• Jim Coppoc

Did God Appoint Trump?

Over and over again since the 2016 election, American evangelical leaders--both political and religious--have claimed both (1) that President Donald Trump is "the chosen one" who is "sent by God" to lead America, and (2) that resisting Trump's policy is akin to resisting God. Most recently, Trump himself has been retweeting claims that he was, in fact, "heaven sent."

The Evidence In Favor

The primary evidence evangelicals point to is Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, saying:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Rom. 13: 1-2, NRSV)

On the face of it, this seems pretty clear. And this isn't the only scriptural support for this position. In Daniel, for example, Daniel tells a bloodthirsty King Nebuchadnezzar--who has just executed all the other wise men of Babylon for delivering unsatisfactory answers--essentially that the power of kings comes from God (Daniel 2:21). This is repeated by Nebuchadnezzar himself in Daniel 4:17 and echoed in Psalm 75:7 and Proverbs 8:15. In the New Testament, too, Peter acknowledges divine authority of kings and governors (1 Peter 2:13-17); Paul acknowledges divine appointment of thrones, dominions, rulers and powers (Col. 1:16); and even Jesus appears to acknowledge Pilate's God-given power over Him (John 19:10-11). It would appear the evangelicals' case is made for them.

The Evidence Against

But of course these are not the only scriptures that have to do with Christians' relationship to government, or government's relationship to God. The long arc of the entire Bible is much more nuanced than that, and three major exceptions appear to apply.

The United States is a Secular Democracy

The instances of divine appointment evangelicals point to in arguing Trump's divine authority are, without exception, theocracies. Of course the leader of a theocracy is seen to be chosen by God. When it comes to leaders chosen by the people, however, scripture is very clear that God allows this to happen, but does not necessarily endorse the leader. In Hosea 8, for example, God laments that Israel made kings and princes, but not "through me" in a theocratic process (Hos. 8:4). In 1 Samuel 8, too, God allows the people to choose a king whom He had not appointed (1 Sam 8:4-9), and Samuel warns them that they will be mistreated by the new king and will "cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day" (1 Sam. 8:18). To Samuel and Hosea, at least, it appears that rulers chosen through secular democratic processes do not have the express endorsement of God.

Exceptions are Made for Ungodly Rulers

In the parts of Daniel quoted above, while it is true that Daniel declared Nebuchadnezzar's power came from God, Daniel also made it clear that because Nebuchadnezzar was not righteous and did not atone, God's endorsement would be taken away (Daniel 4:26-27). Psalms 2:10-12 warns of this same thing happening to kings in general. Certainly Trump's ego and indiscretions, along with his outright rejection of nearly every Christian value, make him a fairly close analog to the fallen king.

Christians are Called to Resist

While Evangelicals are fond of quoting Paul and Peter to support the idea of Trump's divine rule, they appear to forget that both men also undermined these same ideas. In Ephesians, for example, Paul states unequivocally that the Christian struggle is against "rulers" and "authorities" in "this dark world" (Eph. 6:12). Peter, too, along with other apostles calls us to "obey God rather than any human authority" (Acts 5:29), and Peter, Paul and John actively engage in nonviolent resistance, speaking out against the powers of their time (Acts 4: 18-20, and every epistle written from jail). More to the point, just about the entire story of Jesus is one of nonviolent (and sometimes violent) action against religious and political authorities who eventually execute Him for it.

Reductio ad Absurdum

Regardless of the commands and examples of Christ, the apostles and others--imagining the evangelicals are right very quickly leads to a number of absurd outcomes. If Trump was endorsed by God simply because he took the oath of office, then Obama before him would have been too. Those of us who lived through the evangelical reaction to Obama know that none of them would seriously make the claim that they believe he was sent by God. If Trump is sent by God, so is Putin, and Kim Jong Un, and any other enemy of America. In fact, the idea that a leader is divinely sanctioned just because he is a leader at some point takes all the value out of the proposition to begin with, and turns God's divine appointment into nothing more than a cheap participation trophy.

No Other God

I suspect that the fact evangelicals in general are willing to abandon all Christian values in favor of MAGA identity politics means they are not engaging in sanctioned submission to righteous authority at all, but are instead engaging in another practice mentioned in the Bible--idolatry. The fervency of their support for Trump, and the idolatrous raising him up as "the chosen one," combined with their rejection of the love, grace, and kindness toward their fellow human commanded by the Gospels can lead to no other conclusion than that they are placing Trump above their own God (Ex. 20:3). And as Christ calls out in at least two Gospels, they are failing to "worship the Lord your God, and serve only him" (Mat. 4:10; Luke 4:8).