Earlier this month, President Trump led an evangelical religious revival.
Evangelicals who support Trump sometimes defend their position by arguing, “we voted for a commander-in-chief, not a pastor in chief.” But “pastor-in-chief” was precisely the role we saw Trump embody on January 3 in Miami.
His reelection, Trump insisted, is necessary to “renew faith and family as the center of American life.” This faith is the “true foundation of American life,” and by voting for Trump, Trump claimed, “we will ensure that our country forever and always remains one people, one family, and one glorious nation under God.”
By contrast, Trump described his political opponents as the enemies of God. “Our opponents want . . . to impose an extreme antireligious socialist agenda,” he explained.
“I really do believe we have God on our side,” Trump said.
This sermon/stump-speech was attended by about 5,000 evangelicals at El Rey Jesús church as part of the announcement of the formation of “Evangelicals for Trump.” Before the speech, religious leaders prayed for the president and echoed the belief that Trump is leading a religious revival in his 2020 reelection campaign.
“Use him to change the spiritual atmosphere of this nation,” Pastor Guillermo Maldonado petitioned the Almighty.
Of course, he already has. And in a case somewhere, the Monkey’s Paw is laughing.
Evangelicalism was born out of the First Great Awakening, a religious revival in England and the American colonies in the mid-1700s that focused on evangelization and personal conversion. The second generation of evangelicals, a minority faith at the time, would go on to support the disestablishment of religion in the First Amendment, knowing that if the new government were to have an official faith, it wouldn’t be theirs.
A few centuries later the folks in El Rey Jesús church took a different view of evangelicalism that day: Pastor Maldonado literally prayed for a new Christian revival to be led by the head of the government’s executive branch.
“We ask you Father, that [Trump] can be the Cyrus to bring reformation, to bring change into this nation and all the nations of the Earth, who will say, America is the greatest nation of the Earth,” Maldonado prayed.
What could possibly go wrong.
Aligning a religious movement with a political movement is dangerous territory.
Political leaders who believe they were chosen by God for a divine purpose tend toward unreasonableness, which is a bad trait for any type of leader, in any context—but is a particular affront within a government designed to carry out a deliberative form of democracy.
Plus, while a religion yoked to political power can bring temporary (and only temporal) benefits to its members, political alliances are, by nature, fleeting. Which is to say that a politicized religion necessarily winds up subjugating its relation to eternal things in the pursuit of proximity to worldly power. As a prominent member of the Roman Empire’s IRS once put it, “No one can serve two masters.”
This central fact was among my concerns when I left my job at the Christian Post after the company decided to align itself with the interests of Donald Trump. In an editorial I couldn’t support, authored by Senior Managing Editor John Grano and Executive Editor Richard Land, the Christian Post echoed Trump’s class warfare and conspiratorial language in asserting that opposition to Trump was elitist and part of the “Deep State.”
The Christian Post editors didn’t always feel that way about Trump. In February of 2016, while I was an editor, Trump had already begun his outreach to evangelicals, claiming he would be their protector while trying to win the Republican nomination. The Christian Post had never taken a position on a political candidate before, but as a leading evangelical publication, we saw the danger in associating our faith with Trump and felt we needed to take a stand.
In an editorial titled, “Donald Trump Is a Scam. Evangelical Voters Should Back Away,” we wrote, “we feel compelled by our moral responsibility to our readers to make clear that Donald Trump does not represent the interests of evangelicals and would be a dangerous leader for our country.”
We were more right than we could have known.
Since taking office, we’ve seen Trump separate immigrant children from their families; make dramatic cuts to the refugee program that helped many, including Christians, fleeing persecution; fail to clearly denounce the racists in Charlottesville; write hush money checks to a porn star while lying about it for months and only coming clean after he knew he was caught; betray allies in Syria, leading to a Turkish invasion that displaced 180,000 people, including 80,000 children and some of the remaining few Christian communities in the region; and use the levers of government power to attempt to bribe the president of Ukraine to aid his reelection campaign.
This is not, of course, the complete list.
In the 2016 editorial we also noted that Trump’s “preferred forms of communication are insults, obscenities and untruths.” Neither has that changed.
What has changed is that since the 2016 editorial, certain Christian Post editors got scammed themselves. They now argue that it’s “elitist” and “distinctly unbiblical” to denounce racism and misogyny, defend immigrants and refugees, and expect presidents to be held accountable when they abuse their power. After agreeing in 2016 that “Trump’s followers are being fooled into believing that he can help them,” they now turn a blind eye to the problems Trump has created while proclaiming that the United States “is, in significant ways, thriving under a Trump presidency.”
Eventually, “Evangelicals for Trump” and the Christian Post will learn the same lesson. Tying fortunes to a political leader can bring gains, in the short term. But all worldly things come to an end. This fact, combined with the ideas of Christ’s love for us and the Lord’s Divine Mercy, are at the beating heart of the Christian faith.
And while it may be true that some of Trump’s Democratic opponents represent an external threat to pieces of the faith, Trump has been much more dangerous. Which is why seduction is always more insidious than opposition: The biggest threat to Christians is having their faith corrupted from within.
For what shall it profit the faith, if it shall gain the presidency, but lose its soul?