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Donald Trump has been turning increasingly to religion in order to validate his campaign for the presidency. Nothing in his personal history suggests devoutness, and his grasp of religious rhetoric is ham-fisted at best.

It might appear obvious to anyone outside of the MAGA faithful that his relationship to Christianity is, like all of his relationships, strictly transactional. Nevertheless, his core audience appears to be enthralled by his pious protestations.

Perhaps the most vivid example of late is his hawking of the “God Bless the USA” Bible, which supplements the King James Version with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights (apparently not a part of the Constitution, although it comprises the first ten amendments thereto), and a reproduction of the handwritten lyrics to the eponymous patriotic anthem by Lee Greenwood. For only $59.95, this leather-bound, flag-embossed, faux-autographed icon can be yours!

In a video advertising his Bible, Trump emphasized an emerging theme of his political campaign: the idea that Christianity is under siege in America, marginalized and persecuted; and that only Trump’s movement can restore it.

We must protect content that is pro-God. We love God, and we must defend anything that is pro-God. We must defend God in the public square, and not allow the media or the left-wing groups to silence, censor, or discriminate against us. We have to bring Christianity back into our lives, and back into what will be again a great nation.

A similar sense of aggrievement and promised vengeance is audible in the quasi-benediction Trump has recently been using to close his rallies. As reported by the New York Times, “Soft, reflective music fills the venue as a hush falls over the crowd. Mr. Trump’s tone turns reverent and somber, prompting some supporters to bow their heads or close their eyes. Others raise open palms in the air or murmur as if in prayer.” Then Trump says something like the following:

The great silent majority is rising like never before and under our leadership. We will pray to God for our strength and for our liberty. We will pray for God and we will pray with God. We are one movement, one people, one family and one glorious nation under God.

It is easy enough to focus our attention on the theological word-salad (“content that is pro-God,” “pray for God and with God”) that suggests Trump is a novice to this whole Christianity thing, putting it all on the level of his famous “Two Corinthians” citation. But that focus would miss the indicators that, at one level, Trump knows exactly what he is doing. His theological moves here deserve to be taken with utmost seriousness.

Fundamental to Trump’s emerging political theology is the idea that God needs to be protected and defended by the MAGA movement. This divine debility calls on us to maximize our power in order to establish God’s Reign. The reward for the faithful will be authority to impose our will on the nation. Trump has always been candid about this. Eight years ago, campaigning in Sioux Center, Iowa, he laid it on the line:

Christianity will have power. If I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power, you don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.

This may sound like a crude appeal to self-interest, what one might expect from a ward boss or a mafia don. But it echoes the words of a very astute theologian who knew his Bible well, and understood the incredulity that even believers entertain regarding God’s way of manifesting power:

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority, for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, acknowledge my dominion, it will all be yours….’

David Timmer

David Timmer taught religion for 40 years at Central College in Pella, Iowa.


  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    Now Trump has declared Nov 5 (election day) as “Christian Visibility Day” which he thinks will be for him. But In 2020, a bit over a third of the electorate — 37 percent or so — were Christians who voted for Trump. Twenty-nine percent were Christians who voted for Biden or a third-party candidate. Trump got most of the white protestant vote, but he did not get all the Christians, certainly not those of color. Let’s hope Christians do turn out to vote, but using their biblical faith, not their race as the main criteria of who they vote for.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Status confessionis, né?

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    1 Corinthians 1:18-25. (Yes, that’s ONE Corinthians . . .)

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Thank you for having the courage to express this.

  • Nancy Ryan says:

    Dr. Timmer,
    SPOT on! Thanks you for speaking truth in what might appear to be chaos…

  • Tony says:

    Thanks, David. I particularly appreciated your final comparison.

  • James Vanden Bosch says:

    Thanks, David–good work.

  • Carol Van Klompenburg says:

    Well done. Thanks.

  • Tom Walcott says:

    Very well put.

  • Burt Rozema says:

    Well said, David, and especially your inciteful comparison with the Temptation.

  • Paula Brink says:

    Scary stuff. This article needs to be forwarded on every social media! Thank you for the courage to expose the man Trump really is!

  • Rodger R Rice says:

    Glad someone said this. I was thinking along the same lines. Well done. The last paragraph is the clincher.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    I appreciate what you offered here, and I’m no fan of the former President, but I think we need to do better grasping why people/Christians are captured by this man and then address how Christians might meet this challenge.
    I’m no chicken little, but the church remained silent in Germany (mostly, not completely) when fascism rose up, and some part of the church needs to get a grasp on why people are handing over their faith for a political identity? I mean really why, down deep why. I had a conversation with one of my elders who is a Trump supporter and he told me I was supposed to believe all that stuff and then vote accordingly, but he couldn’t because … well who knows. I heard another friend share this parishioner quote, “That Jesus stuff is all good and fine, but it doesn’t work.”
    Maybe evangelical was always a political identity and never a faith identity. I have a hard time believing that, but I’m less sure.
    What are the pressures that move a faith identity to a political identity?
    p.s. my evangelical family would NEVER have bought a Bible that added other documents as if they belonged bound together with scripture. I hang my head, knowing that too many of them have a fresh copy of just that.

    • Dave Timmer says:

      Thanks, Rodney. I agree that your “Why” question is crucial. I have my own intuitions, but they may not be much more than that. I think that many white evangelicals have experienced the cultural and demographic changes of recent years as a catastrophic loss of control that can only be reversed by an authoritarian strongman; they have accepted Trump in that role, and thus they cannot afford to admit anything negative about him. As you suggest, this is scarily reminiscent of German Protestants in the 1930’s.

  • Kris Swieringa says:

    Thank you for this and for having the courage to speak up!

  • Chris Rea says:

    My jaw dropped when I read: “We are one movement, one people, one family and one glorious nation under God.” The Nazi mantra was “One people, one Reich, one leader.” People would chant it over and over again at the rallies.

  • Paul Janssen says:

    All fine, but to be honest I don’t know how or why people pick nits over “TWO Corinthians”. There are so many serious matters. This is just another way of saying “Second Corinthians”, and it is proper usage in many parts of the world.

  • David Timmer says:

    Interestingly, the computerized voce reading Scott Hoezee’s blog published the day after mine pronounces his text as “One Corinthians,” because (after all) that’s what it says on the page! I suppose the mockery comes from the idea that “real” evangelicals would know not to just read what’s on the page; like any in-group, they have their shibboleths. But I suspect real evangelicals who are Trump supporters don’t care about such stumbles. They may even find them charming.

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