Trump evangelical candidate now supported by 78% of evangelicals
Jerry Falwell, Jr. — son of famous evangelist Jerry Falwell and head of the evangelical college Liberty University — formally endorsed Republican businessman Donald Trump for president. Trump’s campaign claimed the nod as a major victory for “the Donald,” and at least one media outlet crowned Trump as “the official evangelical candidate” — a highly sought-after distinction within the GOP, whose base includes millions of evangelical Christians.
It would be hard to find a pastor more perfect to stump for Donald Trump than Mark Burns.
At a March Trump rally in Illinois, Burns leapt up to the stage, pumping up the crowd in chants of Trump’s name. “Lord, this will be the greatest Tuesday that ever existed, come Super Tuesday,” he prophesied in prayer, naming and claiming a Trump victory.
“Jesus said, above all things, I pray that you prosper, I pray that you have life more abundantly,” Burns, 36, explained to TIME in an interview, quoting a verse not from the Gospels but another New Testament passage. “It was never Jesus’ intention for us to be broke.” All of this is wisdom is now contained in a candidate for President. “I think that is what Donald Trump represents,” Burns says.
Trump evangelical candidate
Trump is making inroads in the evangelical world with pastors like Burns.The preachers who often stand with him are born-again Christians, but most are evangelical outsiders—many are Pentecostal televangelist who often preach a version of what’s often called the “prosperity gospel,” a controversial theological belief that God wants people to be wealthy and healthy.
Prosperity preachers like Burns have introduced Trump at rallies. Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., son of one of America’s most prominent televangelist, endorsed Trump and says he reminds him of his father. Joel Osteen, America’s best-known preacher of prosperity through Jesus recently called Trump “an incredible communicator and brander,” “a good man,” and “a friend to our ministry,” and Trump once tweeted that Joel is a “real friend.”
And while there has always been a softer stream of self-help gospel in the evangelical mainline, the brand Trump is raising up explicitly tracks with his own ideology of winning and success.
Fully half of white evangelicals believe Trump would make a good or great president, according to the Pew Research Center. Moral majority leaders of the past 30 years, prosperity preachers don’t just want Americans to be saved. They want them to be successful.
Until now, this kind of evangelicalism has had little power in national politics. And as Washington’s evangelical establishment pushes back against Trump as racist, misogynist, and fundamentally anti-Christian, a new set of believers is rising up to defend him, breaking open a fight for the born-again Christians.
Trump does not need the come-to-Jesus conversion long required of American politicians to have the ideal testimony for prosperity believers. His economic success is the truest sign of God’s blessing.
Trump is a longtime disciple of “the great Norman Vincent Peale,” as he calls him on the campaign trail, the famous twentieth-century evangelist who preached positive thinking and reached millions through his television and radio programs. Growing up, Trump’s family attended Peale’s church, Marble Collegiate in Manhattan. He married his first wife there, hosted Peale’s 90th birthday party at the Waldorf Astoria in 1988, and embraced his message of self-realization.
Like the popular preacher, Trump developed a following. He billed himself as “the very definition of the American success story” in his bestselling autobiography The Art of the Deal, and built a career turning celebrity into profit. Mark Burnett, the television producer of “Survivor” and “Shark Tank”—who is also an evangelical and keynoted the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast—produced Trump’s “Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” television shows.
Trump became friends with televangelist Paula White, senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Florida. Preacher Mike Murdock, 69, a Texas-based televangelist of The Wisdom Center and an Oral Roberts mentee, says Trump is definitely “not God Jr.,” but that is beside the point. “He has the core values of the Scriptures where you produce,” Murdock says. “He has so much honor given to him because he has had so much.”
Theologically, the belief that God wants people to be rich is controversial. Prosperity preachers often interpret Jesus’ teachings about abundant life in Christ financially. White said her message is not “all about the money,” but a holistic gospel message of “well-being and opportunity,” which also addresses suffering. “How can you create jobs for people who want to work?” she says. “If you want to call that prosperity, yes, I believe in prosperity.”
Explicit prosperity theology is also fairly new in the nation’s history but it has deep roots. It began with a group of early 20th-century disenfranchised black preachers, and then gained strength through the decades with the rise of Pentecostalism and as televangelism.
“If Trump wants mass appeal and hasn’t courted traditional sources of power, then this is a very smart alliance,” Kate Bowler, professor of Christian history at Duke University and an expert on American prosperity gospel, says. “They are like him, they are outsiders with an unusual amount of popular support”.
A new, loose coalition of prosperity-minded preachers has been quietly uniting for Trump behind the scenes. When Trump was considering a 2012 presidential run, White gathered a group of about 40 pastors to meet with him.
In September 2015, White invited several dozen prominent preachers to pray for Trump again at Trump Tower, including many Pentecostal preachers. Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Trinity Broadcasting Network founder Jan Crouch, “Preachers of LA” reality star Clarence McClendon, Murdock, and newer ones like Burns prayed around a table with a “Make America Great Again” hat on it. Rabbi Kirt Schneider, a Jewish Christian televangelist who says he saw Jesus at age 20, prophesied, placing his fingers over Trump’s eyes.
Trump evangelical candidate making in-roads into the community
Their reasons for supporting Trump are varied. Scott says Trump reminds him of Cyrus, a Persian king in the Bible who rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls. McClendon has said he feels called “to reach the up and out as well as the down and out,” and compares Trump to Zacchaeus, a reviled Jewish tax collector that Jesus saved. Murdock says he has sensed Trump’s spirit is “a phenomena” needed at a time when “we smell the odor of disrespect coming from the government.”
The more mainstream pastor Jentezen Franklin, who leads a 16,000-member congregation in Georgia and an international television ministry that reaches millions of people, says he sees his peers with large media ministries speaking out for the first time politically, especially for a candidate who can be pro-Israel, pro-life, and who can empower the middle class. “We need a radical change in this nation,” he says. “That has been the weakness of many of the right-wing evangelical community, they are quick to point out what they are for social issues, but where is the compassion on the poor and the needy?”
The reach of such independent pastors is expansive, if often difficult to calculate. All have vast direct-to-consumer media networks, act autonomously, and many run ministries not just traditional churches.
Osteen has said he reaches 20 million on television a month. Scott says his radio station reaches 4.5 million homes in northeast Ohio alone, and he reports 150,000 listeners online every day. Burns, new to the scene, says he is available in 11 million homes in the U.S and Canada.
Their individual businesses make them powerhouses, and partnering with one another can be a ministry strategy when they want to expand. “The message is an end-run around political systems,” Bowler says. “It says, I don’t need the government to provide for the conditions of my life. Theologically speaking, they shouldn’t need a politician.” Trump isn’t a politician, at least until recently, yet he is the master of their own trade.
The theology also gives Trump an unlikely platform to tout his outreach to racial minorities. Many of the pastors stumping for Trump are African-American, and Pentecostal churches are, on average, more racially diverse than evangelical Americans. Burns says he wants “to break this horrible notion that Trump is a racists and a bigot.”
Evangelical leaders meanwhile have tried to rev up their base after their presidential picks fell short in 2012 and 2008. Evangelist Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, is hosting prayer rallies in every state capital to get evangelicals to commit to vote Biblical values.
Conservative activist David Lane’s American Renewal Project is training hundreds of pastors to run for political office. Johnnie Moore, a National Association of Evangelicals board member, is pushing the new MyFaithVotes initiative to get 25 million evangelicals to the polls in November. “There is a certain triumphalism in evangelical theology,” says Moore, 32, who has no relation to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore. “Evangelicals like to win, it is one of the reasons they got into politics in the first place.”
Burns is praying Trump’s way to victory. He started an #IPrayedForTrump hashtag and leads phone conference calls for followers to pray over Trump when he speaks. He says 10,000 people have joined for a five-minute prayer. Ultimately, Burns hopes Trump will help his hometown. “I fantasize about bringing a company like Microsoft to Easley, to bring car manufactures to Greenville, to create more and more jobs,” he says. “You need people like the Trump family to learn.”
Ever since a mid-July Washington Post poll confirmed that Trump is the leading candidate among evangelical Republicans 20 percent supported him at the time, political observers have been trying to sort out the puzzle of conservative evangelical support for Trump.
But while it’s easy to chuckle at the idea of Bible Belt voters rallying for a thrice-married real estate mogul who would never dream of turning the other cheek, Trump’s evangelical backing may not be that surprising. It’s been a long time since the personal morality of a candidate was a deal breaker for evangelical Republicans.
In fact, conservative evangelicals have been disillusioned twice in the modern political era by evangelical presidents they originally backed. In 1976, which Time declared “The Year of the Evangelical,” the Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter brought millions of evangelicals into the political process — on behalf of the Democratic ticket. The list of white evangelicals who supported Carter that year reads like a who’s who of the religious right, including Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham. That fall, Carter won nearly half the evangelical vote. No Democrat has even come close in the decades since.
Once Carter moved into the White House, however, conservative evangelicals discovered that not all evangelicals are alike. They had assumed that shared religious beliefs would translate into shared political priorities. But Carter refused to support a constitutional ban on abortion and appointed no evangelicals to top posts in his administration. Worse, he pushed for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (the same-sex marriage battle of its day), and supported ending legal and cultural discrimination against gays and lesbians. By 1980, conservative evangelicals were ready to ditch one of their own for a divorced former actor who promised to be their culture warrior.
The conservative evangelical infatuation with George W. Bush lasted longer. But his second term — won, many evangelicals believed, on the strength of their turnout in the 2004 election — left many feeling betrayed. They believed Bush had indicated he would use his political capital to vigorously support a federal amendment banning gay marriage. When he instead put all of his effort behind a proposal to restructure Social Security, conservative evangelicals concluded they had been duped.
After eight years of a Democratic president, Republicans want someone who can win, and they are especially eager to embrace a candidate who stands up for them. And while evangelical Republicans sometimes have different priorities and values than their non-evangelical peers, this could be an election cycle in which they vote as Republicans first and evangelicals second.
If Donald Trump’s momentum continues, he will be the 45th President of the United States of America.
Trump is America’s Candidate! Trump is exactly what America needs now more than ever, with the onslaught of illegal immigrants, with radical Islamic terrorism entwined, the persecution of Christians is higher than it has been in decades. With abortion being pushed by Democrats and the horrible gruesome act of late-term abortion , we need a President who will stand up to the evils in America.
And Mr Donald J Trump is that President!