Many people may be uncomfortable, if not angry, by the end of this piece. However, I’ve already made peace with that. The political future and direction of this country are too important to sweep pivotal issues under the carpet of political correctness.
Since Barack Obama took office in 2009, Democrats have lost nearly 1,000 legislative seats to Republican control. Since 2008, in fact, Democrats have increasingly refused to show up at the polls, down from nearly 70 million in 2008 to 59 million in 2016. Meanwhile, Republican voters have shown up consistently through those years, between 59 million–61 million. What’s more, on Nov. 9, nearly half of the eligible pool of 230.6 million voters, 115.3 million, didn’t bother to show up at all. Another 7.8 million voted “Other” — just simply could not bring themselves to vote for either party. That’s 123.1 million American voters out in “no man’s land.”
If this trend continues, it seems likely that the Republican Party will win the midterm elections in 2018 and the White House, again, in 2020. The trend preceded Donald Trump, which means, should incriminating, irrefutable evidence prove that Trump colluded in acts of treason with Russia and he is, indeed, impeached or imprisoned, that may not necessarily favor the Democratic Party.
For those who need a poll, here’s one from Suffolk University worthy of note. It puts the Democratic Party’s favorable/unfavorable ratings at 36 percent/52 percent behind the media, the GOP, Trump, and Mike Pence — ahead only of Hillary Clinton and Congress.
Why has this happened? This is the fundamental question that must fuel Democratic strategy going forward. Indeed, it is the crux of the challenge for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) — an enormous undertaking that must incorporate radical grassroots marketing and political campaigns with measurable impact before Election Day.
Arguably, one of the most important questions for the DNC to answer is why 81 percent of white, born-again evangelical Christians voted for Trump. It is not a sufficient answer to write them all off as racists, or byproducts of white privilege lacking in empathy. Compare this figure with the fact that only 24 percent of Jews, the vast majority of whom would be considered “white” in America today, voted for Trump, compared to 71 percent for Hillary, and such arguments hold little water.
All of these facts suggest a more endemic issue within the Democratic Party — or among white evangelicals. More importantly, Democrats cannot ignore this Republican stronghold, which has given rise to George W. Bush, and now Trump. Indeed, whom may we see arise next from that end of the political spectrum?
Liberals may laugh at the trove of hilarious skits and memes about Trump. However, Democrats and, indeed, the DNC need to take some time away from the “choir” to examine what is happening in the “Cult of Trump.” It is eye opening — and shocking — because their “converts” are akin to religious converts in this evangelical “Army of God.”
To be sure, it would be patently false to claim that Trump has the support of all evangelicals. But overwhelmingly clear in the last election was the direct correlation between attendance at religious services and support of Trump vis-à-vis Clinton. The more people attended religious services is the more they backed Trump — by a whopping 31-point margin (62 percent to 31 percent).
Such statistics suggest that the Democratic Party has an image problem with churchgoers, which needs to be rectified in any forward-thinking campaign by the DNC. However, is image the sole issue? Evangelical support of Trump — someone in whom “fruits of the Spirit” are patently void — is inconsistent with Christian theology. Assuredly, their doctrinal sidesteps and contortions to reconcile the dissonance make us feel as if we’re living in an alternate universe. So, what exactly is going on in evangelical circles?
For starters, it is their “prophets” who seemingly identify “The Chosen One” — “anointed and appointed” to be president by no less than God himself, always “for such a time as this.” They declared it so with George W. Bush. And they did so again with Trump. To trivialize such events within one of the foundational pillars of society would show demonstrable ignorance regarding who evangelicals are and their political clout. For a political party, it is political suicide.
Those unfamiliar with evangelical practices may well ask, “Who are these ‘prophets’?” Meet Kim Clement — in full action — who can be heard “prophesying” via a YouTube mash-up, ostensibly from 2007, about the rise of “the trump.”
There are three things worthy of note in that manipulative video.
First, when Clement alleges that God said, “Trump shall become a trumpet. I will raise up the trump to become a trumpet,” note that “God” never said a trumpet for what, or for whom. For evangelicals to assume “a trumpet” is a good sign defies logic. In Scripture, a trumpet is often a symbol of warning and impending judgment. Christian doctrine actually foretells God’s judgment of the Church — first. Therefore, it is the evangelical Church that should take heed. Certainly, it stands to lose credibility and influence because what is abominably clear is that their fervor for Trump has little to do with theology and is more about money and increased power.
Trump promised not just to protect their tax-free 501(c)(3) status — and by extension, the obscenely wealthy lifestyles it affords their ministers — but also to remove the restrictions that have previously limited the politicization of the Church. He also promised to name a Scalia-esque conservative justice to the Supreme Court. Clinton promised nothing. Nada. Zip. She was perceived as the enemy.
Second, the mashup is deceptively edited to manipulate thought, perhaps even to create self-fulfilling prophecy. Assuredly, it plants the seed for Trump to have two terms. After all, if “God” said... Apparently, “God” gets his kicks now from making “fools” of “sheeple.”
Third, note the strategic attack on the media. Political and religious charlatans despise transparency. However, the obligation of the media as a third pillar of a free society is not to the pillars of government and religion. It is to the public. A society in which government, religion, and media collude is no longer free, and atrocities like genocide, human rights abuses, and pedophilia scandals within the Church would never come to light.
Clement is not alone in this business of prophecy, nor in conveying allegations of God’s displeasure with the media. Before the election, retired firefighter Mark Taylor said God showed him in 2011 that Trump would become president and that “even mainstream news media will be captivated by this man and the abilities that I [God] have gifted him with, and they will even begin to agree with him.” Ha.
In a post-election radio interview, Taylor said something rather interesting as well.
“Trump had said at one point that we had three objectives that we needed to meet as the Army of God,” Taylor reminded his audience. “The first was to get Trump elected. The second one was to get him inaugurated...The third one was going to be the first four or five months that he was in office; that it would be a little bit rocky...Rest assured, none of that is going to succeed because this man has been anointed and appointed by God....God's already spoken.”
Who gave the three objectives to be met? Trump.
It is crucial for the DNC to understand that, in their minds now, evangelicals represent God himself, and the war with liberal media is God’s holy war.
Judaism and Christianity have had a very controversial, often contentious, history regarding Biblical texts and prophets. Their most fundamental disagreement surrounds Jesus, embraced by Christians as the Messiah. Conversely, Judaism does not recognize Jesus in that light because the title, Jews say, is a gross misrepresentation based on mistranslations of Hebrew texts, Scripture-twisting, and a lack of real understanding of the very concept of the Jewish Messiah. They agree that prophets like Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah were legitimate prophets, but not Daniel.
Hebrew Scriptures also recognized “prophets-for-hire” — including Hananiah, a real player in Jeremiah’s controversy with Zedekiah, a king of Judah; and Balaam of the talking-donkey fame. There were also “false prophets” such as the 400 consulted by King Ahab in 1 Kings 22:6, whose role, essentially, was to tell the rulers what they wanted to hear. More importantly, in Judaism, upon which Christianity bases its understanding of prophets, the age of prophecy ended with Malachi, who prophesied circa 420 BCE.
All of which to say, when modern-day Christian “prophets” come along, claiming to speak for God, extreme caution should be exercised. What is the basis of their legitimacy?
There is an epidemic of Biblical illiteracy in the Church today. Most Christians depend upon the interpretations, apologetics, and eschatological teachings from their leaders in the pulpit, many of whom have little formal education or qualifications in Biblical scholarship.
Best-selling author Joel Osteen, for example, lead pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston — the largest megachurch in America with 55,000 regulars in weekly attendance and millions more tuning in around the world for Osteen’s sermons — has no formal seminary or theological training. Upon his father’s death in 1999, essentially through nepotism, Osteen inherited Lakewood — flock, stock and barrel. Which is likely why Osteen preaches feel-good “Christianity-Lite” sermons, typically sidetracking meaningful theological debate with tactics more reflective of a motivational coach.
Some in Christian circles consider Osteen’s accomplishments the result of a great “anointing from God.” Others credit a keen business sense and effective marketing skills that took full advantage of technology and social media. Neither has to do with Biblical scholarship.
What makes Osteen’s story relevant is two-fold. Firstly, nepotism is quite typical in religious organizations across America. Million-dollar and billion-dollar organizations like Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) — the world's largest religious television network — while officially 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations, are largely “family businesses,” handed down generationally, not necessarily to the most theologically qualified. And family squabbles regarding sexual misconduct, power struggles for control and succession are legendary.
Secondly, these organizations encourage support for a Christian theocracy rather than a civic democracy, which is why Trump’s promise to close the gap between Church and State is such a lure. Osteen is an obsequious Trump fanatic, less forthright than Obama critic Franklin Graham — evangelical “royalty” as Billy Graham’s son — who used his Decision America Tours to mobilize voters. Some would argue that such religious leaders and Trump are “the same person," just in different spheres of influence.
Which leads us to Trump and his “God-whisperer,” Paula White, whom Trump has seemingly been “grooming” since 2002. Reportedly, Trump cold-called her after watching her deliver a televised sermon. Whether that was a shrewd and calculated move to provide Trump with a viable gateway into Christendom is arguable. However, Trump had long had his eye on the presidency and seemingly understood the role of evangelical support in that kind of endeavor.
The Law of Attraction — “like attracts like” — was evidently in play. White, who has only a high school education and no discernible theological training, has long been denounced as a heretic and charlatan, not just in Christian circles but in Jewish circles as well for usurping and misappropriating Jewish symbols and doctrine for financial gain.
Like Trump, White also has a contentious relationship with the media for their coverage of her many, many personal and financial scandals — including a rumored affair with evangelical “healing minister” Benny Hinn, which had been splashed across the tabloids, and a Senate committee hearing, called after an IRS audit exposed her obscenely lavish lifestyle, lived largely on tax-exempt donations. What, after all, is the problem with any of that when, ultimately, you are included in strategic discussions to appoint the next Supreme Court justice?
Far, far more relevant, however, is the timing that evangelical “prophets” like Clement seemingly started to “prophesy” about “the trump” — in 2007— the same year that Trump was inducted into Hollywood’s Walk of Fame at the zenith of his Apprentice reality-TV fame and White bought a multimillion-dollar condo at Trump Park Avenue, after her second divorce. By then, Trump and White had an intertwined personal and professional relationship.
By 2007, White had already established herself in Word of Faith prosperity doctrine as a protégé of Bishop T.D. Jakes and a darling of TBN. Meanwhile, Clement had developed a close personal friendship with Matthew Crouch, son of TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch. Notably, TBN perpetuates belief in “prophecies” and Clement had become their “prophet” of choice, booked regularly for worldwide telecasts. TBN’s integrity and the authenticity of their “messengers of God,” however, is questionable at best.
TBN has been consistently rocked by financial and sexual misconduct scandals, detailed by former employees like Kelly Whitmore and family members Carra Crouch and Brittany Koper, Paul and Jan’s granddaughters. Koper alleged in a lawsuit that Matthew Crouch, her uncle, threatened her with a gun and fired her, her husband Michael, and her father Paul Crouch, Jr. (his brother), after she refused to illegally syphon $100 million of charitable assets into their personal accounts. From May 2012, philanthropy watchdog Charity Navigator downgraded TBN’s rating after the salacious details of that lawsuit began to emerge.
Unmistakably, White played a strategic role in Trump’s decision-making to run for the presidency. She actively began mobilizing evangelical support for Trump from 2011 after he reportedly asked her to “gather ministers” to discuss a possible run. Collectively, they agreed that the timing was off. However, in 2015, Trump got the green light and White began organizing evangelical support to support his race.
The degree of evangelical collusion to get Trump elected — akin to “Russiagate” — warrants vigorous investigation and strategic counter-responses from the DNC to allay vilification.
Even if grassroots campaigns target the 123.1 million voters out in no man’s land, Democrats need to grasp that radicalized evangelicals are actively indoctrinating evangelical youth.
A 2006 documentary, Jesus Camp, highlights the guerilla-type tactics being employed, complete with potentially seditious acts of allegiance to a “Christian flag.” The programs start early and encompass not just religion but conservative politics. The aim is to raise up new “soldiers" in "God's army" to fight in the culture war and stop the advance of liberal or progressive ideals.
Religious indoctrination has much in common with fascist propaganda strategies — including extreme methods used by fringe elements to deal with dissenters. Burying our heads in the sand doesn’t make it less true.
To convert potential followers to either agenda requires that they be desensitized to disputable claims about their doctrine, which is jammed by such tactics as dismissing critical counter-arguments, distracting attention away from critical thinking, distorting provable facts to make them unrecognizable and, when all else fails, dismaying followers with wild claims and stories that cause them to mistrust outside sources of truth.
Which is why in 2017, we still have people believing in talking snakes and donkeys, that climate change is a hoax, and who support Trump for his “honesty." Any faith that requires that kind of cognitive dissonance and abdication of the mind is a faith one is best without.
Noteworthy is the fact that a few days after Trump’s election victory in Nov. 2016, Clement died from the complications of a hemorrhagic stroke he had experienced a year earlier. Ironically, such tragedies are not unusual in Biblical texts for illegitimate mouthpieces of God.