An upcoming book by the Faith and Freedom Coalition founder will argue evangelicals have a duty to defend the incumbent GOP leader.
One of Donald Trump’s most prominent Christian supporters will argue in a book due out before the 2020 general election that American evangelicals “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back” the president.
The book’s author, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, became a loyal foot soldier for Trump immediately after he nabbed the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — commanding hordes of white evangelical voters from his perch on the candidate’s religious advisory board to trust that the New York businessman would grow the economy, defend religious freedom and dismantle federal protections for abortion, if elected.
According to the book’s description, obtained by POLITICO, the original title for the book was “Render to God and Trump,” a reference to the well-known biblical verse, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The message from Jesus in Matthew 22, has been used in contemporary politics to justify obedience to government — or in the case of Reed’s book, to Trump.
Regnery Publishing confirmed the book’s existence but said the title is “For God and Country: The Christian case for Trump.” The publisher declined to comment on the reason for the title change.
In his book, Reed will “persuasively” argue evangelicals have a duty to defend the incumbent Republican leader against “the stridently anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and pro-abortion agenda of the progressive left,” according to the description.
He will also rebut claims by religious and nonreligious critics that white evangelical Protestants “revealed themselves to be political prostitutes and hypocrites” by overwhelmingly backing Trump, a twice-divorced, admitted philanderer, in 2016.
“Critics charge that evangelical Trump supporters … have so thoroughly compromised their witness that they are now disqualified from speaking out on moral issues in the future,” the description reads.
Reed, who once said Trump’s comments about women in the leaked “Access Hollywood” tape were low on his “hierarchy of concerns,” belongs to an informal group of evangelical leaders — including Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and Paula White — who have become some of the president’s most devoted fans and vocal defenders since he took office. They have cast his foray into politics as divinely inspired; equated him to biblical figures such as Esther, an Old Testament heroine; and frequently cited Scripture to rationalize his most controversial policies — actions that other religious scholars and leaders have found particularly cringeworthy.
“I think evangelical efforts would be far better spent critiquing their own shortcomings than sanctifying a president,” said Matthew Rowley, a research associate with the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies at Clare College.
For his part, Trump has inspired loyalty among his white evangelical base by positioning himself as a warrior against the secular culture they fear. He’s frequently appeared at conferences hosted by conservative Christian groups, including the “Road to Majority” summit put on by Reed’s organization each summer; strengthened conscience protections for religious Americans in the labor force; nominated dozens of socially conservative judges for lifetime federal appointments; and fervently supported Israel.
“Part of the reason why many religious leaders support Trump is because he is great on life, religious freedom, judges, Israel, taxes, conscience protections, fetal issue and also because Hillary Clinton and his would-be opponents next year are so awful on all of the above,” a senior administration official said.
But the same official said there‘s a difference between the president’s alliance with influential evangelical leaders and his private reaction to those who publicly fawn over his administration. Asked about Reed’s book, in particular, this person responded, “Oh, for crying out loud.”
“It shows how little they understand Donald Trump. He actually abhors obsequiousness,” the official said.
Indeed, the president has been known to mock right-wing television personalities and former aides who have showered him with praise on their shows and in books. After an on-air interview with Sean Hannity in which the pro-Trump Fox News host admitted to warning Trump on Election Day that he was likely to lose, the president reportedly complained to aides about Hannity’s “dumb” softball questions. Trump also teased former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who now serves as one of his personal attorneys, after he unabashedly defended him in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape scandal, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.
Reed, however, hasn’t always heaped praise on the president. At the height of the Trump administration’s family separation scandal at the U.S.-Mexico border, the former Georgia Republican Party chairman penned a letter to lawmakers encouraging them to pass an immigration bill that would “strengthen the nuclear family” by ending the “heartbreaking and tragic” practice of placing migrant children and their parents in different detention facilities. And a person close to Reed said he has at times taken issue with the president’s obscene tweets and profanity-laced speeches.
But when it comes to protecting the president and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill, Reed has gone all-in. His group invested $18 million in get-out-the-vote efforts during last year’s midterm cycle, and he has warned conservative Christians that “pretty much everything” is on the line in 2020.
“Our plan in 2020 is to have 500 paid staff and about 5,000 volunteers. Some of these folks are knocking on doors eight hours a day,” Reed recently said on a podcast.
Reed’s book is expected to be released next April, seven months before voters will decide whether to reelect Trump. He has written seven books, including three political novels.
His papacy has been a consistent rebuke to American culture-war Christianity in politics.
The Rev. James Martin, one of America’s most prominent Catholic priests, is a best-selling author, film consultant to Hollywood producers and a prolific tweeter with a digital pulpit that reaches more than 250,000 followers. Father Martin is also a hero to many L.G.B.T. Catholics for challenging church leaders to recognize the full humanity of gay people. His advocacy has made him a target of vicious online campaigns from far-right Catholic groups. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia last month warned that Father Martin “does not speak with authority on behalf of the church.”
But this week, Father Martin’s ministry received an endorsement from the most authoritative of church offices. Pope Francis met with the priest, a Jesuit like the pope, during a private, half-hour conversation in the pope’s library, a place often reserved for discussions with heads of state and diplomats. In a tweet, Father Martin said he shared with Francis “the joys and hopes, and the griefs and anxieties, of L.G.B.T. Catholics and L.G.B.T. people worldwide.”
There is little doubt Pope Francis wanted the meeting advertised. Damian Thompson, associate editor of The Spectator, a London-based conservative magazine, tweeted that the pope’s meeting was “intended to taunt the U.S. conservatives that he demonizes.”
Despite that hyperventilating, Pope Francis has made it clear that he is not afraid of the small but increasingly vocal chorus of American critics who consider his pastoral efforts to reach out to L.G.B.T. people and divorced Catholics as near heretical breaks from church tradition. In September, a reporter asked Pope Francis about his right-wing critics in the United States. “It’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” the pope told Nicholas Senèze, a French journalist who presented the pope with his new book, “How America Wanted to Change the Pope,” which chronicles efforts by conservatives in the United States to undermine the pope.The pope’s meeting with Father Martin did more than serve as a signal of support for the priest’s advocacy on behalf of L.G.B.T. people. It was also emblematic of the Francis papacy, which has been a consistent rebuke to a style of culture-war Christianity that since the ascendance of the religious right in the United States during the 1980s has often been the default setting for American Christianity in politics.Since his election six years ago, Pope Francis has modeled a different brand of moral leadership: engaging and persuading, reframing contentious issues away from narrow ideologies and expanding moral imaginations. Last week, a gay theologian and priest who was dismissed from his religious order for expressing disagreement with the church’s teachings on same-sex relationships wrote that Pope Francis called him two years ago, gave him “the power of the keys,” a reference to being restored to ministry, and encouraged him to “walk with deep interior freedom, following the spirit of Jesus.”
The pope’s interior freedom and humility stand in stark contrast to other religious and political leaders on the world stage. When Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, he declared: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” In keeping with that megalomania, Mr. Trump surrounds himself with compliant evangelical courtiers like Robert Jeffress, the Dallas megachurch pastor, who view the president in messianic terms, a political savior. Mr. Trump turned to Mr. Jeffress this week, citing the pastor’s claim on Fox News that if the president is impeached, it will cause a “Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”
Pope Francis rejects this resurgence of Christian nationalism and warns against idolizing politicians.
As right-wing populists from the United States to Europe depict migrants as menacing threats and build walls, the pope continues to challenge what he calls a “globalization of indifference.” On Sunday, during a special Mass for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis unveiled an artistic monument to migration in St. Peter’s Square. The work depicts 140 migrants and refugees from various historical periods traveling by boat, a powerful visual counterpoint to the nativist winds blowing across both sides of the Atlantic.
And unlike the loudest anti-abortion voices on the Christian right who are so wed to the Republican Party that they ignore assaults on life inflicted by policies that exacerbate economic inequality, poverty and climate change, the pope insists that the “lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute” are as “equally sacred” as the unborn in the womb.
Culture warriors in the United States have done enough damage to our collective political and moral imagination. More intoxicated with power than faithful to the gospel, these religious leaders demonize L.G.B.T. people, turn their back on migrants fleeing danger and ignore the cries of the poor while claiming to defend Christian values. A humble but persistent pastor in Rome reminds us there is a different path for those of us who still believe in a faith that seeks justice.POPE FRANCIS AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
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