But — now that Trump has been elected as the nation's 45th president — here's a serious question to ponder: Is there any chance that the foul-mouthed, womanizing billionaire really is a "baby Christian" who has embarked on a journey of faith?
That question came to mind as I read Time magazine religion writer Elizabeth Dias' excellent, behind-the-scenes account of Trump's pastoral team on Election Night:
In the dark hours of early Wednesday morning, moments after Donald Trump gave his victory speech to a cheering ballroom in New York, the president-elect paused backstage with Pentecostal pastor Paula White.
With vice-president-elect Mike Pence and their families nearby, White prayed over them, asking God to guide them in wisdom and to protect them in the days ahead. Just days earlier, White was traveling with Trump on his plane when he brought up how Harry Truman surprised everyone by winning against Thomas Dewey in 1948.
Now, Trump prepares to enter the White House after an upset of his own. For White, “God’s hand and purpose in this” is hard to miss—thousands of Christians, she says, joined her in three days of prayer and fasting in anticipation of the outcome. “I haven’t personally seen it since 9/11 when the body has really come together,” she says.
This is just the latest insightful reporting by Dias on the pastors at the center of Trump's campaign.
Way back in April, Dias delved deep into "Donald Trump's Prosperity Preachers." In July, coinciding with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, she introduced readers to the Rev. Mark Burns ("Meet Donald Trump's Top Pastor"). And in September, she highlighted the Rev. Paula White's relationship with Trump ("Meet The Pastor Who Prays With Donald Trump").
I previously praised those stories here at GetReligion:
Dias seems to have enjoyed some incredible access to Trump's "inner circle of evangelical advisors," as her latest Time story describes them. I'm just guessing, but perhaps she has shown herself to be a trustworthy journalist who will treat her sources fairly? Or maybe she's just a persistent reporter who won't quit until she gets the information she wants and needs?
In any case, I'm impressed both with the theological details in her story and her ability — and willingness — to report those details factually, without snark.
I'm not surprised to read about prophecies, dreams and spiritual visions in the biblical Book of Acts. But no, I can't say that I expected such matter-of-fact quoting of sources on those subjects in Time magazine:
Many of Trump’s evangelical leaders were optimistic of Trump’s success leading into Election Day. More than a handful drew on spiritual experiences, like prophecies and dreams, for strength. White early on had spiritual visions of God’s plan for Trump. Cleveland pastor Darrell Scott’s wife, Belinda, has had dreams where God showed her Trump would win. “I prophesized back in the primaries, we are going to win,” Mark Burns, televangelist from Easley, South Carolina and Trump surrogate, says. “God uses the least likely, from myself to Donald Trump.”
By the way, I wouldn't mind if Dias or another Godbeat pro explored those topics and the Trump pastors' stated experiences with them in a little more depth.
Want to know a little more about Dias' perspective? America Magazine posted an interesting essay in which she discusses her experiences reporting on religion:
From that essay, published before Tuesday's voting:
Many of the pastors around Donald Trump preach a version of what theologians call “the prosperity gospel,” a controversial conviction that God wants his followers to be wealthy and healthy. Prosperity preachers do not just want Americans to be saved, they want them to be successful. Trump himself resembles a prosperity preacher—come, follow me, and you will find success. It makes sense—he is a longtime disciple of “the great Norman Vincent Peale,” as he calls him, the 20th-century evangelist who preached positive thinking and reached millions through television and radio programs. When Trump says he is winning states when he is not, or that black Americans love him when they overwhelming do not, he is enacting a theological principle of “name it and claim it” theology, envisioning future success in the present tense.
Until now, this strain of evangelicalism has had little power in American politics. It is much younger as a religious movement than evangelicalism in the United States—about 100 years old. But it is a strategic alliance for Trump—both are rejected by traditional power, and they have popular support. In the last year, this new set of believers has risen up, and now we are seeing it flex its national political muscles for the first time. It is making some evangelicals so frustrated that they want to reject the term “evangelical” and call themselves something new.
That's fascinating context — particularly in light of Trump's stunning win on Tuesday.