The Donald Trump heresy
Of course Nancy Pelosi prays for President Trump. And of course President Trump doesn't understand why.
It's unlikely the Democratic speaker of the House is praying for Trump's political success, or his personal glory, so you can understand the president's confusion. His spiritual advisers veer toward the offshoot of Christianity known colloquially as the Prosperity Gospel, which preaches that good things come to those who pray. That is one form of prayer. But at least in the Catholic tradition from which Pelosi comes, you also pray for your enemies and your rivals. You pray for them especially. You pray for their soul, that they change their behavior and allow God to change their hearts before they meet their final justice.
Praying for people you hate or even merely dislike is hard. Trump said as much in his remarks Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast, in an otherwise unholy speech The Washington Post's Michael Gerson dubbed "Trump's sermon at the Hilton." But the rest of his comments border on heretical, because they showed once again that Trump puts fealty to God beneath fealty to Trump.
Pelosi has drawn Trump's ire before by saying that she prays for him. He doesn't "like people who say, 'I'll pray for you,' when I know that is not so," Trump said. Later, celebrating in the White House, he said he doubted Pelosi "prays at all."
But perhaps more telling was Trump's salvo at Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), from all accounts a pious man, who cited his "profoundly religious" beliefs in explaining why he voted to convict Trump for abuse of power. Romney knew it wouldn't remove Trump from office, and he knew he would be "vehemently denounced" and abused by Trump for his vote. But his explanation — "I take an oath before God as enormously consequential" — was that he swore to God that he would render impartial justice, and despite his selfish preference to acquit Trump, doing so would violate that oath, given what his mind and reason had discerned from the evidence.
In other words, Romney was saying he honored his commitment to God over his partisan fealty to Trump. And judging by his response, Trump didn't get that distinction, or didn't agree with it. "I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong," Trump said, in what appears to be a quasi-official talking point.
The Bible has a lot of internal inconsistencies, but the Gospels are very clear on what Jesus wanted to communicate to his followers about loving God and loving other people. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,'" Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:33-34). "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
Jesus also makes clear that he wants his followers to avoid letting material possessions come between them and God and provide for those with fewer financial or spiritual resources. Christianity is a communitarian religion as well as a personal struggle. "You cannot serve God and wealth," Jesus said. Worshipping money is a form of idolatry, and idolatry is clearly heretical.
But Trump seems to view Christianity as a way to get what you want, not give what you can. Like most things with Trump, it is transactional: He will push policies favored by conservative Christians — abortion, judges, prayer in school — as long as they continue to believe in him, remain his most enduring base of support. If they have to choose between what Trump says and what Jesus says, Trump's faithful must go with Trump. Loyalty is the first commandment.
This may explain why Trump reacts so strongly and so negatively to Romney invoking his faith and Pelosi saying she is praying for him. He assumes they, too, are cynically using religion as a political cudgel; by invoking a more faithful Christianity, they are threatening his keys to the realm.
Trump's Christian proselytizers note, correctly, that the Bible is full of flawed people God used to achieve sometimes inscrutable ends. King David, for example, coveted a woman so fiercely he sent her husband to die in battle. When found out, though, he accepted the public humiliation and repented. When God told the prophet Jonah to warn the hated enemy city of Nineveh (in modern-day Iraq) to turn away from sin, he ran the other way; after an unfortunate holding period inside the belly of an aquatic beast, Jonah went and did God's bidding — and he was furious when Nineveh listened and God spared the repentant city.
Jonah put God first, eventually and begrudgingly, and saved his foes. Maybe that's Pelosi's prayer for Trump.
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