When the conservative evangelical publication Christianity Today called for the president’s removal from office last week, it sent a familiar thrill through secular circles where there’s always a willingness to believe that the Christian Right is dying or divided. As my colleague Sarah Jones pointed out, however, CT is not all that influential these days in conservative politico-religious precincts, and in addition, the op-ed in question narrowly focused on Trump’s behavior in the Ukraine scandal and not on the immorality of his policies.
If you doubt white Evangelicals are still on Team Trump in a big way, I recommend you read a recent investigative piece from Sarah Posner that demonstrates how the abiding loyalty so many of them have to the president is not just a matter of him “keeping his promises” on judges, opposition to reproductive and LGBTQ rights, and support for “religious liberty” (interpreted as broad exemptions from anti-discrimination laws). Many Christian Right leaders and members of their flocks view political battles involving Trump as spiritual warfare between holy and demonic forces, with the crude, self-idolizing, and heathenish POTUS treated as unquestionably the champion of the Prince of Peace.
In mid-October, less than a month into the House Democrats’ formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Jim Bakker, the televangelist and convicted fraudster, was in front of a studio audience at his Morningside Church complex in Blue Eye, Missouri, a remote village of less than 200 people in the Ozarks. As the crew prepared the semicircular desk where the 79-year-old conducts freewheeling interviews with evangelical celebrity guests, Bakker took a moment to deliver an important message to the hundred or so people who had come to watch the taping: “God’s sending judgment.”
God, Bakker continued, “anointed your president.” Anyone who crosses the divinely chosen leader, he implied, is risking God’s wrath.
That morning, news had broken of the unexpected death of Democratic Congressman and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, who aggressively investigated Trump and who would have played a key role in impeachment proceedings. But there would be no prayers or condolences for the civil rights advocate from Bakker, who would only call Cummings “that man.” Instead, Bakker concluded with satisfaction, “one of the number-one enemies of our president fell dead last night. A man who insists on impeaching the president of the United States, he fell dead.”
This isn’t an unusual attitude, at all. As Trump has tweeted and raged and blustered his way through the impeachment crisis, conservative Evangelical leaders are mobilizing to support him, right through 2020, when they plan an even more impressive turnout on his behalf than the remarkable numbers they posted in 2016, Posner reports:
Trump’s evangelical base is a sprawling, interconnected network of political advocacy groups, megachurches, White House advisers, televangelists and prayer warriors. It also includes a formidable, data-driven get-out-the-vote operation. Top names in this circle include Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. The two are part of a group of about two dozen Christian leaders who meet regularly at the White House and who blast out full-throated defenses of the president through their organizations’ mailing lists, radio shows, podcasts and television programs.
Inside this ecosystem, impeachment is, at best, a partisan sideshow concocted by Democrats to distract the public from Trump’s many important accomplishments. At worst, it is a satanic scheme to upend God’s plan for America, which was to install Trump in office in order to ensure the nation is governed by Christians who espouse “biblical” values.
At the apex of the army marching to Zion for Trump is his top Evangelical adviser, Florida televangelist and prosperity-gospel prophet Paula White, who is also his chief ambassador to the less conventional Evangelicals who are comfortable with bringing apocalyptic visions into daily political life. Posner describes White directly invoking divine power in a recent conference call designed to mobilize prayer warriors for Trump:
On the [One Voice Prayer Movement launch] call, White prayed for 10 minutes, during which she asked God to protect Trump and deliver him from his enemies. “Lord, we ask you to deliver our president from any snare, any trap, any setup of the enemy according to Ephesians 6:12,” a verse in the Bible that forms the core of the “spiritual warfare” that Trump’s prayer warriors say they are engaged in on his behalf. (“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”)
… “Any persons, entities, that are aligned against the president,” she said on the [call,] “will be exposed and dealt with and overturned by the superior blood of Jesus.”
No, these people are not going to abandon Donald Trump. They are now so complicit in his presidency that to question him is to condemn themselves to a judgement too terrible to contemplate.