The latest media-generated Trump scandal will likely have the same impact on the president’s political fortunes as the stunning revelation that he doesn’t pay more income tax than he owes. This time it’s The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins claiming that Trump “mocks his Christian supporters” behind their backs and speaks with “cynicism and contempt” about religion. This would be mostly irrelevant even if it were true, as I’ll soon explain, but the specific examples provided in the article do not live up to the headline’s hype.
We are first regaled with a tale of Trump mocking millionaire prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar after the pastor tried to raise $60 million for a private jet. Trump allegedly called it a “scam,” said that Dollar is “full of sh*t,” and then added, “they’re all hustlers.” We aren’t told who the “all” is in that context, but it seems safe to conclude that he was referring to the sorts of preachers who fly around in private jets. Assuming that disgraced and currently imprisoned Michael Cohen — the source of this anecdote — can be trusted here (a dubious assumption to say the least), there is nothing objectionable about any of it. Creflo Dollar is indeed a hustler who is indeed full of sh*t. I believe I can speak for a great many Christians in America, except those credulous saps who actually donated to his private jet fundraiser, and say that we agree with Trump’s assessment, though some of us would not phrase it in exactly the same way.
Another bombshell follows:
The former campaign adviser recalled showing his boss a YouTube video of the Israeli televangelist Benny Hinn performing “faith healings,” while Trump laughed at the spectacle and muttered, “Man, that’s some racket.” On another occasion, the adviser told me, Trump expressed awe at Joel Osteen’s media empire — particularly the viewership of his televised sermons.
Our source in this case is an ex-White House official who is speaking on condition of anonymity. The track record of this group has of course been less than admirable, but even again taking the supposed recollections at face value, there is little here that the average conservative Christian would disagree with. Televised faith healing is a racket, and also a ridiculous spectacle to behold. Personally, I find myself more recoiling in revulsion than laughing when I see frauds like Benny Hinn in action, but laughter is probably a better — well, certainly emotionally healthier — reaction.
Things get a little edgier with the next alleged revelation:
In Cohen’s recent memoir, Disloyal, he recounts Trump returning from his 2011 meeting with the pastors who laid hands on him and sneering, “Can you believe that bullsh*t?” But if Trump found their rituals ridiculous, he followed their moneymaking ventures closely. “He was completely familiar with the business dealings of the leadership in many prosperity-gospel churches,” the adviser told me.
That is probably not how most Christians would respond in a similar situation — and it may not be how Trump responded, given that we are getting this again from an incarcerated felon — but not all Christians are comfortable with having hands ritualistically laid on them in prayer. Count me among that group, in fact. I generally prefer not to have strangers touch me at all, for any reason. Your prayers are just as powerful without physical contact, thank you.
Later on in the article it is claimed that Trump made some relatively tame jokes about Mormons, Jews, and other faith groups. We are never given any examples of him specifically “mocking his Christian supporters” as the headline declared. But none of this stuff matters anyway. The media has never been able to understand Trump’s support among faithful Christians, and their lack of understanding has rendered useless their attempts at chipping away at it.
There may be a small minority of Christian conservatives who for some reason actually believe that Trump is a deeply spiritual man, but most would not be surprised to hear A.J. Delgado in the Atlantic article describing him as “not a religious guy.” That’s not a problem because Christians are not turning to Trump for spiritual leadership or exegetical enlightenment. They probably would not want him to lead their Bible studies or take over the pastoral duties at their churches. The point has always been policy. Trump has not advanced any policies that assault religious liberty or undermine the sanctity of life. On the contrary, his administration has fought for policies that protect both religious liberty and the sanctity of life. It is that simple. His personal religious views are irrelevant.
Contrast this with a man like Joe Biden who describes himself as “devout” and yet supports the butchery of unborn children and believes that nuns should be legally forced to purchase contraception. Why don’t conservative Christians line up behind Biden? He’s an old white guy, too, so writing us off as racist or bigoted won’t be sufficient in this case. We don’t like Biden because we find his policies to be morally appalling and in direct contradiction to Christian teaching. Whatever he personally believes, however often he prays, however much he goes to church — none of that mitigates the many terrible things he wishes to do with the power of the presidency should it be granted to him. That is what this all comes down to. It is not so hard to understand.
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