As we have discussed a few times already here at the blog, Trump will be speaking at a big “Evangelicals for Trump” rally later today in Miami. The event will take place at the King Jesus Ministry Church, evangelical megachurch. A few things are worth noting about this church:
- The King Jesus Ministry Church fits squarely within the Prosperity Gospel branch of American Christianity. These Christians teach God always blessing his faithful followers with financial wealth and physical health. Trump staffer and prominent court evangelical Paula White, the woman who claims she led Trump through a born-again experience, is the most important pro-Trump player in this movement. As I chronicled in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, the president’s support among the prosperity gospelers is strong. The pastor, Guillermo Maldonado, is from Honduras. He calls himself “The Apostle.” His wife, Ana Maldonado, is known as “The Prophetess.” Together, they run the University of the Supernatural Ministry,
- The King Jesus Ministry Church is also a Hispanic evangelical megachurch. Many members of the congregation are undocumented immigrants, or, to use the language of the court evangelicals, “illegals.” Most of the evangelical leaders who will attend this event believe these undocumented workers need to be deported. Donald Trump also believes that they should be deported. Many of those in attendance at today’s rally cannot even vote. As we have already seen, some of these church members fear that if they come to the rally they will be deported. So let’s remember that two of Trump’s signature issues–the courting of evangelicals and immigration–will be at odds tonight. (Some of you may recall Paula White’s attempt to use Romans 13 to justify the separation of children from their families at the Mexican border).
- I don’t know how the program will unfold, but if the rally looks anything like a Pentecostal church service there is bound to be some awkwardness. Many of the court evangelicals–including Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas–have serious theological disagreements with Pentecostal theology and worship. And, of course, Trump never looks comfortable in these settings. Let’s see how this unfolds.
- An atheist group is not happy about this event. This group wants the IRS to commence an immediate investigation into King Jesus Ministry for violating the clause in the tax code prohibiting 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in and/or intervening in a political campaign. It certainly seems like this group has a point. If Pastor Maldonado is promoting Trump from the pulpit and using his authority to urge his people to attend a political rally at the church he may be in violation of the so-called Johnson Amendment. Trump and many of his evangelical supports think that the president brought an end to the Johnson Amendment through executive order in May 2017 (Maldonado was present for the event). This is not true. The clause forbidding churches (and other organizations with tax exempt status) from endorsing political candidates is still on the books. It can only be changed by Congress. I can’t think of a more blatant violation of the Johnson Amendment than a pastor urging his congregation to attend a political rally. I doubt anything will come of this, but it is worth noting.