(Editor’s note: Since Donald Trump's victory in last year’s election, many Christians became convinced he was chosen by God to be president even though he hardly fits their mold of a virtuous leader. In our “Hand of God” series, we take a closer look at the widespread belief that God intervenes in our nation’s political process. We profile three people who think that’s the case. And we analyze why they believe what they do, and look at the potential implications for American democracy.)
- Anne Severance: God 'heard the prayers of his people'
- Michael L. Brown: 'The only way he could have made it is with divine intervention'
- Corie Wilkins: 'God’s way of giving us a chance to repent'
Anne Severance: God 'heard the prayers of his people'
(RNS) Anne Severance believes God “heard the prayers of his people” in making Donald Trump the president-elect.
"I do believe that he (God) picked him. Because he puts people in office and he takes them out," says Severance, 80, who lives in Franklin, Tenn., and worships at the nondenominational New River Fellowship, founded by her son-in-law, Christian music star Michael W. Smith.
There's no doubt Christians helped Trump win: Majorities of Protestants, Catholics and Mormons voted for the Republican in November.
To Severance, it's “a beautiful thought — that the God of the universe would lean over from heaven and hear the cries of his people and respond that way.”
But now, she feels, it's up to them.
“We have this wonderful — we think, we consider it wonderful — opportunity to continue to live the Christian life as we’ve always lived it, but with the additional responsibility that God has placed on us now to love everybody, to draw everybody together in peace and harmony, to model him and his characteristics before a watching world — and, believe me, they’re watching.”
Severance initially was thrilled with the conservative Christians in the Republican primaries, especially Sen. Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson. Trump, she said, was "the most unlikely candidate on the stage."
When all those candidates fell by the wayside, she reminded herself of the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Severance believes God sometimes answers people’s prayers by giving them what they ask for. And sometimes he lets them make mistakes and learn from them.[ad number="1"]
“It’s little things," she says, "as well as the big things — where he intersects our lives at just the most strange and unusual moments.”
In her life, God was just as involved in bringing a young roommate to her door to help her care for her husband and then her mother when they were dying. She says God was also there when a lost stone from her diamond ring turned up behind a hamper 18 months later — or when a favorite worship song came on the radio at just the right time.
“That happens every day if we look for it," Severance says. "We get so busy that we fail to hear that still, small voice, but if we are genuine and if we seek him with all of our hearts, then he tells us we will find him. He’s there. He’s with us.”[ad number="2"]
Michael L. Brown: 'The only way he could have made it is with divine intervention'
(RNS) It took a while for Michael L. Brown to warm to Donald Trump.
The radio talk show host from Concord, N.C., wasn’t sure the Republican presidential candidate had the character or the convictions to make him a good president.
But as the race progressed, Brown began to wonder whether something more was happening.
Trump had galloped ahead of the 16 other Republican presidential hopefuls. The onslaught of negative media reports seemed to glide off of him.
And then there were Brown’s friends in the conservative Christian world who were saying he ought to give Trump another look.
“I began to think, ‘If he ends up being elected, especially in a strong way, I will have no doubt that God’s hand was in this,’” said Brown, whose weekday “Line of Fire” radio show, a mix of conservative religion and politics, airs on 32 stations nationwide and the American Family Radio.
Since Trump’s victory on Nov. 8, many prominent evangelicals have repeated the view that God intervened to give Trump a win.
Former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and WallBuilders founder David Barton even produced a chart showing the exact time (8:30 p.m.) when God flipped the outcome, causing Hillary Clinton’s fortunes to fall and Trump’s to rise.
“The Lord did this!" Bachmann said.
Brown, who describes himself as a Jewish follower of Jesus, ended up voting for Trump, whose election Brown now says looks providential.
“The odds of him becoming president were so overwhelming the only way he could have made it is with divine intervention,” said Brown, 61.
Among some evangelical supporters of Trump, many of whom recognize that the thrice-married reality TV star is not a Christian in the mold of some of his predecessors, there is a growing sense that Trump is a different kind of leader.
They have high hopes that Trump will appoint conservative Supreme Court judges, and/or reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal, but they also understand he is not one of theirs.
“We’re not looking for Donald Trump to be a savior,” said Brown. “We understand that if he’s a Christian, he’s a new Christian.”
Instead, Brown hopes Trump will provide what he called a “divine respite” on issues such as religious liberty.
‘The feeling is that he’ll listen and surround himself with good people,” said Brown. “He wants to be a friend to conservative Christians and the Christian community.”
It’s not up to the president, he said, to restore biblical values.
“When it comes to changing the hearts and minds of Americans, that’s up to the church to do,” he said. “It’s very easy for us to put expectations in an elected official beyond their capacity. It would be a real mistake to do that with Donald Trump.”[ad number="3"]
Corie Wilkins: 'God’s way of giving us a chance to repent'
(RNS) The 2016 election was Corie Wilkins' first chance to cast a vote in a national election.
He did not vote for Donald Trump. But as a lifelong Christian — Wilkins, 22, was raised a Baptist but now considers himself nondenominational — he sees the purpose and promise of God in its outcome.
"I know that God is in control," he said. "As Christians, we acknowledge that as part of our faith, as part of our walk."
But that comes with a caveat.
"I think it is grossly irresponsible," he said, "to use that to justify the election of Donald Trump from a theological perspective," as some notable Christians such as Franklin Graham, Ken Ham and Michele Bachmann have done. "God doesn't cause hardship to befall people at the hands of others," including the president.
Wilkins is originally from Chicago. He went to the University of Missouri, where he studied journalism, but is now pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Duke Divinity School, which was founded by Methodists. He thinks he'd like to become a hospital chaplain.
Divinity school, he is finding, is "a challenge," putting him in contact with people with different worldviews, different faith backgrounds and very different ways of thinking.
"Take Hitler," Wilkins said. "Do we believe we worship a God that was for the oppression and extermination of the Jews? I don’t believe so. I don’t believe God ordained the slavery of African-Americans and I don’t believe God ordained the election of Donald Trump."
Rather, Wilkins, who is African-American, believes God works with what he has. Human beings have free will. They make choices — like a president who has promised to register Muslims, build a border wall and repeal a health care bill that benefits many lower-income Americans — and those choices have consequences.
And that is where Wilkins sees evidence of God's plan. He cites Romans 8:28, "All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Then — sounding much like the preacher he may one day become — he gives an example: the crucifixion of Jesus.
Christians believe Jesus was God's only son. Yet if God is in control, why would he allow a crowd of people to persuade Pontius Pilate to torture and murder Jesus? How could he?
"It is never God’s will for us to do wrong, but we are flawed people so we do wrong," he said. "But God is still able to have his end goal achieved" — in the case of Jesus' death, the redeeming of humanity and its sins. "That is why he is God and we are not."
Where, then, does Wilkins understand God to be at work through Donald Trump?
"I believe that is a question that Christians, as a whole, are not asking," he said. Again, he sounds almost like a preacher:
Americans have long thought their country was somehow "special," blessed or even anointed by God above all other nations. But Wilkins — who took a course called Christianity, Race, and the American Nation last fall — said America's sense of its own exalted status has come at the misfortune of others — such as African slaves and Native Americans. Perhaps, he said, it is God's plan to "turn the tide" for Americans.
"I believe that maybe this was in God’s divine plan," he said. "This is potentially God’s way of giving us a chance to repent for all the wrong we have done in the world. Maybe God is giving us a chance to draw closer to him because in my life fewer things have brought me closer to God than hardship."