The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism

first baptist church

Sunday service at First Baptist Church, Dallas Texas. June 25, 2017.

Evangelicalism is splintering. And Trump’s presidency is hastening the process. John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College (and an evangelical himself) has a perceptive column in the Washington Post this week about the people he calls “court evangelicals” and how they’re changing evangelicalism:

If you want to understand white evangelicalism in the age of Trump, you need to know Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Jeffress is not a household name in the United States, known mainly in Southern Baptist circles. But he has recently gained national attention as a “court evangelical” — my term for a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations….

[Trump’s] campaign and presidency has shed light on a troubling wing of American evangelicalism willing to embrace nationalism, populism, fear of outsiders and anger. The leaders of this wing trade their evangelical witness for a mess of political pottage and a Supreme Court nomination.

Not all evangelicals are on board, of course. Most black evangelicals are horrified by Trump’s failure to understand their history and his willingness to serve as a hero of the alt-right movement.

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

Read the whole thing. Fea provides additional historical context for thinking about how we got here.

When I say that evangelicalism is splintering it’s not to say that evangelicalism ever was unified. But the Trump presidency is intensifying longstanding fault lines.  A huge swath of evangelicalism is increasingly acting as if it’s a state-established church here to give divine sanction to state policy (that is, when Republicans lead the state). The false gods of nation, prosperity, and safety are held up as proper objects of worship alongside Jesus Christ. Evangelicals who seek to turn their backs on these false gods are often accused of being less mature believers, or perhaps not even true Christians at all.

There is a divide between evangelicals who see “God and country” as comfortable bedfellows and those who see the same phrase as shorthand for heresy. In the age of Trump, as we see just how far God and country evangelicals are willing to go, the divide has become a chasm.

The deadly embrace of nationalist evangelicals and their president is likely to intensify a curious phenomenon:  there are growing numbers of people of color in historically evangelical denominations, but they do not claim the label and feel no affinity for its heritage. Then there are white evangelicals who do not embrace the cultural trappings of the movement and are tired of being treated as less-than because of it. They may seek a home elsewhere.

What all this means for the future of evangelicalism is not yet clear. These are fascinating and troubled times.

Southern Baptists Beclown Themselves

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a Christian before he is a political lobbyist, and that has many white Southern Baptists concerned. The backstory is that Moore kept his integrity during the election while criticizing religious right leaders for prostituting themselves. This made a lot of Southern Baptists angry. There was a lot of speculation that Moore was about to be fired a couple months ago. That didn’t happen. Moore apologized and the rift seemed to close somewhat. But this was definitely a “to be continued” story.

The Wall Street Journal (paywalled) reported yesterday that there are still lingering animosities even months after Moore’s apology. Some churches are still withholding their monies from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. And some Southern Baptists are upset that Moore seems to have no influence with the new administration. What’s the point of a public policy arm if it doesn’t really speak for the majority of the denomination and doesn’t have the ear of Republican leaders? The Journal writes:

After years of feeling shut out during the Obama administration, evangelicals are now enjoying far greater access at the White House. Mr. Moore, however, has been shut out, according to evangelicals who work in Washington. A White House spokeswoman said Mr. Moore didn’t appear to have visited since Mr. Trump took office.

While other evangelical leaders were in the White House Rose Garden last month, he was at a conference about orphans in Nashville, according to his Twitter feed.

What a sucker. Paying attention to orphans while there is political power to be courted in the nation’s capital. How could Russell Moore be so stupid?

Here’s a special Southern Baptist quiz for you. Who’s more offensive:

a) A racist, proud, dishonest, greedy, cruel, selfish, Christ-hating sexual predator?

b) Russell Moore?

That’s easy. Russell Moore is way more offensive.

Saying Someone Is A Racist Is Not Name-Calling

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Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Last month, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, gave the commencement address at Hampshire College. In her speech, she called President Trump a “racist, sexist megalomaniac.”

Fox News and other conservative outlets ran stories on it as part of their “radical black academic says something outrageous” series. The Blaze called it “unhinged” and Fox called it a “tirade.” Cue the outrage. Now Dr. Taylor is receiving death threats because of their irresponsible reporting.

These news outlets didn’t bother asking whether or not Dr. Taylor’s words were true. Call me old-fashioned, but that seems like an important variable! A lot of mainstream conservatives seem to think that calling someone a racist is inherently libelous. In many circles, the -ist words are considered equivalent to name-calling.

You can watch the speech for yourself and see what you think of it. As I see it, Dr. Taylor isn’t name-calling. She’s making a good-faith effort to accurately and succinctly describe the President’s public behavior. This is fair and reasonable. It’s not at all rude or disrespectful to President Trump. (To some of you this is blindingly obvious but bear with me, because it’s not obvious to about half the country!)

In modern American history, we had never had a major party nominee that made insults against communities of color a routine part of his stump speech. His background of racial discrimination in his realty business was also unusual for a modern presidential candidate. Add to that the fact that he entered politics by pushing a wild conspiracy theory about the birthplace of the nation’s first black president. Reasonable people might disagree about how best to summarize this record. But calling it “racist” is a precise and careful summation. It’s not rude or disrespectful in any way. (Of course Trump also called an entire nation’s immigrants “rapists” and demanded an immigration ban on an entire religion. In keeping with the theme of precision, some would call these actions xenophobic and religiously bigoted rather than racist as such).

We had also never had a major party presidential nominee who boasted about sexually assaulting women. Again, calling this “sexist” is rather restrained. It’s not unfair or uncivil. And his behavior since taking office has certainly confirmed the appropriateness of the term “megalomaniac.” The sheer volume and audacity of the President’s lies give one indication among many of his unusual mental state.

In my fumbling attempts to resist racism, white people have often asked me to speak more carefully and precisely so as to avoid giving unnecessary offense and allow listeners to really hear what I’m saying. That’s good advice! But it cuts the other way too: what if we use words like racism and sexism precisely and purposely to describe a pattern of behavior, and people are unwilling to hear it as anything other than a rant? Conservatives often accuse liberals of hurling mindless charges of racism (and this does happen) but often we see the opposite dynamic: even a well-founded charge of racism shuts down a white person’s brain.

Don’t be that person! I’ve been writing about race for almost a decade. And I’ve done and said lots of racist things. But I’ve also grown a bit, and people have helped me and been generous. (I’ve grown less in other areas and am definitely sexist in many ways). Despite what it might seem like on social media, in the real world people are not waiting in the bushes to jump out and call you a racist the first moment you say something wrongheaded. We’d be at a much better place as a country if more people could say, “Here’s why I voted for the racist/sexist candidate.” Once you say that, you open up some space to take responsibility for your actions and the people hurt by them. But I suppose that’s asking for more self-awareness than most of us, including me, probably have.

In the real world, people want to know if we’re acting in good faith. Are we trying to learn and grow? There’s room to make mistakes if that’s our posture. But if Dr. Taylor offends you and Donald Trump doesn’t, well, don’t be surprised if some names you don’t like are hurled your way.

The Most Devout White Evangelicals Might Be the Most Committed Trump Supporters

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Ever since Trump’s emergence in 2015, pollsters and pundits and white evangelicals themselves have been debating how wide and deep his white evangelical support really is. As I’ve written before, some progressive white evangelicals claimed that Trump’s core “evangelical” support really came from post-Christian cultural evangelicals in the South—people who didn’t attend church but told pollsters they were evangelical.

As the chart above shows, that argument is harder than ever to sustain. Though people can and do exaggerate their church attendance (who has studied this? I’d like to see the numbers), Pew’s surveys show that more faithful churchgoers are more enthusiastic about Trump than less frequent attenders. Or, if you want to be extra cautious about it, we can say that the kind of people who claim to be regular churchgoers are more enthusiastic about Trump. In other words, the progressive evangelical argument may have had it exactly backwards. The data indicates that the most committed white evangelicals are also the most committed Trump supporters.*

Many progressive white evangelicals have not wanted to face the possibility that white evangelicals might support a politics of racism and oppression not in spite of the teachings of their churches but because of them.

I happened to be visiting at a white evangelical church on the Sunday after the riots in Ferguson in the fall of 2014. To his credit, the pastor asked his congregation to try to understand the pain of black Americans and to pray for peace. Unfortunately, his prayer did not name any of the injustices that make peace impossible. The pastor asked his congregation to listen to black Christians, but he did not call on them to do their part to remove the injustice. So while asking for understanding and sympathy, the pastor allowed his white congregation to imagine themselves as mature Christians patiently dealing with the apparently inexplicable emotions of weak black Christians.

It gets worse. The pastor’s prayer was resolutely vague about why all this conflict might have been happening. I don’t recall any mention of the justice system, police brutality, or economic oppression. While avoiding phrases like that, the pastor did manage to name one specific problem. He prayed against the problem of “black crime.” I wish I had a transcript of the prayer. I don’t recall all the details. But that phrase—“black crime”—amid a vague prayer that did not name white racism, is seared into my memory.

People no doubt left the church that day thinking they were enlightened and compassionate. A few mentioned to me how nice the prayer was, thinking I would be happy that such a prayer had been offered in a white evangelical church. On the contrary, I was struck by the yawning chasm between the pastor’s good intentions and the action that moment actually required. A bunch of white Christians—people who benefit from America’s racist society—had gathered to worship God in a moment of racial crisis and had not been moved out of their comfort zone at all. Indeed, their supposed spiritual maturity had been affirmed.

It’s hard to describe how racism is transmitted in white evangelical churches, but once you see it, it’s hard to unsee. This is the point where people interject and say I’m being unfair and that it’s complicated. Yes, it’s complicated! Racism takes all kinds of things in its maw; it is, as George Frederickson memorably put it, a scavenger ideology. What does this scavenger quality look like in white evangelical churches? It often looks like narratives of Christian nationalism.

For many white evangelicals, a story of national decline—from Christian foundations to secular liberal disintegration—is the basic framework through which they interpret events. It’s axiomatic. For this story to have any coherence, the totality of Native Americans’ and African Americans’ experiences must be written out of it. Some of the history curriculums popular among Christian homeschoolers and private Christian schools do exactly that.

If the experiences of people of color are true, this country isn’t what many white evangelicals thought it was. For many of us, that is too shattering to contemplate. So telling white evangelicals to stop being racist kind of misses the point. To actually see and believe the experiences of people of color involves a radical rupturing of their view of reality. C’mon, do you want your grip on reality shaken?

In ordinary white evangelical church services, there are more subtle clues. A prayer might be offered in thanks for the great freedoms we enjoy in this country. The subtext of many of these prayers is that these freedoms are a blessing from God that can be taken away if the nation doesn’t turn back to him. Not only do such prayers echo the Christian nation declension narrative, they don’t speak to the experiences of people who are oppressed in this country right now. Thankfulness is of course a good thing. But prayers of thanks for what we have—combined with a note of worry for what might be taken away—are often the satisfied prayers of the comfortable. While we’re over here worrying about losing our rights, other Americans are trying to get them in the first place.

The mixing of God and country takes place against a backdrop of material entitlement and individual self-absorption. Anecdotally, I can attest that white evangelicals routinely speak about the hard material realities of life—homes, schools, jobs—with the anti-Christian rhetoric of the general American public. Safety first, family first, comfort first. Take specific concrete actions in your own life against the American Dream and watch white evangelicals be the first to criticize you. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

To wrap this up, let’s return to the Trump phenomenon. When Trump says Make America Great Again many white evangelicals hear a religious message. And it’s so enthralling that they are often unable to see that outside their bubble their support for him appears hateful. Much of white evangelicalism has become a religion of incumbency. We have and we hoard and we lament what we’ve lost and we fear what we might yet lose. We so easily identify with the powers of this age—the police, the military, the American Empire—over the oppressed people to whom God has given the gift of faith. We’re a religious movement that loves Donald Trump and hates Black Lives Matter. Despite all the good white evangelicals do in their local communities, as a collective political force white evangelicalism is hateful and oppressive.

I don’t stand outside this religious movement. I am implicated in it, a contributor to it. I must account for all the ways in which I promote racism and injustice in my actions and inaction, including my political behavior. I continue to hope that white evangelicals will repent broadly and deeply. I hope we will realize that the principles we claim to believe apply to racism just as well as to any other human problem.

The truth is not to be feared; it sets free. Those who hide their sins do not prosper, but the repentant find mercy. In other words, Jesus is powerful enough and good enough to save even white evangelicals like me.

 


*I’d still like to see a lot more data on this though. This is a preliminary observation. I would really like to see a larger survey that could break down church attendance in more granular detail. Do weekly churchgoers exhibit the same pattern?

The Foolishness of Mike Pence

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“I’ll offer up some BS and you’ll pretend to take me seriously, ok? Deal?”

I’m late to this, but it deserves comment. A couple weeks ago Mike Pence gave the commencement address at Grove City College, a conservative white evangelical school here in Pennsylvania. John Fea summarizes Pence’s message:

Pence gave Grove City graduates a lesson on leadership

  1. Leadership requires character
  2. Leaders must be servants of others
  3. Leaders must be courageous.  Courage will always lead to criticism

Immediately following these three points, Pence said this:

You know, you need to look no further than a friend of mine as an example of leadership and perseverance. The 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.

Is this kind of language acceptable now? Do we no longer expect people with power and responsibility to even try to make their words bear some relation to the real world? Is it possible to make a distinction between things that are true and things that are false? Mike Pence obviously believes that these are old-fashioned ideas.

The Christian notion that God has ordered the world in a certain way—that there is reality beyond us and it is our responsibility to align ourselves with it—does not constrain Mike Pence.

White evangelicals should not think they can embrace this nihilism without consequence. Why should anyone believe we offer spiritual truths if we are simultaneously declaring that all other truths are at the mercy of our will to power?

Northern Evangelicalism’s Long Alliance with the GOP

wheaton record 1964

The Wheaton College student newspaper reports on the results of the campus’s mock presidential election, November 5, 1964.

The popular understanding of the history of evangelical political mobilization is still rooted in the 1970s and 1980s and the movement of apolitical or Democratic southern evangelicals toward the Republican Party. But it’s important to understand that as a southern story, not a national one. The nerve centers of northern evangelicalism had long been overwhelmingly Republican.

Wheaton College was of course among the most influential evangelical centers of higher education (it counted Billy Graham among its alumni). As the snapshot above shows, the future leaders of evangelicalism had a habit of voting overwhelmingly Republican, even in years when to do so was radically out of step with the rest of the country (1948, 1964).

Wheaton’s mock election results in 1964 were almost exactly the inverse of the national returns. While Johnson won over 60% of the vote in a historic landslide, over 60% of Wheaton students gave their mock votes to Goldwater (remember, this was before the 26th amendment lowered the age of the franchise to 18).

Wheaton students’ overwhelming support for Goldwater in the fall of 1964 did not come without controversy. Wheaton students holding a pro-Goldwater rally encountered an interracial counter-demonstration of black kids and a few Wheaton students.

wheaton record 1964 protest

Wheaton student Dan Kuhn described what happened next:

Singing the “Freedom Song” and “Jesus Loves Me,” the teen-age demonstrators moved unresistingly in an extended oval configuration. Many noted their songs—“God loves us, why don’t you, Mr. Goldwater,” or “Wheaton Christians — do you really care,” or “You preach to us, you pray for us, you say you love us, but you vote for Mr. Goldwater” — many resented them and many fought back—kicking, pushing, and jeering the Negro youths…

Some background here: Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you read the speech he gave in the Senate explaining his vote, and then read the speeches of segregationists such as Stennis, you’ll very find little difference.  The old line that Goldwater wasn’t personally prejudiced may be true, but it’s also irrelevant. His constitutional principles didn’t allow him to support human rights for black people.  That’s why the counter-demonstrators were associating a vote with Goldwater with a lack of care for fellow human beings. Kuhn went on to reflect on the stakes involved in Wheaton students’ support for a political platform so oppressive to black people:

The problem confronts us suddenly at Wheaton when we realize with embarrassment that these people to whom we talk about Christianity can see nothing authentic about our claim to be committed to Jesus Christ in the way we live…

A pro-Goldwater student attended the rally and had a different take:

Saturday’s rally provided expression for many people. Some was constructive and pertinent, some was not. Several young Negroes in a revolving picket were out of place…

Someone told them that Barry Goldwater voted against them and thus hates them. Because of this they return their hate to him and his supporters. I offer that this sort of misunderstanding and action engenders new hatred for which there is no room in this situation.

Of equal importance is the offense that was brought against the Christian supporters of Mr. Goldwater. The demonstration was a slap in the face of progress for the Christian in understanding his fellow. I was told that by supporting Barry Goldwater I took my place among the prejudiced. This is not true. The Negro and the white are my fellow, but this demonstration hampers our understanding of one another.

In this tangled mixture of defensiveness and resentment, the student actively supporting systemic racism claimed the right to be offended! Here you can see the toxicity of Christian colorblindness. Black and white people are his “fellows” and they must seek “understanding” with each other, but it is unreasonable and offensive to judge white people on the basis of their actions.

He didn’t vote for Goldwater because he supports racism, but because he supports conservatism. Sound familiar? Then, as now, if he had taken the time to understand perspectives other than his own, he might have realized that this was only a roundabout way of saying that the rights and safety of others are expendable in pursuit of one’s ideological  goals.

Trump at Liberty University

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President Trump gave the commencement address at Liberty University today. It’s a win-win for Trump and Liberty’s President, Jerry Falwell, Jr. Trump gets to cloak his barbarism with the veneer of the sacred while placating the feelings of a key constituency. And Falwell gets what every court evangelical wants—credulous press coverage describing his supposed influence:

Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University president and evangelical icon, endorsed Trump in January 2016, calling him “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”

Falwell’s backing boosted Trump’s previously sparse evangelical bona fides and was particularly significant because many political observers had assumed that Falwell would support Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who had launched his campaign at Liberty 10 months earlier.

Falwell is many things; an evangelical icon he certainly is not. Talk to ordinary evangelicals and you’ll find that many have no idea who he is. A sizable number of evangelicals who do know who he is believe he’s a ridiculous figure. And some smaller number have both heard of him and like him, but do not take their cues from him.

Some other Christian Right leaders over the years have at least been able to make credible claims of speaking for a constituency. After all, they had real organizations with real activists at their command (however inflated the numbers may have been) .

Falwell’s case is different. His trick is to insert himself into the space between politicians, journalists, and ordinary voters, and claim to speak for a vast group of people. Then, when a constituency that was going to vote for Trump anyway duly does so, Falwell can preen as a kingmaker. Politicians want to court their constituencies; journalists want convenient quotes and narratives; and Falwell wants to be important. Everybody’s happy. But let’s not pretend these narratives of influence accurately describe evangelicalism, or evangelical political power.

There’s another important distinction to make. Trump was at Liberty this morning precisely because Liberty is such an unusual evangelical college. In contrast to most evangelical institutions of higher education, Liberty has always been overtly political. Indeed, its leaders have rarely bothered to hide the fact that Republican politics is more important to them than Christianity.

That’s part of what makes narratives like, “Trump goes to Liberty and reaches out evangelicals” somewhat ironic. Many evangelical institutions want nothing to do with Liberty University. It’s a culture-warring, influence-peddling debasement of Christianity. It’s an affront to many evangelical colleges that sincerely attempt to construct environments of critical thinking and Christian reflection. At those institutions, Trump might not be so welcome.

The “Court Evangelicals”

John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College, has a new name for the circle of Christian Right sycophants around President Trump: “court evangelicals.” Fea explains:

Not all evangelicals who voted for Trump are what I am describing as “court evangelicals.”  I am going to use this phrase from now on to describe Trump’s inner circle of evangelicals who think it is a good idea for ministers to endorse candidates from the pulpit, have bowed a knee to the political power of the presidency, think Trump is a “baby Christian,” believe evangelicals have found their “dream president” in Trump, and regularly show up at the White House whenever Trump wants to say something about religion.  The court evangelicals sacrifice their prophetic voice to political influence.  The court evangelicals have put their faith in a political strongman who promises to alleviate their fears and protect them from the forces of secularization.

This is genius. It’s a simple and cutting phrase that accurately describes these so-called leaders. While they mouth spiritual platitudes from time to time, they behave like hangers-on to royalty.

They accept and endorse all manner of evil, from constant lying to sexual assault to racism, because to speak as Christians on these matters would cost them their position in the court of their ruler. I wish I were exaggerating. As Fea noted this morning, new reporting in the Chronicle of Higher Education has dug up Falwell’s reaction to the lies and racism Trump used to enter the political stage several years ago:

Throughout their relationship, Mr. Falwell has praised Donald Trump for speaking fearlessly, even when others would say he was speaking falsely. The “birther” issue, Mr. Falwell said, was one such profile in courage.

“He was brave enough to say something that was so politically incorrect,” Mr. Falwell said. “I had no idea where Obama was born or if he had a birth certificate; I didn’t have an opinion on that. But just the fact that he was bold enough to challenge Obama on something like that, because you didn’t see the press challenging Obama much. And so that impressed me that he was bold enough to do it.”

It’s not just that Falwell fails to speak as a Christian in this instance. His perspective is openly barbaric. A vicious lie impressed Falwell because of its sheer audacity. Breaking out of the bounds of conventionally accepted speech was more important than truth itself.

It’s easy to forget, but Falwell was defending Trump’s anti-Christian beliefs years before his run for the presidency. In 2012 Falwell invited Trump to speak at a Liberty University convocation. It went like this:

Speaking to 10,000 students at the convocation, the New York financier and real estate mogul discussed the nation’s ills – high debt, unemployment, dependence on foreign goods, and the oil crisis — and the lack of leadership in the White House to address these ever-growing concerns.

“The world is laughing at us,” Trump told the students. “We just seem to have lost our edge, and now we’re in a position that unless things take place and take place fast, we are going to be, for many, many years to come, in serious trouble to the point that I don’t know we can really come back.”

He then encouraged students to “get even.”

“I always say don’t let people take advantage — this goes for a country, too, by the way — don’t let people take advantage. Get even,” Trump said. “And, you know, if nothing else, others will see that and they’re going to say: ‘You know, I’m going to let Jim Smith or Sarah Malone, I’m going to let them alone because they’re tough customers.”

The comments sparked an outcry from critics, who said Trump was inappropriate to preach his gospel of “get even” at a place that reveres Christian values.

Falwell said Trump’s comments were not out of line.

“The Associated Press quoted where Jesus said, ‘Turn the other cheek.’ But Jesus also ran the moneychangers out of the temple in anger with a whip – and so there is a time to be tough, there’s a time to look out for yourself and for your family and for your country and to defend yourself – and I don’t think that’s contrary to what Jesus taught at all.”

Trump hasn’t changed, and neither have the court evangelicals. Is there anything they wouldn’t do for power? And is there any amount of oppression that ordinary white evangelicals would not support, if they felt safer by it?

I still believe—praise God!—in the reality of the risen Christ. But we, his followers, are the strongest evidence against him.

Injustice Department Update

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Jeff Sessions is busy:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors this week to seek the maximum punishment for drug offenses, in one of the clearest breaks yet from the policies of the Justice Department under the Obama administration.

The move is an abrupt departure from policy made by President Barack Obama’s Attorney General, to reduce the number of people convicted of certain lower-level drug crimes being given long jail terms.

The change, “affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” Sessions said, in a memo to federal prosecutors written May 10 and made public Friday.

At a moment of bipartisan movement in many states for sentencing reform and wide agreement among experts that mass incarceration is counterproductive, Sessions is a true believer in old-fashioned tough on crime policies. Though, as his self-abasement in service of Trump demonstrates, he’s not actually against crime in general!

If Sessions weren’t impervious to evidence, he might bother to read the best scholarship on the causes and effects of mass incarceration. Aggressive prosecutors are already a key problem, and with this order Sessions wants them to be more aggressive. As John Pfaff said this morning:

By all accounts, Jeff Sessions is an amiable guy, a nice colleague. So was John Stennis.