Yesterday, Religion News Service published a 2017 retrospective on the Trump clergy. These are the ministers who I have called the “court evangelicals.” Glad that some of my work over the year has been highlighted in the piece.
Here is a taste:
When someone like Robert Jeffress or Jerry Falwell Jr. says ‘This is the most faith-friendly president we’ve ever had,’ in some ways they’re right,” said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. “No other group of evangelical pastors has had such access.”
And unlike the business advisory councils that disbanded over the president’s response to violence by white supremacists last month in Charlottesville, Va., the evangelicals are still standing by him.
What is beyond doubt is that the access evangelicals are getting to Trump and his advisers has been a dream come true.
Since the late 1970s, conservative evangelicals have wanted to influence the direction of the country through politics. Groups such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition were set up to accomplish just this.
The idea was to get Christians elected to every level of government, from school boards to statehouses. At the same time, leaders such as Reed and Jerry Falwell Sr. never hid their desire to bring change through the election of a president who could elevate and enshrine conservative Christian values on issues such as school prayer, abortion, marriage and gay rights.
Fea, the Messiah College historian, calls this “the playbook,” and he says it’s as operative today as it was 40 years ago.
Of course, modern presidents before Trump have surrounded themselves with people who prayed with them or provided them spiritual guidance.
George W. Bush notably created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The office, located on Jackson Place near the White House, allowed for federally funded partnerships between the government and faith-based groups for the delivery of social services, such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation or after-school programs.
Just why Trump keeps soliciting these evangelical advisers is probably a political calculation, said Fea.
“Donald Trump knows that he can ride these evangelicals,” the historian said. “He needs this as part of his base. I still can’t believe that at some deep level of spiritual or moral conviction he believes what these evangelical pastors believe. I think it’s utilitarian: ‘Let’s keep these people close.’”
Read the entire piece here.
Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump will be out with Eerdmans in the late Spring. At the moment, Chapter Two is titled “The Playbook.” Chapter Three is titled “The Court Evangelicals.” Stay tuned. I sent the full manuscript to Eerdmans last night!