A photograph that is getting some buzz today shows President Trump being prayed over — with the laying on of hands — by a group of conservative Evangelical leaders. For both non-Christians and Christians who are not accustomed to this particular mode of prayer, it is probably an arresting sight to see this going on right there in the Oval Office.
I found it interesting in a different way. Most conservative Christian leaders have made their peace with Donald Trump via a totally transactional relationship in which they don’t much care what he believes or how he leads his life, so long as he gives them the policies and appointments they want. And so far, they believe he has delivered to a greater extent than more pious and virtuous presidents like George W. Bush — or the liberal Jimmy Carter — ever did. Thus, while they might pray for the president just like they pray for, well, everybody, the personal touch in the Oval Office prayer feels a little odd. It seems both excessive and unnecessary when it comes to a heathenish pol being “used by God,” as one common Christian-right rationalization about Trump would have it.
Now, it’s worth noting the people in the prayer clinch with the 45th president aren’t just any old conservative Evangelicals:
About 30 leaders were invited to the White House around a week and a half ago and included many of Trump’s faith advisory council from his campaign, including Florida megachurch pastor Paula White, South Carolina megachurch pastor Mark Burns, former Republican representative Michele Bachmann and Southern Baptist pastors Jack Graham, Ronnie Floyd and Robert Jeffress.
In other words, these are people who really do have a personal relationship with Trump and/or tend to think of him as semi-godly, or perhaps (to use James Dobson’s term) a “baby Christian” who has recently been saved from a debased and selfish life, but hasn’t quite figured out how to behave.
It is also quite likely that these prayer warriors believe the burdens and sorrows of serving as president might bring Trump closer to God. He did, after all, recently say to a Christian-right audience: “We’re under siege,” suggesting that he felt persecuted by the Fake News Media and the “deep state” and Joe ’n’ Mika and all his other enemies, much like the prophets and martyrs of holy scripture.
God only knows what Trump really thinks of his devout fans, and whether he regards them as good friends and allies, a mere constituency group, or fools and losers whose own weaknesses he is willing to exploit. The odds are high that after they laid hands on him and left, he reached for the Purell. But he’s not in the best position right now to turn down any offers of support, human or divine.