Moral Majority Veteran Cal Thomas on the Prosperity Preacher Who Just Joined Trump’s White House

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Here is what I wrote about Cal Thomas in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

When Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Moral Majority in 1979 –in his attempt to clean up and win back America–journalist Cal Thomas and evangelical pastor Ed Dobson were two of the Moral Majority’s most important staff members.  Thomas put his journalism career on hold to join Falwell in Lynchburg as the Moral Majority’s vice president for communications.  Dobson, a professor at Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College (later to become Liberty University), served as a tireless promoter of the organization from his position as a member of the board.  During the 1980s, those two were influential in shaping the direction of the Moral Majority.  They believed in Falwell’s vision completely and served the cause with passion and zeal.

But in 1999, Dobson and Thomas reflected soberly on their experience with Falwell and the Moral Majority in their book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?  They concluded that the answer to the subtitle’s question was a definitive “no.”  Neither Dobson nor Thomas left evangelicalism or ceased their commitment to conservative causes; but they were forced to admit that the political strategy they helped to forge in the 1980s had failed.  Despite their efforts, Roe v. Wade had not been overturned.  The Internet had made pornography more accessible than ever.  Drug use had not subsided, and crime had not dissipated in any significant way.  In the process, the prophetic witness of the evangelical church was subordinated to political power and all its trappings.  As Cal Thomas put it, in a reference to Palm Sunday, “Who wanted to ride into the capital on the back of an ass when one could go first class in a private jet and be picked up and driven around in a chauffeured limousine?

Thomas, who parlayed his Moral Majority fame into a nationally syndicated newspaper column, did not mince words when he disparaged the evangelical pursuit of political power, “Christian faith is about truth,” he tells his readers, and “whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.”  Through his years with Falwell, Thomas learned ho power is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.”  It is not only seductive, but also affects the judgment of the one who “takes it.”  Thomas warned his evangelical readers how the chase for political power threatens the spread of the gospel.  He quoted the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen: “The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the gospel is the greatest temptation of all.”  Thomas pointed to the myriad ways in which the Moral Majority–and the Christian Right agenda that is spawned–played to the fears of white evangelicals.  For example, Moral Majority fundraising letters always followed a basic formula: “First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general.  Second the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or to impose their morality on the rest of the country.  Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done…. Fourth, to get this job done, please send money.”  Thomas completely rejected the court evangelical notion that Christians need to have a “seat at the table.”  “Access” to political power, he argued, required compromise of “cherished and deeply held convictions.”  He added: “Religious leaders who seek favor with the king run the risk of refusing to speak truth to power out of fear that they won’t be invited back.”  

These are strong words.  Thomas offers a cautionary tale to today’s court evangelicals based on their own extensive experience in the king’s court.  (Of course this did not prevent Thomas from endorsing Donald Trump).  In his recent column he criticizes the selection of prosperity preacher Paula White as Trump’s new director of faith-based outreach.  Here is a taste:

As far as I can tell from a reading of history, while some presidents were friends of clergy, who sometimes advised them, to my knowledge, none hired them as staff members until the presidency of Richard Nixon. It was during Nixon’s administration that Charles Colson began mobilizing the evangelical community to support the president’s policies and programs, seeing evangelicals as just another special interest group, like organized labor has been for Democrats.

After his conversion and after serving time in prison for crimes related to the Watergate scandal, Colson told historian Kevin Kruse, as recounted in The Washington Post, “Sure, we used the prayer breakfasts and church services and all that for political ends. One of my jobs in the White House was to romance religious leaders. We would bring them into the White House, and they would be dazzled by the aura of the Oval Office, and I found them to be about the most pliable of any of the special interest groups that we worked with.”

The latest spiritual adviser to the president is TV evangelist Paula White-Cain. For 18 years she has claimed to have President Trump’s ear on religious matters, but while his policies closely align with evangelical concerns, there is little evidence her “advice” has had any effect on his personal behavior.

Ms. White-Cain is unlikely to serve the role Nathan the prophet filled when he confronted King David over his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, bringing David to repentance and one of the great statements about placing faith in political leaders: “Put not your trust in princes … in whom there is no help.” (Psalm 146:3)

Read the rest here.