Evangelicals Worshiping Trump Is as About as Unchristian as It Gets

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Fanatical idol worship was once reserved for rock stars. Today, it is former President Donald Trump who enjoys cult-like popularity.

“I’m going to start crying now,” a middle-aged woman told an interviewer in Iowa, this weekend. “But when [Trump] comes out on stage [and] I can see him face-to-face live, it’s going to be the best day of my life. I love that man.”

She’s not alone. After two impeachments, a Capitol riot, and four indictments, Trump retains a dominant hold over Republicans who have put their faith in “that man.” Literally.

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Consider recent news that a prominent conservative group spent $6 million testing more than 40 TV ads, only to conclude that “all attempts to undermine [Trump’s] conservative credentials on specific issues were ineffective.”

And while this is true for many Republicans, Trump’s hold over evangelicals (who constitute a large percentage of Iowa GOP primary voters) is particularly strong. If you want to understand why nothing will sway them, The New York Times columnist David French noted recently that an old friend told him, “David, I was with you on opposing Trump until the Holy Spirit told me that God had appointed him to lead.”

Good luck coming up with a persuasive argument that will trump someone who says “the Holy Spirit told me…”

Never mind the humiliation that pro-Trump prophets have faced for prophesying he would win in 2020—and then that, despite losing, he would be reinstated in 2021. There is a real sense among many Christians (whether this “word of knowledge” came directly from the man upstairs, or was shared second hand) that Trump is still God’s vessel in 2024.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the Faith and Freedom Road to Majority conference.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the Faith and Freedom Road to Majority conference on June 24, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Although I am not a pastor or a theologian, I am a non-Trump conservative and an (albeit flawed) evangelical—which is to say that while I marvel at the hold Trump has over many of my fellow believers, I do not scoff at the notion that the Holy Spirit can guide believers.

This belief no doubt puts me among the minority of Americans today. Even many Bible-believing Christians are “Cessationists,” who believe that prophecies and other “signs and wonders” (like healings and speaking in tongues) generally ceased after the apostles died.

Regardless, the practical problem with prophecies is that they empower every potential crank to justify anything they want to do or say.

Belief in prophecy enables charlatans, to be sure. But it also allows well-meaning, if delusional, people to reverse-engineer rationalizations to do things they want to do, even if doing so contradicts common sense or church doctrine. (But God told me I should leave my family and marry that cocktail waitress!)

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In recent years, untold numbers of Christians have employed this permission structure to justify supporting Trump—a man who bragged about grabbing women by their privates, paid off a porn star for sex, and was found liable for sexual assault (just to name a few of his not-so-greatest hits).

While Christian denominations with strong hierarchies are, perhaps, less susceptible to such rationalizations, it stands to reason that those of us who “walk by faith and not by sight” may occasionally step on Lego pieces with our bare feet in the dark.

Former President and Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the Pray Vote Stand summit.

Former President and Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the Pray Vote Stand summit at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, DC on Sept. 15, 2023.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

After all, God “moves in a mysterious way”—just like Trump!

And God also has been known to “calleth those things which are not, as though they were”—just like Trump!

And His followers are “peculiar people”—just like Trump’s!

In proper context, these are all beautiful reminders to put our trust not in temporal carnal things, but in the Almighty.

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But the danger is that this worldview can also be hijacked by anyone who wants to say, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

The obvious caveat is that Trump isn’t God. Still, too many of his supporters act as though he is, even if they explain that he is but an instrument of the Lord.

The notion that Trump could be an imperfect vessel ordained to do God’s will (see Cyrus or King David) is not without precedent. Then again, that projection could also be applied to any political leader.

I could even cite scripture making the case for Joe Biden: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Just as slaveholders cited scripture to baptize an evil institution, one could cite this scripture to argue that any current political leader, no matter how tyrannical, is ordained by God. By this logic, criticizing Biden (or anyone in power) is sinful.

Of course, invoking the Cyrus the Great or King David template could have been done at any point in American history. So why is this happening now?

A prominent theory holds that with devout religious observance fading, people are hungering for a political savior.

When you truly worship Jesus, that’s not the kind of thing you are apt to do (many in Israel did not recognize Jesus as the savior precisely because his kingdom was not “of this world,” which is to say that he wasn’t going to lead Israel to military victory over Rome).

Attendees watch as a video message from former President Donald Trump.

Attendees watch as a video message from former President Donald Trump plays during a "Let Us Worship" prayer service on the National Mall on Sept. 11, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Ultimately, this is the fundamental problem with Christian nationalists. They are more focused on political power than they are on eternal things—a big one to get wrong, if you ask me.

That’s not to say that faith should not inform our politics. Indeed William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr., are both positive examples of men whose Christian faith guided their activism.

And while I strongly believe in a pluralistic society, I also want Christian values (including the ones championed by Wilberforce and King) to continue to shape our society.

What I don’t want is a theocracy where powerful people use force to impose one set of specific religious beliefs on the rest of us, or where policies are implemented solely to fulfill end-times prophecy and immanentize the eschaton.

So how should a Christian conservative approach politics today?

When it comes to politics, the old admonition to “work as if it all depends on you and pray as if it all depends on God” seems wise. Yes, be involved in this world, but “Render… unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

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Be humble enough to know that God may have a plan that we simply don’t understand. (On the off chance that I am wrong about Trump and we look back on his miraculous victories as some weird form of divine intervention, I would just say this: If God really is doing this, nothing I do is going to stop it anyway.)

We should also avoid the temptation to cherry-pick scripture (or prophecy) that contradicts the spirit of the rest of the scriptures.

I believe that it’s possible God can still speak to us, either audibly, or by virtue of a “still small voice.” But I also believe the verse that tells us to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

“Watch out for false prophets,” the good book warns. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Some wear suits and red neckties, too.

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