Most presidents have chosen just one or two clergy to "pray them into office" -- a strange phrase that's normal usage in many newspapers. Although one preacher seems sufficient, President Trump chose six: A Catholic archbishop, a Jewish rabbi, and four Christian "evangelicals" or biblical literalists who seek to convert others. White evangelicals, who voted 80 to 16 percent for Trump, were crucial to his victory. Trump surrounded himself from the start with evangelicals such as Mike Pence, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee. Given Trump's iconoclasm, it's not surprising none of his six choices belong to the dominant U.S. faith tradition, namely mainline Protestant, and that three of the evangelicals are, as we shall see, controversial.
Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, held prayer rallies in all 50 states prior to the election and proclaims that prayer, and God's answer to it, helped Trump pull off his election upset. Graham "could sense, going across the country, that God was going to do something this year. And I believe that at this election, God showed up ... to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our country."
During the 2012 election campaign, Graham told Americans "There's still time to turn from our wicked ways so that He might spare us from His wrath against sin. ... This could be America's last call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, who is coming again one day very soon to save His own and to judge those who don't know and worship Him."
Well, Mitt Romney lost and it seems the announced Judgment Day is a no-show, just as it has been for 2,000 years. But this has not deterred Mr. Graham from once again delivering the old fire-and-brimstone message.
In line with Trump's focus on the threat from radical Islam, Graham opines "I think maybe God has allowed Donald Trump to win this election to protect this nation for the next few years." He calls Islam "a very evil and wicked religion," claims Muslims are "enslaved by Islam," says Islam represents "a different God," terrorism is part of "mainstream" Islam, and American mosques could be closed. Labeling Graham a "notorious Islamophobe," the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked (unsuccessfully) Trump to drop Graham from his invitation list.
Florida televangelist Paula White is a famous American "prosperity gospel" preacher. This faction (cult?) claims God will bless believers with material wealth here on Earth, a view some Christians find heretical. Although Trump identifies as Presbyterian, his rhetoric reflects the prosperity gospel's linkage between faith and what one journalist aptly termed the "American religion of winning." The appeal of his own fortune is central to Trump's pitch. White is frequently described as Trump's "spiritual advisor." Friends with Trump for the past 15 years, she arranged his meeting last September with several televangelists. Trump describes her as "a beautiful person, inside and out," with "a significant message to offer."
White's extravagances include private jets, luxury vehicles, a condo in Trump Park Avenue, another condo costing $3.5 million in Trump Tower, and a $2 million family home fronting Tampa Bay. The prosperity gospel is often associated with ostentatious preachers who know how to pound the podium for big bucks, clergy such as Oral Roberts of "seed faith" fame (a small donation to Roberts today will reap millions from God tomorrow) and Creflo Dollar, the Atlanta megachurch pastor who tried to raise $65 million in 2015 to buy himself a private airplane.
Another Trump choice, megachurch prosperity preacher Wayne T. Jackson, owns one of Detroit's biggest homes, a 39,000-square-foot mansion with 10 marble fireplaces once owned by the city's Catholic Archdiocese, drives luxury cars, and preaches that Trump's wealth shows he is "blessed by God." A multitalented miracle-maker, he also claims his faith healings cure cancer. As he tells it, "Donald Trump is blessed by God. Look at his homes, businesses, wife, and jet. You don't get those things unless you have the favor of God." This earns Jackson a certain distrust in poverty-racked Detroit, where protesters complain he lives in a mansion while his parishioners live in poverty.
Most of the world's problems are related to the elevation of mere "belief," including religion and ideologies of all sorts, above evidence-based reason. The good news is recent statistics show young people are moving away from religion. The bad news is President Trump's choice of clergy offers little hope in this regard.
Commentary on 01/31/2017
Print Headline: Praying Trump into office