Republican Presidential Candidate Courts Televangelists. So What Else Is New? (Updated with video)

Republican Presidential Candidate Courts Televangelists. So What Else Is New?

Politico reports today that Donald Trump is courting prosperity televangelists in an effort to “keep his momentum from ebbing.” The subtext of the Trump televangelist outreach is that despite the polls, the only kind of evangelicals who really like Trump are those who love mixing not just religion and politics, but religion and money:

Roughly three-dozen leaders attended the two-and-a-half hour meeting at Trump Tower, including televangelists Gloria and Kenneth Copeland and Trinity Broadcasting Network co-founder Jan Crouch, who is also the president of a Christian theme park in Orlando.

As it came to an end, televangelist Paula White said Trump wanted them to pray for him. Trump nodded, and the faith leaders laid hands on him and prayed.

Many evangelical leaders look askance at the crowd the businessman is courting. “The people that Trump has so far identified as his evangelical outreach are mostly prosperity gospel types, which are considered by mainstream evangelicals to be heretics,” said outspoken Trump critic Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination at 16 million members.

Now let’s be honest here. Cast your eyes to the right of this text and you’ll see a link to my 2008 book, God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters. That book is about how the GOP, despite the fact that many mainstream evangelicals consider the prosperity gospel to be heretical, has long courted televangelists in the quest to consolidate the conservative Christian vote. Although the televangelists are primarily focused on the health-and-wealth gospel (sow your seed into my ministry and God will bless you with a hundred-fold return!) they have long been coveted politically for their influence over their audiences and their history as loyal foot soldiers in the culture wars.

Don’t read too much into Politico’s assertion that the televangelists would be “less turned off by his brash style and history of socially liberal positions,” or by the suggestion that Trump, by this meeting, has somehow stepped outside the typical Republican boundaries for courting the evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic Christian vote. Trump is following a GOP playbook established in the 1980s, and followed by his current rivals, and in particular, by one current rival’s family. Indeed Trump himself followed the playbook during his unsuccessful 2012 presidential bid when he met with televangelists.

The casino mogul isn’t the first Republican (or probably the last) to get cozy with Copeland in particular. In 2008 Mike Huckabee reached out to Copeland as his campaign floundered. At the time, Copeland boasted of being a “rich Jew backed by a richer Jew” and a “billionaire in the kingdom of God.”

But Copeland’s influence dates back even further than that. As I reported in my book, Copeland has been sought out by Republican candidates, including both George H.W. and George W. Bush, because of his vast wealth and followers. In 1998, Karl Rove was advised by then-Bush family religion advisor Doug Wead that Copeland “is arguably one of the most important religious leaders in the nation.”

Never mind that he’s been the subject of many an investigative report on his appropriation of tax-exempt donations for his own enrichment with luxury homes and private jets. Senate Republicans briefly toyed with the idea of investigating Copeland and that other Trump admirer, Paula White, for their self-enrichment at the expense of their gullible donors, but ultimately punted because hey, it’s more important that the government keep its nose out a church’s balance sheets, even if the church more resembles a closely-held corporation where money is worshipped above everything else.

Televangelism thrives at the precise intersection of religion, money, and keep-the-government-off-our-backs, making its relationship with the GOP a marriage made in heaven (or perhaps somewhere else). Although the Trump phenomenon has laid bare an intra-evangelical rift that has long been obscured in presidential politics, he certainly didn’t invent kissing the ring of televangelism’s rich and famous.

Still, though, the conservative evangelicals dismayed by Trumpism see it as a chance to explore that rift as something bigger than Trump himself. As the evangelical writer Matthew Anderson put it in an unpublished piece he kindly shared with me, “The dalliance between (some!) evangelicals and Trump is simply another move in the shell game of attention-seeking that the info-tainment complex at the heart of political evangelicalism has mastered.” What Anderson calls political evangelicalism, or that unholy alliance between evangelicals and the GOP, is itself more about entertainment than it is about religion, and it’s certainly more about red meat (a form of entertainment) than about policy.

Even if Trump doesn’t end up the nominee—and even if that can be attributed, at least in part, to his waving a Bible around but demonstrating no fluency with it—the Republican Party will remain addicted to the “info-tainment complex at the heart of political evangelicalism.” In other words, Trump’s candidacy may have some unique features. Seeking the blessing of televangelists isn’t one of them.

UPDATE: Via Jacob Lupfer, here is video from the televangelists praying with/for Trump:

  • ComradeAnon

    What I’d give for a picture of Trump being prayed over by that group. What am I saying. i’m sure we’ll be seeing it very soon. Bona fides!

  • lsomers

    It takes a charlatan to know a charlatan and share the goodies. Televangelists are con artists of the most deplorable, exploitative and dishonest sort; preying (sometimes by praying) on the simplest, most ignorant, least educated and most gullible – just like politicians the likes of Trump.

  • Well_Read

    it’s already there, miss it?

  • Jim Reed

    At two and a half minutes into the video was that an actual language, or an example of speaking in tongues?

  • Well_Read

    evangelicals are a voting block but a smaller one than most ppl think. some say 25% but more savvy pollsters know that people exaggerate their religious beliefs all the time. they get defensive and want to seem more religious than the next guy so they brag that they go to church or believe when they really don’t. when the questions are geared more toward that scenario the number is more like 10%. evangelicals defined as those who believe in the deity of jesus, believe in a historical resurrection, and the authority of the bible.

    I don’t think Trump can be turned into a thumper, he’s just doing what repubs have to do to seem religious.

  • Well_Read

    Maybe Trump needs Jeremiah Wright, it worked for Obama?

  • Jim Reed

    He sets a high bar. Now the other Republican candidates will need a prayer video.

  • DKeane123

    And Obama is the one pretending to be Christian?

  • GeoffyG

    We’ll see who’s laughing when Trump appears tomorrow with a decent hairdo. “I tried everything, literally everything, and my head still looked like a Yorkie had died on top of it. Then, I sent $1,000,000,000 to Paula White (and a couple of bucks to Creflo Dollar) and lo and behold, I’m freaking Beyonce I have so much lustrous, luxurious and spectacular, just spectacular hair.”

  • Chris Palmer

    not since jesus have we had such a saviour as our beloved mr. trump.

  • jaunita

    The look on Trump’s face is priceless, in the clip…

  • Will Thompson

    Okay let me simply give you one of the interpretations I have received pertaining to tongues for today in our current climate, “for the Lord says it is time for men and women to diligently follow my word, voice and spirit as well as my word found in the Bible, for it is high time to stop being complicit with sin and let Me the Lord dwell within for I purchased your salvation with My Blood and My Love, so believe the gospel, follow Me and you will prosper says the Lord.” That is what one of the interpretations of tongues I have received. One must remember prosperity in the Bible is always five fold-spiritually, physically, financially, mentally and socially. God did not create poverty which in the Bible is likened unto one who robs and steals (Proverbs 24:34). God created men to labor in the light of His countenance, revelation and put poverty on the run. It’s funny, many criticize the “prosperity preachers” and then run to the government for money. That’s comical! Remember God put man and woman in a pristine environment and they chose poverty instead of prosperity. God promised Israel prosperity and they choose dumb idols. God gave America freedom and it chose slavery and sexual immorality. Prosperity in the light of God’s redemption in Christ or poverty…the choice is yours!

  • Jim Reed

    I think I would have to choose science. There is a lot of evidence that evolution is true.