At a time when the president is publicly threatening North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” one of his most prominent conservative evangelical backers, Dr. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, wanted Trump and everyone else to know that no namby-pamby Christian scruples about turning the other cheek or loving one’s enemies should inhibit Trump. Jeffress told CBN’s David Brody that the president was God’s instrument for smiting the evil Kim Jong-un:
When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. I’m heartened to see that our president — contrary to what we’ve seen with past administrations who have taken, at best, a sheepish stance toward dictators and oppressors — will not tolerate any threat against the American people. When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.
Jeffress, who delivered the sermon at the official preinaugural worship service in January, is alluding to a brief passage in the 13th chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans that calls secular authorities “God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” In this as in other biblical interpretations that suit his purpose, Jeffress is taking the authorization of violence quite literally.
In a follow-up phone interview with the Washington Post, Jeffress cheerfully added that Romans 13 “gives the government the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment, or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong-un.” The Post thoughtfully obtained this more nuanced interpretation from Amy Black, a professor at Wheaton College, a conservative evangelical institution:
Theologians and church leaders have debated the interpretation of Romans 13 for millennia, Black said. Most mainstream interpretations of the passage, she said, would suggest that God works through governmental leaders, but ultimate authority comes from God. Debate broke out among Christians in Germany during World War II over how to interpret this passage; some Christians believed they should follow the government while others set up a resistance movement.
“If anything, Romans 13 creates a conundrum, because it could be interpreted that Kim Jung Un has authority to govern,” she said.
More to the immediate point, if the Almighty would show Trump some way to “take out Kim Jong-un” without taking out hundreds of thousands if not millions of bystanders in a bloody nuclear confrontation, Jeffress’s bland authorization of “fire and fury” might be more innocent. As it is, he is encouraging the 45th president’s already dangerous tendency to view himself as having the “tough” if not brutal qualities his predecessors lacked.
The publicist for Jeffress’s little hymn of hate, David Brody, is currently engaged in co-authoring a “spiritual biography” of the president, so he knows his man pretty well. Here’s what he added to the war chant:
Memo to North Korea: with Trump as president, you really don’t want to mess with America. This could get real ugly real soon. Trump won’t tolerate this for too much longer.
It’s unsettling (if hardly unprecedented) to see this kind of jingoism and blood lust from professed disciples of Prince of Peace, particularly when they are friends of a president not known for self-restraint.