Trump’s Court Evangelicals and Their Impact on the Church

It is probably not an accident that, just as the media is awash with stories about chaos in the White House spurred by the now-former communications director’s foul-mouthed treatment of his adversaries, the evangelical world is treated to a story about the “Biblical leaders” in Trump’s cabinet.

A spiritual awakening is underway at the White House.

Some of the most powerful people in America have been gathering weekly to learn more about God’s Word, and this Trump Cabinet Bible study is making history.

They’ve been called the most evangelical Cabinet in history – men and women who don’t mince words when it comes to where they stand on God and the Bible.

The leader of this Bible study, Ralph Drollinger, says that attendees include Tom Price, Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, Sunny Perdue, Mike Pompeo and Jeff Sessions. He goes on to compare VP Pence to biblical figures and Trump to Samson.

“I just praise God for them,” he said. “And I praise God for Mike Pence, who I think with Donald Trump chose great people to lead our nation.”

If your head is spinning trying to reconcile a “spiritual awakening” to what is actually emanating from this White House, join the club. John Fea, who chairs the History Department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA, recently shared a different perspective in an article titled, “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.” He refers to people like Drollinger as “court evangelicals,” who “like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence.”

[Trump’s] campaign and presidency has shed light on a troubling wing of American evangelicalism willing to embrace nationalism, populism, fear of outsiders and anger. The leaders of this wing trade their evangelical witness for a mess of political pottage and a Supreme Court nomination.

Many of these court evangelicals are the same ones who questioned Barack Obama’s Christian faith and who cast Hillary Clinton as evil, even as she herself attended Bible studies regularly while in Washington. The fact that they can now look beyond everything Trump has stood for in his life in order to claim his presidency is the work of God speaks to their hypocrisy.

Fea notes that there are Christians who aren’t buying what the court evangelicals are selling.

Not all evangelicals are on board, of course. Most black evangelicals are horrified by Trump’s failure to understand their history and his willingness to serve as a hero of the alt-right movement.

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

As one of those black evangelicals who is horrified by Trump, Rev. William Barber, architect of the Moral Mondays Movement, had some harsh words for the court evangelicals who laid hands on Trump in the Oval Office.

The nation needs our prayers, and no doubt the president does, too. But the Scripture cautions us to lay hands on no man suddenly, lest we become a party to his sins. (1 Timothy 5:22) We cannot simply p-r-a-y pray over people while they p-r-e-y on the poor and vulnerable among us. The teachings of Jesus are clear about caring for the poor and the sick, and we are called to share His message; we cannot simply serve as chaplains to imperial power. If we pray for a person engaging in injustice we must offer prayers that lead to conviction, not prayers that further embolden them in their wrongdoing. And since faith comes by hearing, we must speak prophetically and truthfully to them about using political power to inflict public pain. If they refuse to listen, we must put legs on our prayers and demand that those leaders attend instead to the weightier matters of love justice and mercy.

Fea is right. Trump is changing the course of American Christianity. I personally know people who are looking deep into their souls to question what the behavior of these court evangelicals says about their faith and church leaders. There are also those who accept the idea that Trump is a leader sent from God to inspire a spiritual awakening. One has to wonder if anything he says or does will ever convince them that he is in the process of destroying any claim they make to be followers of Jesus.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.