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Comparing Trump to Jesus, and why some evangelicals believe Trump is God’s chosen one

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) on Dec. 18 said Jesus was afforded more due process rights under Pontius Pilate than President Trump has been afforded. (Video: The Washington Post)

This post was originally posted in November and has been updated.

It is no secret that many conservative Christians think highly of President Trump. He has consistently maintained high approval ratings from white evangelicals since he won the majority of white evangelicals and white Catholics in the 2016 election.

But while defending Trump during the president’s impeachment hearing, Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) made remarks that gave some the impression that the lawmaker thought Trump was worthy of better treatment than Jesus Christ.

Loudermilk, who was involved in a church ministry that served underprivileged children years before heading to Congress, said: “Before you take this historic vote today one week before Christmas, I want you to keep this in mind: When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”

Shortly after Loudermilk’s comments, “Trump to Jesus” began trending on Twitter.

But this is not the first time a Trump supporter has made comments that appear so reverent of the president that critics have raised their eyebrows.

Last month in an interview with Fox News, former energy secretary Rick Perry praised Trump as “God’s chosen one” — an idea that is not unpopular among the president’s conservative Christian supporters.

Perry, an evangelical Christian, shared his conviction with Fox News’s Ed Henry that Trump and his authority come from God.

“God uses imperfect people through history. King David wasn’t perfect. Saul wasn’t perfect. Solomon wasn’t perfect. And I actually gave the president a one-pager on those Old Testament kings about a month ago. And I shared it with him and I said, ‘Mr. President, I know there are people who say that you say you were the chosen one.’ And said, ‘You were.’ I said, ‘If you are a believing Christian, you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.’ ”

The declaration attracted quite a bit of pushback from Christians and others who are skeptical that Trump was chosen by God to lead the country.

But Perry’s take on Trump and God is not uncommon among the white, conservative evangelicals who approve of the president’s job performance at rates higher than most other groups. Other religious leaders have said similar things. According to Henry, Perry also believes Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, was chosen by God to lead.

But the support for Trump’s presidency among conservative evangelicals appears to be at levels that even they have never seen.

“I think evangelicals have found their dream president,” Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, told The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey months after Trump’s inauguration. “I’ve never seen a White House have such a close relationship with faith leaders than this one.”

The idea that Trump was heaven-sent has come with harsh criticism of those who do not support his leadership. In a conversation Thursday in which evangelist Franklin Graham suggested that criticism of Trump was coming from “a demonic power,” author Eric Metaxas lamented those who question the idea that Trump was ordained for the presidency by God.

“They go on to cite how he’s the least Christian, and they go on and on and on,” he said. “And I think these people don’t even have a biblical view when it comes to that. If somebody doesn’t hold to our theology, that doesn’t mean they can’t be a great pilot, or a great doctor, or a dentist.”

It appears that Trump has embraced the belief himself, tweeting quotes from conservatives comparing him to the “second coming of God” and even proclaiming “I am the chosen one” and looking toward the heavens while defending his administration’s trade war with China.

President Trump on Aug. 21 again defended his trade war with China and downplayed fears of a recession. (Video: The Washington Post)

The idea is rooted in several narratives (including those that Perry mentioned) and verses from the Bible that teach that leaders are in place because God has allowed them to be.

But one verse that often resurfaces in this discussion is a passage from Romans where the apostle Paul instructs early Christians on how to view government leaders. The King James Version of the first verse of the 13th chapter of Romans says: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”

The English Standard version says: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Anthea Butler, a religion professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote about Trump and others’ interpretation of the presidency shortly after his August comments, for the Religion News Service:

Perhaps the best way to understand Trump’s statements is in another context altogether, and that is by watching the new Netflix series by journalist and writer Jeff Sharlet, called “The Family.”
Based on the 2009 book by Sharlet, the series covers the activity of The Family and C Street, which courted many politicians and holds the National Prayer Breakfast each year. Sharlet’s first article about this group, entitled “Jesus Plus Nothing,” is an excellent way to understand what may be behind Trump’s statements.
For the Family, any man chosen for leadership positions is chosen by God, no matter what his personal faith life or beliefs may be. In their theology, God can use any male leader to achieve God’s purpose. To put it one way, Jesus cares more for the wolf than the sheep. A strong man can make things happen.
A strong man is God’s man, no matter what sins he may or may not have committed.

There is also a belief among some that Trump is similar to biblical personalities that God used to save nations heading in a calamitous direction — something some believe was the case for the United States under the Obama administration.

This worldview has real implications for how adherents view Trump and America — particularly when it comes to policy. For some, Trump is a leader who will bring the country closer to what they believe this country was always meant to be: a Christian nation.

A 2018 study published in Sociology of Religion seeks to explain why so many conservative Christians have embraced this idea that Trump will advance the spread of Christian nationalism. In a Washington Post article, the professors wrote:

Many voters believed, and presumably still believe, that regardless of his personal piety (or lack thereof), Trump would defend what they saw as the country’s Christian heritage — and would help move the nation toward a distinctly Christian future. Ironically, Christian nationalism is focused on preserving a perceived Christian identity for America irrespective of the means by which such a project would be achieved.
Hence, many white Christians believe Trump may be an effective instrument in God’s plan for America, even if he is not particularly religious himself.

While not all of those who believe Trump was chosen by God are adherents of Christian nationalism, believing God chose Trump may explain why many white evangelicals ignore some of the actions of the president that some critics consider ungodly. However, Christianity is bigger than white evangelicalism. While Trump’s support remains high among that group, the president’s political future could still be in jeopardy given the number of people who disapprove of his leadership — including many Christians.