“Maybe he’s looking up,” Trump said, drawing some jeers and groans. “Maybe, but let’s assume he’s looking down.”
The comment came shortly after Debbie Dingell, who now holds her late husband’s seat, voted in favor of impeaching the president.
Several politicians from Michigan, including Republican Rep. Fred Upton, who called on Trump to apologize, tweeted their support of the Dingells. The president’s words drew swift rebuke from some leaders with large followings in the faith community.
Debbie Dingell fought back on Twitter, writing: “Mr. President, let’s set politics aside. My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service. I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love. You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder.”
Meanwhile, some of Trump’s evangelical advisers, who have stood by him since his campaign, issued statements decrying the impeachment and describing the proceedings in spiritual terms.
One of his fiercest defenders is Paula White-Cain, who is expected to join the White House in an official capacity overseeing Trump’s faith initiatives.
Another defense came from the Rev. Jack Graham, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor who argued that Trump is the most “pro-life, pro-faith president in recent history.”
Evangelical supporters of Trump have been talking about “forces” undermining Trump, framing the impeachment proceedings in “spiritual battle” language, said John Fea, a historian at Messiah College.
In November, Franklin Graham, president and chief executive of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, told Eric Metaxas on his radio show, “Well, I believe it’s almost a demonic power that is trying . . .” And Metaxas interrupted and said, “I would disagree. It’s not almost demonic. You know and I know, at the heart, it’s a spiritual battle.”
Last week, Trump hosted about 50 evangelical leaders in the White House to pray for him, especially drawing pastors from the Pentecostal tradition where teaching on “spiritual warfare” is prominent.
“If Trump is indeed God’s anointed, impeachment and his potential removal is of utmost concern to those with this worldview,” Fea said.
The impeachment proceedings raised other religious references, including a moment where Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) seemed to compare Trump to Jesus, suggesting that Jesus received a fairer trial before his crucifixion than has the president.
“When Jesus was falsely accused of Treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Loudermilk tweeted. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”
Loudermilk’s comments received backlash on social media Wednesday.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted a Bible reference to Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”
In a letter this week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Trump accused her of offending not just the nation’s founders, but also Americans of faith “by continually saying ‘I pray for the President,’ when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense.”
“More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials,” Trump wrote.
The impeachment inquiry ran for about two months, and more than a dozen witnesses provided private and public testimony before the House voted to impeach Trump.