For many years I worried that a biblical inerrancy-believing Christian zealot would secure the Republican Party nomination for president, go on to win the general election, and begin eroding the wall of separation between church and state, brick by brick.
That’s happening, but the person spearheading it is hardly an extreme fundamentalist Christian or even remotely devout. President Donald Trump is a self-professed grabber of women’s genitalia, a habitual liar, and a businessman with a history of flimsy deals that reek of the schemes of two-bit confidence men. And, oh, he’s biblically illiterate to boot.
Despite these flaws, Trump is beloved by America’s Christian nationalists. Nothing has shaken their faith in him. Selling the country out to the Russians and abandoning our Kurdish allies didn’t do it. Throwing mud at respected members of the military and career civil servants didn’t do it. Giving a White House job to Paula White, a crass, money-grubbing TV preacher, didn’t do it. Being caught demanding that the president of Ukraine dig up dirt on a political rival as a condition of receiving US military aid didn’t do it. (The impeachment inquiry has failed to make any dent in Trump’s support among white evangelicals.)
In part, this is due to a simple quid pro quo—Trump is giving right-wing evangelicals what they want, mainly judicial appointments and policy changes at the regulatory level, so they back him. It means nothing that this is just the sort of backroom political deal religious right groups always claimed they were above—after all, theirs is a deeply moral movement, right?
While worshipping at the altar of Trumpism, the religious right has come to believe some things that are not only untrue but downright strange. Here are five of them:
Trump was chosen by God to be president. Evangelist Franklin Graham began promoting this line shortly after Trump’s surprise election. Most polls had shown Hillary Clinton in the lead, so Trump’s victory must have been due to the hand of God, Graham reasoned.
Since then, the idea of Trump as God’s “chosen” leader has taken off. Most recently it was asserted by Rick Perry, former energy secretary, on Fox News. Perry added, “If you’re a believing Christian, you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet and our government.”
Some evangelicals try to get around the offensiveness of this claim by asserting that all leaders are chosen by God, even Democrats like President Barack Obama. They obviously don’t believe this. The way the religious right treated Obama—spreading lies about his birthplace and constantly attacking his policies—shows little evidence that they believed he was God-ordained. (A word to the wise: if your God backs Trump and his cruel policies, it’s time to shop for a new deity.)
Opposition to Trump is demonic. You might think this sort of talk is limited to the lunatic fringes of American Christianity, but nope—this line is being spread by none other than the high-profile evangelist Graham. Speaking on a podcast in late November, he called opposition to Trump “almost a demonic power.” The host asserted that Trump’s opponents aren’t almost a demonic power, they actually are demonic. Had he even an ounce of integrity left, Graham would have realized this goes too far. Instead he replied, “It’s a spiritual battle.” (Want to know why this kind of talk is dangerous? Well, it’s a battle, and your opponents are literally working for demons. Do the math.)
Trump single-handedly saved Christmas. One of Trump’s favorite tactics is to claim to have used his bold leadership to fix a problem that never actually existed. For example, Trump claims that since his election the religious aspects of Christmas, which had supposedly been under relentless assault by secular liberals, have come roaring back, and now it’s safe to say “Merry Christmas” again.
The problem is that the so-called war on Christmas was always a figment of the fervid imaginations of religious right groups, aided and abetted by Fox News. Many Americans are aware that several holidays take place at the end of the year and have chosen to use generic greetings such as “Happy Holidays.” And public schools, which are often a flashpoint for legal spats over the role of religion, are legally barred from celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday. None of this prevents devout Christians from celebrating Christmas in whatever manner they like in their homes and churches. In short, the only thing Trump saved here is his massive ego.
All Christians have a duty to support Trump. Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed has written a new book in which he asserts that all Christians “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back” Trump. The book is titled For God and Country: The Christian Case for Trump, but its original title, believe it or not, was Render to God and Trump.
One of the most offensive things the religious right does is use the word “Christian” synonymously with “right-wing Republican fundamentalist Christian.” They don’t own the word or the identity, and it’s pretty obvious that while the vast majority of white evangelicals remain ensconced in the cult of Trump, millions of progressive and moderate Christians feel differently. Indeed, some see resisting Trump and his regressive policies as their own moral imperative.
Trump changed the law and made it possible for houses of worship to endorse candidates from the pulpit. He did no such thing. During the campaign, Trump targeted a federal law dating to 1954 called the Johnson Amendment that bars all tax-exempt nonprofit groups, including houses of worship, from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.
Trump falsely asserted that the law prevents churches from having a public voice. It doesn’t do that. Nonprofits can address issues all they want, but they must stop short of telling people whom to vote for or against. Once in office, Trump issued an executive order he claims did away with the Johnson Amendment, but that’s a lie. Trump’s order was mere verbiage, which changed nothing—as the Trump administration later admitted during a court action. The Johnson Amendment is a federal law; it cannot be wiped off the books by executive fiat. (The United States is not a dictatorship—yet.)
It’s bad enough that right-wing evangelicals believe these things, but here’s the kicker: having sold their souls, tossed aside what little integrity they had, and exchanged Trump for Jesus, the leaders and members of America’s religious right continue to believe they’re morally superior to humanists.
Now that’s truly strange.