Opinion

The evangelical courtiers who kneel before the president’s feet

President Trump, flanked by evangelical leaders Paula White, right, and Jack Graham, in blue suit, speaks during the National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Barria

(RNS) According to Merriam-Webster, a “court” is “a sovereign’s formal assembly of councilors and officers.” A court is made up of “courtiers,” which the dictionary defines as “one in attendance at a royal court” or “one who practices flattery.”

We can debate whether to call Donald Trump’s circle of advisers a court, but the president of the United States certainly has his fair share of courtiers. Many of them are evangelical Christian leaders. These Court Evangelicals have sacrificed the prophetic voice of their Christian faith for a place of power and influence in the current administration.

The Court Evangelicals were on full display last week in the White House. On the eve of the National Day of Prayer, these Christian leaders dined with Trump and received an insider tour of the second floor of the White House. The Christian Post reported that Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory team, told his congregation the Court Evangelicals were “reduced to being like little children” when Trump took them into the Lincoln bedroom. Evangelicals used to save phrases like that for their encounters with God during worship.

The following day, many of the Court Evangelicals were in attendance as Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty. The order was little more than a symbolic gesture meant to appease evangelicals and secure their support.

Trump’s executive order did not end the so-called Johnson Amendment, a clause in the tax code that forbids churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This is because the president does not have the authority to change the tax code. That job belongs to Congress.

Moreover, Trump’s executive order did not secure religious liberty for Christian institutions in jeopardy of losing federal funds for upholding conservative positions on reproductive rights and marriage.

A lot of evangelicals voted for Trump because he said he would deliver on these religious liberty issues. On the day the executive order was released, Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism, ran an article on its website titled “Trump’s Religious Liberty Order Doesn’t Answer Most Evangelicals’ Prayers.”

Christianity Today was not alone in its critique. A National Review columnist said the executive order was “worse than useless.” One blogger wrote that conservatives were groaning and the ACLU was snickering. A Princeton University professor tweeted: “the executive order is meaningless.”


READ: Trump’s religious liberty order slammed as ‘pretty much nothing’


The Court Evangelicals were not fazed by these criticisms. Like all good courtiers, they remained loyal. They took to Fox News and other conservative news outlets to inform their constituents of all that was accomplished by one stroke of the president’s pen. Their defense of Trump’s executive order was just as strong as their defense of Trump in the wake of the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape.

Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of Liberty University, praised the order and declared “evangelicals have found their dream president.”

Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church, claimed the executive order “ended the 60-year war on religious liberty.” He then declared, “without hesitation,” that Donald Trump “is the most faith-friendly president in U.S. history.”

Who are the Court Evangelicals and what do they believe? They are American born-again Christians who think it is a good idea for ministers to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. They have bowed a knee to political power as a means of furthering their agenda to make America a Christian nation. And they show up at the White House whenever Trump wants to say something about religion.

The Court Evangelicals have put their faith in a political strongman who promises to alleviate all their fears and protect them from perceived forces of secularization. In addition to Jeffress, Laurie and Falwell, they include:

Paula White: A televangelist, prosperity preacher, and pastor of the New Destiny Christian Center near Orlando, Fla. White claims to have led Trump to Christ.

James Dobson: The former leader of the evangelical ministry Focus on the Family. He is also the guy who, in 1998, said that Bill Clinton should be removed from office because he lacked moral character.

Mark Burns: The African-American televangelist and pastor of the Harvest Praise & Worship Center in South Carolina. In a prayer at the GOP convention last summer, Burns asked God to defeat the “liberal Democratic Party” and thanked the Lord that the Republican Party was the “conservative party under God.”

Franklin Graham: The North Carolina evangelist who declared that “God allowed Donald Trump to win” the 2016 election.

Eric Metaxas: The popular Christian biographer and radio host. He has defended Bill O’Reilly and was seen yucking it up at the executive order ceremony with Mike Pence and Franklin Graham.

For now, the Court Evangelicals seem to be enjoying their privileged position in the White House. Trump has convinced them that he cares about their concerns. Maybe he really does. Or maybe he is very good at saying the kinds of things that will keep them loyal. Whatever the case, don’t expect the Court Evangelicals to speak truth to power anytime soon.

(John Fea chairs the History Department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He blogs daily at www.thewayofimprovement.com and you can follow him on Twitter @johnfea1)

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John Fea

26 Comments

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  • When you hate on Trump, it’s only natural to hate on the evangelicals who don’t hate on Trump.

  • To rework a comment on the news tonight, at some point they will have to put God and America before Trump.

  • Of those listed, the only one I do not take at all seriously is Paula White. The others are legitimate commentators on the subject of Christian spirituality.

  • Just prior to the event, Washington D.C. Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal DiNardo, the elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, met with Trump about the order.

    In the May 4 ceremony, Trump decried the “attacks against the Little Sisters of the Poor” before signing his executive order on “religious freedom.” He invited the nuns present to stand beside him, and shook the hands of two of them. Pope Francis had met with the Little Sisters of the Poor while in the U.S. in support of their lawsuit.

    “My first foreign trip as President of the United States will be to Saudi Arabia, and then Israel, and then to a place that MY CARDINALS love very much — Rome,” the president said, gesturing as he spoke towards Wuerl and DiNardo.
    “We had an opportunity to thank him first of all, for this executive order on religious liberty which is so important,” Cardinal Wuerl said of the meeting. Wuerl said that the president “was also very, very, I thought, focused on this trip he’s going to take that will include a visit to the Vatican. So it was a very good meeting.”
    DiNardo said the meeting with the president was brief but productive. He stressed that in recent years, “people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding.”

  • Trump obviously has a hate on for any truth that he doesn’t agree with or doesn’t want exposed, and for anyone presenting or looking for that truth.

    The present POTUS, with his bigotry, immaturity, and falsehoods, is a shameful embarrassment to America. Unfortunately his second in command is worse in many ways.

  • Its a parade of people whose opinions I have zero respect for.

    James Dobson is a former hate group leader. Focus on the Family’s goal was to attack civil liberties of gays and minority religions.

    Eric Metaxas is a serial revisionist who pushes an anti-democracy agenda

    Franklin Graham’s misdeeds are well reported here. I find his chicanery with the Samartian’s Purse charity enough to think poorly of this nepotistic nabob.

  • “Like all good courtiers, they remained loyal.” Do you suppose they had to give a loyalty oath too?

  • I’ve been wondering: if Trump were to propose a, say, tracking device for every America, inserted in the forehead or right hand, would evangelicals support it or see it as the Mark of the Beast?

  • Nope. They would be making excuses for it and claiming Hillary Clinton or Obama did something similar.

  • Are you sure that Mr. Fea doesn’t work for Time Magazine? This vapid propaganda piece is nothing but snarky comments strung together. That is not to say that a truly thoughtful, balanced discussion of the basic issue of the President’s relations with evangelicals would not be appropriate. This ain’t it.
    It’s clearly just another anti-Trump piece from the left, with no depth of thought in evidence.

  • There are no anti trump pieces from evangelicals. PResident Grabby is just beyond criticism from the values crowd.

  • I agree with you, this piece was big on innuendo, but fell short on facts. I would be in awe if the President of the United States invited me to tour an area of the White House few people get to see. The Clintons let their snarky, slimy friends use the Lincoln bed room (for a fee). Bill Clinton conducted his ilicit affairs in the Oval Office. No matter what the democrats do, they get a pass, but Trump always seems to get it wrong. And anyone who shows any respect for him is painted with the same brush.

    I happen to agree with with Franklin Graham, God did allow Donald Trump to win the Presidency, just like He allowed Obama the 8 years in office he had. Something had to bring the American people to their knees and cry for mercy for this country. If He had allowed a Clinton win, I don’t think we would recognize America in as little as 4 years. We’d be looking exactly like Venezuela. It’s probably exactly what we deserve, and I thank God we didn’t get it.

  • Some reality for Trump and his minions:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2017: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  • Real Christians, those who actually follow the teachings of Jesus not the blatherings of the money grubbing TV preachers, need to separate themselves and form a new umbrella “christian” organization I suggest they call themselves the New Testament Christians (NTC’s) who completely dump the Old Testament and just focus on what Jesus said and did during his lifetime, period. Until that happens, YOU christians, all christians, own this right wing sh!tstorm and the president who leads you using your faith.

  • How about this as a slogan:

    the Old Testament is for YOU. The New Testament is for ME.

  • With such delusional thinking you should seek professional medical assistance immediately. You are showing symptoms of a stroke or brain aneurysm with your use and abuse of False Equivalency.

  • “We’d be looking exactly like Venezuela”

    Let’s see we have:
    – obvious corruption, nepotism and influence peddling by the leadership.

    – complete disdain for an independent judiciary

    – complete disdain for a free press

    – use of autocratic language.

    -lack of respect the democratic institutions

    -use of bigotry and alarmist hysteria to attack classes of people.

    -dismantling of protections and infrastructure meant to benefit the entire nation for the sake of enriching political cronies.

    Yep, Trump and conservatives are trying to turn the US into a third world craphole. Just like Venezuela. Why do you hate America so much?

  • Evangelicals finally revealed what kind of self interested vapid hypocrites they really are. Evangelicals supported an immoral valueless man for president because they hope to gain access to power. Trump only cared about their votes.

    The worst anti trump stories amount to merely repeating what comes out of his mouth or from his supporters. Claiming media bias won’t polish the turd of our current leader and the cretins supporting him.

  • I can see you did your homework, Spuddie. Should have studied longer.

    1. Obvious corruption? There’s no proof that’s true. Nepotism? There’s a long history of presidential relatives serving in appointed or unofficial office. Two come to my mind. Robert Kennedy was appointed Atty General by his brother. Hilary Clinton was appointed to lead healthcare reform. A brother and a wife, come on now! Influence peddling? Where’s the proof.

    2. Funny how Trump, whom you say had complete distain for the judiciary managed to get one of the best of the best appointed to the Supreme Court.

    3. The free press has been so corrupted, they are “free” to make up and say whatever they want–no fact checking, no sources, etc. and half of America is fed up with them.

    The rest of your statements have no basis in reality.

    I don’t hate America, I love her and I hate what’s been done to her during the Obama years. Hope Trump can undo some of the harm that’s been done. This nation is a mess, and the constitution has been trampled for too long.

  • 1. On what planet is giving government positions to your son in law and major campaign contributors not patronage and nepotism? Congress updated the anti-nepotism law specifically because of RFK’s appointment as Attorney General. Hillary Clinton also was never president.

    Nor can your “she did it too” example come close to the level of corrupt patronage by Cheeto. What qualifications did Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, or Rex Tllerson have to cabinet positions? They wrote big checks to Trump.

    “Hillary did it” or “Obama did it” is not an excuse because there is no evidence that any of it ever comes close to the scale and brazen actions of Trump/

    2. Your opinion on Gorsuch has yet to be borne out. Of course it was Trump’s pick because a Republican Congress decided it wasn’t going to do its sworn duty as servants of the American people. Trump’s statements about the courts are there for people to see. You have not rebutted nor made them any more acceptable.

    3. Repeating Trump’s attack on the press doesn’t make any of it true. Attacking the press is the first step dictators take towards control of information. There are enough media sources out there and fact checking that your statement reeks of self serving BS

    You have no cogent rebuttal to the rest of my statements.

    You support people who outright state they want to undermine free elections, attack the free press, show a disdain for rule of law, destroy the middle class and attack the public interests to enrich political cronies. That is some heavy duty hostility to Americans right there.

    The problem you Trumpies have is that you are trying to normalize extreme ridiculous behavior which you would never accept by others. Your dishonest hypocrisy is so damn obvious to everyone.

    For people who voted for Cheeto as being allegedly different from all other politicians, why is the typical knee jerk reaction to criticism that he did the same thing as them?

  • Like Esau, they have sold their birthright of proclaiming the truth in God’s name for a bowl of red bean soup in order to cozy up as courtiers.

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