Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Plum Line | Opinion

The religious right is steeling itself for a Biblical battle on Trump's behalf

By Sarah Posner

March 6, 2017 at 4:10 PM

President Trump (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

President Trump's escalation of his inflammatory claims that Obama loyalists are out to get him, culminating in his unfounded weekend tweet-storm that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him, has brought his Breitbart-fueled siege mentality to a new level of conspiracy-mongering.

A host of fact-checks and explainers have poked holes in Trump's claims, pointing out that they lack any evidence or substantiation. But even as the mainstream media has attempted to re-attach the public to reality, another group of people is already showing signs that it may rise to his defense: the religious right.

In so doing, the religious right — a core Trump constituency — is revealing something interesting about the bond that these millions of Americans have formed with Trump. His religious-right defenders see themselves as warriors in an epic battle for Christian America, not unlike the one underlying the agenda envisioned by top Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon — and as Trump hunkers down, they are invested in the narrative that Trump's critics are satanic enemies bent on destroying him.

White evangelicals are Trump's most ardent supporters. A January Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 66 percent of white evangelicals had a favorable view of Trump, the only religious constituency boasting a majority with a positive impression of him. White evangelicals also continue to be Obama's most predictable opponents; while that poll found that at least 50 percent of other religious demographics had a favorable view of Obama, only 31 percent of white evangelicals did.

Now religious-right figures are rising to Trump's defense in the battle over whether Obama tapped his phones. For instance, Charisma magazine, a leading source for charismatic and Pentecostal writings, is credulously citing Breitbart as proof of the need for a congressional investigation of Trump's claim that Obama ordered the wiretap. Charisma has long been a cheerleader for Trump; during the campaign, it promoted widely disseminated comparisons of Trump to the Persian King Cyrus, referred to in the Book of Isaiah as God's "anointed" one.

Meanwhile, the Christian Broadcasting Network, which has long provided Trump favorable coverage, has also lent support to Trump's claim about Obama. It favorably cited Trump's comparison of Obama's supposed wiretapping to Watergate and McCarthyism, and quoted Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the religious-right legal group American Center for Law and Justice, saying that it was "very possible" that there were wiretaps in Trump Tower.

The larger context here is that the religious right is girding for a much longer fight alongside Trump. His signing of his new travel ban today will signal to the religious right that he remains a strong defender of their Christian nation. A Pew poll in February found that 76 percent of white evangelicals supported his original executive order, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found that white evangelicals are the only constituency whose support for a Muslim ban has grown since last year.

The policy-focused segment of the religious right — the Beltway players who cheered Trump's early actions, including most recently the Education Department's withdrawal of Obama-era guidance protecting the rights of transgender students in public schools — regularly praise the president in the hopes that he will grant their wishes for nominations and appointments, and will eventually sign a broad executive order creating unprecedented religious exemptions for opponents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality and reproductive rights.

Meanwhile, the religious right's punditry are steeling themselves — and the movement's loyal foot soldiers — for an epic good vs. evil battle in defense of Trump, one that could last years.

The popular evangelist Lou Engle claims that there has been "an unprecedented global summons of witchcraft to curse President Trump, his Cabinet and all of those aligned with a biblical worldview." As a result, he writes in a post urging his followers to fast this week to commemorate the Jewish holiday of Purim, "only the church has the answer to this unprecedented manifestation of witchcraft."

In a sense, what we're seeing is a developing alliance of sorts between Breitbart and the religious right. Some of the religious right's rhetoric about the Trump era has echoes in the worldview of Bannon, Trump's chief strategist and the mastermind of the Breitbart style.

Bannon, for instance, has warned that jihadism has a lust for a "a global existential war" that, he has said, may bring about "a major shooting war in the Middle East."

Meanwhile, some leading religious-right pundits appear ready to defend what they see as a Christian America, led by Trump, that is under attack by enemies, which include the left, the so-called "deep state," Obama, a Muslim fifth column, and what they portray as immigrant and refugee criminal elements. As incendiary radio host Bryan Fischer put it, the country has entered "a period of spiritual warfare as a nation the likes of which we have not seen since World War II, when Winston Churchill correctly observed that our battle against the occult-obsessed Nazis was a battle for 'the survival of Christian civilization.'"

So Trump may be the benefiting from a union of sorts between the conspiracy-minded Breitbart and charismatic and evangelical Christians who believe they are engaged in a spiritual war to defend Trump. This fuses two Trump allies in a shared belief in a civilizational showdown. With the White House giving all indications that it will stand by the notion that Obama wiretapped Trump's phones, it would not be surprising if more religious-right figures rallied behind the claim, leading millions of evangelical Christian voters to believe it.


Sarah Posner is a reporter and the author of "God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters." Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and many other publications.

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