How Eric Metaxas went from Trump despiser to true believer

How a onetime aspiring public intellectual and Trump doubter turned into a true believer in stolen elections.

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, Dec. 3, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(RNS) — For Eric Metaxas, a prominent evangelical public intellectual and Christian radio host, knowing that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is like believing in Jesus.

He just knows in his heart that it is true.

During a prayer call with evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump on Tuesday night (Dec. 2), Metaxas said that God is on Trump’s side in the fight against a “stolen” election.

“It’s like somebody saying, ‘Oh, you don’t have enough evidence to believe in Jesus.’ We have enough evidence in our hearts. We know him and the enemy is trying harder than anything we have seen in our lives to get us to roll over, to forget about it.”

Once a Trump doubter, Metaxas has become one of the most devout Trump followers. “I’d be happy to die in this fight,” Metaxas told Trump earlier this week, during a call with the president broadcast on his show. “This is a fight for everything. God is with us.”

In recent days, Metaxas has become a chief evangelist for conspiracy theories about the 2020 election on his daily radio show and social media feeds — assuring his audience that Trump will triumph because Jesus is on the president’s side. 

Eric Metaxas speaks during his radio show, on May 26, 2020. Video screengrab

This turn has shocked many of Metaxas’ fellow Christians who know him as an ambitious public intellectual, a graduate of Yale University whose 2011 biography of anti-Nazi activist-priest Dietrich Bonhoeffer earned praise from former President George W. Bush and an invitation to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast with then-President Barack Obama.

For many years, Metaxas was known outside of evangelicalism as the founder of a program called “Socrates in the City,” in which he interviewed writers and thinkers such as Richard John Neuhaus, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Malcolm Gladwell, N.T. Wright and Caroline Kennedy onstage in New York.

Paul Glader, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who now serves as executive editor of Religion Unplugged, said that he got to know Metaxas when he became a fellow at King’s College in New York, where Glader teaches journalism. At the time, he admired Metaxas.

“Early on,” he said, “I respected the fact that he was a young, public intellectual, trying to talk about the role of faith in public life.”

Glader recalled a conversation with Metaxas at a dinner, where Metaxas talked about his frustrations with the state of his career.

Metaxas, Glader said, told him he wanted to become a Dick Cavett-like television host but could not get the attention of any TV networks. “He secretly wants to have his own show on Fox,” said Glader.

President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, on Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Phil Vischer, creator of the Christian cartoon series “VeggieTales,”  once employed Metaxas as a writer and has known him for years. 

“At some point,” he told Religion News Service in an email, “Eric went from idolizing people like Os Guinness to idolizing Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson — right wing political firebrands who live to ‘own the libs.’ I think there’s an adrenaline rush or dopamine hit from engaging in full-fledged culture wars that otherwise thoughtful souls on both sides of the political spectrum can find intoxicating. For some, life is worth living only when ‘the soul of America’ is at stake. So the soul of America is ALWAYS at stake.”

Former friend Glader said he and Metaxas had a falling-out earlier this year, after an incident where Metaxas punched a protester in D.C. after Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention. Glader was the first to confirm that Metaxas admitted punching the protester.

“To me, all of this is kind of sad,” Glader said. 

Belmont University professor David Dark, who has appeared on Metaxas’ radio show in the past, said that Metaxas may be influenced by the financial opportunity of the Trump cause. You can make a living appealing to an evangelical Christian audience, Dark said, but only if you give them what they want — in this case, support for Trump.

“I think that the market he has appealed to has gotten narrower and narrower,” he said.

On the other hand, Metaxas has always had a culture warrior streak in him. In a 2016 interview, he admitted to once despising Trump but then later seeing him as a strong candidate who could oppose those who would destroy America, including then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“This is for the survival of the nation,” he said.

Author and speaker David French said that Metaxas evolved from a grudging support of Trump as the lesser of two evils into an embrace of Trump as a kind of savior figure for America. 

French, a Never Trumper who considered a presidential run in 2016,  noted that some Trump supporters say one thing when the cameras are rolling and another thing when the cameras are off. That’s not Metaxas, he said, calling him “a true believer,” however much his beliefs are based on nonexistent claims.

“The idea that Donald Trump is instrumental to the existence of the United States,” said French, “that Joe Biden — Joe Biden — is the destroyer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of the Apocalypse. But that is where we are.”

Eric Metaxas speaks at Judson University on Sept. 26, 2018, in Elgin, Illinois, near Chicago. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

Some fellow evangelical Christians, such as author and professor Karen Swallow Prior, have asked Metaxas to mend his ways, especially for his social media posts and radio interviews, including one with a conservative columnist who ridiculed author Rod Dreher, a Metaxas friend, and other Christians who don’t support Trump.

“Eric, you’re hurting real people, some of them your friends,” Swallow Prior said in a tweet. “It’s not clear whether you don’t realize that or don’t care. It’s a fair question. We care about you.”

Metaxas, however, has never shown himself as one who feels compelled to respond to criticism. Especially when he feels he has heard directly from God on the matter. 

A Greek Orthodox in his youth, he became an evangelical in his 20s and has since believed in personal revelation and signs from God. In a conversion story he recounted in Christianity Today magazine and in “Fish Out of Water,” an autobiography about faith due out in February, he tells of seeing a golden Jesus fish in a dream. 

In the autobiography, Metaxas also lists a whole series of miracles and messages from God — including one from a turtle in Central Park ­— on topics from 9/11 to his rise from obscurity to fame.

At Tuesday night’s prayer meeting, Metaxas, repeating claims that God will intervene in the 2020 election, warned other leaders not to believe what they see with their eyes or with their “natural” self but to trust in the supernatural. He described the controversy over the election as a walk of faith, one in which Jesus will prevail — and his nemeses in the church and the media would not.

“I want to encourage people that we must not give in to the lies, to the half-truths,” he told fellow believers on the call. “What I am hearing everywhere — and again, Fox News is just horrible. These people don’t have a modicum of faith, much less a desire to see justice.”

(This story has been updated.)

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