Why Donald Trump’s biggest Christian champions love him so much.
Observers have characterized evangelical support for President Trump as reluctant yet highly durable. But this depiction ignores Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians who, from the beginning, have been largely enthusiastic Trump supporters.
Sixty-one percent of Pentecostal pastors surveyed in 2016 planned to vote for Trump, and they are a force on Trump’s “evangelical advisory board.” And notably, the Pentecostal-Charismatic media consistently gives the president favorable coverage. Unlike the evangelicals who see Trump as a necessary, but distasteful, conduit for their policy preferences, sincere theological conviction drives many Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians to see the president as a prophetically foretold leader.
.. he uncannily demonstrates deep affinities with certain Pentecostal-Charismatic subcultures. Here are five historic subcultures and theologies that explain why some Pentecostal-Charismatics proudly support Trump.
1. Pentecostal-Charismatic celebrity culture
Trump has cultivated support among Pentecostal-Charismatic celebrities such as Jim Bakker, Paula White and Mark Burns, who, like the president, are media moguls with scandalous histories. These televangelists attain authority as Pentecostal-Charismatic leaders through celebrity culture over (and in some cases, against) traditional qualifications for the ministry, such as ordination or seminary education.
.. the general public historically viewed tongue-speaking, emotive Pentecostals — who burst onto the 20th century American religious scene with a black leader (William J. Seymour), interracial services and female preachers — as delusional or even dangerous.
.. as the movement grew, presidents seemingly warmed up to Pentecostal-Charismatics — even the televangelists. Televangelist Oral Roberts met with Kennedy, Nixon and Carter; in 1985, Ronald Reagan gave a very friendly interview to Charismatic Baptist media mogul Pat Robertson.
.. Trump’s invitation to Charismatic televangelist Paula White to deliver an inaugural prayer alongside evangelical legacy Franklin Graham — a role traditionally performed by respectable religious leaders from mainstream and mainline religious organizations — reflects the changing terms of politics and religion in the U.S. It is a cultural coup to promote White, seen in more traditional evangelical quarters as a “heretic” and “charlatan,” into these honorable ranks.
.. 2. Prosperity
Engaging with devotees of the “prosperity gospel” — whose believers celebrate overt displays of wealth as clear signs of God’s favor (see: the cast of Preachers of LA) — makes sense for the wealthy, celebrity-friendly Trump. His prosperity theology, coupled with his unabashed embodiment of conspicuous consumption, resonates with Pentecostal-Charismatics, who are leading creators and purveyorsof this much-maligned theology.
.. 3. Lowbrow know-how
Pentecostal-Charismatics hail from a long line of anti-institutionalists.
.. Some present-day Pentecostals perpetuate this anti-authoritarian stance, preferring (by wide margins) common sense to intellectual know-how, and viewing cultural elites with deep suspicion and antipathy. Trump’s repeated rejection of scientific consensus regarding climate change and his rowdy approach to foreign policy resonate with Pentecostal-Charismatics. In their view, educated elites don’t faithfully describe the world as Pentecostal-Charismatics know it, and those elites sure don’t know how to fix it.
Like many evangelicals, especially those who identify as fundamentalist, Pentecostal-Charismatics have been steadfast, passionate supporters of Israel, an integral part of their beliefs about “the end times.”
.. Trump’s moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, therefore, is not just fulfilling a campaign promise; to many Pentecostal-Charismatics, it’s fulfilling God’s plan for the end of days. The value of this move can’t be overstated, because it confirms and gives physical reality to Pentecostals’ mystical perceptions of Trump as more potentate than president — a ruler in the order of the biblical kings of Israel.
.. 5. Monarchy
.. For Pentecostals, how America’s democratic government works in tandem with God’s monarchy isn’t always clear. But for most, “the people” don’t ultimately decide the fate of the United States or the world. God decides the future and “brings it to pass” through his own means.
.. When he disregards conventional wisdom, they see someone who, like themselves, goes against a coercive mainstream intellectual grain. When he supports Israel, they see a king, however flawed, and an instrument for the purposes of God. When he moves his embassy to Jerusalem, they see verification of their sacred narrative.
.. When Pentecostal-Charismatic advisers to Trump talk about their role in this divine drama, it is as godly intercessors on the president’s behalf.
From this vantage point, it hardly matters whether Trump behaves morally, won the popular vote or even colluded with Russia. Trump is not just a leader selected by the people: he is an intervention — God’s anointed, divinely elevated ruler. Actually, the sheer unlikeliness of Trump’s win fits the Pentecostal-Charismatic imagination for miraculous intervention, and moves Trump far above the reach of critique.
At the heart of this Protestant faith were, and are, three beliefs resting on the Latin word for “alone”: sola fide(that people are saved by faith in Jesus alone, not by anything they do); sola gratia (that this faith is given by grace alone, and cannot be earned); and sola scriptura (that it is based on the authority of the Bible alone, and not on tradition or the church). In a way that complemented the broader themes of the Renaissance, Luther wanted Christianity to go back to the “pristine Gospel”: the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. This return offered a new sort of freedom, one centred on the individual, which helped pave the way for modernity. “The separation of powers, toleration, freedom of conscience, they are all Protestant ideas,”
.. Nigeria has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany. More than 80m Chinese have embraced the faith in the past 40 years.
.. There are many ways to be a Protestant, from the quietist to the ecstatic. The fastest-growing varieties tend to be the evangelical ones, which emphasise the need for spiritual rebirth and Biblical authority.
.. K.M. Panikkar, an Indian journalist, spoke for many when he predicted in the 1950s that Christianity would struggle in a post-colonial world. What might survive, he suggested, in both Protestant and Catholic forms, would be a more modern, liberal form of the faith.
.. To some extent, this growth of Pentecostalism among the global poor marks a loss of faith in political and secular creeds.
.. Their emphasis on personal experience makes Pentecostalism and similar beliefs culturally malleable; their simplicity and ability to dispense with clergy gives them a nimbleness that suits people on the move. They tend to erode distinctions of faith based on ethnicity or birthplace. To Berger, that made this sort of Protestantism a modernising force.
.. Churches provide migrants in their congregations with employment, support and the possibility of advancement.
.. “In Guatemala the Pentecostal church is just about the only functioning organisation of civil society,”
.. Almost all the drug-rehabilitation centres in Guatemala City, of which there are more than 200, are run by Pentecostal volunteers.
.. LUTHER was an accidental revolutionary. He was not trying to modernise his world but to save it.
.. It was change from within that Luther wanted.
.. Luther was responsible for more than a fifth of the entire output of pamphlets from the empire’s newfangled printing presses during the 1520s. “Every day it rains Luther books,” sighed one churchman. “Nothing else sells.”
.. Keeping the state out of the church’s business meant clerics lost the power to suppress heretics by force. But Luther was content with that. He insisted that heresy should be fought from pulpits and in pamphlets, not by coercion.
.. The German Peasants’ Revolt in 1524-25 was led by men who denounced serfdom as incompatible with Christian liberty and said they would desist only if they could be proved wrong on Biblical grounds.
.. Milton’s “Areopagitica” of 1644 urged freedom of thought and freedom to publish. Uncensored printing offered the possibility of choice, ending the state church’s monopoly on opinion-forming.
.. Protestant toleration was good for business, too. The Calvinist Netherlands of the late 16th century became the world’s richest society as Huguenots, Jews and other hard-working refugees from Catholic lands flooded in.
.. in the aftermath of the English civil war when religious groups such as the Diggers and the Levellers demanded universal male suffrage and common ownership of the land. In 1647 one of them, Thomas Rainsborough, said in the Putney debates with Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan who had led parliament, that “The poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.” The Diggers were dispersed, but the idea that equality before God implied full democracy took root.
.. The resistance of dissenters impressed John Locke, an English philosopher with strong Protestant roots. Their stand influenced his writings on freedom of conscience, which were to form the foundation for English liberalism, and the Toleration Act of 1689, which formalised the legal acceptance of nonconformist sects.
.. If people were to find Bible-based salvation independent of the clergy, literacy was indispensable. By 1760 about 60% of England’s men, and 40% of its women, were able to read. Protestant education provided opportunities for social mobility, improved the status of women and fostered economic growth.
.. Elie Halévy, an influential early 20th-century French historian, believed that Methodism helped 18th-century England avoid a revolution of the sort that later befell France by educating the lower classes and bringing about social reform.
.. That America became the fullest example of limited government enshrined in law is in large part a consequence of its Protestant settlement. The truths the Founding Fathers held to be self-evident had not seemed so to anyone before the Reformation.
.. During the Thirty Years War, fought mainly between Protestant and Catholic states, 8m people died.
.. The otherworldly nature of Pentecostalism does not help. Believing in imminent apocalypse militates against strong social engagement. The ship is sinking; rather than try to fix it, Pentecostals want to get as many people as possible into the lifeboats. “What Guatemala needs is tax reform, voter registration, microloans, community organising,” says Mr O’Neill. But “people are just sitting there praying.”
.. apartheid was underpinned by the Dutch Reformed Church. ..
.. Their leaders, including Desmond Tutu, a South African clergyman and theologian, have admitted that they have not adapted as well as the less hierarchical Pentecostal churches to the post-apartheid order. “We knew what we were against,” says Mr Tutu. “It is not nearly so easy to say what we are for.”
.. In future, churches “that disdain the corruption of public life and offer spiritual rather than political power may find that their message resonates most,” predicts Mr Ryrie. But the faith will no doubt continue to be used as a weapon in the culture wars.
.. Some Protestants have understood that when they become the dominant religion, their faith’s power—its here-I-stand refusal to accept orders from any source but God or conscience—tends to seep away.
In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, God told Frank Amedia that with Donald Trump having been elected president, Amedia and his fellow Trump-supporting “apostles” and “prophets” had a new mission. Thus was born POTUS Shield, a network of Pentecostal leaders devoted to helping Trump bring about the reign of God in America and the world.
Amedia described the divine origins of POTUS Shield during a gathering that spread over three days in March 2017 at the northeastern Ohio church he pastors. Interspersed with Pentecostal worship, liturgical dancing, speaking in tongues, shofar blowing, and Israeli flag waving, Amedia and other POTUS Shield leaders put forth their vision for a Christian America and their plans to bring it to fruition through prayer, political engagement and organizing in all 50 states. Among the many decrees made at the event was that Islam must be “completely broken down.”
POTUS Shield’s leaders view politics as spiritual warfare, part of a great struggle between good and evil that is taking place continuously in “the heavenlies” and here on earth, where the righteous contend with demonic spirits that control people, institutions and geographic regions. They believe that Trump’s election has given the church in America an opportunity to spark a spiritual Great Awakening that will engulf the nation and world. And they believe that a triumphant church establishing the kingdom of God on earth will set the stage for Christ’s return. Amedia says that the “POTUS” in the group’s name does not refer only to the president of the United States, but also to a new “prophetic order of the United States” that God is establishing.
Conservative Christian leaders are nursing a more-than-half-century grudge against the federal courts for rulings on school desegregation, separation of church and state, abortion, equality for LGBT people and more. Amedia has spoken repeatedly about a vision God gave him of a giant broom sweeping up and down the Supreme Court building. God, he said, is going to sweep the entire federal court system of unrighteous judges and “change the laws of the land.”
POTUS Shield members are, like other Religious Right figures, ecstatic about the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and they are sure—because God has told them—that Trump will have at least one more Supreme Court vacancy to fill in the near future. Amedia also insists that Justice Sonia Sotomayor is going to have “an encounter with the living God” that will transform her outlook on the law.
In an appearance on Jim Bakker’s television show the week of July 4, Amedia said that he is telling activists to bring cases into the lower courts now, because by the time they get to the Supreme Court, its membership will have changed and it will be more favorable to their causes. “We are going to re-establish the Judeo-Christian doctrines of this country,” he declared. “It’s coming and can’t be stopped.”
.. Who Are These People?The prophets and apostles taking part in POTUS Shield are not, for the most part, household names to people outside their spheres of influence. Many of them are part of what religion scholars call the fastest-growing form of Christianity in the U.S. and maybe the world—a nondenominational, network-oriented Pentecostal Christianity, a strain of Protestantism that emphasizes direct supernatural experience through “the gifts of the spirit,” which are manifested in ways such as speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, and prophecy... Many of the “prophets” associated with POTUS Shield are part of an “apostolic” movement within Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders (ACPE), meant “to build positive and ongoing personal relationships among nationally recognized prophetic voices,” was birthed at a January 1999 meeting in Colorado Springs called by C. Peter Wagner and attended by 18 people, including Rick Joyner, Cindy Jacobs, Dutch Sheets, Chuck Pierce and Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer..The movement’s theology is grounded in a verse from the biblical book of Ephesians, in which the apostle Paul describes five kinds of leadership callings that Christ granted to people in Christianity’s founding era in order to build up the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. NAR believes that for centuries the church had abandoned the first two. But, they believe, God has moved in our time to re-establish the ancient roles for apostles and prophets who will transform Christianity and bring about the kingdom of God on earth.
.. NAR is meant to be disruptive to the rest of the Christian Church. It views “denominationalism” as a sin and views established denominations and leaders as resistant to the reestablishment of the offices of prophet and apostle. Wagner, who died last year, believed that today’s apostles and prophets would bring about the most radical changes to Christianity since the Reformation in the 16th century, changes that were meant to allow the church to fulfill its true mission. A triumphant, dominion-taking church, Wagner’s disciples believe, will establish the kingdom of God on earth and set the stage for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Among their concrete goals:
- get rid of federal judges whose rulings are not to their liking;
- end legal abortion;
- stop same-sex couples from getting married;
- bring “official” prayer and Bible reading into the nation’s public schools;
- and make America the Christian nation they believe it was meant to be.
.. Engle believes it is the church’s vocation to “rule history with God.”
.. Here’s an excerpt from his teaching guide, “Keys to Dominion”:
The same authority that has been given to Christ Jesus for overwhelming conquering and dominion has been given to the saints of the most high. … We’re God’s rulers upon the earth. … We will govern over kings and judges will have to submit. … We’re called to rule! To change history! To be co-regents with God!
.. At the March POTUS Shield gathering, Engle prayed for God to “sweep away” Supreme Court justices and federal judges who uphold Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for Trump to nominate their replacements. Engle suggested that God could either kill or convert the judges in question, and he had some words for people who might be squeamish about praying for God to “remove” bad judges:
I tell you, the church can’t be humanistic right now. I feel this in my spirit. We’re so concerned about these Hamans [Haman is the evil adviser to the king in the biblical book of Esther] that we’re not concerned about the millions of babies! I say that we believe that Donald Trump, President Trump, is a Jehu as well as a Cyrus. And I’ve been praying, ‘remove the house of Ahab.’
White, who has emerged this year as one of Donald Trump’s most stalwart religious supporters, and has been called Trump’s “spiritual counselor” by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, brought forward three other pastors to pray.
.. As Trump looks to a tough election in November, he needs prominent conservative evangelicals to smooth his way with a constituency that has given 75 to 80 percent of its votes to Republican nominees in recent decades.
.. Russell Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm and is one of Trump’s loudest public critics, recently called White a “charlatan” and a “heretic” — serious charges — on Twitter.
Moore told Yahoo News that White preaches a “prosperity gospel” that falsely claims that “God’s favor is seen in increasing wealth and freedom from sickness” and that emphasizes — often to lower-income, less-educated congregants — that the more money they give to the church, the more God will bless them.
.. “Father, we just secure him right now by the blood of Jesus. We thank you that no weapon formed against him would prosper, and any tongue that rises against him would be condemned, according to the word of God,” White prayed, one hand on Trump’s stomach and the other on his arm.
.. Linne named Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar and Kenneth Copeland, along with White, as “false teachers.”
.. There is, however, no question that White is extremely wealthy. Her salary is not known, but she has been reported to receive a multimillion-dollar income and reportedly owns a $3.5 million apartment in Trump Tower.
.. “His plans are not our plans,” White said, smiling. “Here [Trump] is, the nominee. That has to be providence. That has to be the hand of God.”
After the interview, Brody told viewers, “Forget politics for a moment. [White]’s an integral player in Trump’s faith walk.”
.. “I think the Christian community, when they come out for Trump, it weakens our position because — What do you really stand for?,” Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, told Yahoo News. “This guy’s belligerent. He’s denigrating. He’s everything we’re not. But people are so desperate to change things.”
.. White and Trump — who have known each other for more than a decade — share another experience that makes them targets for skeptics in the evangelical community: They have each been married multiple times. Both are on their third marriage, in fact, and have been the subjects of infidelity reports.
.. Years after the two divorced, she met Jonathan Cain on a flight, and the two were married in 2015. Cain is the keyboardist for arena rock band Journey and wrote one of the band’s most famous songs, “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
(Journey’s fame was resurrected in 2007 when HBO’s “The Sopranos” used “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the final scene of its series finale. The band is now scheduled to play at the Republican convention next month in Cleveland.)
.. White has not only attached sacred importance to Trump’s candidacy, but she has also vouched for his character and his Christian credentials.
At the Orlando rally, she defended Trump and said that despite his public reputation, he was “a man who had more integrity than most people that I have encountered,” calling him “a compassionate man, a man who is very strong to his core.”
.. But in recent days, James Dobson, the past president of Focus on the Family, said publicly that he had heard that White had only recently “personally led [Trump] to Christ.”
.. Regardless of whether Trump is actually a born-again Christian, for older members of the religious right, his claims to be one of them might be enough, simply because they cannot bear the thought of Hillary Clinton as president.
“We have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. Hillary scares me to death,” Dobson said. “And if Christians stay home because he isn’t a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years. The very thought of that haunts my nights and days.”