Was it the Russians or God? Evangelical Leaders Working Out the Kinks with Trump’s Transition Picks

While Donald Trump’s narrow Electoral College victory on November 8 shocked and appalled most of the world, it didn’t take evangelical heavyweight Franklin Graham very long to declare that God himself was involved in the outcome:

Since election day, however, many commentators, activists, and politicians have become increasingly concerned with a more tangible, demonstrable type of interference in the US election—that of Russian hacking. The CIA has now concluded that Russian intervention was designed not just to undermine faith in American democratic processes, but also to tip the election specifically in Trump’s favor.

It has also emerged that Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and FBI Director James Comey, knew that Russia had hacked both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee but only leaked Democratic documents, and that they suppressed this information, apparently for purely partisan reasons.

However, with the exception of a handful of Republican leaders such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, this has not stopped Republicans from denying Russian interference. Trump himself deflected on this issue in his recent interview with Chris Wallace on FOX News Sunday, undermining America’s intelligence community in a brazenly partisan, irresponsible manner.

For his part, Graham has joined in on the Republican deflection, doubling down on his authoritarian politics of Providentialism as he tweeted a rhetorical question this morning:

Perhaps this should not surprise us, given how overwhelmingly white evangelicals backed Trump. Many of Graham’s Twitter followers replied that it was clearly God who delivered the presidency to Trump, ascribing much efficacy to the power of prayer and to Graham’s Decision America Tour.

Meanwhile, however, some evangelicals are concerned with Trump’s pick of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who received the Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin in 2013, as Secretary of State. While Family Research Council head Tony Perkins’ much vaunted statement is mostly concerned with Tillerson’s supposed support for LGBTQ and abortion rights—more imagined than real, I suspect, since Exxon has a terrible record on LGBTQ issues in the workplace—Perkins did also refer to some GOP senators’ worries about Tillerson’s closeness to Putin.

Although Russian Children’s Rights Ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova has suggested that Russia may end its ban on the adoption of Russian children to US parents under a Trump presidency, something conservative American evangelicals would be pleased about, Russia has also begun persecuting protestants again under a series of “anti-terrorism” measures passed over the summer that I have covered elsewhere.

Christianity Today and indeed Franklin Graham have expressed their dismay over these measures, which seems to have been a source of friction in Graham’s erstwhile cozy relationship with Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church.

It is somewhat curious, therefore, that Graham is now willing to look the other way relative to Russian interference in the 2016 election, but the reasons are clear enough. Despite Perkins protesting too much over Tillerson, Trump’s transition gives every indication that hardline white evangelicals will get just about everything they want.

Cabinet picks like Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, and Rick Perry certainly suggest as much, as does Mike Pence, an extraordinarily effective culture warrior, in the role of Vice President. Russia’s current kleptocratic regime wraps itself in the politics of “traditional values,” and, judging by his cabinet picks thus far, there’s little reason not to expect the same from a Trump administration. No wonder the Trump team is so comfortable with Russian elites, whatever Franklin Graham may currently think of them.