The first lady made news by reciting the Lord’s Prayer at a rally for President Trump this past weekend. Reciting the Lord’s prayer can be a good thing, but some Christian Trump supporters are overreacting to the prayer. They ignore the context of prayer and piety in our country’s history, the context in which this rally was held, and the context of how this President has addressed faith issues.
Franklin Graham wrote on Facebook, “Has this ever happened in American politics before? In Melbourne, Florida, today, First Lady Melania Trump read the Lord’s Prayer before introducing her husband, President Donald J. Trump.”
The First Lady leading the Lord’s Prayer prior to her husband giving a speech has probably not happened. However, Reverend Graham and many other Christian Trump supporters are trumpeting her prayer with language that would lead you to believe this a unprecedented act of public piety from any White House.
This is an understandable belief, if you are unable to remember farther back than the virtually godless Obama administration. If you can remember as far back as nine years ago, we had eight years of a sincere Christian President in George W. Bush who regularly and repeatedly acknowledged God and the importance of prayer.
Nor was that the first historic example. The first President Bush’s inaugural address began with a public prayer. FDR publicly led the entire nation in prayer on D-Day. Looking further back than that in the history of the nation, God is frequently acknowledged by Presidents and leaders of government. The exact arrangement of how the First Lady delivered may be unique, but a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is far from unprecedented in American history.
More important, the context of this rally matters. In this unusual rally, the President announced no policy, supported no candidate for office, and the President will not face voters again himself for more than three years. Yet the rally was sponsored by the Trump/Pence campaign.
However, the President had had a tough week in Washington where he was constantly insulting and badgering people he’d been elected to represent, to work with, or whose job includes holding him to account. This culminated with him calling the press “the Enemy of the People,” a term used by Robespierre in 1793 in declaring opponents of the French Revolution deserved death. Vladimir Lenin also used the term “the Enemy of the People” in 1917 when making members of an opposing political party outlaws. The press was somewhat concerned by this.
So after Trump had gone long months without the emotional highs of campaign rallies, one was held. Tickets for the rally were obtained through the Trump/Pence campaign. The purpose of the rally was to give the President’s ego a boost after a rough time in Washington, and he certainly got that. At the rally, the President invited a supporter named Gene Huber on stage. Every day, Mr. Huber salutes a life-sized cardboard cutout of the President. This devotion would make most Presidents uncomfortable. Even those whose vanity might appreciate the gesture would generally not want to highlight the act.
President Trump did highlight it.
As a friend of political commentator Bill Kristol told him, “Holding a rally for yourself (with no electoral or legislative aim) is like sending yourself flowers.” For President Trump, the point of the rally was for him to receive the praise and adulation of a crowd, and highlighting Mr. Huber’s nigh religious adoration was part of that. In the context of the rally, the Lord ’s Prayer was window dressing for an event that was all about massaging Trump’s ego and giving glory to Trump rather than glory to God.
Beyond the context of the event, there’s the context of how this President has been responding on religious liberty. The President kept in place an executive order by President Obama that required all federal contractors to have in place pro-homosexual and pro-transgender policies. As Erick Erickson pointed out, this essentially shuts the door to people of faith for many key federal contracts:
President Obama and now President Trump are precluding organizations that excel at feeding the hungry, taking care of the downtrodden, and rebuilding lives from helping others through the federal system…This executive order treats the faithful adherents of major religions as second-class citizens when it comes to competing for government contracts. The government should not force people to abandon their faith to compete for government contracts, especially for needs-based programs.
Catholic charities that excel at serving the homeles cannot compete for federal funds to help the homeless though no one doubts their abilities and efficiencies. Baptists, who are often first on the ground in disaster areas ahead of both the Red Cross and FEMA, cannot compete for federal funds to aid those in disaster areas.
Erickson has been one of the few to call Trump out on his abandonment of religious liberty. Meanwhile the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has politely asked the President to fulfill his campaign promise. Reportedly, the reason the President hasn’t corrected this policy is pressure from his liberal daughter, Ivanka, who Republicans rallied behind and made her brand a #1 best seller on Amazon after her products were dropped by Nordstrom and other retail outlets.
Yet Trump’s Christian cheerleaders continue to support the him full-throatedly. The President’s administration has been marked by divisiveness, dishonesty, and bullying from the start. President Trump has focused on his own adulation, while being, at best, indifferent to religious freedom. His biggest Christian supporters turn a blind eye to this and praise empty religious pandering as proof of how great the Trump White House is. The ethnic and religious attacks on the First Lady by many on the left are cited as proof of this.
Many Christians compromised their prophetic witness to back Trump in hopes Christians would gain political power and a protector of religious freedom. Trump hasn’t delivered that. Instead, his actions are the political equivalent of the sleazy, false televangelists who get millions of viewers on Christian television. Despite being heretics and proven frauds, these hucksters claim the loyalty and money of millions of gullible American Christians while preaching lies and giving them nothing of real value.
Many Christian leaders’ conduct when it comes to Trump calls to my mind the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “His [God’s] watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.” (Isaiah 56:10). It’s time for Christian leaders to wake up.