By any standard, Donald Trump enters 2018 on very shaky ground. As of Friday night, his average approval rating, as calculated by FiveThirtyEight, stands at 39.1 percent. While his numbers have ticked up slightly since Christmas, this is still the lowest approval rating for a newly-elected president at this early stage since opinion polling began. And those numbers are almost certain to get lower once the fallout from Trump calling Haiti and African countries “shitholes” fully takes hold in polling.
But Trump is lucky to be doing even that well. He’d probably be in the depths that George W. Bush occupied in late 2008 if not for the religious right rallying behind him. For the last two years, the nation’s so-called moral guardians have pursued a mixed strategy to convince white evangelicals to bow down to Trump.
Part of it involves feeding their followers a bogus narrative that Trump is a newly-minted Christian who was chosen by God to make this country great again. We saw that on display on Tuesday, when Jerry Falwell Jr. claimed that what we see as outrageous and deplorable behavior from Trump is actually a sign that he’s “authentic.”
The other strategy involves out-and-out bullying people into supporting Trump–especially those who feel even the slightest regret about voting for him. We saw that on display on Thursday, when one of the leading media moguls of the religious right declared that Christians who oppose Trump are no different from the Pharisees who gave Jesus grief.
Among the many religious right luminaries to jump on the Trump bandwagon in the summer of 2016 was Steve Strang, founder and publisher of Charisma magazine. Strang isn’t that well known even among ardent news junkies. However, he has been a major player on the religious right for years. His magazine is one of the largest mouthpieces of the Pentecostal and charismatic movement. In recent years, he has used Charisma to carry water for the far right, and most recently for Trump. Among other things, he has been peddling the narrative that Trump really is a Christian.
On Thursday afternoon, however, Strang jumped to the other side of the religious right’s strategy. He stopped by American Family Radio’s afternoon drive-time show, “Focal Point,” to discuss the opposition Trump faces among some evangelicals. People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch got a clip.
Strang was on hand to promote his new book, “God and Donald Trump,” in which he argued that Trump’s upset victory was nothing short of a miracle.
During the second hour of the show, guest host Alex McFarland–who is sitting in while Bryan Fischer recovers from nerve damage brought on by treatments for prostate cancer–asked Strang why some Christians are reluctant to believe that God is using Trump. Strang’s response was simply breathtaking.
“Well, it’s like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. You know, here he was, the promised Messiah, and these are the people who practice Jewish law better than anyone else. And they just had a mindset against him, and couldn’t see the truth. A lot of people get a mindset, they think a certain way politically. You know, ‘I’m a Democrat because my grandpappy was a Democrat,’ or ‘I’m a Republican because my daddy was a Republican.’ You know? And they just think that way and they don’t think for themselves.”
Strang believes that those who oppose Trump are reluctant to change because “they have a certain narrative” and aren’t willing to accept anything that runs counter to it. He believes that it has led the “never-Trumpers” to become “mean-spirited” in their critiques of Trump. Turning to the furor over the Access Hollywood tape, Strang reminded listeners that Trump apologized and said it didn’t represent who he is now. He insisted that Trump really is a changed man since becoming a Christian.
I’m a charismatic/Pentecostal Christian myself. I know that God uses people who don’t exactly fit the “cloned Christian” stereotype. But at the same time, I expect our leaders to uphold basic standards of behavior. Is that being pharisaical? I think not. After all, Christians are supposed to set the standard, not do an end run around it. Sadly, it appears that’s exactly what much of the religious right is willing to do. They seem to be willing to–at the very least–overlook Trump’s horribly degrading comments both in public and on Twitter just because he’s thrown them bones on social issues.
It’s rather ironic that Strang wrung his hands about Trump opponents being Pharisees. After all, just a few days before the election, he appeared on Jim Bakker’s show and flatly stated that it was not possible to follow the Bible and vote for Hillary Clinton. Watch here.
Strang claimed that anyone with “a biblical point of view” and believes that “the Bible is right” could not possibly vote for Hillary. And yet, he now claims that attacking Trump amounts to being a Pharisee. Clearly, this footage hasn’t aged well.
In another bit of irony, McFarland claimed that those protesting at a prayer rally in 2015 were engaging in “borderline treasonous” behavior. And now he seems to be joining in on the line that Trump is being persecuted–after calling for the persecution of those who opposed the religious right’s agenda.
Just as “Focal Point” signed off, the news broke about Trump’s “shithole” comments. Hmmm–does calling them out for what they are–bigoted and racist–amount to being a Pharisee? Perhaps we should ask Strang about it. Drop him a line on Twitter.
(featured image courtesy Strang’s Twitter)