Church and State in America, a Toxic Cocktail
Some American Evangelical Christians see through President Donald Trump’s pandering to the Christian right as an effort to win their votes. Others no. According to Wikipedia.com, the United States has the largest concentration of evangelicals in the world. The results of a recent PEW Research poll indicate that American evangelicals are a quarter of the nation’s population and its single largest religious group. The results of the 2016 presidential election, according to a PEW poll, saw Trump winning 81% of the evangelical vote while just 16% voted for Clinton. Trump’s margin of victory among voters in this group was 65-percentage-points.
These numbers also help to explain the importance of President Trump’s iron-clad pro-Israeli agenda, perceived by Evangelical Christians as coinciding with the their own vision of the Biblical end-of-days story. They need a war in the Holy Land to jump-start the Apocalypse, which will in turn precipitate the Rapture. According to supposedly inerrant biblical prophesy, the Rapture will propel the born-again believers directly into Heaven. The President knows, despite his notoriously dissolute lifestyle, that he can count on their votes as long as he maintains his policy of harassing and provoking Iran, and supporting Israel’s right-wing government’s belicose policies. The militarist Likud party, personified in Israeli President Benjamin (aka Bibi) Netanyahu, is perceived by the uber-Christians the one most likely to take the world to Armageddon. This narrative isn’t difficult for President Trump to accept, for two cogent reasons:
- He doesn’t believe in the Apocalypse any more than you and I do.
- There are many millions of votes in it for him.
Besides, Trump and Netanyahu are cut from the same cloth. Both are ruthless and unscrupulous in pursuit of their own ends, no matter how illegitimate, immoral or illegal they may be, or what macabre consequences they may bring. Both of them see the rule of law–both domestic and international–as something that can be hammered into any shape they desire.
The latest news on President Trump’s provocation of Iran, according to today’s Wall Street Journal, is his “considering” a significant expansion of the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East to counter Iran, including dozens more ships, other military hardware and as many as 14,000 additional troops, thus doubling the number of U.S. military personnel since the troop buildup began last May. One wonders, have any of the Pentagon geniuses considered the possible repercussions in Saudi Arabia itself of a growing presence of American troops on sacred Arabian ground. This was the issue that propelled Osama bin Laden to worldwide fame.
Where Will Presidential Pandering Take the US?
President Trump’s pandering to religious institutions dramatically lowers the level of political discourse in the United States. The constant rise of magical religious sects as one of the most powerful electoral blocs in the country. only enhances their appeal to cynical, opportunistic, dubiously-Christian candidates. This fact is not lost on Donald Trump and he bends over backwards–and forwards–to cater to the most radical Christian fundamentalist elements in American society. He actually tailors his Middle East foreign policy to their perceived needs. Concidentally, these “needs” for moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, condoning the ongoing establishment of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and, ultimately, war in the region, have become President Trump’s standard Middle East policy. In all it amounts to an exceedingly complicated–and dangerous–kettle of fish.
If the Evangelical strategy were to work, while they are being wafted into heaven, everybody in the non-born-again world, including President Trump himself, all the Jews and, incidently, you and I, will go straight to hell. I sincerely think I’m rendering this story line correctly. Though it sounds like the script of a B-rated sci-fi movie, they believe it, and President Trump believes that their votes will get him re-elected in 2020. Seen with a cold eye, it’s a classic symbiotic relationship, like that of the shark and the remora, the little fish who cleans the parasites off the shark’s teeth. The Evangelicals are using Trump and he’s using them, despite the fact that they have nothing else in common. It’s just not quite clear which of the two is the shark.
Beside their curious end-times beliefs, most of these born-again Christians subscribe to the standard right-wing cant: racism, nationalism, predatory capitalism, deregulation, rapture culture, anti-science stances, along with retrograde views of women and attitudes towards LGBGT people. They’re essentially the classic American right with a theological twist.
Televangelism to the Front
A recent addition to President Trump’s White House juju team as the new head of his Faith and Opportunity Initiative is his “longtime prayer partner,” televangelist Paula White, also known as a successful practitioner of the Pentacostal “prosperity gospel.” This shrewd “ministry” has netted her a private jet and a $3.5 million crib in Trump Tower in New York, among other goodies. According to thegospelcoalition.org, White, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s presidential inauguration, claims to be the “convener and de facto head” of the president’s evangelical advisory board. The group of about 35 evangelical pastors includes the four men who endorsed her latest book: Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Jack Graham, and Robert Jeffress. This is how christianitytoday.com describes the prosperity scam.
It is an aberrant theology that teaches God rewards faith—and hefty tithing—with financial blessings, the prosperity gospel was closely associated with prominent 1980s televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Bakker, and is part and parcel of many of today’s charismatic movements in the Global South. Orthodox Christians wary of prosperity doctrine found a friend in Senator Chuck Grassley, who in 2008 began a thorough vetting of the tax-exempt status of six prominent “health and wealth” leaders, including Kenneth Copeland, Bishop Eddie Long, and Paula White.
With her unabashedly sexy stage presence and mock-pious pitch, Paula comes across as an uniquely kinky con-woman. Her church -– which once boasted a membership of 20,000 people — declared bankruptcy in 2012. (Source: ministrywatch.com).
Perhaps You Would Like to Meet Her
The Constitution Speaks; Is Anyone Listening?
The first amendment to the US Constitution clearly states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That should settle the question of separation of church and state but, as in everything else, particular interests can find a little wiggle room in any text.
That’s how religion crept into the government during the second Bush administration. It was he who established by executive order on January 29, 2001, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) which, ostensibly sought to strengthen faith-based and community organizations and expand their capacity to provide federally funded social services. For fiscal year 2005, more than $2.2 billion in competitive social service grants were awarded to faith-based organizations. This pouring of federal funds into religious initiatives was promptly challenged by critics including Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union. When President Obama assumed the office he changed the name of the OFBCI to President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, though he did not substantially change its functions. (Source: Wikipedia)
The phrase “separation of church and state” can be traced to a January 1, 1802, letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper. Jefferson wrote:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
It was the second President Bush’s cozying up to the country’s right-wing Christians, that eventually led up to–or down to–the appointment of Paula White as President Trump’s spiritual advisor. Her otherwise routine presidential appointment had, according to thegospelcoalition.org, an immediate cruel and unusual sequel:
A day after the announcement was made, White’s ministry emailed supporters under her name asking them to donate $3,600 to achieve “opportunity and favor” from God. As Nicola A. Menzie reports, the email states: “During this season something so supernatural will take place and it will literally shift your life in a very positive way, IF you have ears to hear and connect to the prophetic moment. Friend, YOU MUST STAY CONNECTED TO ME DURING THIS PROPHETIC SEASON!”
If this doesn’t smack of conflict of interest, the Pope ain’t a Catholic.
Pandering to the Religious Right Is Good Electoral Business
There is a campaign being promoted by Evangelicals to support President Trump on issues such as religious liberty exemptions for wedding vendors, who object to offering services for same-sex wedding ceremonies. The CS Monitor cites Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore.” This certainly sounds like a stalwart defense of government support for right-wing Christianity in America and adherence to their ideology. Coming from one of Trump’s most accomplished sycophants, it also smacks of vote-stroking electoral opportunism.
The Bottom Line
The incursion of right-wing religion in the heart of American politics, whether motivated by over-zealous Christians in the government or by sheer electoral opportunism, represents just another crack in the edifice of normal democratic government. Normal government in today’s world depends upon rational, reasonable criteria to permit it to function properly for all of its citizens, not magical thinking nor “biblical correctness.” A right-wing Christian/Trump coalition would certainly lead to a loss of credibility with American allies, most of whom are guided by humane, rational criteria, with some notable exceptions, including President Trump’s favorites: Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
With the Trump administration headed up by bible-thumping, Rapture-smitten politicians, aided by televangelist “religious advisors” like Paula White, the threat to separation between church and state–and democratic government as we know it–is evident. Included in the basic tenets of the Evangelical religión are a belief that the Bible contains the literal truth about everything, and the necessity of being “born again.” The Pentacostal Evangelicals add to this the essential importance of the “gift of tongues.” The obvious question that arises is: What happens when these strict theological principles clash with the Constitution of the United States, a clash that is inevitable? Are the citizens of the United States facing a critical turning point at which they must choose between their traditional a-religious government and a Taliban-style theocracy? The clock is running.
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