The second weekend in October was “citizenship weekend” at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
“Up and down the ballot, there are two very different visions for our nation, and every one of us need to vote biblical principles,” the Rev. Jack Graham, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers, told the congregation. The 45,000-member church has a committee urging members to be “actively involved in our government,” including by running for office. At one point, Mr. Graham told the congregation, 23 members of the church held some kind of elected office. Mr. Graham invited four to the stage that Sunday, all Republicans.
But Mr. Graham does not see it as his job to tell members how to fill out their ballots. “You preach on the issues; you don’t insult people by telling them how to vote,” Mr. Graham said in an interview. “People will figure out how to vote if you guide them from Scripture.” Last Sunday, he preached on the importance of religious liberty.
Decades after the rise of the Christian Right as a political influence, conservative evangelicals have a reputation for political activism. That reputation has only intensified in the Trump era. White evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump overwhelmingly in 2016, and have remained his most dependable supporters. The president himself, who is not a frequent churchgoer, has indicated that he assumes conservative evangelical pastors would be eager to speak even more directly — perhaps to endorse him — if freed by tax law to do so.
In 2017, he signed an executive order intended to loosen enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, the provision that forbids pastors at tax-exempt churches from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. “We are giving churches their voices back,” he said at a Rose Garden signing ceremony, framing the change as a gift to religious conservatives.
But tuning into conservative evangelical sermons across the country in the weeks leading up to a hotly contested election reveals a complex relationship between the pulpit and politics. Some pastors grappled directly with the question of a Christian’s political obligations. Others edged close to an endorsement. But many barely hinted at political themes, perhaps gesturing broadly to “unity” or “justice.”
Compared with other Christian traditions, white conservative Protestant churches are notably unenthusiastic about engaging directly in some kinds of traditional political activities. If tax law changed, 45 percent of self-described liberal congregations would endorse specific candidates, compared with 11 percent of self-described conservative congregations, according to a forthcoming paper analyzing data from the National Congregations Study, an ongoing nationally representative survey of about 1,200 leaders of religious congregations. Black churches, whose members are often theologically conservative and vote Democratic, are the most politically engaged.
But surveys about voter registration or lobbying — activities that liberal churches are likelier to engage in — do not capture the full portrait of churches’ political messaging. “There’s a lot more political signaling going on than we pick up with these explicit collective actions,” said Mark Chaves, director of the National Congregations Study and a professor at Duke University.
Surveys do not capture, for example, an American flag displayed at the front of the church, prayers offered for police officers but not protesters (or vice versa), or passing references to “life” or “freedom” in a sermon.
As a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, Keith Mannes would have said for most of his career that he did not preach about politics. He calls himself “a pretty conservative guy,” and he occasionally addressed abortion or homosexuality in his sermons, but he saw those topics as biblical, not political.
But in 2015 something changed when Mr. Mannes watched Donald J. Trump slowly descend a gleaming escalator at Trump Tower to launch his presidential bid. The gaudiness struck him as grotesque; the biblical term “mammon” came to mind.
After Mr. Trump became president, Mr. Mannes increasingly felt called to speak directly about what he saw as an ungodly alliance between white conservative Christians and Mr. Trump. But for several years, he tried to stay quiet. “It’s just in our bones that we don’t make trouble about politics,” Mr. Mannes said. “We don’t talk about that stuff from the pulpit.”
He delivered his last sermon at East Saugatuck Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., on Oct. 11. After years of trying to “avoid politics” in the pulpit to keep peace in the congregation, he approached church leadership to suggest it was time to part ways. “You realize you’re extending all this energy just to make sure people don’t get upset,” he said. “I wanted to be able to speak openly in the world about what I believe.”
Pastors whose own political beliefs are in line with their congregations’ tend to feel more empowered to speak. In Apex, N.C., another evangelical pastor had watched in a very different mood as Mr. Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower. “When he came down the escalator, I didn’t know much about him but I turned to my wife and said, ‘Honey, that guy’s going to win,’” Rodney Finch recalled. Mr. Finch, the Black pastor of a large multiracial church he founded in 1995, said he had not been strongly engaged in politics before, but the moment was electrifying.
This election cycle, Mr. Finch is all in. On Oct. 4, he preached a Sunday sermon on voting. “The Bible is a voter’s guide,” he told the congregation. Without explicitly telling members how to fill out their ballots, he ticked off God’s priorities, in his view: abortion, support for Israel, religious freedom. He has also signed his church up with My Faith Votes, an organization that aims to boost turnout among conservative Christian voters by distributing voter guides and video content to churches for use in weekend services.
Mr. Finch is not alone in his awakening. Just 1 percent of Protestant pastors say they have endorsed a candidate from the pulpit this year, according to a survey conducted this fall by LifeWay Research, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. That number is unchanged since 2016. But 32 percent of Protestant pastors said they have endorsed a political candidate away from the pulpit, ostensibly outside of their role as a pastor. That is a 10 percentage point increase since the last presidential election cycle. Pastors who say they are voting for Mr. Trump are more likely to say they have made an endorsement.
Still, in many white conservative churches, “there’s a fear of being labeled ‘political,’” said Kaitlyn Schiess, the author of “The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of Our Neighbor,” a book urging evangelicals to engage more intentionally with politics. “As Christians, we’re supposed to be above that.”
An analysis by the Pew Research Center of 50,000 sermons streamed online last year found that 4 percent of Christian sermons even mentioned abortion, and those that did rarely focused entirely on the topic. Smaller congregations were more likely than larger ones to hear discussion of abortion in sermons.
At many evangelical churches, there have been almost no hints from the pulpit in recent weeks of the divisive election on the way.
“My job is to articulate to the members of our congregation a traditional, orthodox Christian worldview,” said Tim Breen, pastor of First Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa, a congregation he described as “center right.” “I don’t feel a call to recommend who to vote for or even necessarily how to vote.” Most people in his congregation, he said, would not be able to guess who he is voting for.
At Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Va., churchgoers can participate in a class titled “The Bible, the Church and Politics” on Wednesday evenings leading up to the election. One session listed biblical priorities including a safety net for the poor, fair wages, “creation stewardship,” personal responsibility and “protection of the unborn.”
“The church is trying to balance, ‘How do we engage faithfully with social issues, but how do we not get swallowed up?’” said Trinity pastor Walter Kim, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, referring to the American church in general. Mr. Kim describes his university-town congregation as “conservative theologically, but mixed politically.” “There’s a bit of a tension,” he said. “Some people come to church with a deep desire to understand their world. Some come to church to find a reprieve from the world.”
Mr. Kim tries to navigate that tension by focusing on larger moral principles rather than partisan politics from the pulpit. On Oct. 25, he preached from the New Testament book of James, a sermon that focused on humility, repentance and the ultimate folly of many disputes. He did not mention Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump or the upcoming election. “From the perspective of eternity,” he told his congregation, “we’re going to regret a lot of our fights.”
Covid might mean fewer family political fights over Thanksgiving – CNN
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Politics Isn’t Janet Yellen’s Forte, but It’s What She’s In for Now – The Wall Street Journal
When she led President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers in the late 1990s, Janet Yellen confided to her husband, economist George Akerlof, about the challenges she faced navigating Washington’s political storms.
Those storms are about to become Ms. Yellen’s headache again. As President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for Treasury secretary, Ms. Yellen is looking at the most political role she has had in nearly three decades of high-profile policy making. Her job will be to formulate and defend Mr. Biden’s policies at a time when the economy is at a crossroads and the capital is deeply polarized.
Tough debates loom about how much more the government should borrow and spend to advance a recovery that is slowing and vulnerable as Covid-19 spreads, but also is poised to bounce back if vaccines are successfully and quickly distributed.
Ms. Yellen’s resume was a draw for Mr. Biden. No past Treasury secretary has served both as leader of the Federal Reserve, which she did from 2014 to 2018, and head of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, her job from 1997 to 1999 in the Clinton administration.
Yet her previous experiences with Washington politics were insulated by comparison with the task at hand. Compared with the Treasury Department, the Fed is a cloistered and academic institution. At Treasury, politics is often one of the first considerations.
Progressives in the Democratic Party are pushing for aggressive new spending programs. Republicans appear poised to push for spending restraint. And new administrations often involve their own factions. President Trump’s team sparred over trade, and President Obama’s over spending and deficit reduction. Assuming she is confirmed as Treasury secretary, Ms. Yellen will be at the center of it all.
“Treasury is designed to generate opinions on hundreds, thousands of different questions, many of which are known and others that arise in completely unsuspected ways,” said Nathan Sheets, a former Obama administration Treasury official and Fed economist. “The saying is that the Treasury moves 10 times faster than the Fed, and the White House moves 10 times faster than the Treasury.”
As Treasury secretary, Ms. Yellen would oversee a bureaucracy that handles matters ranging from tax collection to the implementation of international sanctions to the U.S. dollar policy, issues she didn’t publicly address in detail during her long career at the Fed.
Ms. Yellen’s relationships with congressional Republicans have at times been strained. When she went to Capitol Hill for meetings with lawmakers in her first year as Fed chairwoman, she tended to focus on Democrats, a course she later corrected to address frictions with congressional Republicans. GOP lawmakers routinely pressed her on a range of issues, including allegations of leaks from the central bank about interest rate decision-making.
Republicans also were rankled by her attention to matters such as inequality and the participation of women in the workforce. It seemed to some a diversion from issues the Fed was mandated by Congress to address: unemployment and inflation.
“You’re sticking your nose in places that you have no business to be,” then-Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said at a 2015 hearing.
In the end it turned out there were links between unemployment, inequality and workforce participation. As the jobless rate fell in recent years, women were drawn into the labor force and Black unemployment rates hit lows not seen before—among President Trump’s signature achievements.
On the international front, Ms. Yellen is poised to play a significant role in Mr. Biden’s planned efforts to strengthen ties to traditional U.S. allies in Europe, North America and Asia. As Fed chairwoman and before that vice chairwoman, Ms. Yellen was one of the central bank’s point people in international finance gatherings for nearly a decade. In the process she built a network of connections with central bankers and finance ministers around the world.
An exception might be China. The Trump administration has imposed trade tariffs on imports from China that Mr. Biden doesn’t seem eager to unwind. A range of U.S. grievances with China remain unresolved, including its subsidies to state-owned enterprises and competition for new technologies with significant national-security implications.
“We have very difficult issues that lie ahead” with China, Ms. Yellen said in Hong Kong in January.
Ms. Yellen, a Democrat, likely wouldn’t be in her current position if Mr. Trump had offered her a second term as head of the Fed. He considered her, approving of her inclination to keep interest rates low, but chose Republican Jerome Powell instead. Mr. Trump suggested to associates that one of his concerns was that the roughly five-foot-tall Ms. Yellen might be too short to convey stature, according to people familiar with the matter. The White House declined to comment.
Raised in a Brooklyn brownstone by a mother who kept meticulous records of the family’s stock portfolio and a physician father who made house calls, Ms. Yellen was an A student known for prodigious note-taking.
As a Ph.D. student at Yale in the 1970s, she was a devotee of James Tobin, a Nobel-winning economist who followed the traditions of John Maynard Keynes, a believer in a strong role for government in economic downturns. One of her small failures in life was starting a textbook that she didn’t finish based on her notes of Mr. Tobin’s classes. The notes themselves became popular with other graduate students.
Ms. Yellen would spend her academic career focused on labor markets and questions such as: How come in a recession companies lay off workers instead of just cutting their salaries? What’s the government’s role in addressing the dislocations that come with these layoffs?
By the time she came to Washington in the mid-1990s to serve as a Federal Reserve governor, Ms. Yellen had been molded as a textbook left-of-center economist. She saw unemployment as deeply damaging to workers and believed in a muscular role for the government to address it. However, she also saw practical limits: If unemployment got too low it could spark inflation, and if the government’s debt got too big it could drive inflation higher, push up interest rates and slow growth.
Ms. Yellen prepares for tasks meticulously and doesn’t particularly like surprises or risks. She tends to arrive hours early for flights to avoid mishaps and to ensure choice space in overhead compartments. When she was a guest at a White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2014, she was the first person to arrive at a ballroom that seats thousands.
“When Janet was at the Fed, I supported her as much as possible by taking over household duties,” said her husband, Mr. Akerlof, in a bio for the Nobel prize in economics he received in 2001. “Later when she was at the White House my role in providing psychological support in the daily political storms was yet more important.” He added that they agreed on most issues, though he was more skeptical than she was on the merits of free trade.
Ms. Yellen’s main test at Treasury will involve spending and debt.
The experience of the past couple of decades has called into question a central premise of economics: that rising government debt-loads push up interest rates and crimp private investment. Debt has been soaring, but interest rates have fallen and inflation has remained low, with no obvious negative effects on private investment.
The question for Ms. Yellen is how far to push U.S. borrowing. As Treasury secretary one of her main jobs would be to raise the money that funds the government. That comes mainly through changes in tax policy or increased borrowing.
The federal budget deficit tripled to $3.1 trillion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. Republicans pushed back against a big price tag for more Covid-19 rescue programs during the summer. They seem poised to resist even harder with a Democrat in the White House.
Mr. Biden has expressed support for the $2.2 trillion measure passed by the House, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), on Oct. 1. He has also endorsed many of the provisions included in the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act the House passed in May. Moreover, he proposes $2 trillion in spending on climate programs.
Many economists today say a bipartisan impulse to curb spending over debt concerns in the years following the 2008 financial crisis hampered the last recovery. Democrats aim to avoid a repeat of that.
“This is not a good time to have fiscal policy switch from being accommodative to creating a drag,” Ms. Yellen said in a September interview with The Wall Street Journal. “That’s what happened [last decade], and it retarded the recovery.”
She said low inflation has increased the need for and lowered the risks of aggressive monetary and fiscal policy. “There is a huge amount of suffering out there. The economy needs the spending,” Ms. Yellen said.
Another conclusion she has drawn from years of study as a labor economist and then years more as a policy maker: High unemployment imposes large and lasting costs on American households. As chairwoman and in other positions at the Fed, she often pushed the central bank to hold interest rates down to spur growth and hiring. Low rates encourage borrowing, spending and investment.
She also saw limits to how far the Fed could go to stimulate growth. Ms. Yellen urged Alan Greenspan to raise rates in the 1990s to stave off inflation, advice the Fed’s then-chairman ignored. As head of the central bank herself in 2015, she raised interest rates that had been held at near zero for years.
At the Treasury, her lever won’t be interest rates, it will be borrowing. Ms. Yellen has argued strongly for more deficit-financed government spending since the pandemic and related restrictions triggered a severe economic downturn.
However, she is also wary of federal budget deficits in the long run. In one speech last year to a housing trade group, she said that Social Security and Medicare might not get on a path to a solid footing even if taxes are raised to help fund the programs, and warned of painful tradeoffs. “This is root canal economics,” she said.
Some former colleagues say Ms. Yellen’s political strengths are underrated. “People underestimate the internal politics of the Fed,” said Daniel Tarullo, who was a Fed governor from 2009 to 2017. Fed leaders need to manage a large committee to reach consensus on interest-rate decisions. Mr. Tarullo said Ms. Yellen was “persistent and persuasive” in managing dissent at the central bank.
She briefed Mr. Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, now vice president-elect, by videoconference in August, and encouraged more spending to boost growth by highlighting the prospect for interest rates to stay low for a long time. She wrote an opinion piece around the same time with Jared Bernstein, a member of Mr. Biden’s economic inner circle, in the New York Times that made the same appeal for continued stimulus.
Some economists expect inflation to pick up as the economy recovers, but Ms. Yellen said this summer she saw a bigger risk that policymakers wouldn’t do enough to spur a stronger recovery. “With inflation as low as it is, servicing the debt required by the one-two punch of aggressive monetary and fiscal policies is relatively inexpensive,” she wrote in the op-ed.
“Yellen is a clever choice. She will be able to argue for larger stimulus with an intellectual heft that has eluded Democrats so far,” said Marc Sumerlin, a former economic adviser to former President George W. Bush. She might seek ways “to delegate on the late-night horse-trading and partisan rhetoric,” Mr. Sumerlin said.
Depending on the outcome of two January runoff elections in Georgia, Republicans could maintain control of the Senate, leaving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.,Ky.) as the Senate gatekeeper for legislation and nominations.
Jacob Lew, Treasury secretary from 2013 until 2017, said Ms. Yellen might find allies in moderate Republicans in the Senate. If she wins over three or four Republicans, he said, that could tilt the balance in Mr. Biden’s favor in looming debates.
“If the question is who can force Mitch McConnell’s hand, that’s not a fair test,” said Mr. Lew. “The real question is what does it take to persuade a majority in the Senate, and Janet Yellen has enormous capability” to achieve that.
Mr. Biden has calculated that Ms. Yellen can bridge a range of divides that will confront his administration. She enjoys credibility in global financial markets and foreign capitals. She also has alliances among Democratic Party moderates as well as progressives, due in part to her friendship with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who endorsed her expected nomination.
One of her first tasks will be deciding whether to push for a restart of emergency lending programs launched by the Fed this year directing low-interest loans to small and midsize businesses affected by Covid-19 shutdowns. Though managed by the Fed, the programs depend on collaboration with the Treasury, which provides some of the money.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined a request by the Fed to extend the programs when they expire on Dec. 31. He said that he lacked the authority to provide an extension, a legal opinion not shared by the Fed, and also that money used to backstop Fed loans would be better used on grants for the unemployed and businesses.
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In a possible sign of what’s to come, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) signaled resistance if Ms. Yellen tries to restart the programs. In a statement Monday night, Mr. Toomey, who is set to head the Senate Banking Committee if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, said he wanted to make sure Ms. Yellen would abide by his interpretation of the March funding law that keeps the Fed’s lending programs “shut down absent further congressional action.”
He added he has nothing against Ms. Yellen herself. “While Dr. Yellen and I had our fair share of disagreements during her tenure as chair of the Federal Reserve, I have no doubts about her integrity or technical expertise,” Mr. Toomey said.
Politics Briefing: Liberals prepare fall fiscal update – The Globe and Mail
Circle next Monday in your calendars, because it’s the first day in a long time that we will get a glimpse of Ottawa’s books.
The Liberal government says it will table its fall fiscal statement in the House of Commons after 4 p.m. ET on Monday.
The Liberals have often used these statements to announce new measures, such as the Canada Infrastructure Bank in 2016. But this year’s update will be even more crucial, given the state of the pandemic, the need to support public health and economy, and the fact that the government hasn’t tabled a real budget since March of 2019.
Economists told The Globe they expect this year’s deficit to be upwards of $400-billion, larger than the last time the government estimated it in July.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged today that Canada won’t be first in line for COVID-19 vaccines because the drugs won’t be manufactured here.
The federal government spent $5-million in consulting fees to set up the COVID-19 relief program for large employers, but the fund has only delivered two loans so far in its six months of operations.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne says it’s up to the Canadian Olympic Committee to decide if Canada should boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
A new RCMP union is pushing back on the Liberal government’s assault-rifle ban.
U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s transition process is officially under way, after the General Services Administration deemed Donald Trump’s legal efforts to overturn the vote were not going anywhere.
And snowbirds gonna snowbird: plenty of Canadian seniors are going ahead with their annual plans to spend the winter in warmer climes down south, and at least one helicopter company is helping them hop across the border to Buffalo, N.Y. The Canadian government is, officially, recommending against the travel in light of the pandemic, but cross-border flights are still operating.
Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on how political leaders are dealing with the second wave of COVID-19: “Second-wave restrictions were supposed to be better – smarter, targeted and evidence-based – thanks to the new knowledge and tools ostensibly collected over the past eight months. But it’s as if premiers Brian Pallister and Doug Ford spent the past few months just fortifying their sledgehammers, deaf to the information that should have convinced them to opt for needle-nose pliers instead. The result is that small businesses have been forced to close their doors ahead of the busiest shopping time of the year, all while big-box retailers enjoy their governments’ blessings to welcome their customers inside.”
Edoardo Campanella (The Globe and Mail) on why low-skilled workers are the essential ones: “It turns out that there are still no good technological substitutes for the street cleaners, shopkeepers, utility workers, food deliverers, truckers, or bus drivers who have kept the economy running through the darkest days of the crisis. In many cases, these workers perform tasks that require situational adaptability and physical abilities of a kind that cannot easily be coded into software and replicated by a robot.”
Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on why U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s plan for a common front against China could work: “President Donald Trump made confronting China a big part of his rhetoric, but he did it primarily on trade balances, and threatened allies with the same tariffs – offending friends, scaring partners and killing any notion of a U.S.-led common front. But now Mr. Biden is promising to revive U.S. alliances and to work with them to counter China.”
John Ivison (National Post) on Canadian groups – including two MPs – who are calling for the release of Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou: “We can probably all agree that we do not welcome a cold war with the Chinese, far less anything warmer. But to present, as the Canadian Peace Congress does, Meng’s detention as ‘an unprovoked kidnapping,’ or Canada’s participation in naval operations in east Asia as an attempt to ‘provoke and encircle the PRC,’ is to take adolescent gullibility to dangerous levels.”
Stephen Maher (Maclean’s) on reforming the RCMP: “The RCMP showed up with SWAT teams, snipers and attack dogs when Mi’kmaq protested fracking in New Brunswick in 2013, but stood by and watched when non-native fishermen terrorized Mi’kmaq fishers this summer in Nova Scotia. What are Indigenous people supposed to conclude from that?”
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