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Regular readers of The Twelve, and particularly those who are familiar with my past postings, know two things: I have grave and abiding concerns about Donald Trump and on several occasions I have also said that we need to pray for our leaders and that I do pray for this President the same as I did for Obama, Bush, Clinton, and all leaders as far back as I can remember. In short, I have no problems with praying for the President—I think Scripture makes it pretty clear we are called to do this.
Of course, how and what we pray are a different matter. At minimum we must pray for safety, for wisdom, for prudence, for discernment, and a bevy of similar things we should all want for every President whether we politically support him (or one day perhaps her) or not. But that all leads me to the prayer of Paula White at the Florida campaign rally that launched Trump’s re-election campaign (though since he has held around sixty campaign-esque rallies since coming into office, it’s kind of hard to see last Tuesday’s gathering at the Amway Arena in Orlando as something new).
I sincerely hope as fellow Christians that whether we politically support the President or not, we can at the very least agree that what White “prayed” last Tuesday is properly troubling. Indeed, it is all the more alarming if these sentiments really were to settle into the evangelical soul as a baseline way of viewing the Christian faith, the church, and the world generally (or is it actually too late?).
White’s prayer was just generally a pastiche of rapid-fire citations of verses from the Old and New Testaments. Virtually every third sentence started with “As we read in _____.” I have not seen such an avalanche of out-of-context uses of the Bible since the last time I happened upon Jack Van Impe while channel surfing a while back (even as Van Impe’s wife, Rexella, nods and smiles and breathlessly says things like “That’s amazing, Jack, that Ezekiel already knew the name of Putin . . .”). But the effect of that generous sprinkling in of Bible texts gave White’s whole prayer the aura of being less a word TO God and more a message directly FROM God. The prayer was also pitched as being the authoritative word of “the Name above all names, Jesus” as White used that phrase multiple times, too.
Of course, were this a reasonably orthodox prayer, all of that might be acceptable and could even be chalked up merely as a more charismatic way of praying than someone like me from the Reformed world might be used to. But, naturally enough, I would not be writing this blog were this anything like an orthodox, ordinary prayer for the leaders of a nation. Instead White applied most of those many Bible texts directly to Donald Trump alone. Trump is God’s “anointed” in Psalm 2 and Psalm 89. Trump has been directly raised up by God “for such a time as this.” Trump is God’s favored one and so when some oppose Trump, then (Psalm 2 again) God can but sit in heaven and scoff at the foolish raging of Trump’s “enemies.”
Speaking of enemies . . . all who attack Trump are in league with Satan and the very forces of Hell itself. “Let every evil veil of deceit of the enemy be removed from people’s eyes” White implored with fire in her own voice. Going to Ephesians 6, White said those who oppose Trump are clearly in league with the “principalities and powers” of which the Apostle Paul wrote. As such, White demanded that God tear down every “demonic network” (CNN?) even as she predicted Trump will be victorious and will “overcome every strategy of Hell.” Trump wins in 2020, Hell loses.
So, dear readers, if you oppose Trump politically or deplore his character or policies, now you know with whom you stand spiritually. If you thought you were standing up for Christ and the Gospel, think again. Clearly many would-be Christians are no more than Satan’s little helpers. It’s hard to believe I can be in league with the principalities and powers of the spiritual universe and still be—as I thought my baptism said I was—in union with Christ. But there it is.
American civil religion is nothing new. It started long before Donald Trump ever even thought about going into politics. Though I have seldom heard the extremes of rhetoric we can observe in White’s prayer, politicians from all parties have courted the idolatry of American civil religion. Ronald Reagan was particularly adept at it but all Presidents who end speeches with the imperative “God Bless America” are buying in (at least a little) to the “Christian nation” and “shining city on a hill” mythos that undergird the belief in America as God’s chosen people. Not a few of us have attended enough worship services the week of the Fourth of July to know full well that it is hardly uncommon to see pastors and worship leaders wrapping the cross in the flag and singing in public worship heterodox hymns like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as patriotic standards like “America the Beautiful.”
But White’s prayer moves all of this to a dangerous new level. Many pundits have observed that in the Age of Trump, it is no longer enough to disagree with your political rivals. You must destroy them. The days of Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan having a chummy relationship after hours are over. But now the Christians who attended the Florida rally last week are being told there is another reason to destroy all those who oppose Trump: it is because they oppose Jesus, they side with dark powers and with the strategy of Hell itself.
Now in truth, I have never heard Donald Trump say anything about himself that is akin to what Paula White claimed for him in her “prayer.” But then again, Iago-like she has been pouring such spiritual heresy and nonsense into his ears—she said before she prayed—for eighteen years now. Sooner or later such sentiments likely have a way of silting down into Trump’s already bloated ego. But whatever the President thinks about himself, that Christians are being urged to frame the world this way, to treat Trump as a stand-in for Christ himself (who, if I am not mistaken, is the usual person we associate with Psalm 2-like anointing), then we have entered perilous times of grave public heresy.
But this line of thought may explain a trend line that a few others have noted: many (but by no means all) evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 said they did so holding their noses. They just figured he could not be worse than that horrid Hillary. They knew of Trump’s faults and moral failings but . . . Now, however, it is increasingly clear that many of those same people see every criticism of Trump, every investigation, every allegation as wrong, perhaps even as evil. Trump has gone from a deeply flawed candidate to the man of God’s own anointing. White’s rhetoric in her prayer may be part of the reason why this shift is happening. People in 2020 won’t have to hold their noses—they will be shouting “Hallelujah” when they vote.
Nothing spiritually good is likely to come of such rhetoric, such beliefs, such biblical claims. Can we in a bi-partisan way agree to at least that much at a time when we cannot agree on much else?