I suspect I wasn’t the only American surprised to learn that God chose Donald Trump to be president of the United States. The Almighty’s rooting interest in the 2016 presidential election was so great, apparently, that he was willing to put his thumb on the scale to ensure the outcome (with, perhaps, a little help from the Russians and the vagaries of the electoral college).
This according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, who apparently enjoys privileged access to both parties – that is, both God and Trump.
“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times,” Sanders told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, “and I think he wanted Donald Trump to become president and that’s why he’s there.”
I have no direct evidence to dispute Sanders’ assertion, but I suspect that the Almighty was forced to make a few policy adjustments of his own before endorsing the president and offering up what Sanders assures us is his continuing support.
Let’s begin with immigration, the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign in 2016 and, it would appear, for 2020 too. God is on record pretty consistently for instructing his followers to “welcome the stranger.”
The Hebrew Bible enjoins us many times not to mistreat or oppress foreigners, and it offers provisions for the care and feeding of strangers. Leviticus says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born,” and the book of Hebrews reminds us to “show hospitality to strangers.” I didn’t see the memo, but God must have revised his thinking on immigration before his endorsement of Trump.
Trump likes to think of himself as a winner, so it should come as no surprise that he and his minions would want to invoke the endorsement of the Almighty.
The subject of immigrants raises another issue that God has deemed important: the separation of children from their parents at the border. Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” Here we may encounter a bit of confusion. The president clearly interpreted this passage to mean that little children should suffer — the King James translation can be a tad awkward — but most scholars agree that Jesus was expressing compassion for children. Trump could have misread this passage in the course of his study of the Scriptures, so maybe God has simply given him a pass on this one.
On the environment, the Bible affirms that the created order is the handiwork of God, and Jesus expressed concern for even the tiniest sparrow. Trump’s biblical values presumably would include a comprehensive program for environmental protection, including measures to counteract the devastating effects of climate change. Well, no. It’s hard to believe that the Almighty would look the other way while the Trump administration despoils the natural world, but according to Sanders he has.
“Woe to those who make unjust laws,” the prophet Isaiah said, “to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” It’s a bit of a challenge to square this with massive tax cuts for the affluent and attempts to deprive the poor of access to healthcare, not to mention Trump’s refusing to pay contractors in his real estate business. But, hey, God works in mysterious ways.
When it comes to reconciling the Ten Commandments with support for Trump, I suspect that God really had to break a sweat. First, we have that one about not bearing false witness. According to the Washington Post, one of several entities that tracks such matters, Trump made 8,158 false or misleading claims in the first two years of his presidency, an average of 5.9 a day in year one and 16.5 a day in year two. Ouch!
And then that pesky Seventh Commandment, the one about adultery. Here, I imagine the Almighty opening a long drawer and paging through dossiers labeled “Daniels, Stormy”; “Maples, Marla”; “McDougal, Karen”; and others. He heaves a sigh and turns away. It’s not that God has no experience with using adulterous men to do his work. But King David of ancient Israel (one of the top biblical examples of God’s use of sinners) at least expressed remorse for his sins. Trump famously refuses to apologize. Ever.
Despite his deficit in the 2016 popular vote, the president likes to think of himself as a winner, so it should come as no surprise that Trump and his minions would want to invoke the endorsement of the Almighty. Reconciling the president and his administration’s policies with the teachings of Scripture, however, isn’t easy. White evangelicals — 81% of them — tried to make the case in 2016. They’re still trying.
Randall Balmer is a professor of religion at Dartmouth College and the author of “Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter.”
Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinionand Facebook