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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?

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.

25 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Well said. Thank you.

  • Tom says:

    Rev Hoeze,

    Don’t disagree with the gist of this and I’m “all in” on being very cautious with the claim that God is on your side of the political aisle, But, as a “mote in the eye” observation re: the claim that Trump’s opposition are in league with the “principalities and powers” . . .

    From an October 23, 2017 post or yours on this blog: ‘I also suggested that the pro-gun lobby in this country is so powerfully entrenched–and holds so many politicians in absolute thrall–as to make it quite possibly count as among the “powers and principalities” that the Apostle Paul suggested are our true enemy in this world for now.’

    Just sayin’.

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      Tom, you raise a fair point of conversation. But I will raise three points in response: 1) I “suggested” that it “quite possibly” might be that the hardest of hard-line pro-gun organizations represent almost a spiritual power. Historically we have learned that evil is perpetrated less by individuals and more often by corporations or conglomerates (and sometimes whole governments). Even so, I hedged that possibility. 2) I would never say this in a public prayer, in worship prayers, etc. 3) I think I would not even raise this in a sermon (and if I hinted at it, I would likely hedge it in with a dozen caveats). Preaching is to proclaim what’s in God’s Word and I would never want to leave the impression that good exegesis of a Bible passage fingers the NRA as a demonic power. God’s Word does not say that clearly and so in a sermon presenting God’s Word, I would not say that either.
      I think it’s fair to say, however, that Paula White evinced no such caveats or cautions either in anointing Trump as God’s Chosen One or in damning his every critic as being in league with Satan (and all this with the Bible on her side she said). So, back at ya: Just sayin’ . . . Thanks for the engagement.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Scott, I think your three points are fair to note. I also think that point number one is not as powerful and you might hope for. To make a bunch of suggestions of the absolute evil of certain people or a group of people is hardly blunted by your litany of caveats – the damage is done at that point. If I were to suggest that your heart is dark and evil, but then follow it up with protestations that I was merely suggesting and saying it was possible, you would likely find those caveats less than convincing.

        • Tom says:

          Scott, just to clarify – I have no disagreement about your comments on Paula White, as you noted in later comments, we agree on the “shank” of your post. I agree with Eric that the “suggested” is not much cover – like when you hear “I don’t mean to offend you, but . . . ” is pretty much a guarantee that you’re about to be offend. And that they actually do mean to offend you.

          Not sure if I’ve correctly pasted in the link below, but it offers food for thought, but it’s worth reviewing because is reveals the misperceptions that most politically interested people have about the ‘other side’, as you move farther left or right on the spectrum. Meaning, ‘devoted conservatives’ think democrats are mostly communists; progressive activists think conservatives are racist bigots who hate poor people – both sides are wrong.

          What’s more interesting is that for democrats, ignorance of what conservatives actually believe increases with the level of education (the level of misperception is relatively consistent for republicans). What that means, I don’t know exactly, but it suggests that the ‘best and brightest’ of those who lean left (call them ‘elites’ if you will) consistently believe republicans are much more extreme (evil?) than what they really are.

          That’s what I hear in your original post – a hyper-partisan prayer at a campaign rally for the die-hard Trump supporters (and don’t think we couldn’t find a few whacked out things said at rallies for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, etc.), which is very quickly imputed to all those who held their nose and voted for Trump. Just looking for a little. Go after Paula White all you want – she’s staked out her position so she deserves it. Just don’t paint me (or my mother) with the same broad brush.

          https://perceptiongap.us/

          • Scott Hoezee says:

            OK, fair enough and thanks for the link. I will be curious to hear what the on-the-ground rhetoric is in 2020 if most Republican evangelicals line up to vote for Trump again, esp. with the foil of that horrid Hillary no longer in play. Trump proves his unfitness for office more with each passing day. But that’s just me. I just am at a loss at how viciously Christians on Facebook and elsewhere lashed into Barack Obama for 8 years but just give Trump a pass on everything: porn stars, his daily litany of lies, the horrors of what is happening with immigrant children, his obstructive behavior vis-a-vis Mueller, his serial adulteries. If Obama was such a terrible moral and political figure in the eyes of so many Christians–and believe me I have heard excoriating and profane attacks on him by Christians on a regular basis–why is there scarcely a whiff of consternation with Trump? But I hear you and will at minimum try to throw away my broad paintbrush in the hopes of painting more generously and carefully in the future.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Hi Scott,

    I agree wholeheartedly. To be sure, Paula White is also not one to whom we should generally look for orthodoxy.

    I wonder if you would agree in retrospect that you may have made a bit of leap, though, at the end of you post. You pivot rather quickly from Paula White and her prayer (and assumedly the rally attendees) to claiming to be able to conclude that people who formerly held their nose and voted for Trump now “see every criticism of Trump, every investigation, every allegation as wrong, perhaps even as evil.” I think that leap is unwarranted, for sure based on what you have presented. The people at this rally are likely to be the diehards, not the nose-holders. I don’t think you have any particular insight into the current mindset of the nose-holders, at least not that you have demonstrated here. For all you know, the nose-holders cringed just as much as you to hear White invoke God’s special blessing for Trump. You will do well to continue to work on viewing political others in a more gracious light, while those of us who view Clinton differently than you will try not to assign evil to you for supporting a proponent of child murder.

    That said, to reiterate: I think your main point in spot on – I cannot see how Paula White’s prayer is pleasing to God, and I absolutely agree that such rhetoric is damaging to the church and her witness.

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      Eric, you’re right: I cannot know with 100% certainty where a majority of Christians who voted for Trump stand. But with Trump’s Republican–and Republican evangelical–approval ratings consistently hovering around 90%, I don’t see much head scratching or hesitancy among Trump’s evangelical base. I also sense that it is all-but a foregone conclusion for most folks that they will vote for Trump again even just over a year before they will know who their other choice might be next time (and since voting for Trump was allegedly mostly a vote AGAINST Hillary, what if next time the choice is not anywhere near so stark?). And although it’s anecdotal and all, I have seen more and more articles like this one:
      https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/05/09/what-happened-after-my-husband-was-attacked-critiquing-franklin-grahams-pete-buttigieg-tweets/?fbclid=IwAR14PjSm8YVG5JeK6Jd_b2UKndVNIXSHKvn9nIOpZ9HgAMmMGcKj_RTpyhw&utm_term=.b623a340be3d
      Anyway, food for thought.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        For many nose-holders, it is a vote on party and platform as much as specific candidate. All Democratic candidates carry the baggage of the DFL platform.

        Also, remember, you did not argue that those nose-holders will again hold their nose and vote for Trump, but rather you assigned to them a more sycophantic devotion where indicated you have reason to believe they now view opposition to Trump as evil. That was the unwarranted stretch.

  • Doug Vande Griend says:

    Of course, “Nothing spiritually good is likely to come of such rhetoric, such beliefs, such biblical claims.” I want to put “duh” after that just because it is so obvious. As Eric suggests, I too don’t think you understand the nose holders who voted for Donald Trump, Scott. I’ve had more than a little opportunity to see, from a more inside perspective, today’s politicians, and and the way today’s political business is done, albeit more at the local and state levels. I hold my nose at all of it, but vote and engage none-the-less. I can’t imagine any presidential candidates in the foreseeable future will not be cause for some level of nose holding. Put in Oregonian terms, I think the the time of a Mark Hatfield being able to rise to a national political level is pretty much over. Right now, Oregon legislatures are on the run from the capitol in order that the legislature not have the quorum it needs to enact legislation the Republicans say will be devastatingly harmful to Oregonians. Bad Republicans, eh? What the news misses is that the Democrats did this very same thing a couple decades ago. Depending on which color they are and which occasions they are talking about, the action of running off is declared to serve ultimate good or ultimate evil, and the same declarant will switch depending on the political color of the actor.

    What to me is far more fascinating than Trump nose-holders (which describes pretty much all CRCers that I’ve known who voted for him) is those who think there was (in 2016), or is going to be in the foreseeable future, a general election presidential candidate who is not at least something of a nose holder. We are indeed past the point in time in the US where there is something of a broad “christian culture” force in the politics of the US, a civic religion if you will that favored that which was at least “Christian” is some cultural way (I don’t think “civic religion” is as bad as it is regularly condemned in the Reformed world). The advance of cultural pluralism in the US, and diminishment of cultural Christianity, has not favored the possibility of our getting truly sincere campaign prayers offered without an near-exclusive motivation that they be just more political theater, whoever the candidate that offers it.

    In my own life, I vote for and otherwise work toward good government, that is, I vote for and endorse the person who I believe most likely to favor legislation, administrative actions, and other political acts that move toward, and not away from, good government. Ditto as to referendum issues and the like. I really don’t listen to a politician’s prayers but rather try to predict his or her political posture and action (not easy). No, I don’t think I’m a cynic but rather that I approach today’s political reality as it should be approached. After all, we DON’T live in a Christian nation do we?

  • Thanks Scott for speaking out on this. My wife and I were horrified to hear Paul White’s prayer. Besides the points that you made, I’m most disturbed that this prayer and other statements like it, from people claiming to follow the Bible and to follow Christ, paint the rest of us with a brush that stinks to high heaven in the noses of the majority of Americans who are ignorant of the Gospel or have no use for God. This shuts people off from hearing the Good News. Since Trump’s campaign, I hesitate to use the term “evangelical” as a self description (not to mention the watered down “Christian” terminology). My hope has been that we can preserve the phrase “follower of Jesus” as a description of who we are, a description that might leave the door open to genuine witness without identifying us with something that is contrary to the spirit of Christ. Paula White’s frequent references to Jesus even call this into question. Since God is jealous for the honor of his name, it seems that what she prayed bordered on blasphemy.

  • Jason says:

    I agree with Scott’s concerns about text being pulled out of context to bolster political positions or candidates. I have seen Micah 6:8 used as a proof text by so many CRC people usually in service to “progressive” political causes in recent years it makes my head spin.

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      Micah 6:8 has become the Gumby of Bible passages. Pose it however you please.
      I think Scott and this site in general would have greater and broader credibility if they operated with less team political focus and brought their criticisms and admonishments to bear in an even manner. Let’s not act as if the left is not guilty of baptizing their policies and candidates with holy water, but you will find scant criticism of that here. I don’t think that speaks well to a publication that is purporting to forward a reformed perspective.

      • Jason says:

        Reformed Journal has always been, mostly, a left-of-center forum and so long it is independent of the church, they are entitled to their views. I do agree, though, that if the current writers took a more even handed approach in also addressing the sloppy and often comparably partisan theology of the Social Gospel left, their criticism of the Christian Right would be more persuasive. I trust (hope) Professor Hoezee and others are more even handed in classroom discussions. Jim Wallis is at least as dangerous as Franklin Graham.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Based on the comments so far, it seems like the shank of this blog is non-controversial, for which I am glad. The critiques and comments are focused on the penultimate paragraph. And it’s probably true: I don’t understand at least some Trump voters (any more than some of my fellow Christians can understand the Christian left, Jim Wallis, Sojourners, etc). Fair enough. But I would suggest that what we have seen from evangelical leaders–and the huge support they are receiving from the evangelical base–cannot plausibly be seen as having nothing to do with what we heard from Paula White. Did I overstate by painting with too broad a brush where evangelical voters may be in 2020 or even where people are right now? Perhaps. But neither do I think it is a wild leap into a different subject area altogether to wonder what the White spectacle both reflects and portends in the wider evangelical view of things. It’s worth pondering anyway (and the Washington Post article I posted in reply to Eric is also a reflection of something that is genuinely afoot these days).

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      It is genuinely good that we can agree on the shank, as you say.

      Part of your tendency to paint with too broad a brush may be taking mass media portrayal of evangelicals as representative. Newsflash: the mainstream secular media hates Christians and portrays them in as poor a light as they possibly can. They also tend to focus on the most outlandish leaders and act as if they are representative.

      Consider the article that you posted. I read it, and I read it as an admirer of David and Nancy French. The article talks about unfair and unbalanced criticism from the AFA. I agree that their critique of French is wrong. But let’s take note of just how popular the petition of AFA is. French mentions that as of her writing, the petition had 50,000 signatures. As of today, it is at 66,388. Evangelicals are estimated to be about a quarter of the US population of 329 million, making around 82.25 million. The petition signers to date (likely near or at capacity after this amount of time) represent about .08% of the evangelical population. That’s how much of the evangelical “block” they were able to motivate with that attack on French. Sure, some noise was made, and Twitter erupted with various castigations. But that does not represent anything close to the majority of evangelicals. Yet, the mainstream media are only too glad to portray such occurrences as the norm or indicative of all or a majority of evangelicals. Beware of how you interpret and apply articles that purport to capture the attitudes and reactions of evangelicals.

      Now, to be clear, there are many things in the broad evangelical tradition (including elements of unbridled political enthusiasm, civic religion, and ethno-nationalism, not to mention other rank theological error) that you and I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder in opposition to. But, again, you would do well to view the motivations and moral judgments of a broad group with a more gracious eye than you tend to exhibit, particularly when the thrust of media coverage is to be only too happy to drag the name of your brothers and sisters through the mud.

  • Mark Ennis says:

    Thank you for this. It was well worth the read.

  • Ron says:

    Thank you, Scott.
    Civil religion was created as an alternative to Christianity. White’s “prayer” illustrates that alternative very well.

  • RLG says:

    I’m looking at this article from the perspective of prayer’s efficacy. But first, I agree with Eric that many people vote according to basic party platform and not for individuals. Having the president on your party side gives strength to your preferred party, so let’s get the president on our side.

    As to the prayers of Paula White, the prayers of Republicans, Democrats, the prayers of the Christian right and left, and the prayers of evangelicals and the so-called prayers of all Christians (however you want to define that) – they all make it to the ceiling and no further. To me, that shows the effectiveness of prayer. And it seems to me, that which ever way you think prayers should be shaped, it doesn’t really make any difference.

    We can take any number of political issues, whether it be abortion rights, the homosexual issue, immigration policy and enforcement, and we see all sides claiming small victories and small losses or even big gains. Are these answers from God? Is President Trump in office at this time because God answered the prayers of the evangelicals? Was it God’s will that he be our president? I can’t really see how Christian prayer makes any difference, especially when all sides claim to be Christian. And the world is watching.

  • RLG, you pose the question of the ages. It’s the same question that Christians were asking during the Civil War when both sides prayed to the same God and claimed that God was on their side. God answers our prayers in ways that we cannot anticipate, and he always has the long term in view. For me, I’m looking for whatever good may come out of the Trump presidency. I think one could make a long list, but I am not ready to do that lest someone see this as an endorsement. Perhaps it’s only the lesser of two evils? Perhaps it is Trump’s reluctance to go to war? (He has been less militant (militarily) than any of his recent predecessors, Republican or Democrat.) Perhaps it is Trump’s ability to thumb his nose at the Deep State, both Republican and Democrat as well as the super wealthy, who control so much of our economy and politics? Whatever your views, trust God to hear your prayers and answer them in ways better than you could have imagined.

    • RLG says:

      David, you suggest, “Whatever your views, trust God to hear your prayers and answer them in ways better than you could have imagined.” If he has anything to do with our prayers we can also trust that God will as likely answer them in ways worse than we expected. Such as the seven motorcyclists that were killed (four days ago) while on a good will mission. Family members back home were praying for a safe and successful trip. Thank God for answered prayer. Are you listening to what you are saying?

  • Jan stravers says:

    RLG, I’m sad that your experience with prayer has been so negative. I think prayer is more about aligning ourselves to God’s will than it is to getting what we want. And yet I have had many many miraculous answers to prayers. God works in mysterious ways that we cannot comprehend, always. I will be praying for YOU!

    • RLG says:

      Thanks, Jan for your prayers for me. I wouldn’t be too specific in what you pray for though. We never really know how he will answer, such as with our political situation. Thanks, and blessings to you.

  • Jan stravers says:

    It’s true, RLG, we don’t know how he will answer. Why 7 motorcyclists had to die, I don’t know.
    Mine has not been an easy journey. 35 years ago I was in the hot humid Philippines with snakes and rats and cockroaches in the house, with babies sick with TB and dysentary, no electricity or running water. When a sweet little old lady in Hudsonville MI sent me the book “How I know God answers prayers”, I threw it against the wall in anger and thought, what does she know about my life? But over the years God has shown his faithfulness to me. I love this paraphrase of Henry Blackaby: “In his love, God wants what’s best for us. In his wisdom God knows what’s best for us. And in his power God will do what’s best for us.”
    If you doubt God loves you, ask him to show you.

  • Valerie Van Kooten says:

    Let’s be honest. Those of us in the Dutch Reformed tradition recognize “spottin” when we see it…and we’ve been seeing it from the time Trump said, “I do that wine and cracker thing sometimes” to his gross ignorance of the Bible despite pulling it out (dusty cover and all) at his early rallies. He makes me benauwd…..er, nauseated to the core.

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