TOWER OF Bab­ble

Newsweek - - TOWER OF BABBLE -

As hur­ri­cane har­vey in­un­dated Hous­ton and tens of thou­sands fled, good Samaritans emerged on the seething wa­ters. Boat own­ers from as far away as Louisiana pushed all man­ner of craft into the del­uge, steer­ing down ur­ban streets that had been trans­formed into rivers, risk­ing their lives to res­cue men, women and chil­dren. Fur­ni­ture store owner Jim “Mat­tress Mack” Mc­ing­vale opened his show­rooms to dozens of wet refugees and their pets for sev­eral nights. Even work­ers trapped in a bak­ery by the ris­ing tide thought first of oth­ers—they used the time they were ma­rooned to bake for the hun­gry and the home­less.

Such acts of brav­ery and char­ity were as up­lift­ing as the megas­torm was crush­ing. But that spirit of gen­eros­ity was not uni­ver­sal. As more than 9,000 dis­placed peo­ple packed into the Ge­orge R. Brown Con­ven­tion Cen­ter—al­most dou­ble its ca­pac­ity—one very large, very warm, very dry and very Chris­tian space re­mained shut­tered. The Lake­wood megachurch, whose 606,000-square-foot in­te­rior can hold 16,000 peo­ple, would not be of­fer­ing shel­ter, mil­lion­aire pas­tor Joel Os­teen said, be­cause it was in dan­ger of be­ing flooded.

Although nosy re­porters quickly dis­cov­ered that his pre­cious church was both ac­ces­si­ble and bone-dry, nei­ther God nor scribe could move Os­teen to em­brace the stranded mul­ti­tudes. But Twit­ter did, in a spasm of scorn de­liv­ered with the hash­tag #Openthe­do­ors. (The church was a shel­ter, yes, but a tax shel­ter, wags said.) Af­ter 48 hours of pub­lic flog­ging, Os­teen re­lented—just as the sun was com­ing out in Hous­ton and the wa­ters were re­ced­ing, tak­ing with them his saintly rep­u­ta­tion.

Os­teen’s brand of closed-door Chris­tian­ity is in­creas­ingly com­mon on the con­ser­va­tive fringes of Amer­i­can fun­da­men­tal­ism, where prof­itabil­ity is con­sid­ered next to god­li­ness. Ver­sions of that flinty the­ol­ogy, some­times called pros­per­ity gospel, dom­i­nate Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s evan­gel­i­cal panel, 25 pas­tors and reli­gious con­ser­va­tives who have mostly dis­pensed with those Sun­day school hom­i­lies about Je­sus lov­ing the sick and poor, and Je­sus re­spond­ing to at­tacks with a turn of the cheek. They preach that their Lord hates en­ti­tle­ments, from wel­fare to Oba­macare, that cli­mate change is the talk of pa­gan heretics and that their heavenly fa­ther is fine with nu­clear first strikes, as long as it’s Amer­ica drop­pin’ the ham­mer.

And many of them be­lieve their mor­tal mes­siah is Don­ald J. Trump, long a sybaritic scion but now the man who has solemnly vowed to take Amer­ica to the promised land of dereg­u­la­tion, tax breaks and re-seg­re­ga­tion.

An I for an I

trump’s long and some­times con­found­ing spir­i­tual jour­ney started in Ja­maica, Queens, at the bite-sized First Pres­by­te­rian Church, and later, at the WASP-Y Mar­ble Col­le­giate Church on Man­hat­tan’s Fifth Av­enue, where pros­per­ity prophet Nor­man Vin­cent Peale preached that you could think your­self to suc­cess. In 1952, Peale pub­lished

The Power of Pos­i­tive Think­ing, a New York Times best-seller for 186 weeks that sold more than 5 mil­lion copies and was trans­lated into 15 lan­guages. That tome and his hail­storm of fol­low-up ti­tles trained a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans to grin and fake it all the way to the bank. His the­ol­ogy was well sum­ma­rized by the mantra Fred Trump pounded into his boy, Don­ald: “You are a killer. You are a king.”

That nugget may have been as close as young Don­ald ever got to Scrip­ture. Dur­ing the re­cent pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, he called the Bi­ble chap­ter Sec­ond Corinthi­ans “Two Corinthi­ans,” a trans­gres­sion on par with re­fer­ring to the Holy Trin­ity as the Three Ami­gos. He has called Com­mu­nion “my lit­tle wine” and “my lit­tle cracker.” More alarm­ing for the truly pi­ous, he couldn’t come up with a fa­vorite Bi­ble verse when asked dur­ing the cam­paign,

ex­cept to say he liked the Old Tes­ta­ment’s “an eye for an eye.”

Trump also di­verts from tra­di­tional Chris­tian­ity in more sig­nif­i­cant ways. For one, he of­ten boasts that he never asks for for­give­ness, although that’s a fun­da­men­tal tenet of fun­da­men­tal­ist Protes­tants, who be­lieve that all men are sin­ners in the eyes of God.

For many decades, Trump was the sweaty em­bod­i­ment of the Man­hat­tan lib­er­tine—a Stu­dio 54 denizen who ran a mod­el­ing agency as his per­sonal Tin­der, and laugh­ingly told Howard Stern that his Viet­nam was avoid­ing STDS when he was a swingin’ bach­e­lor… and a swingin’ mar­ried man. He wasn’t known for his reli­gious faith un­til some­time in the early 2000s, when he cold-called tel­e­van­ge­list Paula White, another pros­per­ity Chris­tian, af­ter see­ing her on TV, and they be­came friends. (Like Trump, she has en­dured con­gres­sional and fed­eral in­quiries into her fi­nances.) White soon owned a $3.5 mil­lion Trump Tower condo and spent time with Trump when she vis­ited New York City. She later ex­plained that she knew Trump was a true Chris­tian partly be­cause of the way he treated his em­ploy­ees.

In May 2011, Trump asked her to do a lit­tle work for him: de­liver some reli­gious lead­ers up to Trump Tower to coun­sel him on whether he should chal­lenge Barack Obama for the pres­i­dency. The group talked with him for two and a half hours, in­clud­ing a 20-minute prayer ses­sion, and urged him to have faith in God dur­ing what they called the “evil process” of chal­leng­ing Obama. Af­ter that con­fab, Trump ap­par­ently de­ter­mined God was not ready for him to be in the White House, but four years later, he must have got­ten the OK from on high, be­cause he de­cided to run. The re­la­tion­ships he’d cul­ti­vated with White and the pas­tors who min­is­tered to him in 2011 earned him fa­vor­able early cov­er­age in the Chris­tian me­dia and ac­cess to the vast net­work of megachurches, and it all paid off in Novem­ber 2016, when he was elected pres­i­dent of the United States. Evan­gel­i­cals—a quar­ter of the Amer­i­can peo­ple—put him over the top, de­spite his “New York val­ues.”

Trump clearly ap­pre­ci­ates that sup­port and con­tin­ues to curry fa­vor with his faith­ful flock. On July 1, he head­lined the Cel­e­brate Free­dom rally for two of his most ar­dent de­mo­graph­ics: vet­er­ans and


evan­gel­i­cals. Af­ter the First Bap­tist Dal­las choir pre­miered an orig­i­nal song, “Make Amer­ica Great Again,” the main act strode to the podium. “We are ooone na­tion, un­der God,” the pres­i­dent crooned with the caramel de­liv­ery of a Ve­gas em­cee in­tro­duc­ing Lib­er­ace at the Sands. “In Amer­ica, we don’t wor­ship gov­ern­ment. We wor­ship God!” Rap­tur­ous ap­plause. “You will ne-eee­hver be for­got­ten,” he vowed. “We don’t want to see God forced out of the pub­lic square, driven out of our schools or pushed out of our civic life. We wanna see prayers be­fore foot­ball games, if they wanna give prayers!” And, he added, “we’re gonna start say­ing ‘merry Christ­mas’ again!”

That Kennedy Cen­ter fête was the high point of an oth­er­wise har­row­ing sum­mer for Trump. The na­tion­ally tele­vised event fea­tured his most clean-cut sup­port­ers: no tat­toos, no biker leather, no skin­heads, no torches—just po­lite white men, women and chil­dren feast­ing on Chris­tian chest­nuts and pa­tri­otic red meat.

Trump de­liv­ered just what his crowd wanted to hear that day, men­tion­ing God dozens of times, but there are rea­sons to ques­tion his sin­cer­ity and his pi­ety. For ex­am­ple, the cre­ators of a new data­base,, of ev­ery recorded word Trump has ut­tered in pub­lic ran all that au­dio through a dig­i­tal anal­y­sis that mea­sures stress and found that he is most stressed when talk­ing about what he now pro­fesses is his great­est love—god— and least stressed when he dis­cusses what is al­legedly his mor­tal en­emy, The New York Times.

But per­haps he’s still evolv­ing spir­i­tu­ally. Af­ter all, Trump long pur­sued an ag­gres­sively sec­u­lar life, but these days, the fa­mously germa­pho­bic pres­i­dent sub­mits to a reg­u­lar lay­ing on of hands in the Oval Of­fice. In a re­cent pho­to­graph shared by evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor Rod­ney Howard-browne of one of these rit­u­als, all eyes are squeezed shut as Trump ad­viser Omarosa Mani­gault, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, Trump lawyer Michael Co­hen and a group of vis­it­ing reli­gious ad­vis­ers sum­mon the Holy Spirit. All eyes closed but for one pair—trump is peek­ing.

He of­fered another glimpse into the depth of his pi­ety when he veered off script in his ac­cep­tance speech last year at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Cleve­land. His pre­pared re­marks had him say: “At this mo­ment, I would like to thank the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity, who have been so good to me and so sup­port­ive.” But what he ac­tu­ally said was: “At this mo­ment, I would like to thank the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity be­cause, I will tell you what, the sup­port they have given me— and I’m not sure

I to­tally de­serve it— has been so amaz­ing. And has been such a big rea­son I’m here tonight.”

All mod­ern pres­i­dents have had faith coun­cils of one sort or another. They usu­ally in­clude rep­re­sen­ta­tives of many faiths (and races), and their job is to main­tain ties be­tween the White House and the na­tion’s vast con­stel­la­tion of reli­gious groups.

But Trump’s evan­gel­i­cal coun­cil is al­most all white (one black) and dom­i­nated by evan­gel­i­cals. Trump has re­paid this fan­boy con­gre­ga­tion by putting eight white evan­gel­i­cals in his God Squad of a Cab­i­net (Ben Car­son, the ninth Cab­i­net evan­gel­i­cal, is black). And they have dis­pensed with sec­u­lar ex­per­tise at al­most ev­ery level. (Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy Devos, heiress to the Amway for­tune, showed she was the right zealot for the job by us­ing her fam­ily money in an at­tempt to de­mol­ish Michi­gan’s pub­lic schools in fa­vor of reli­gious schools and home school­ing.)

Fun­da­men­tal­ists now have an all-ac­cess pass to the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment, and Trump made their wish list a pri­or­ity. One of his first acts as pres­i­dent was to or­der the IRS to lay off mon­i­tor­ing po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions to churches. Po­lit­i­cal pas­tors and bil­lion­aires alike loved it: Con­ser­va­tive donors can now bleach dark money do­na­tions through churches.

His other big con­ces­sion to his de­vout army was pick­ing Pence to be his run­ning (and kneel­ing) mate. The ux­o­ri­ous Hoosier, whose po­lit­i­cal ca­reer seemed deader than Lazarus or Mys­pace two years ago, is now a heart­beat—or a Robert Mueller in­dict­ment— away from be­ing leader of the free world.

The Race-bait­ing Race to the Bot­tom

in au­gust, trump got a fire-and-brimstone bap­tism for say­ing there were “very fine peo­ple on both sides” of the riot in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, that white su­prem­a­cists started. Amer­i­can busi­ness­men re­coiled and char­i­ties can­celed book­ings at his Mar-a-lago re­sort, but his evan­gel­i­cal coun­cil was stead­fast in its sup­port. “Hon­ored to serve @POTUS on his Faith Ini­tia­tive Coun­cil,” First Bap­tist Dal­las Pas­tor Robert Jef­fress tweeted. “He has done more in 6 mo. to pro­tect reli­gious lib­erty than any pres. in his­tory.” Paula White went on fel­low tel­e­van­ge­list Jim Bakker’s show to an­nounce that Trump was “raised up by God” to lead the coun­try.

To his­to­ri­ans, the evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers’ re­sponse was no sur­prise, be­cause they know racism was be­hind the emer­gence of evan­gel­i­cals as a po­lit­i­cal force in Amer­ica. “If you are look­ing for the core an­i­mat­ing spark of the Chris­tian-right move­ment, it’s not abor­tion but pri­vate Chris­tian uni­ver­si­ties not be­ing able to have laws against in­ter­ra­cial dat­ing,” says Robert Jones, head of the Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute. He knows that when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment forced in­te­gra­tion on pub­lic schools in the South, white par­ents yanked their kids out and en­rolled them in

new church-run schools dubbed “seg­re­ga­tion acad­e­mies.” The white flight was fast and dev­as­tat­ing. In Mis­sis­sippi, for ex­am­ple, the white pop­u­la­tion in the Holmes County school sys­tem dropped from 700 to 28 in year one of de­seg­re­ga­tion, and by the next year had dropped to zero.

To cur­tail this trend, the IRS be­gan to deny tax-ex­empt sta­tus to seg­re­ga­tion acad­e­mies. Bob Jones Univer­sity, one of the big­gest evan­gel­i­cal col­leges in the coun­try, faced los­ing its Irs-ex­empt sta­tus be­cause of its ban on in­ter­ra­cial dat­ing. As racial panic spread, a Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal ge­nius named Paul Weyrich—with pa­tron­age from Western seg­re­ga­tion­ist beer bil­lion­aire Joseph Coors—forged al­liances with South­ern reli­gious lead­ers. Ac­cord­ing to Wil­liam Martin, au­thor of With

God on Our Side: The Rise of the Reli­gious Right in Amer­ica, Weyrich met Jerry Fal­well Sr. in the cof­fee shop of a Hol­i­day Inn in Lynch­burg, Vir­ginia, in 1979. “Weyrich was say­ing to Fal­well, ‘There is a moral ma­jor­ity in this coun­try that wants such and such,’ and Fal­well said, ‘Back to where you started. What was that you said? You used a phrase.’ Weyrich said, ‘There is a moral ma­jor­ity…’ Fal­well says, ‘That’s it. That’s what we’ll call it. We’ll form an or­ga­ni­za­tion, and that is the name we’ll give it.’”

In the 1980 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Fal­well’s moral ma­jor­ity helped pro­pel Ron­ald Rea­gan into the White House. Rea­gan knew what his God-fear­ing de­mo­graphic re­ally wanted, which is why he kicked off his cam­paign with a stump speech sup­port­ing states’ rights at a fair in ru­ral Mis­sis­sippi. “States’ rights” had been a ral­ly­ing cry for South­ern seg­re­ga­tion­ists for decades,

and in case any­one missed the coded mes­sage, Rea­gan de­liv­ered that speech just 7 miles from where three civil rights work­ers had been mur­dered in the 1960s. On the cam­paign trail, and many times while he was in the White House, Rea­gan also did a lot of grous­ing about “wel­fare queens.”

Over the next few years, abor­tion and gay mar­riage be­came the is­sues Repub­li­can strate­gists used to en­flame that moral ma­jor­ity and cat­tle-prod right-lean­ing Chris­tians into the vot­ing booth. Trump weaponized this cyn­i­cal ploy on the cam­paign trail. He found it easy to aban­don his long-held sup­port of abor­tion and gay mar­riage if it meant seal­ing the covenant with his fer­vent fun­da­men­tal­ists.

The King­dom of Trump

trump’s chief spir­i­tual ad­viser is not his veep, that pi­ous sil­ver fox who says he never dines alone with a woman not his wife. That sa­cred duty falls to White, chair of the White House evan­gel­i­cal panel. She is thrice-mar­ried (cur­rently wed to Jour­ney rocker Jonathan Cain, whose “Don’t Stop Believin’” was an ’80s rock an­them) and preaches to mil­lions on TV and, when she’s back in Florida, to her smaller flock at the New Des­tiny Chris­tian Cen­ter church in Apopka. White and her fel­low pros­per­ity the­olo­gians have put some white-out over the New Tes­ta­ment line that it is eas­ier for a camel to pass through the eye of a nee­dle than for a rich man to en­ter the king­dom of God. She prefers another bib­li­cal pas­sage, “When you en­ter the land I am go­ing to give you and you reap its har­vest, bring to the pri­est a sheaf of the first grain you har­vest” (Leviti­cus 23:10 NIV). Her web­page First Fruits 2017 is an on­line col­lec­tion plate, dec­o­rated with a pho­to­graph of grapes, pomegranates and or­anges, and click but­tons la­beled “Give your best first fruits of­fer­ing to­day!” and “Send your prayer re­quest to­day!” lead to forms for credit card pay­ments.

(White’s spokesman said she was un­avail­able for an in­ter­view with Newsweek.)

The next most prom­i­nent godly voice in Trump’s White House is the Cab­i­net Bi­ble study pas­tor, Ralph Drollinger, who preaches that Je­sus—con­trary to sev­eral mil­len­nia of church teach­ing—didn’t re­ally think you had to help the poor if you hap­pen to be a mem­ber of Congress. In “En­ti­tle­ment Pro­grams Viewed Through the Lens of Scrip­ture,” a ser­mon from one of his weekly Bi­ble study ses­sions, which he de­liv­ered last year on Capi­tol Hill, he told his high-level po­lit­i­cal con­gre­gants that the Bi­ble “is clear” that car­ing for the poor is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the fam­ily and the church, not the gov­ern­ment. “Nowhere to be

found in the NT is an ex­plicit com­mand for the In­sti­tu­tion of the State to as­sume such a func­tion,” he wrote. “Je­sus was only a role model to em­u­late.”

In another teach­ing, “What Does the Bi­ble Teach in Re­gards to Prop­erty Rights?” Drollinger wrote, “It’s safe to say that God is a Cap­i­tal­ist, not a Com­mu­nist.”

(Drollinger’s of­fice de­clined Newsweek’s re­quest for an in­ter­view, ex­plain­ing that he was on an an­nual 200-mile hike in the Sier­ras.)

Drollinger en­deared him­self to Trump last year when he called on him to cre­ate a “benev­o­lent dic­ta­tor­ship.” This anti-demo­cratic im­pulse was fa­mil­iar to peo­ple who study evan­gel­i­cals. Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists have noted a grow­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian trend in Amer­i­can vot­ers, and in Trump vot­ers in par­tic­u­lar. A 2011 meta-anal­y­sis of hun­dreds of stud­ies in­volv­ing thou­sands of peo­ple found that “fun­da­men­tal­ism cor­re­lated pos­i­tively with au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, eth­no­cen­trism, mil­i­tarism, and prej­u­dice.”

Drollinger’s fond­ness for ab­ject sub­servience even ex­tends to cli­mate change. He and sev­eral of Trump’s the­olo­gians preach that even if the world is heat­ing up, it’s pre­sump­tu­ously sin­ful to be­lieve hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties have any­thing to do with it. Says Drollinger: “To think that man can al­ter the earth’s ecosys­tem— when God re­mains om­ni­scient, om­nipresent and om­nipo­tent in the cur­rent af­fairs of mankind—is to more than sub­tly es­pouse an ul­tra-hubris­tic, sec­u­lar world­view rel­a­tive to the supremacy and im­por­tance of man.”

This fos­sil-fuel-lov­ing fringe of the evan­gel­i­cal move­ment— which in­cludes En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Direc­tor Scott Pruitt—preaches that the many green Chris­tian move­ments are born of a spir­i­tual de­cep­tion and are ev­i­dence of a “de­monic world­view,” says James Wan­liss, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of physics at Pres­by­te­rian Col­lege in South Carolina, who claims that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists aim for “the re­con­struc­tion of a pa­gan world or­der.”

To which Se­na­tor James Moun­tain In­hofe says amen. In­hofe, the pow­er­ful chair of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works and one of the Capi­tol’s most de­voted cli­mate change de­niers, lays the re­spon­si­bil­ity for Earth’s cli­mate on God, and God alone. “God’s still up there,” he said on a Chris­tian ra­dio show in 2015. “The ar­ro­gance of peo­ple to think that we hu­man be­ings would be able to change what he is do­ing in the cli­mate is, to me, out­ra­geous.”

Thou Sil­ver-tongued Tweeter

it’s now ob­vi­ous that trump got an ex­traor­di­nary re­turn on in­vest­ment when he co­zied up to evan­gel­i­cals in 2011, but what did they see in him? His bi­og­ra­phy un­til quite late in life would seem to be an­ti­thet­i­cal to ev­ery­thing they be­lieve. Jones, of the Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute, thinks the an­swer lies in the 2015 Supreme Court rul­ing le­gal­iz­ing gay mar­riage. “Lo­cal Democrats and pro­gres­sives wildly un­der­es­ti­mated the nu­clear

TWO NA­TIONS UN­DER GOD n an­uar , Trump de­liv­ered the con­vo­ca­tion at ibert niver­sit , a pri­vate Chris­tian school founded b tel­e­van­ge­list err al­well in 1 1.

HOLY SPIRIT Trump’s selec­tion of the f mousl e out ence as his vice pres­i­dent as idel seen as a hu e pa off to his evan­gel­i­cal sup­port­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.