Among the evangelical Christians denying the reality of the 2020 presidential election, there are some expected names: Pat Robertson and Kenneth Copeland, for example. But at the front of the line as the denial of reality persists five weeks after Election Day are two names perhaps less known to average Americans: Jenna Ellis and Eric Metaxas.
Perhaps no one short of Rudy Giuliani or Sidney Powell has mounted as vigorous a defense of Donald Trump’s blatant lie that he actually won the election than these two — especially considering their message is wrapped in Christian piety.
“Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of ‘a new birth of freedom’ will be fulfilled. Pray.” Those are the words of Metaxas on Twitter Thanksgiving Day.
Then on Nov. 30, on the radio show Metaxas hosts, he made this statement with Trump on the line listening: “I’d be happy to die in this fight. This is a fight for everything. God is with us. Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty.”
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson — who in the good old days was considered a conservative — said of Metaxas: “Just to be clear, Metaxas has publicly committed his life to Donald Trump, claimed that at least two members of the Trinity favor a coup against the constitutional order, endorsed the widespread jailing of Trump’s political enemies for imaginary crimes, claimed Abraham Lincoln’s blessing for the advance of authoritarianism and urged Christians to pray to God for the effective death of American democracy. This is seditious and sacrilegious in equal measure.”
Pinned at the top of Ellis’ Twitter feed is this declaration from June 22: “I’m going on record now: If they try to cancel Christianity, if they try to force me to apologize or recant my Faith, I will not bend, I will not waver, I will not break. On Christ the solid Rock I stand. And I’m proud to be an American.”
What follows beneath on her Twitter feed is a barrage of debunked conspiracy theories about the election, assertions that the “fact checkers” are actually the liars and claims that “the Left” is out to destroy America unless good conservative Christians fight harder.
Among those is a Dec. 9 retweet of one of Trump’s post-election fundraising memes citing his “accomplishments” including that he “received more votes than any incumbent president in history.” The meme omits the fact that Trump received 7 million fewer votes than Joe Biden, who actually won the popular vote and the Electoral College. The Trump campaign added to the image this text: “There is NO WAY President @realDonaldTrump lost this election!”
Ellis also doesn’t like the Washington Post’s recent story explaining that she is both legal counsel to Trump and part of an effort that has claimed to be separate from the Trump campaign in filing lawsuits across the country in an effort to overturn the results of the election.
That affiliation with the Thomas More Society also has placed her in the spotlight in California, where the society and she are defending pastor John MacArthur and his Grace Community Church in their fight to defy public health orders to curb the spread of coronavirus. The society has added a disclaimer in Ellis’ bio on its website noting Ellis’ “work for the Trump Campaign is wholly separate and apart from her work for Thomas More Society. She is not working with the Society’s Election Integrity Project known as ‘Amistad.’”
Echoing the spirit of Trump himself in delegitimizing the news media, Ellis tweeted: “It might come as a shock to the idiots at WaPo, but an attorney CAN have multiple clients at once. This isn’t news, guys. It’s in my bio. You’re just TRYING to create a false perception. It’s a disservice to your few readers and shows how desperate you are.”
The Washington Post, by the way, reports monthly online readership between 90 million and 100 million people — in addition to its several hundred thousand print subscribers.
Of Ellis and Metaxas, the two most prominent figures in evangelical circles doing Trump’s bidding to cast doubt on the election results, Ellis is the newcomer and Metaxas is the old hand, although best known only among the far right.
Meet Jenna Ellis
Ellis’ Twitter profile links not to her own website or bio but instead to a Trump website. Her LinkedIn profile lists her experience as “senior legal advisor” to the Trump campaign, a contributor to the Beltway Confidential Blog since 2017, an attorney in private practice since 2013, director of the Dobson Policy Center of the James Dobson Family Institute for one year beginning in 2018, assistant professor of legal studies at Colorado Christian University from 2015 to 2018, a deputy district attorney in Colorado for one year beginning in 2012, a contract attorney for the U.S. Department of State for one year beginning in 2011, and a law clerk in the Colorado attorney general’s office for less than a year in 2011.
Her LinkedIn bio also reports Ellis earned a law degree from the University of Richmond and a bachelor of journalism degree from Colorado State University. No years are listed for either degree.
Her bio on the Thomas More Society website offers more details, explaining that she is a Colorado native, was home schooled from kindergarten through 12th grade, grew up in an evangelical Christian family where “sound doctrine and theology were the basis of her education and fostered a love for God, a solid understanding of the Christian worldview, and her acceptance of the gospel and Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.”
In 2015, Ellis published a book, The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution. Publicity for the book describes it as making “a compelling case for the true roots of America’s founding documents in objective morality and how our system of government is founded upon the Christian worldview and God’s unchanging law, not a secular humanist worldview. (Ellis) provides a unique perspective of the Founding Fathers as lawyers and how they understood the legitimate authority of biblical truth and appealed directly to God’s law for the foundation of America.”
A July profile of Ellis in The Daily Beast reported her claim that the separation of church and state was not an intent of the Founding Fathers and is a lie perpetuated by the liberal left.
Ellis also has ties to the Falkirk Center for Faith & Liberty at Liberty University, a far-right think tank and advocacy group begun by Jerry Falwell Jr. in 2019.
The Thomas More Society bio reports that Ellis has chosen a “life verse” from Isaiah 6:8 to guide her: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
The New York Times recently published an overview of Ellis’ career and expertise under the headline, “How Is Trump’s Lawyer Jenna Ellis ‘Elite Strike Force’ Material?”
“Ms. Ellis, 36, is not the seasoned constitutional law expert she plays on TV.”
The story noted that “a review of her professional history, as well as interviews with more than a half-dozen lawyers who have worked with her, show that Ms. Ellis, 36, is not the seasoned constitutional law expert she plays on TV.”
Ellis appears to have no prior experience litigating election law cases. In fact, her courtroom experience appears to be limited to “appearances in state court as a prosecutor or as counsel for clients charged with assault, prostitution, theft and domestic abuse.”
The Times investigation concluded: “Ms. Ellis’s work appears to largely be in a public relations capacity. The Trump campaign and its supporters have so far filed about 50 election-related lawsuits. She has not signed her name or appeared in court to argue a single one.”
Ellis provided the Times a written statement responding to questions about her record, describing herself as “a highly experienced and highly qualified attorney and expert in my field.” And she added that any assertions to the contrary “cast me in a false light.”
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ellis said of herself, “I’m the Cinderella story of the legal world.”
Meet Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is a more complicated character with a longer track record and scores of fans among the far-right evangelical world.
Born in 1963, he has written serious books on historical figures (William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther) but also has written children’s books and scripts for the popular children’s video series “VeggieTales.” He lives in Manhattan and currently hosts a radio program, The Eric Metaxas Show.
That someone who studied Bonhoeffer would become an outspoken supporter of Trump and Trumpism strikes his critics as ironic. The egotistical, narcissistic Trump has been compared to Adolf Hitler, and Trump’s die-hard fan base has been compared to German Christians who succumbed to Hitler’s authoritarian persona and demonizing of Jews as less than human. Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who resisted Hitler, was executed by the Third Reich.
However, Metaxas in fall 2016 suggested instead that a Hillary Clinton victory in the presidential election would place America in the role of Germany embracing Hitler. He even mocked Clinton as “Hitlery” — something he later said was a misunderstood joke.
Baptist educator Curtis Freeman tweeted on Nov. 21: “Eric Metaxas is an idolatrous false prophet. His Bonhoeffer book is a discredited fiction. He is a sucker punching punk. He merits no attention. He leads Christians astray. Please unfriend, unfollow, and forget him.”
“Eric Metaxas is an idolatrous false prophet. His Bonhoeffer book is a discredited fiction.”
Freeman is not alone among academics in knocking Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer book. Clifford Green, himself a Bonhoeffer scholar, wrote a less-than-flattering review of the book for The Christian Century. He said of the book: “Polarization is a structural motif of the whole narrative, because his mission is to reclaim the true Bonhoeffer from ‘liberals’ who have ‘hijacked’ the theologian.”
Green concluded the review by writing: “The most descriptive and honest title for Metaxas’s book would perhaps be Bonhoeffer Co-opted. Or better: Bonhoeffer Hijacked.”
Charles Marsh, another Bonhoeffer scholar, called Metaxas’ perspective on the German pastor “complete nonsense.”
Such revisionist history fits the pattern of Metaxas and his influence on evangelical Christians.
Kristin Du Mez, professor of history at Calvin College, wrote a piece for Patheos this summer to address what she called “dangerous myths of American history.”
“David Barton is the most full-time falsifier of the American founding, but Eric Metaxas remains the most popular.”
“David Barton is the most full-time falsifier of the American founding, but Eric Metaxas remains the most popular,” she wrote. “According to Metaxas, for example, John Adams was ‘a committed and theologically orthodox Christian,’ though in reality Adams denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ.
“The histories of America posited by Metaxas and others like him contain a multitude of errors, as plenty of historians have pointed out. But where the historical problems are obvious, the theological dangers in their methods can often be harder to spot.”
This results in a form of Christian nationalism that is simply not historical fact, De Mez wrote. “David Barton and Eric Metaxas seem to think that evangelicals should have founded the United States. And so, in their telling, they did, regardless of historical records. Their histories, in other words, treat God as an incapable sovereign. Since God couldn’t be trusted to get things right, Barton and Metaxas will take matters into their own hands, rewriting history to mop up God’s mistakes.”
Despite these and other controversies over Metaxas’ previous work, nothing prepared either his critics or longtime friends for his 2016 turn toward Trump.
A Dec. 3 profile of Metaxas in Religion News Service quoted Phil Vischer, creator of “VeggieTales,” puzzling over what has happened to his friend: “At some point, Eric went from idolizing people like Os Guinness to idolizing Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson — right wing political firebrands who live to ‘own the libs.’ I think there’s an adrenaline rush or dopamine hit from engaging in full-fledged culture wars that otherwise thoughtful souls on both sides of the political spectrum can find intoxicating. For some, life is worth living only when ‘the soul of America’ is at stake. So the soul of America is ALWAYS at stake.”
Mextaxas later wrote and published three cartoon books for adults and children to extol the virtues of the Trump administration: Donald Drains the Swamp, Donald Builds the Wall, and Donald and the Fake News. In addition to traditional booksellers, these volumes also may be purchased at the My Pillow website.
This summer, Metaxas turned heads again with a curious claim on Twitter that Jesus was white. That sparked a lengthy chain of responses captured by Relevant magazine.
Most curiously, this summer Metaxas punched a protester in Washington, D.C., in the head after Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention. He said the anti-Trump protester was “menacing.”
These days, what Metaxas and Ellis have in common — coming from different backgrounds and two decades apart in age — is a willingness to bend the present truth into a new kind of historical fiction.
Gerson, of the Washington Post, sees a danger to the witness of Christianity in this denial of reality.
“If we should encounter someone who believes — honestly and adamantly believes — in both the existence of the Easter Bunny and in the resurrection of Christ, it would naturally raise questions about the quality of his or her believing faculties,” Gerson wrote. “It would call into question the standard of evidence being applied and muddy the meaning of faith itself.
“Dedicating your life to Trump is in the same category. If a Christian leader believes — honestly and adamantly believes — that Trump is a fount of truth, a defender of the faithful, a Lincolnian guardian of liberty and a victim of a nationwide electoral conspiracy, he or she is likely to fall for anything. People like this — people like Metaxas — make the critical intelligence of Christians seem limited. And what these leaders say about religion loses in credibility.”
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.