Throughout his tumultuous 2016 campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump was often lambasted for his numerous gaffes regarding religion. In addition to his apparent resistance to asking God for forgiveness and difficulty referencing scripture, his bombastic rhetoric triggered criticism from across the religious spectrum — be it from conservative evangelicals, his own Presbyterian denomination, and even the pope himself.
But as POLITICO pointed out over the weekend, the theologically challenged Candidate Trump has steadily embraced religion — or at least religious rhetoric — during his first 100 days as President Trump. Granted, Trump doesn’t reference the divine with the same regularity of other past presidents such as Jimmy Charter or George W. Bush, but he has been using more spiritual language of late.
The reason for the shift is anyone’s guess; it may have to do with his resounding support among white evangelicals, or the influence of so-called “theocrat” Vice President Mike Pence, or the suggestions of his deeply nationalistic senior advisor and occasional speechwriter Steve Bannon.
Whatever the cause, Trump does seem to be invoking the almighty more than usual. Here are a few examples.
Congratulating Neil Gorsuch on being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice — April 10, 2017
Trump made a rather tame reference to God when congratulating Neil Gorsuch after he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Supreme Court Justice.
“Justice Gorsuch, I again congratulate you and your entire family, and I wish God’s blessings on your amazing journey ahead,” he said.
Invoking God to defend the Syrian airstrike — April 6, 2017
Trump also referenced God to defend his airstrike against a Syrian airbase after President Bashar Assad’s forces reportedly used chemical weapons to murder more than 80 people in the region, including many children.
Children featured prominently in Trump’s remarks after the strike, when he lamented the use of such weapons against and “child of God” — a biblical reference.
“Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the life of innocent men, women and children,” Trump said. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many, even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
It was unclear why Trump also believes that Syrian “children of God” and refugees should be denied entry to the United States as part of his Muslim ban, but he went on to ask for God’s wisdom.
“We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world,” he said. “We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, that peace and harmony will in the end prevail.”
He concluded with an unusually broad version of a classic line used by many presidents, saying, “Good night, and God bless America and the entire world.”
Appealing to the “same God” during address to Congress — February 28, 2017
Trump made an appeal to the spiritual during his joint address to Congress, declaring that all Americans were made by the same God.
“When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before — for all Americans,” he said. “This is our vision. This is our mission. But we can only get there together. We are one people, with one destiny. We all bleed the same blood. We all salute the same great American flag. And we all are made by the same God.”
It’s unclear if Trump is aware that roughly 7 percent of Americans who identify as atheist or agnostic do not, in fact, believe that anyone was created by God.
Thanking the evangelicals who elected him at CPAC — February 24, 2017
Trump reiterated his fusion of faith and patriotism during his address to CPAC, an annual conservative conference in Washington, D.C.
Trump invoked God when by arguing that national pride brings about unity and equality.
“No matter our background or income, or geography, we’re all citizens of this blessed land,” he said. “And no matter our color or the blood — the color of the blood we bleed, it’s the same red blood of great, great patriots. Remember, great patriots. We all salute with pride, the same American flag, and we all are equal — totally equal in the eyes of almighty God, we’re equal.”
The president also made special mention of his religious supporters, especially evangelicals (which makes sense, given that 80 percent of white evangelicals backed Trump on Election Day).
“And I want to thank, by the way, the Evangelical community, the Christian community,” he said, sparking applause. “Communities of faith, rabbis and priests and pastors, ministers, because the support for me was a record, as you know, not only in terms of numbers of people, but percentage of those numbers that voted for Trump.”
He went on to claim that faith in God is will allow him to be a successful president.
“So I want to thank you folks, that was amazing — an amazing outpour…and I will not disappoint you,” he said. “As long as we have faith in each other and trust in God, then there is no goal at all beyond our reach. There is no dream too large, no task too great, we are Americans and the future belongs to us.”
Referencing religious nationalism at the National Prayer breakfast — February 2, 2017
As the Atlantic’s Emma Green pointed out, Trump’s second foray into religions nationalism came during his speech before the National Prayer Breakfast, where he curried favor among evangelicals and other leaders of the Religious Right.
Admittedly, Trump got off to a rough start: he raised eyebrows for beginning his speech to a faith-based assembly by bragging about the ratings of his former television show The Apprentice. But Trump eventually returned to his scripted remarks, which included a firm promise to abolish the Johnson Amendment — the law that prohibits faith communities from being explicitly political.
“It was the great Thomas Jefferson who said, the God who gave us life, gave us liberty,” he said. “Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God. Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that, remember.”
The line played well with the crowd, which was heavily populated with conservative Christians — the main group calling for an end to the Johnson Amendment. So too did his references to the barbarity of ISIS, who he noted are enacting atrocities against Arab Christians.
But tucked inside his remarks were even more references to an explicitly — and, presumably, uniformly — religious vision for America, declaring, “America will thrive, as long as we continue to have faith in each other and faith in God.”
“Because that’s what we are and that is what we will always be and that is what our people want; one beautiful nation, under God,” he later added.
Embracing Christian nationalism on Inauguration Day — January 20, 2017
Trump’s boldest embrace of religion came on inauguration day, which began with a morning service at St. John’s Episcopal Church. It featured a lineup of evangelical and/or prosperity gospel preachers supportive of Trump, but the most brazen moment came when megapastor Robert Jeffress defended Trump’s border wall in a sermon, declaring “God is not against building walls!”
Trump’s personal use of religious language came later, however — during his inauguration speech. In addition to general allusions to the God blessing America, he two specific instances where Trump invoked an unusual form of Christian nationalism. The first came about two-thirds into the address, when he fused his vision of hardline patriotism with the biblical phrase “God’s people.”
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
The second mention came in the next paragraph, and was a bit more haughty: Trump appeared to imply that because he is president (or at least during his term as president), God will keep the American people safe.
There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.