Thursday, August 27, 2015

Donald Trump's Kryptonite

Donald Trump needs help on the religion front.  Many of you have seen this:

Unlike some of his opponents, including Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and especially Ted Cruz, Trump sounds very awkward whenever he talks about religion.  

I think we have finally found his kryptonite.

If he wants to continue to be taken seriously he is going to need to learn to speak "evangelicalese." But this language is not easy to learn for non-natives such as Trump. And it is hard to fake.

Take this interview with CBN's David Brody,  for example:

In this interview Trump says that he always goes to church on Christmas and Easter.  I think Trump thinks that this answer is going to help him win votes among the viewers of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.  He couldn't be more wrong.  Evangelicals, you see, are very good at distinguishing themselves from other Christians (mostly mainline Protestants) by pointing out that they are not the kind of people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.  

Anyone who has listened to an evangelical testimony is familiar with this part of the conversion narrative.  It goes something like this: "As a young man or woman I went to church on Christmas and Easter, took communion, and tried to live good moral lives. I always thought I was a Christian. But then I found Jesus and realized that I was just 'playing church.'  Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not about religion, it is about relationship."  

Evangelicals have always identified the quality of this born-again experience--this new "relationship" with Jesus--by how often one attends Sunday church, mid-week Bible studies. "small groups," and other congregational events.

Trump is a smart politician.  He is hoping to find an antidote to the negative effects that this form of kryptonite will have on his campaign.  As a result, he is turning to televangelist Paula White.

According to this article in The Wall Street Journal, Trump has made a previous appearance on the Paula White television show.  Warning: There is some heavy theology in this video. (That is sarcasm):

So who is Paula White?  She is the pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in the Orlando area. She was formerly the pastor of the Without Walls International Church in Tampa, a congregation she founded  with her ex-husband "Bishop" Randy White.  She has been married three times and just recently married the guy who wrote the the song "Don't Stop Believing." (Yes, you read that correctly).

Charity Carney has a nice piece on her theology at Religion in American History.  Here is a taste:

White’s prosperity gospel is saturated with gendered anecdotes and analogies, which she uses to make the message relevant to diverse or largely African American audiences. Men and women alike are attracted to the energetic blond, who at once plays into the stereotypes of southern femininity but breaks through traditional barriers of female leadership. She openly references her father’s suicide (often labeling this event as the source of her “daddy issues”), being sexually abused as a child, and former struggles with anorexia and bulimia, using past troubles to contrast current blessings. At the same time that White preachesabout spiritual empowerment and confronting the past to achieve present success, she impresses upon her followers the need to obey male authority within appropriate boundaries. “When I give honor I fill the terms of my commitment,” White teaches, “All of us have a father. So all of us have an obligation according to biblical standards and principals to honor our father. Now maybe you lost your father and he’s not living but you have a spiritual father (for me it’s Bishop Jakes). You have someone in your life that’s a figure of authority. If not, you have anarchy.” White presents an interesting blend of traditional evangelical motifs (the spiritual father is a figure revered since the revivals of the early 19th century) and modern consumer religion that promotes self-help and fulfillment.

Blessings are a constant thread that runs throughout White’s sermons, which rely on consumer culture as reference points. In one 2010 sermon, for instance, White compared God’s blessings to a shipping company, confiding in her audience that she “orders a lot through the mail.” When she wanted "cute shoes for a conference," she was not there when the company tried to deliver them, much like God tries to send messages to his followers but they do not always receive them. As a result, her shoes, and God’s plans, can be delayed. "The enemy has been trying to discourage you," she exclaims, "make you disbelieve by DELAY. BUT DELAY doesn't mean denial." By comparing God's blessings to modern consumerism, White makes the prosperity gospel relevant to many women in her congregation but at the expense of playing into and promoting dominant gender stereotypes. At the same time that she admits to her shopping habits, she also presents her destination as that of a conference, indicating her professional status. 

It should be interesting to see the kind of evangelicals White assembles for this meeting with Trump. The Wall Street Journal article does not mention anyone who will be attending, but I am guessing that White will choose leaders from her own prosperity gospel circles who will baptize Trump's business success and love of free-market capitalism.  Don't be surprised if Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, Creflo Dollar, or Kenneth Copeland show up for this shindig. 

Where is Kate Bowler when we need her?