The New York Times recently profiled Jonathan Cahn, celebrity New Jersey pastor who interprets the Bible to explain—nay, predict—signs of the times. As the Times report notes, Cahn contends that the Bible predicted Donald Trump would be appointed by God, our current president prefigured by his ancient warrior-king predecessor Jehu, who, Cahn says, “also sought to drain the swamp.”
Cahn writes books and preaches at the Beth Israel Worship Center in Wayne, New Jersey. He was converted from Judaism to Christianity, by way of inspiration from Nostradamus and Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, and became a pastor in the 1980s. His books forecasting God’s plan for American politics, like The Harbinger from 2012 and currently The Paradigm: The Ancient Blueprint that Holds the Mystery of Our Times, have ascended best-seller lists.
President Trump, some of my relatives inform me, may not be a man of God but is God’s man. Cahn puts this even more pointedly. What Cahn does in interpreting Trump may be his own signature combination of faith, politics, and commerce, but his approach is hardly unique in American religious history.
As my colleague Daniel Silliman, historian at Valparaiso University, points out, other American preachers have blended religion and politics in such ways. For instance, when Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress touted President Trump last summer, he could find precedent for right-leaning political-religious fusion right there in his own church. The First Baptist Church of Dallas, founded in 1868, was pretty much always political, as Silliman explains. Preceding Jeffress in the pulpit were figures like Samuel Hayden, late nineteenth-century Baptist newspaper promoter and Confederate veteran, and George Truett, who argued that Baptists were better citizens and advocates of religious liberty than Catholics.
Twentieth-century Baptist “pope,” W.A. Criswell, came to First Baptist there in 1944 and distinguished himself for supporting segregation in the 1950s—but also for serving as Billy Graham’s pastor. Criswell turned his opposition against John Kennedy in 1960 on grounds that Kennedy’s Catholicism was “political tyranny.” Criswell did endorse Ford and Reagan, and gave benediction at the 1984 Republican convention.
Cahn, then, may have particularities making him a noteworthy scripture-inspired backer of our president, but stories behind him and his colleagues are complex, rich, and connected other earlier movements in American political and religious life.