(RNS) — This week, President Trump took on two new titles, one bestowed upon him, and the other self-proclaimed.
First, in a series of tweets, the president quoted Wayne Allyn Root, a noted conspiracy theorist and Messianic Jew, who said that “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the History of the world,” and “The Jewish People love him like the King of Israel."
If being named king was not enough, the president would go on to state later that day at an impromptu press availability with the media that he was “the Chosen One” to take on China.
To use a Yiddish term, oy vey, indeed.
For Christians, and for Jews as well, Trump's self-aggrandizement with these two titles is very problematic.
First, the last king of the Israelite Kingdom was Hoshea, who may have ruled from around 732 BCE to 723 BCE.
Second, to speak of a king or Messiah-type figure for Jews is problematic, since some Jews think that the Messiah has yet to come. For Christians, Jesus is the “Chosen One” or Messiah, and sometimes, the title of “Chosen One” is an Apocalyptic term to describe when Satan will return to the Earth.
You can see the problem. The president’s self-congratulatory moments resulted in real consternation for both atheists and believers alike. Trump’s words and actions reminded some of the "Left Behind" series or an older version of Rapture movies like “A Thief in the Night.” But these kinds of titles and appellations have a bigger issue, and one worth noting.
Trump’s two announcements this week reveal why some evangelicals see him as “God’s Chosen One" — a King Cyrus-like figure, anointed by God to save America from cultural collapse. That claim was made in books and even a feature film about a so-called Trump Prophecy. Some charismatic Christian followers of Trump even created a coin with images of Trump and Cyrus on it to use during their prayers.
There have been a series of paintings of Trump as a kind of redeemer figure by John McNaughton. Others depict Trump being hugged by Jesus, or signing bills at the resolute desk with Jesus standing behind him. These images, for some evangelicals, are fan images of the hopes and the realities they believe President Trump’s election has wrought.
Trump’s declaration, however, of being the Chosen One and his enthusiastic reception of “King of Israel” may end up backfiring on him. For one thing, some Christians would consider using the phrase “the Chosen One” very much like blasphemy. Some evangelicals were dismayed, comparing Trump to Herod Agrippa in Acts chapter 12, who was called God. Herod, of course, accepted that accolade, and it did not end well for him.
Others, especially those who are Dominionist, would be pleased that President Trump is finally being recognized for who they really believe that he is. Some evangelicals have spent a great deal of time since 2016 extolling Trump in this manner. So it is no surprise that he is accepting these accolades.
Meanwhile, Trump’s acceptance of being “the King of Israel” may just sound strange to ears not attuned to some quarters of Christian belief. But for those quarters of Christianity who believe in end-time prophecies and other beliefs about famous men, it is a sobering moment.
For some evangelicals, thinking of Trump as “King of the Jews” means that because he is the protector of Israel, Jews are that much closer to becoming “saved” and converted to Christianity. For Dominionist groups, some of which are already in Israel waiting for the “last days," Trump’s embrace of this statement is further confirmation that he is God’s man in the last days, who will help to bring Christ back to Earth.
Based on the 2009 book by Sharlet, the series covers the activity of The Family and C Street, which courted many politicians and holds the National Prayer Breakfast each year. Sharlet’s first article about this group, entitled "Jesus Plus Nothing," is an excellent way to understand what may be behind Trump’s statements.
For the Family, any man chosen for leadership positions is chosen by God, no matter what his personal faith life or beliefs may be. In their theology, God can use any male leader to achieve God’s purpose. To put it one way, Jesus cares more for the wolf than the sheep. A strong man can make things happen.
A strong man is God’s man, no matter what sins he may or may not have committed.
This may be sobering, but in fact, hearing Trump call himself the Chosen One is the upshot of what some Christians believe to be the role of political leadership.
Trump’s declarations are not so far off, not only from his churchgoing days of Norman Vincent Peale and positive thinking; it is also a pastiche of certain kinds of evangelical and End Time beliefs that are merging together along with conspiracy theories to empower his presidency with the evangelicals that back him.
Whether it is blasphemous or a unique election strategy, we may be hearing Trump make these kinds of statements throughout the 2020 campaign cycle.
(Anthea Butler is associate professor of religion and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)