Belief that Trump is chosen by God threatens democracy

Published 7:20 pm Wednesday, January 9, 2019


Contributing Columnist

“Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus” — Now there is an op-ed title that jumped off the page! The headline was in the New York Times on New Year’s Day. I know something about the role of King Cyrus in the Bible, and I know that some members of the Christian Right regard President Trump as God’s anointed. I had to read the column and soon wished I hadn’t.  It shook me.    Katherine Stewart, author of both the column and “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children,” shared what she has learned from attending dozens of Christian nationalist conferences and events over the past two years. She begins with a reference to “The Trump Prophecy,” a film shown in a thousand theaters during the month before the midterm elections.

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In the film, the viewer meets Mark Taylor, a former firefighter, who claims that God told him in 2011 that Donald Trump would be elected president. In the film, the actor playing Taylor “collapses in the flashing light of an epiphany,” picks up a Bible, and turns to the 45th chapter of Isaiah, which describes the anointing of King Cyrus of Persia as messiah (meaning anointed one) or servant of the Lord. 

After nearly 50 years in exile following the conquering of Judah by Babylonia, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the deportation of all of the leadership, Cyrus defeats Babylon and gives an edict permitting all of the exiled people to return to their homelands. Since President Trump is the 45th president, the prophet’s description of Cyrus connects to Trump for Taylor as God’s anointed.

The film was produced with the help of professors and students at Liberty University. Its president Jerry Falwell has rallied evangelical support for Trump’s presidency. An evangelical author and speaker Lance Wallnau, who appears in the film, had said previously, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls (see the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem) that separate us from cultural collapse.”

Lest we think that this view is limited to the bizarre use of the Bible by Taylor and Wallnau, Stewart provides more supporters of autocratic rule by our president.

Jeanine Pirro of Fox News has picked up on the Cyrus meme. Paula White, a preacher who has advised President Trump, states, “It is God that raises up a king.” Ralph Drollinger, who has led Bible study groups in the White House attended by Vice President Mike Pence and many other cabinet members, uses “king” as a verb: “Get ready to king in our future lives. Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”

They will be the law, it seems. 

Still another sanctified show of support comes from Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. He had asked, “When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?” (Since he is referring to the actions of Hitler’s Third Reich, it is worth remembering that most German Christians supported Hitler in the beginning.)

Katherine Stewart reports from those conferences mentioned earlier that President Trump is viewed as “a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord.” Despite his flaws and failings, “resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God,” she observes. 

White, Alt-Right nationalists such as Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer and Stephen Miller (who is still part of the Trump administration) have already done plenty to concern many Christians. Their racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy stances have contributed tellingly to our nation’s polarization. Now come these Christian nationalists with gasoline for the fire.

As Stewart concludes, they are not simply tolerating Trump because he gives them the judges they want and supports their views on abortion, same sex marriage and immigrants that they back. They see him as God’s choice, as a law unto himself. No matter who the ruler is, that is a dangerous assumption.

Thinking that the Bible backs any particular ruler in future centuries if we know how to decipher the Bible’s code misses the intent of prophetic and apocalyptic writers. They focused on events and forces and characters in their own time and on the future consequences of continued injustice and infidelity to Israel’s covenant with God. And if Christian nationalists find monarchy or autocracy appealing, they would do well to remember the suspicion with which the Hebrew prophets (including the writers of Isaiah) viewed having a king.

The tribal forerunners of the nation of Israel demanded a king as a necessity to beat the Philistines with their advanced weaponry. From the get-go, the prophet Samuel warned them against it. God was supposedly their king, and they would live to regret such a concentration of power in a human ruler.  The historical narratives in the Bible are told with a pro-David bias (probably because he and his God beat the Philistines and he stretched the nation to its greatest size) and the prophetic hope for Israel’s future anticipated a new David, a messiah that would restore the fortunes of Israel. Nevertheless, the Hebrew prophets and historians spare the reader none of the sins of David nor of his successors and their devastating consequences. 

Only two kings get positive reviews in the years leading up to the fall of both Israel and Judah (often due in considerable part to the kings’ misdeeds). These were Hezekiah and Josiah, who orchestrated reforms not on their own authority but on that of the Law of Moses, which was supposedly the nation’s constitution.  They were constitutional monarchs, not laws unto themselves.

What is so scary about what Christian nationalists are saying is that they make opposition to President Trump into opposition to God and feel free to demonize that opposition as “evil.” Whenever opposing sides are divinized and demonized, democracy is in peril.

Eric Mount is the Nelson D. and Mary McDowell Rodes Professor Emeritus of Religion at Centre College.