Faith in the White House

G. F. Watts, ‘Mammon’
(1885), Tate Britain.

Many years ago (I think it was 1983) I was invited to attend a conference in Blackpool, U.K. featuring as its guest speakers two Kenneths—Hagin and Copeland. I was young and naive and had no idea who these people were. I soon discovered. It hit me when I was driving home from the event in my beaten up old car (purchased for £120) when Mr Copeland barrelled past me in a fast-driven Rolls-Royce. 

Fast forward to 2018, and I discover that Kenneth Copeland is one of those praying for, and supporting, a certain President. Should we be surprised?

Copeland believes in the ‘sowing and reaping’ principle, that is: ‘You sow $100 into my ministry and I will reap the fruit.’ It is a kind of spiritual lottery: poor believers are told that if they sow such ‘seed funding’ God will return the favour with interest. Health and wealth are considered evidence of God’s blessing, and if one is neither healthy nor rich, then one must have offended God. As a result, Kenneth Copeland is now the highest-earning ‘pastor’ in the U.S.A. with a net worth of $760 million—roughly three quarters of the net worth of the top five high-earning ‘prosperity gospel’ preachers in the States who together are worth close to $1 billion—and this in a country where millions of children, for example, do not have access to basic dental care. Copeland also has the use of a $16 million private jet, lives in a $6.5 million mansion, and so on. So I was curious, but not surprised, to find him in Trump Tower in 2015 praying fervently for God’s blessing on Donald Trump.

I then looked a little more closely at the video mentioned in my last post—a posse of excruciatingly fawning faith leaders surrounding Trump lauding his wonderful good works. I was struck by the accolade of one woman praising the President. Who was she? She said this:

I just thank you, sir, for calling our nation to God, and it’s been an honour, not only to know you for sixteen years but to serve with your faith leaders, and say that you always have put God first, and you challenge us, and you continue to challenge us, and you lead us. We thank you for your personal works. And this, I do believe, is a new beginning for us as we look forward, we are going to see great things come.

Her name, I discovered, is Paula White-Cain, also known for her prosperity gospel message and for using manipulation to extort money from supporters. Here, for example, is one account of her approach on TV. There is significant psychological manipulation. According to Michael Horton,

White even gives her viewers the words to tell themselves: “So I’m going to activate my miracle by my obedience right now. I’m going to get up and go to the phone.” When you do that, she says, and “put a demand on the anointing,” you’re “going to make God get off His ivory throne.” “Don’t you miss this moment! If you miss your moment, you miss your miracle!” When Jesus raised Lazarus, according to the old King James Version, “his face was bound with a napkin.” It’s taken from John 11:44, so for everyone who sends $1144 (get it?), White said, she would send a napkin she blessed.

As reported by CNN, according to a Senate committee report, ‘White’s former church, Without Walls International, took in $150 million between 2004–2006. […] At one time, White and her then-husband owned an airplane and several multimillion dollar properties, including a condo in Trump Tower.’

But the point here is this: White-Cain’s observation that Trump has ‘always have put God first’ is true—they both clearly worship the same god whom the old translations of the Bible name ‘Mammon’, who, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, represents: ‘Inordinate desire for wealth or possessions, personified as a devil or demonic agent […] wealth, profit, possessions, etc., regarded as a false god or an evil influence.’ This is the god that Trump and his faith leaders apparently worship.

In the White House video, the icing on this dubious cake is the closing prayer by Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist pastor (who, I note in passing, believes all Jews and Muslims are going to hell and was Trump’s choice to pray at the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem). Jeffress addresses God thus:

This country has been literally divided for decades upon decades, and now you have given us a gift, President Donald Trump, who wants to bring healing to this country, and he is bringing healing to this country […]. We want America to be great again. And we […] know that America can only be great if America is good, and we know that we have a President who wants to make America good.

This extraordinarily hallucinogenic assessment of Trump as someone who ‘wants to make America good’ is breathtaking for its disconnection with reality. Behind it is simply the lust for wealth and power. As Michael Gerson observes, a significant number of Evangelical leaders are quite happy to lay morality to one side to achieve influence:

Figures such as [Jerry] Falwell and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl.

New York Evangelical Timothy Keller (not a Trump supporter), quoted in the same article, notes with resignation that “‘Evangelical” used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with “hypocrite”‘.

I would suggest that that, since Keller wrote those words, ‘Evangelical’ is no longer nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite’, but a synonym.

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