Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination underscores the battles to come over Roe v. Wade and religious liberty
UPDATED Thursday, Sept. 3: A man identifying himself as the protester in a video circulating on social media disputes Eric Metaxas’ account of an altercation on the streets of Washington, D.C., after the Republican National Convention last week.
Metaxas claimed a protester on a bicycle came at him in a menacing way before a video appears to show him swinging at the protester. The protester says that isn’t true. In a note from the protester’s Instagram account, he wrote: “Bottom line, though, is he attacked me. I wasn’t threatening or intimidating them. Sure I was talking [profanity]. But I gave them no reason to attack me. He had to lunge at me to punch me from behind. Charges will be filed.” (The protester didn’t disclose his name in his response.)
Religion Unplugged reported on Thursday that Metaxas sent an email to executive editor Paul Glader, repeating his earlier claims about the protester, and saying that Metaxas did try to “knock him away.” Glader reported Metaxas wrote: “It just happened.”
Below is our earlier report:
Maryland pastor Harry Jackson had a close-up look at an incident Thursday night that has received broad social media attention: He says a protester confronting guests leaving President Donald Trump’s speech at the White House repeatedly rode his bicycle very close toward Eric Metaxas—a Christian author, radio host, and Trump supporter. And a video of the incident appears to show Metaxas taking a swing at the protester.
Metaxas responded to WORLD’s inquiries about the incident on Monday morning via email, saying he had “chosen to go off social media till now and not to comment on any of this.” He added: “For context, just so you know, the guy came at me with his bike and was very menacing for a long time.” Metaxas said he had been escorting his wife and Maryland pastor Harry Jackson to an Uber ride.
I spoke with Jackson Monday morning, and the pastor confirmed he had been with Metaxas and his wife that evening. Jackson said after they left Trump’s speech at the White House, they had walked down a D.C. street for about 10 minutes while protesters cursed at them.
Jackson said they turned down a side street to meet their Uber driver, and a protester on a bicycle kept swerving close to Metaxas while cursing Trump and them. (Jackson described the encounter as the bicyclist “playing chicken” with Metaxas.)
Jackson said the encounter was intimidating enough that he wondered if he would need to use his walking cane to defend himself. He said the protester came within a few inches of Metaxas, but he didn’t know if he physically touched Metaxas. The video only shows about six seconds before Metaxas appears to hit the protester.
The protester posted the video on his Instagram account, showing officers detaining him on the side of the road after the encounter. He wrote: “I got punched by a member of the RNC and get detained by the Secret Service for absolutely nothing.” Another video shows the protester telling police he didn’t touch the man.
The protester’s Instagram account identifies him by the handle antidote503, and with the location Portland, Ore. He posted a photo and video a few days earlier indicating he was traveling from Portland to D.C. for protests: “@portlandresistance and I have arrived! dc let’s get to it.” (UPDATE: Religion News Service [RNS] reported a man identifying himself as the protester disputed Metaxas’ account. He declined to give his name to RNS, but said: “He attacked me. I wasn't threatening or intimidating. I was on a rented bicycle! He clearly punched me from behind.”
The incident was a strange note in a chaotic night, as other videos showed crowds of protesters surrounding couples and individuals after they left the White House. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he feared for the safety of his wife and himself as a crowd pressed in on them and the police officers around them, shouting at them. Paul called for an FBI investigation into what he called “interstate criminal traffic being paid for across state lines.”
The virus and the violence
Just two months remain before the Nov. 3 contest, and two issues may take center stage in the campaigns: the virus upending the world, and the violence upending some American cities.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden is making Trump’s response to the coronavirus a centerpiece of his campaign. One of Biden’s talking points: He would have handled it better than Trump.
Hindsight does give clarity, but on Feb. 29—the day that news broke of the first coronavirus death in the U.S.—I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other reporters in a Wofford College gym while Biden addressed a crowd of hundreds of people packed onto bleachers at a campaign rally. Two weeks later, the CDC advised against gatherings of more than 10 people.
It all happened fast, and Trump will have to defend his response—a poll in July showed 60 percent of Americans disapprove of how he’s handled the pandemic. But Biden may have more success at persuading voters that his plan going forward will be better than convincing them that he would have shaped a better outcome.
Meanwhile, Trump is making urban unrest a centerpiece of his reelection campaign. During his Thursday night speech, the president warned that Democrats would “demolish the suburbs” and “confiscate your guns.”
Biden’s gun control plan doesn’t include confiscating all guns, but Democrats may have missed a moment during their own convention when it comes to violence: They rightly lamented some of the tragic deaths of black citizens during police encounters, but they didn’t respond to the violence gripping some cities in the wake of protests.
Biden has pushed back on criticism that he hasn’t spoken out forcefully enough: He says he condemns all forms of violence. But the issue will continue to surface as the campaign continues.
We noted that Trump’s recently released second term agenda didn’t include priorities related to religious liberty, pro-life concerns, or judicial appointments. It seemed odd, given the importance of those issues to some conservatives.
Late last week, the list expanded with a section that includes priorities on life, religious liberty, appointing constitutionalist justices, and protecting Second Amendment rights.
I’ve asked the Trump campaign for comment on the new section (and the concerns that it wasn’t originally included), and we’ll report any response.
Republicans and religion
Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Republican National Convention raised some eyebrows on Wednesday night when he mixed Scripture and patriotic language. “Let’s run the race marked out for us,” he began.
The phrase comes from the opening verses of Hebrews 12. But Pence continued, “Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all that she represents.” That’s not in the book of Hebrews—the New Testament passage says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
Pence added: “And let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom, and never forget that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom—and that means freedom always wins.”
The second half of that remark partially echoes 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”
Politicians invoking Biblical language isn’t new: President Ronald Reagan famously compared America to the “shining city on a hill” from Matthew 5. Two weeks ago, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris said she was committed to “the word that teaches me to walk by faith, and not by sight.”
As a writer, I sometimes fold Biblical phrases into news stories, but it does require care. When a listener is expecting to hear the word “Jesus” in a Biblical quote, it’s jolting to hear a reference to the American flag instead. It also risks mixing hope in an imperfect, finite nation with the Christian’s eternal hope in a perfect Savior of people from all nations.
It’s a good reminder that during another tumultuous election season, fixing our eyes on Jesus is the one thing that can keep Christians grounded, even if they do find themselves sometimes divided.
Editor’s Note: WORLD has updated this story since its original posting.