before eventually establishing the temple in what would be known as Jonestown, Guyana. Under his leadership, 918 members of his cult were either murdered or committed suicide on this date, 38 years ago.

How does this happen? To that question the Bible offers an answer. In the last days, we are told that many “will believe a lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

Deception is as old a tool as the devil himself. He asked Adam, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:3). It is so easy to be led astray. While the Jim Jones event was catastrophic by any measure, deception did not die in Guyana 38 years ago.

Perhaps the greatest trap is not believing the devil or even false teachers, but believing ourselves. Leonardo da Vinci said, “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

Opinions get us into trouble. Tragically, 918 people died because they put opinions ahead of truth. The measure of truth is the Word of God. What happened 38 years ago is a tragedy for the ages. The only worse tragedy would be to learn nothing from it.

The Rushmore Report – African American Pastor Calls Trump a ‘Pro-Black’ President

President Donald Trump met with inner-city pastors from all over the country Wednesday. He listened to each man’s story as the group discussed prison reform, among other issues. Trump stressed the importance of churches in American life. And then prominent pastor Darrell Scott did the unthinkable. The African American pastor raised eyebrows when he praised the president for his support for minority communities. Of course, that has landed Rev. Scott in hot water.

Scott said, “To be honest, this is probably going to be the – and I’m going to say this at this table – the most pro-black president we have had in our lifetime. This president actually wants to prove something to our community, our faith-based community and our ethnic community.”

Scott said of President Obama, “The last president didn’t feel like he had to. He felt like he didn’t have to prove it. He got a pass. But this president is probably going to be more proactive regarding urban revitalization and prison reform than any president in your lifetime.”

Several pastors in attendance faced criticism from within their black communities. John Gray, formerly a pastor under Joel Osteen at Houston’s Lakewood Church, said he understood that the “optics” of the meeting did not look good. But he reasoned that he could do a lot of good “for people who look like me” by attending the meeting.

Another prominent pastor, Van Moody, of Worship Center Christian Church in Birmingham, faced intense scrutiny. He praised Trump for being “compassionate and caring for all people.”

For his part, President Trump concluded the meeting by telling the black pastors that “they will always have a friend in this White House.”

These pastors are to be commended for a) attending the meeting, and b) speaking truth as they see it. The best outcome will not be that a majority of African Americans suddenly embrace President Trump and his policies. The best outcome would be that they simply give him a chance.

In 2008 it was wrong for millions of white Americans to oppose President Obama because he is black. And today, it is just as wrong for millions of black Americans to oppose President Trump just because he is white.

What we need is open dialogue. President Trump was wise to invite the black pastors to the White House, and they were wise to go. But it’s what happens next that will matter most.

The Rushmore Report – How Religious Are Liberal Senators?

A Democratic member of Congress has urged progressives in politics to “bring their faith to work” and be more open about their religious beliefs. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma were recent guests on the Church Politics podcast, where they shared their views on politics and religion.

Coons explained that he was concerned that many Christians in the progressive movement were not being open about their beliefs. “I am concerned, frankly, that more and more Democrats feel embarrassed about or uncomfortable with sharing anything about their faith and how it connects to their service,” said Coons.

He continued, “Some of the most progressive members of the Senate, members I’m very close to, don’t ever talk about how it was their experience of faith, when they were children, that motivated them to get into public service and politics in the first place.”

Coons added that he thought “many of their constituents would be very surprised to hear their deeply held religious views and how in particular the radical justice that the Gospel focuses on is really what motivated them to be involved in service in the first place.”

Coons’ comments came in response to a report released last July by Pew’s U.S. Politics & Policy department, which found that 36 percent of Democrats in general and 44 percent self-identified liberal Democrats believe that churches’ impact on society is negative.

“Liberal Democrats are about as likely to say the impact of churches and religious organizations is negative (44%) as they are to say it is positive (40%). By two-to-one (58% to 29%), more conservative and moderate Democrats say churches have a positive, rather than negative effect on the country,” noted Pew in their 2017 report.

The report also found that “majorities of both conservative Republicans and Republican leaners (75%) and moderate and liberal Republicans (68%) say churches and religious organizations have a positive impact.”

The podcast interviewed Coons and Lankford not long after the two senators were announced as being the co-chairs for the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast, the annual event in Washington, D.C. that features a large number of prominent political and faith leaders from across the world.

The National Prayer Breakfast event is derived from weekly prayer meetings that members of Congress hold.

Lankford talked about the value of those weekly prayer breakfasts on the podcast, saying that they allow for building relationships across partisan borders.

“It’s a very private time and it’s a time that’s reserved just for senators. So there’s no other staff there. There’s no outside entity. It’s just senators and former senators that have the opportunity to be able to sit down and be able to talk about how we are really doing personally,” explained Lankford.

“That does change the dynamic of the conversations. When you get to know someone, their background, what drives them, who they are as a person, you get to know more about their family, and it does affect you. It is very easy in normal political life to demonize an individual based on how they vote and you just try to create a persona that’s not real. This is trying to be able to move beyond the persona.”

About the Author

Michael Gryboski writes for The Christian Post.

The Rushmore Report – ‘Pro-life’ Must Encompass More than Opposition to Abortion

If being “pro-life” only means opposing abortion, we need a better conversation about the myriad ways human life is threatened today. On Friday, the March for Life brought together thousands of anti-abortion activists and conservative political leaders in Washington, as it does every year on the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

The gathering offers an opportunity to reflect on what it means to defend life. It’s understandable that abortion remains a foundational issue for millions of Americans. Debates over when life begins, whether a fetus can feel pain and at what stage a pregnancy can be terminated raise profound moral and medical questions.

While interest groups on both sides of this contentious issue often use absolute claims and polarizing rhetoric to make their case, many Americans recognize the complexity of abortion should not be reduced to talking points or bumper stickers. In fact a poll from Public Religion Research Institute found that 43 percent of respondents identified as both “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” a sign that binary categories are insufficient.

A more productive national discussion could start with acknowledging that the way we talk about abortion can’t begin with a culture-war approach, and finally recognizing the limits of single-issue politics.

There is nothing “pro-life” about defending life in the womb while walking away from our collective obligations to care for the child once that baby is born.

Trump addressed the rally by live video from the Rose Garden.

The president has won over many political and religious conservatives with his appointment of anti-abortion judges, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. His administration pushed for expanded conscience exemptions to contraception coverage requirements in the Affordable Care Act, and like every Republican president since Ronald Reagan, he reinstated the so-called Mexico City policy, which forbids U.S. aid money going to any international group that funds or promotes abortion.

For some voters and political leaders, these checks on the scoreboard are a sign that Trump passes the test.

There are signs that a more expansive understanding of what constitutes a “life issue” is challenging that narrow vision. Pope Francis, the world’s most influential religious leader, is driving that conversation.

The pope strongly opposes abortion, but has also elevated what he calls an “economy of exclusion and inequality” that “kills,” the death penalty, climate change and the treatment of immigrants as central pro-life concerns.

When asked by reporters about President Trump’s decision to rescind an Obama-era program that protected some 800,000 young immigrants brought to the United States as children, Francis didn’t equivocate. “The President of the United States presents himself as pro-life,” the pope said, “and if he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that family is the cradle of life and its unity must be protected.”

Climate change is “one of the principal challenges facing humanity,” according to the pope, a stark difference from a president who pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and who once called global warming a hoax invented by the Chinese.

Francis also helpfully rejects the kind of simple categorizations that limit American political debates. “Everything is connected,” he writes in “Laudato Si,” the first encyclical in the church’s history to address environmental themes and climate change. Francis understands that climate change caused by human activity is already killing people in the poorest countries, and it contributes to a migrant crisis also exacerbated by war and economic exclusion.

When Pope Francis visited the United States in 2015, he linked the need to protect life in the womb with “children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow . . . and the environment devastated by man’s predatory nature.”

Several U.S. Catholic bishops are taking the pope’s lead.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, an influential adviser to the pope, calls immigration “another pro-life issue.” Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich views gun violence as an urgent pro-life concern, and is a leader who forges alliances with progressives and Democratic politicians who disagree with the church’s position on abortion. In a speech to the Chicago Federation of Labor, the cardinal spoke of “feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, protecting the unborn, caring for the sick and welcoming immigrants” as part of a “consistent ethic of solidarity.”

The language echoed the message of a previous Chicago cardinal, Joseph Bernardin, who in the 1980s became the most prominent American church leader. “Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us, must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker,” Bernardin said in a 1983 speech at Fordham University.

Debates over abortion shouldn’t stop. But let’s make sure the conversation about protecting life and human dignity doesn’t end there.

About the Author

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, and author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church. 

The Rushmore Report: A Growing Number of Americans Love Jesus but Don’t Go to Church

While an increasing number of Americans are reportedly abandoning the institutional church and its defined boundary markers of religious identity, many Americans still believe in God and practice faith outside its walls, a new Barna study has found. The Barna survey has looked into the “fascinating segment of American population who “loves Jesus but not the church.” These are their surprising findings.

One-tenth of the population comprises those who self-identify as Christian and who strongly agree that their religious faith is very important to their lives, but are “dechurched,” meaning they have attended church in the past, but haven’t done so in the last six months or more. Barna adds that only seven percent belonged in this category in 2004.

More than 60 percent of the people in this group are women, and 80 percent are not millennials. “This group also appears to be mostly white (63%) and concentrated in the South (33%), Midwest (30%), and West (25%), with very few hailing from the Northeast (13%),” the study reveals.

“This group represents an important and growing avenue of ministry for churches,” says Roxanne Stone, editor in chief of Barna Group. “Particularly if you live in a more churched area of the country, it’s more than likely you have a significant number of these disaffected Christians in your neighborhoods. They still love Jesus, still believe in Scripture and most of the tenets of their Christian faith. But they have lost faith in the church.”

What’s more, their beliefs about God are more orthodox than the general population, even rivaling their church-going counterparts, the study shows.

“For instance, they strongly believe there is only one God (93% compared to all U.S. adults at 59% and practicing Christians at 90%), affirm that “God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and the perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today (94%, compared to all U.S. adults at 57% and practicing Christians at 85%).”

Furthermore, while they might not be comfortable with the church, this group still maintains a very positive view of religion, the study adds.

“When asked whether they believe religion is mostly harmful, their response once again stood out from the general population, and aligned with their church-going counterparts. However, only 55 percent disagree that all religions basically teach the same thing, compared with 86 percent of evangelicals.

The study notes that this group falls outside of the characterization of “spiritual but not religious” folks. “But unlike practicing Christians and evangelicals, this spirituality is deeply personal – even private – with many preferring to keep spiritual matters to themselves: only two in five say they talk with their friends about spiritual matters often.”

“The critical message that churches need to offer this group is a reason for churches to exist at all,” Stone concludes. “What is it that the church can offer their faith that they can’t get on their own? Christians need to be able to say to these people – and to answer for themselves – that there is a unique way you can find God only in church. And that faith does not survive or thrive in solitude.”

About the Author

Anugrah Kumar is a writer for The Christian Post.

Grocery Store Religion

A lady took her young child to the grocery store. She put him in the cart and said, “I will wheel you up and down every aisle. You will see a lot of things you want, but don’t touch them. They are not for you.”

The military has a word for such treatment. It’s called “torture.”

I heard about a man who took his boy to another grocery store. The little fellow asked if he could be a dog.

“What do you mean, can you be a dog?” asked the father.

“I want to be a dog!” insisted the lad.

“Okay, you can be a dog,” his dad replied.

Suddenly, the boy started barking and ran up to a stranger and started to lick his leg.

The stranger said, “What is your boy doing?”

“He thinks he’s a dog,” said the father.

“Well, this is just horrible,” said the stranger.

The dad responded, “No, ‘horrible’ would be if he thought you were a fire hydrant.”

We learn a lot by walking through a grocery store.

Here’s the lesson I have learned. I must live by direction, not distraction. I have to make a list of what to buy. Otherwise, I buy things I don’t need. And when it’s time to “check out,” I realize some things cost a lot more than I thought they would.

Solomon said it like this: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utter meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

The Rushmore Report: The Major Religion Stories of 2017

The new year could be turbulent for religion in America. Several hot-button issues – including immigration, abortion, poverty, health care, gay rights, and education – will put religion near the center of public life and debate. But there is one issue that is likely to be the singular most profound religious matter that will face the Trump Administration.

The issue that could especially flare up? In a Trump Administration, “religious freedom” is expected to either flourish or come under attack, depending on who defines religious freedom.

In a divided, angry America, religious freedom is frequently seen through the lens of the “culture wars,” says Charlie Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum. Once Donald Trump is inaugurated, many religious conservatives will seek to roll back culture war advances made by President Obama – including on abortion rights and LGBT rights.

“For some, religious claims for exemptions and accommodations are a form of bigotry,” Haynes said. “For others, minority religious groups – especially Muslims – are an existential threat to American traditions and values.”

Many observers are especially watching how Trump’s relationship with Muslims in the United States and abroad will unfold after he campaigned on a pledge to ban Muslim immigrants. In the weeks ahead of his inauguration, Trump’s advisers have issued conflicting statements about the status of his plan. Trump’s own statements have been a mix of repeating, softening and vaguely re-endorsing a ban, so it’s unclear what might take place.

Trump’s policy on Muslims is likely the most anticipated religion story because Americans could see it as a referendum on anyone’s right to free belief, said Rashid Dar, a research assistant at the Brookings Institution.

“If the floodgates are opened to discrimination based on ideology or belief, then it threatens all Americans, who will have to ensure that they are not the next victims of policies aimed at rooting out ‘un-American’ beliefs,” Dar said.

Another major story expected early in Trump’s administration includes any changes to the Supreme Court. (In an appeal to religious conservatives, Trump promised to appoint justices who oppose abortion.)

Many of the current religious freedom battles could quickly disappear during Trump’s presidency, especially if the Affordable Care Act – the target of many religious freedom lawsuits and conflicts – is repealed, Haynes said.

Other battles may worsen, he predicts. Many Native Americans, for example, fear that their religious freedom will suffer a significant blow if the Trump Administration reverses the Obama Administration and allows the Dakota Pipeline project to go forward near the Standing Rock Reservation.

Many religious conservatives think the Obama Administration has overstepped on issues of religious freedom in areas such as contraceptive access under the Affordable Care Act and gay rights, especially the Supreme Court’s decision that was seen as providing sweeping protections to same-sex couples and potentially threatening the tax-exempt status of religious organizations. Will the Trump Administration now work to address these concerns?

Many states will be emboldened by the election to pursue laws that provide broad religious exemptions to same-sex marriage, and the ACLU expects more religious freedom bills than ever this year. These cases will possibly resurrect debates over what the government can – or can’t – compel faith organizations to do. For instance, will business owners be required to follow anti-discrimination laws and bake a cake for a gay wedding if it violates their religious beliefs?

Other scenarios observers are considering include:

Will legislators renew efforts to pass “anti-Sharia” laws and seek to limit what they see as the growing influence of Islam in America?

Will Trump fulfill his promise to end the Johnson Amendment, which prevents certain tax-exempt organizations such as churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates?

Will he quell concerns from some that academic institutions could lose federal funding over issues such as gay rights?

Will he reverse Obama’s declaration that transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, a question the Supreme Court is considering?

About the Author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a writer for The Washington Post, covering issues of religion, with a focus on the ways that faith intersects with politics and culture.

The Rushmore Report: Religion in America

Ask Americans their religion and you’ll get an earful – 50 individual answers in an ABCNEWS/Beliefnet poll, ranging from agnostics to Zen Buddhists. The vast majority, though, have something in common: Jesus Christ. Eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians.

Most of the rest, 13 percent, have no religion. That leaves just four percent as adherents of all non-Christian religions combined – Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and a smattering of individual mentions.

That’s quite different from the world at large: Fifty-two percent of the world’s population is non-Christian, compared to four percent in the United States; and one-third is Christian, compared to 83 percent in the United States. (These are rough comparisons, because the world figures, reported by the Encyclopedia Britannica, are for the full population, while the U.S. figures are among adults only.)

This poll used an open-ended question to gauge religious affiliation: “What if anything is your religion?” Most of the 50 affiliations cited are Christian denominations, ranging from the Assembly of God to the United Church of Christ. Added up they show that 53 percent of Americans are Protestants, 22 percent Catholics and eight percent other Christians, such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Protestant Groups

The largest group within the ranks of American Protestants is unaffiliated: Nineteen percent of Americans say they’re Protestants, but don’t cite a specific denomination. They account for more than a third of all Protestants.

Another 15 percent of Americans identify themselves as Baptists or Southern Baptists, meaning this group accounts for nearly three in 10 Protestants. No other Protestant denomination comes close in size.

Baptists are especially prevalent among black Americans: Nearly half of blacks, 48 percent, say they’re Baptists, making it far and away their No. 1 denomination (next are nondenominational, at 15 percent of blacks, and Methodist, at eight percent of blacks). Among whites, 22 percent are Catholics, another 22 percent are nonaffiliated Protestants and 13 percent are Baptists.

Blacks, who are overwhelmingly Christian, are also more likely than whites to have any religion: Just three percent of blacks say they have no religion, compared to 13 percent of whites. (“No religioin” includes people who describe their religion as atheist or agnostic.)

Other Denominations

Six percent of Americans say they’re Methodist (indluding African Methodists and United Methodists): five percent, Lutherans. No other Protestant denomination was named by more than two percent of respondents.


Thirty-seven percent of all Christians describe themselves as born-again or evangelical; that includes nearly half of all Protestants (47 percent), as well as a small share (14 percent) of Catholics.

Baptists again dominate: Sixty-two percent of Baptists say they’re evangelical Christians, compared to 46 percent of all other Protestant denominations combined, and 37 percent of nondenominational Protestants.

Evangelism soars particularly among blacks, and southerners: Two-thirds of blacks describe themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, double the share of whites who do so. And 55 percent of Christians in the South say they’re born-again, compared to 21 percent in the Northeast, 26 percent in the Midwest and 31 percent in the West.

Lower income Christians also are more apt to be evangelicals. Among those with household incomes under $35,000, 45 percent are evangelicals; among those with higher incomes this declines to 31 percent.

Income, Education

More broadly, Protestants tend to have lower incomes than Catholics: Forty-nine percent of evangelical Protestants have incomes under $50,000, as do 43 percent of non-evangelical Protestants, compared to 36 percent of Catholics.

Income correlates with education. Thirty-six percent of Catholics are college graduates; that declines to 23 percent of Protestants and 17 percent of Baptists.


There’s an enormous political difference between evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants on some issues. One is abortion: Sixty-two percent of evangelical Protestants say it should be illegal in all or most cases; by contrast, 65 percent of non-evangelical Protestants say abortion should be legal (as do 55 percent of Catholics.)

The difference narrows in terms of ideology more broadly. Forty-four percent of white evangelical Protestants say they’re conservative on most political matters; that compares to 33 percent of white non-evangelical Protestants and white Catholics alike. Blacks are different in this regard; just 24 percent of blacks say they’re conservative politically. And among people who have no religion, only 19 percent are conservatives.

There’s even less difference between evangelical and non-evangelical white Protestants in political party identification: Forty percent of white evangelical Protestants identify themselves as Republicans, as do 34 percent of white non-evangelical Protestants. By contrast only five percent of blacks, and 11 percent of non-Christians, are Republicans.

The Rushmore Report: Want to Know Who Will Win the White House? Ask the Pope

The beef between the Donald and the pontiff – Pope Francis suggesting that it’s not very Christian to build a wall, Donald J. Trump responding that ISIS will attack the Vatican if he’s not in the Oval Office – has quelled, for now. But if Trump is serious about becoming President Trump, it may behoove him to show a bit more reverence to the man in white. After all . . . the candidate who wins the Catholic vote has also won the popular vote in every election since 1972.

That’s four decades of picking the winner, according to exit poll estimates, from Nixon to Obama. What makes the Catholic vote unique is its ability to mimic the trends of the American populace as a whole, says Robert P. Jones of the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute. Add that to the fact that Catholics make up almost a quarter of the U.S. population – and have a solid history of actually showing up at the polls – and you can understand why the demographic is highly sought by campaigners.

But does the correlation between the Catholic vote and the presidency suggest that papacy can sway an American election?

Yes and no. That record “is a little bit illusory,” Jones says, because the Catholic vote isn’t monolithic, even if its leadership appears to be. The church’s political divide runs along ethnic lines, which, by the way, holds true for the nation, too. In 2012, that split meant white laypeople supported Romney, while their brown brothers in faith overwhelmingly voted for Obama. Catholics might be good predictors because their demographics reflect the general population almost perfectly:

  • On race: In 2014, 41 percent of Catholics were Hispanic, compared to 38 percent generally.
  • On education: 26 percent of Catholics held a bachelor’s degree or higher, versus 27 percent overall.
  • On earnings: 47 percent of Catholics reported income levels under $50,000, compared to 55 percent overall.

The vote has changed – and become less associated with a single party – as Catholics have “become more assimilated into the overall population,” says Steve Krueger, president of the Catholic Democrats advocacy organization. Plus, as the Pew Research Center reported this year, millennials as a whole are less religious than any previous generation, and that reality affects young Catholics, too. (While neither Trump’s campaign nor the Vatican responded to a request for comment, the Pope’s spokesman released a statement after the wall remark, saying that building bridges versus walls is “his generic view, coherent with the nature of solidarity from the gospel.”)

The party gap will only get wider, especially if you’re a Catholic, thanks to a particularly divisive election year. “This is the church that cares about defending life in the womb and immigrants,” says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Jonathan Reyes, director of the justice, peace and human development department. “Just in those two issues, there is no easy home.” In its official election year reflection on voting faithfully, the church agrees that its vision isn’t contained in any one candidate or party. Adherents are free to decide – based on their conscience – which priorities most closely align with their faith, which is why it’s hard to round up Catholics, as a whole, into any one party’s back corner.

About the Author

Nick Fouriezos is the national politics reporter for OZY, a daily digital magazine. He honed his writing skills while working for the campus newspaper at the University of Georgia. Nick is an avid sportsman and committed Catholic.