Vail Daily column: Beware of politicians who draft God on their teams
Why do 81 percent of Evangelical Christians who voted for President Donald Trump still support him, even though he repeatedly breaks campaign pledges? Trump energizes faithful followers who aren’t fazed by what he over-promises and under-delivers.
Having felt kicked to the curb, many conservative Christians believe Trump restores them to the driver’s seat in restoring morality. He aligns the Supreme Court with their anti-abortion agenda. No longer do Evangelicals feel sidelined, like a NFL all-star who rides the bench at career’s end.
When Evangelicals held their annual National Day of Prayer in early May, Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” Prior to the president’s presidential campaign, the Tea Party pinpointed protecting individual liberty as its No. 1 concern. They feared government would tax churches in which preachers supported anti-abortion candidates from pulpits. Since 1954, only one church lost its tax-exempt status because it broke the rule by endorsing political candidates. No matter.
Trump bragged that he had gutted the Johnson Amendment. In 1954, then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson got legislation passed that allowed churches to support an array of political causes. But the Johnson Amendment bars clergy from using pulpits as campaign soapboxes and restricts preachers from telling congregants for whom to vote.
In respect to this amendment, Trump’s efforts to protect evangelicals’ liberties didn’t answer their prayers. His executive order didn’t advise whether religiously affiliated health care providers and Christian social service agencies must allow same-sex couples to adopt children. Nor did the president’s executive order say anything about having access to abortions. It is silent on whether transgender persons may use restrooms of their gender identity.
Trump’s bluster about protecting religious liberty amounted to fake news. It sounded good but changed little. “Today’s executive order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible outcome,” declared American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “After careful review of the order’s text, we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process.”
In May, Trump gave the Commencement Address at evangelical Liberty University, the largest Christian school of higher learning in the nation. Early in his presidential campaign, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. stunned evangelicals by endorsing Trump’s candidacy instead of supporting Ted Cruz, a Texas evangelical Tea Party favorite. Introducing Trump, Falwell named Neil Gorsuch, the newest Supreme Court Justice, who will tilt decisions toward anti-abortion forces. The crowd roared its support.
“I do not believe any president in our lifetimes has done so much that has benefited the Christian community in such a short time span as Donald Trump,” Falwell crowed. Again, the crowd chanted approval.
Evidently, it doesn’t matter that the president isn’t as humble as Jesus, isn’t as versed in the Bible as Jesus was in the Torah and doesn’t depend on divine forgiveness that Jesus offers. With nominee Gorsuch, Trump sealed the deal on future Supreme Court anti-abortion rulings.
Is the president the real deal sent by God to restore Evangelicals’ political clout, or is he what the Bible calls a “false prophet”? “Beware of false prophets,” warns Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
Biblical false prophets spoke what people wanted to hear. Usually, such promoters of false spiritual values assumed God endorsed their faulty opinions. Scriptural false prophets insulted opponents, excluded those most vulnerable in society and invented a script in which everything centered on the prophet who spoke.
Beware of leaders who assume God is on their side.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.