If Donald Trump gets a little bored on his flight home from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he can always page through a book handed to him by a delegate not long after he arrived: “God and Donald Trump.”
The volume, written by Stephen Strang, a leading Pentecostal figure and the longtime publisher of Charisma magazine, is an easy read—part spiritual hagiography, part Fox News bulletin and part prophecy. It ultimately says far less about Trump than about the charismatic Pentecostals who were some of his earliest religious supporters and who now view his election as the fulfillment of God’s will.
The genre of spiritual hagiography last flourished during the presidency of George W. Bush, who was the subject of four books about religion and one documentary (“George W. Bush: Faith in the White House”) during his first term alone. In Bush, authors had something they could work with. He had a much-documented mid-life experience of being born again, was a regular church attender in Texas, and spoke about God and Jesus in ways that sounded natural.
Nevertheless, writers like David Aikman often resorted to intuiting Bush’s faith and presenting as evidence of his deep spiritual commitment his fondness for healthy food and exercise (does the Bible not direct believers to treat the body as a temple for God?) and the behavior of White House staff (“though manners are not specifically connected to George W.’s personal religious faith, it was as though the discipline he brought to his own life of prayer and Bible study filtered down into the work habits of everyone who worked with him”).
But if Aikman and others had to reach a bit to fill out a book about Bush and faith, their subject was practically St. Francis of Assisi compared with the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Strang, who sat down with Trump briefly during the campaign but did not interview him for the book, wisely spends little time trying to divine the president’s personal religious views and commitments—though he does devote a chapter to arguing that Trump’s children are “a reflection of his core values,” while his three marriages and multiple admitted affairs are a reflection of nothing of note. Instead, Strang attempts to explain evangelical fervor for Trump and provides a window into the world of charismatics, a subset of evangelical Christians who believe God still speaks to people through prophesies and is still actively involved in arranging the world of human affairs.
From early in Trump’s presidential candidacy, his biggest religious supporters—indeed, his only religious supporters for a while—were charismatic Christians like pastors Paula White and Darrell Scott. They were drawn to Trump, and he to them, because of their embrace of the prosperity gospel. Also sometimes referred to as “health and wealth” theology, this belief holds that God rewards faith with good health and financial success. By those very simple metrics, a billionaire like Donald Trump, whether his fortune came from family, scams or a higher power, must be a very faithful man.
Other religious conservatives, Strang argues, supported Trump in 2016 for reasons familiar to any Fox News viewer: a fear of globalism, the deep state, George Soros the former Nazi collaborator, wide-scale election fraud. They liked Trump because he said he liked them, told them they were persecuted, and vowed to stand up for them. He said he would bring back “Merry Christmas.” He told them they were important.
But there were other, more spiritual reasons as well. Strang outlines a string of charismatics who had visions—or who now retroactively claim to have had visions—that Trump would one day win the White House. A Catholic holy man named Thomas Zimmer who spent much of his life in Italy even claimed to have received a prophesy in the 1980s that Trump would “lead America back to religion.” And the book is filled with testimony after testimony from Christian leaders who were amazed to find themselves supporting Trump in 2016, who each claim that he was their very last choice up until he won the Republican nomination.
In fact, while some conservative Christians speak about Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton as the work of God, it seems the real divine intercession was in clearing the GOP field for Trump. The unspoken assumption for each of the religious figures Strang references—from Franklin Graham to Robert Jeffress to Kenneth Copeland—is that God would only want a Republican president and so if Trump captured the GOP nomination, then ipso facto he must be God’s choice. And the more unlikely the selection, the better proof it is of divine intent.
“Millions of Americans,” declared Jeffress at a July 2017 event his First Baptist Church of Dallas sponsored in Washington, D.C., “believe the election of President Trump represented God giving us another chance—perhaps our last chance to truly make America great again.”
Once it became clear to the community of conservative charismatics that Trump was God’s candidate, they mobilized to support his campaign. It’s in this area that Strang’s book is most useful, revealing the devotion and certainty of a faith group that went largely unnoticed throughout the presidential race. Cindy Jacobs, cofounder of the Reformation Prayer Network, organized 10,000 charismatics to “prayer walk” seven key states for Trump, asking God to move the hearts of voters in those states and to bless their work.
Another network called As One led 40-day prayer walks—40 days being a significant time period in the Bible—and cast their efforts as part of a spiritual battle against the forces of evil seen on the secular left and the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Lou Engle, a prominent revivalist based in California, prevailed upon his supporters to engage in what he called an “Esther Fast,” which involved three days with no food or water, in order to beg God for mercy and victory.
At a certain point in “God and Donald Trump,” the recent theological gymnastics on display from Tony Perkins and Jerry Falwell, Jr., among others, to explain ongoing conservative Christian support for a president who (allegedly) paid off a porn star weeks before Election Day so she would keep quiet about their (alleged) affair become clear. There will be no point at which Trump’s most loyal evangelical and charismatic supporters declare they have had enough. Because to do so would be to admit that they were wrong, that God wasn’t behind Trump’s election, and that their Holy Spirit radar might be on the fritz. That it was, after all, about something as temporal and banal as hating his Democratic rival.
Strang was in New York for the Trump campaign’s victory party on November 8, 2016, and as he describes the euphoria of the evening, he shows just enough of his hand to validate this conclusion. “It was as if God had answered our prayers and the impossible had happened,” he writes. “We had a new president, one we believed God had raised up for a time such as this.”
“And perhaps best of all,” he continued, “we each thanked God in our own way that Hillary Clinton was not going to be the next commander in chief.”
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