A few months ago, Katherine Stewart—whose reporting focuses on the intersection of politics and religion—wrote something pretty jarring about the white evangelicals who dominate Trump’s base.
As the Trump presidency falls under siege on multiple fronts, it has become increasingly clear that the so-called values voters will be among the last to leave the citadel. A lot of attention has been paid to the supposed paradox of evangelicals backing such an imperfect man, but the real problem is that our idea of Christian nationalism hasn’t caught up with the reality. We still buy the line that the hard core of the Christian right is just an interest group working to protect its values. But what we don’t get is that Mr. Trump’s supposedly anti-Christian attributes and anti-democratic attributes are a vital part of his attraction.
Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king.
Stewart wrote that in the context of noting that some white evangelicals have compared Donald Trump to King Cyrus, who ruled the Persian empire in the 6th century BC.
Isaiah 45 celebrates Cyrus for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon. Cyrus is the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.
Now we learn that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is comparing Trump to another biblical figure.
In an interview in Jerusalem, the Christian Broadcast Network’s Chris Mitchell asked Pompeo, “could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” Esther is the main heroine of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which was celebrated this week.
“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo added that he is “confident that the Lord is at work here” when he sees the “remarkable history of the faith in this place and the work that our administration’s done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains.”
According to the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, she became queen of the Persian Empire during the 5th century BC and saved the Jews from being exterminated. Notice that, for the reporter from the Christian Broadcast Network, Esther saved the Jewish people from the “Iranian menace.” That is exactly how Christian nationalists like Pompeo are framing the threat today: Donald Trump is defending Israel against the current-day Iranian menace.
All of this is cultish and disturbing on many levels—not the least of which is the fact that our foreign policy is being managed by a man who thinks he’s playing out some kind of biblical prophecy. But the most dangerous part is that cults are inherently authoritarian, which takes me back to what Stewart wrote.
I have attended dozens of Christian nationalist conferences and events over the past two years. And while I have heard plenty of comments casting doubt on the more questionable aspects of Mr. Trump’s character, the gist of the proceedings almost always comes down to the belief that he is a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord. I have also learned that resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God.
This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.
They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.
The fact that Christian nationalists have anointed the most amoral man to ever occupy the White House as their savior tells us that their allegiance to him isn’t grounded in principle, but in authoritarian power that puts them above the law. That’s the kind of political leadership they’ve been looking for.