OPINION | God, glory and politics: Did the Lord send Donald Trump?

Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks at a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon on Friday, October 16, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks at a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon on Friday, October 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“In God We Trust” is an American theological bedrock. It’s so important that it’s on our money. And arguing over whom God trusts to occupy our elective offices is as old as the political operative.

Both sides in the Civil War absolutely knew that God was on their side. Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, noted: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.”

Last week, at a rally for President Donald Trump in Macon, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., appropriated God to his cause. Now, most everyone missed it because he said it the same day he was mocking vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ name.

As to the Creator’s intentions, Perdue said: “This guy is providential. He didn’t happen by accident. How in the world, in our political system, could Donald J. Trump come on the scene in 2016 and do what he did? Tell me. God’s watching. He’s watching what we’re going to do right now. What’s at stake is this, and I mean this: It’s our time to stand up to the socialist movement that for the last 100 years has been trying to take over our beloved America.”

What Perdue (who is in a tight race with Democrat Jon Ossoff) said is nothing new. Trump supporters, especially evangelicals, have long claimed the Hand of God in presidential politics.

For years, images of the Lord hovering over Trump’s shoulder have been common on social media. This is usually a sturdy Christian Christ, not a scrawny, itinerant Jewish Jesus. The latter version would be Jon Ossoff’s, who is Jewish himself — a fact that the Perdue campaign was accused of exploiting with a digital ad portraying the Dem with an enlarged nose.

Perdue’s people called it an “unintentional error” by an outside vendor who used the wrong filter.

September 2017: President Donald Trump bows his head during a prayer while surrounded by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (right), faith leaders and evangelical ministers after signing a proclamation declaring a day of prayer in the Oval Office of the White House.
September 2017: President Donald Trump bows his head during a prayer while surrounded by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (right), faith leaders and evangelical ministers after signing a proclamation declaring a day of prayer in the Oval Office of the White House.

Credit: Andrew Harrer

Credit: Andrew Harrer

Tying Trump to God (or visa versa) has been fairly common since the 2016 campaign. Why else back a ruthless, womanizing, prevaricating businessman from New York City unless he was God’s ruthless, womanizing, prevaricating businessman from New York City.

Perhaps God sent this once-in-a-lifetime candidate to do his work. Or maybe God merely sent the Democrats a flawed, eminently beatable candidate in the body of Hillary Clinton.

It’s a conundrum because the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Evangelical support of Trump remains strong. In 2016, 81% of white born-again evangelicals voted for Trump, his strongest supporters. And that came just weeks after he made some raunchy remarks about grabbing women, remarks that had Republican Party regulars running away in horror.

Most often cited as a model for this staunch support is Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who 2,500 years ago conquered Babylon and freed the Jewish people held there in captivity. Cyrus wasn’t a godly fellow, he was simply an “agent of God,” just like Trump.

Now, we Americans are not put upon or in exile as were those long-ago Jews. We have cable TV, running water, and are geographically where we want to be. So it seems Trump was sent to deliver us from abortion rights, gay marriage, high taxes and, of course, gun-grabbing liberals.

Some might call the relationship a rationalization or a Faustian bargain. Others call it Providence.

If you think a strange (but holy) sense of humor is at work if God is backing a thrice-married, former reality TV star with a mop of world-class bad hair, then you would be correct, says Ralph Reed, a political consultant who once headed the Christian Coalition.

At an Evangelicals for Trump event this summer in metro Atlanta, Reed said: “Doesn’t God have a sense of humor, that Donald Trump with his imperfect past and his personality …” (Reed paused here to let the laughs die down.) “I have news for the self-righteous and the media — God uses whoever he chooses to use and he’s not really interested in your opinion. He has a history of using the most unlikely of people to make a point that he’s in charge."

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The Rev. Benny Tate is the longtime pastor of Rock Springs Church in Milner, Georgia, 60 miles south of Atlanta. The 8,000-member church has been described as “a required stop of the Republican campaign circuit" and saw visits by presidential candidates Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2016.

When asked about Perdue’s statement that Trump is providential, the reverend said, “I cannot agree more.”

“If God had not wanted Barack Obama to be president he would not be president,” he said. Likewise, “if God did not want Donald Trump to be president then he would not have been president.”

He has a point there. But I guess that would hold true for Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and even Warren Harding. In that vein, Fidel Castro, who was more of a socialist than Jon Ossoff, ruled Cuba for 50 years, survived numerous assassination attempts, and died an old man.

I mentioned Lincoln’s comment about both sides in the war claiming God, and Tate paraphrased Honest Abe (pretty accurately), saying, “I’m not concerned with God being on our side. I want to be on God’s side.”

People shouldn’t vote for people or parties, he said. “Vote for principles. As evangelical Christians, we have to look at principles important to us.” He noted that back in 1980, a divorced actor was running against a Sunday school teacher, but the former lined up better with what conservative religious voters wanted.

Tate said evangelicals were impressed by a list of Supreme Court candidates that Trump released while campaigning in 2016. And Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was another hit with evangelicals. Tate said other Republican candidates might have balked on doing that.

The Rev. Nibs Stroupe, retired pastor of the Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, is politically on the other side of the aisle from Tate.

“The Christian right doesn’t care what (Trump) says, it’s what he does,” Stroupe said. “It’s all about issues like abortion and gay marriage.”

“From my point of view he was elected because he’s a white man, because he bullies people, and because they were tired of a moderate black man in office and didn’t want a woman,” Stroupe said.

So, if God sent Trump to be president and gives him another term, what does that say?

“If that’s the case, and I don’t agree with this,” said Stroupe, “then God is saying , ‘The American experiment of equality and equity is over and I’ll send the man to end it.’”

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