Late Tuesday night my cell phone rang. It was the court evangelical I last spoke with in May. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
MS: Rev! To what do I owe the pleasure?
CE: You have a minute? We got to talk.
MS: Sure. Do you mind if I record this?
CE: Knock yourself out.
MS: OK then. What's up?
CE: So for the past few weeks I've been preaching on "The Good News versus the Fake News." You know, how the Gospel is the best way to defeat all this fake news about the President?
MS: Cute. But I thought Fox News was pretty good at it.
CE: Well yeah. But the Gospel is even better. Or so I thought.
MS: You're having second thoughts?
CE: The thing is, these convictions and guilty pleas and indictments aren't fake news. Even Fox is reporting them. And I'm starting to feel like it's no longer possible to treat Trump like a useful idiot, a corrupt vessel filled with saving waters.
MS: Why not?
CE: It's the greed, son. It's corrupting everything. Look at Paul Manafort and his $15,000 ostrich coat, guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud. Or tax fraudster Michael Cohen and the $30,000 profit he failed to report from the sale of a handbag. A handbag! And then we've got Congressman Chris Collins, a certified Trump lover, indicted for insider trading. And Congressman Duncan Hunter, another certified Trump lover, indicted for using campaign funds to pay for fancy vacations and other personal expenses.
MS: What about Tom Price and his charter flights? Ben Carson and his $31,000 dining set? The Mnuchins and their dollar bill photo? Scott Pruitt and his vacation trips, housing arrangements, etc. etc.? And you just noticed that "Greed is Good" is back, big league?
CE: Well no, but I've reached a tipping point. I was never against wealth per se. I always figured Jesus' saying that it's harder for a rich man to get to heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle was pardonable hyperbole. Not that Jesus needs a pardon or anything. Look, I can proof-text with the best of them, but you can't read the New Testament without feeling as though, well, greed is not good.
MS: What about Paula White and the others of her ilk who go to the White House with you to heap blessings upon the Artist of the Deal?
CE: You know I've never had anything good to say about the Prosperity Gospel.
MS: So what are you going to do?
CE: For starters, I'm going to chuck my sermon plans. Next Sunday I'll be preaching on Timothy 6:10.
MS: Remind me.
CE: "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."
MS: One can hope.
CE: Remember, last time we talked, you asked if it had ever occurred to me that Trump is Antichrist?
MS: And you said it had occurred not just to you, but was all over the Internet.
CE: Right. But I've been rethinking. Trump's not Antichrist. He doesn't have the grandeur or the intelligence. He's just the demon of greed we call Mammon, the pathetic fallen angel that Milton describes in Paradise Lost:
Mammon led them on—
Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell
From Heaven: for even in Heaven his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heaven's pavement, trodden gold,
Than aught divine or holy else enjoyed
In vision beatific.
MS: Nice poem. Isn't there something in the Sermon on the Mount about him too?
CE: Yes there is: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
MS: And you're going to preach this to your congregation? About the President?
CE: I'm fixing to.
MS: Let me know how that works out.
CE: I will. So long, Prof. Thanks for listening.
MS: So long, Rev. And good luck.