One of the reasons it’s hard to keep church and state separate in America is a common tendency among zealous Christians to view elected leaders — especially presidents — as God-sent.
In a fascinating article late last year in The New York Times, author Katherine Stewart explained that this tendency appears to be especially pronounced toward Donald Trump:
“I have attended dozens of Christian nationalist conferences and events over the past two years. And while I have heard plenty of comments casting doubt on the more questionable aspects of Mr. Trump’s character, the gist of the proceedings almost always comes down to the belief that he is a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord. I have also learned that resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God.
“This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.
“They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.”
(The Free Thinker blogger Barry Duke also alluded to Stewart’s article in his June 17 post. Stewart is the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.)
Trump is viewed by some evangelicals as the reincarnation of a ruler like the biblical Cyrus (see Isaiah 45 — I’ll explain the significance of the number later), the 6th Century B.C. Persian emperor, who freed Jews held captive in Babylonia. Stewart writes that Cyrus “is the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.”
In “The Trump Prophesy,” a film released just before the 2018 midterms, a firefighter claims God told him in 2011 that Trump would be elected president. The headline and subhead say it all in a review of the film in Vox: “Christian nationalism, explained through one pro-Trump propaganda film: The Trump Prophesy, a new evangelical film, wants to convince you God chose Trump.”
Stewart writes in her Times piece that Lance Wallnau, an evangelical author and speaker who appears in the film, once said,
“I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus, who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”
“At a critical moment in the film, just after the actor representing Mr. Taylor collapses in the flashing light of an epiphany, he picks up a Bible and turns to the 45th chapter of the book of Isaiah, which describes the anointment of King Cyrus by God. In the next scene, we hear Mr. Trump being interviewed on ‘The 700 Club,’ a popular Christian television show.”
This is apparently how true believers, locked and loaded for prophesy, are apparently ripe to accept any kind of coincidental nonsense if it fits into their preordained religious worldview.
If very many people are capable of accepting that the number of a chapter in scripture and a president’s succession number are somehow profoundly, supernaturally, intertwined, God save us (so to speak).
Well, sadly, very many people apparently are.
Stewart stresses that the conflation of Trump with an ancient, divinely appointed Mideast sovereign “isn’t a fringe thing.” She says production of the pro-Trump docu-drama aided by academics and students at prominent Liberty University, the world’s largest evangelical institution and whose president, Jerry Falwell Jr., has been a critical ally of the president’s in rallying the faithful to him. Other collaborators include Jeanine Pirro of Fox News and Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
So the 45/45 thing has become a meme among the indiscriminate faithful.
And the faithful want to make the biblical kings of old new again.
Whereas evangelical Christians have long had a morality-first reputation, they’ve thrown that out the window for Trump. (View the embedded video to hear shameless dissembling for Trump by Falwell.) Ironically, Stewart contends, the president’s “anti-Christian attributes and anti-democratic attributes are part of his attraction,” just as it was for the nonbeliever Cyrus.
“Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats,” Stewart writes. “In fact, what they really want is a king. ‘It is God that raises up a king,’ according to Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher who has advised Mr. Trump.”
Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s is so yesterday, apparently.
For evangelicals, Trump is the perfect despot for paranoid times, as they see faith under assault from every side. He is faithless, lawless, powerful and male, just like Cyrus, a biblical ruler/patriarch from central casting if there ever was one (in believers’ eyes).
As Trump told Wallnau and others during a 2016 campaign gathering of evangelicals —“much to their delight,” according to Stewart:
“If you don’t mind me saying so, you’ve gotten soft.”
Those not in thrall to invisible beings might use the term “soft-headed.”
Which is a problem for everyone.
It’s no wonder we’ve got God on our money and in our anthem.