In explaining the transactional nature of Trump’s approach, both as a businessman and president, Andrea Bernstein noted this quote from a debate during the 2016 Republican primary.
“I give to many people,” [Trump] said. “Before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.”
There are a couple of other ways to describe that kind of transaction: quid pro quo and corruption. Both of them are front and center in the current impeachment trial. But since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, it has been clear that his approach to deal-making, whether in foreign policy or domestic affairs, has been transactional.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the president’s spiritual advisor, Paula White, engages in a kind of transactional relationship with God. That is precisely why she has been described as adhering to a “prosperity gospel.” Her con job is to suggest that, if you give her your money, God will cause you to prosper.
At about the time that Trump was attending the “March for Life,” a video of White surfaced that was appalling.
Presidential spiritual adviser Paula White takes authority over the marine kingdom, the animal kingdom, and all “satanic pregnancies” that seek to harm Trump or the church. pic.twitter.com/pmrJEIxCHk
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) January 24, 2020
At one point, White prays that “In the name of Jesus, we command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now.” The reaction was that, as the president was proclaiming his commitment to the pro-life cause, his spiritual advisor had prayed for some pregnancies to miscarry.
Since that clip went viral, White put out a statement saying that her words were taken out of context: She was praying that “anything that has been conceived by demonic plans, for it to be cancelled and not prevail in your life…”
Be that as it may, that doesn’t make this clip any less disturbing. White has taken Christianity and turned it into something that sounds an awful lot like casting magical spells on her enemies. It sounds more like something you’d see taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry than in church. But perhaps you can see how that kind of transactional approach to spirituality would appeal to someone like Donald Trump.
While some evangelicals consider White to be an extremist, I was reminded of an article Kimberly Knight wrote a few years ago titled, “God is not your cosmic vending machine.”
Stomach turning shenanigans like “just pray, pray real hard and trust that God will save you from the sin of homosexuality” or “No matter who wins in 2015 U.S. Election, Lord Jesus is still in charge and in control of the Universe!” are not related, what-so-ever, to the theology of God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. So much bad/sad theology swirling around that I just had to say a word or three about the notion of God as a transactional tyrant.
See, I have a very hard time with the theology of folk who claim that God gives away touchdowns, Bentleys and control of Congress as rewards for the pious but allows/causes millions of people to suffer from hunger, disease, disasters and diabolical dehumanization. This is not a God worthy of worship. This is not the God revealed to us in the Incarnation.
God is not a cosmic vending machine maniacally squirting out holy snicker bars for the Benhams, Robertsons, Huckabees and Perkins of the world and rancid rat turds for the rest.
A pious and prayerful life will not fill your bank account, provide more touchdowns, win the heart of the hottie you have your eye on, keep your tire from going flat on that dark and rainy night, stop hurricanes or holocausts, prevent homicides or sex trafficking.
The God that Jesus reveals to us is not some mythical old asshat of a man who is “out there” or “up there” to whom we appeal with sacrine supplications to fulfill our self-serving desires or to smite our enemies.
As a Christian, Knight goes on to describe her own view of God. But this piece struck me as a powerful description of a deeper way that Trump has connected with Christian nationalists. If you relate to God as a transactional tyrant, you are likely to support the same thing in a president. You also aren’t likely to find it troubling when he engages in transactional (ie, corrupt) quid pro quos.