The Chief Court Evangelical Weighs In on Impeachment

Last Friday The Washington Post published my piece titled “How evangelical leaders surrounded Clinton during the last presidential impeachment process.”  In that piece I wrote:

In his memoir, Clinton specifically mentions Campolo and MacDonald as two of three pastors he asked to counsel him for at least once a month for an indefinite period. (The third pastor was Philip Wogaman, a Methodist.)

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Yesterday on Fox and Friends, we saw one of Trump’s court evangelicals, Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, make me look like a prophet.  Watch:

As we all know by now, Trump was watching Jeffress on Fox News and decided to take the pastor’s counsel and run with it on his Twitter account:

Trump has learned a lot from his court evangelical counselors.  Perhaps most importantly, he learned how to fight a more aggressive culture war.

Jeffress remarks deserve a bit more analysis.  Some thoughts:

  1.  Jeffress seems to be making his pro-Trump political position the only conduit through which God hears our prayers.
  2. Jeffress says that Nancy Pelosi’s call to pray for the nation “reminds me of a pyromaniac with a match in hand about to set fire to a building saying ‘please pray with me, but the damage I’m about to cause isn’t too severe’. If you’re really sincere about that prayer then put down the dang match.” Of course Jeffress is incapable of seeing how he has been the “pyromaniac” of pyromaniacs since Trump announced his candidacy.  His divisive rhetoric has contributed to the fire raging in our nation and the church.
  3. Jeffress is angry and passionate.  He often behaves this way when he gets on his political high horse for Fox News.  This, after all, is why they pay him to go on television.  I imagine that Jeffress thinks he is exhibiting righteous anger.  But all I see is a deeply bitter and fearful man who has allowed politics to transform him and his character.
  4. Jeffress says that this week he has been traveling around the country speaking to “literally thousands and thousands” of evangelical Christians. “I have never seen them more angry over any issue,” he says ‘than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 election, and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.”  First, if Jeffress is correct when he says he has never seen evangelicals more angry over “any other issue,” then what does this say about American evangelicals or the kinds of evangelicals he hangs out with?  Heck, Trump separated parents and kids at the border! Or lets take one of Jeffress’s favorites: babies are being aborted in the womb.  Are these cases not worthy of more evangelical anger than an impeachment?  Second, there is no way that Jeffress would be able to solicit the beliefs of thousands and thousands of evangelicals in a week of travel.  Having said that, he is probably right to suggest thousands upon thousands of evangelicals are upset (see my previous point).  Third, impeachment is in the United States Constitution.  It is not an “illegitimate” way of removing the president from office.  Fourth, the United States House of Representatives, the congressional body responsible for impeachment, is made up of men and women who were elected by the people.  In the 2018 midterm elections, the people of the United States gave the Democratic Party a majority in the House.  There is no illegitimacy here.  Congress is a co-equal branch of government woth the power to impeach.
  5. Jeffress says “the only impeachable offense” Trump committed was “beating Hillary Clinton” in 2016. Notice how Jeffress tries to rile-up the base here with his slick and deliberately vague talking points.  This is fear-mongering 101.  At no point in this interview does Jeffress come face-to-face with the reality of what Trump did on that phone call with the president of Ukraine.
  6. And then the punch-line: “If the Democrats are successful at removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”  First, this is the kind of appeal to fear that I wrote about extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Second, as historian Kevin Kruse has already pointed out, “Trump can only be removed through impeachment if two-thirds of the Senate votes to remove him. To do that, 20 Republicans would need to join the 45 Democrats and 2 Independents. Removal would be bipartisan. Framing it as some kind of civil war isn’t just dangerous. It’s dumb.”  Third, I want to encourage history teachers to debate Jeffress’s Civil War comment in their classrooms.  Jeffress seems to forget that the United States had a real Civil War in which over 700,000 lives were lost.  Did we heal?  Well, that’s up for debate.  The United States still exists.  So I guess some healing took place.  On the other hand, the racial backlash that came with this largely white “healing” process is still with us today.  In fact, Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Church of Dallas is partially responsible for why the open wounds of race and slavery still need more healing.
  7. Jeffress says that evangelical Christians need to “act” by calling their representatives and telling them to support Trump.  He quotes Daniel 11:32: “The people who know their God will stand firm and take action.”  This verse is part of a larger passage in the Old Testament book of Daniel that mentions Jews standing up for the “holy covenant” between God and Israel after a Syrian invasion.  These Jews stood firm and took action to defend this covenant.  By invoking this verse in this context, Jeffress is once again implying that evangelical Christians, like the Jews before them, need to stand up and defend their chosen status.  We can trace this “New Israel” language back to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first group in America to claim to have an exceptional or covenantal relationship with God.  Jeffress is engaging in Christian nationalism here.  The Bible does not teach any kind of special relationship or “covenant” between God and the United States of America.

Expect more of this from the court evangelicals in the days, weeks, and months to come.