Most of the country is starting to realize that Donald Trump is manifestly unfit and unqualified. But one demographic remains steadfastly loyal to him–the religious right. For the better part of four years, the nation’s self-proclaimed moral guardians have mounted an all-out campaign to bully the nation into bowing down to Trump. We got another example of this bullying earlier this week, when two diehard pro-Trump evangelicals branded one of their own a “viper” for–horrors!–daring to call out a hateful Trump tweet.
As of Wednesday, Trump’s average approval rating, as calculated by FiveThirtyEight, stands at 42.7 percent. By any standard, this is absolutely brutal. But even as bad as those numbers are, a case can be made that they’re inflated. It’s very likely that Trump would be struggling to stay in the 30s if not for his continued otherworldly support among white evangelicals.
For instance, in January, Public Religion Research Institute found that 77 percent of white evangelicals approved of Trump’s performance–almost identical to the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for him in 2016. Moreover, while poll after poll shows that Americans as a whole aren’t keen on how Trump has responded to the coronavirus pandemic, Pew Research found that 77 percent of white evangelicals think he’s doing a good job handling it.
How is this possible? Well, since Trump locked up the Republican nomination in 2016, the religious right has insisted that he was God’s choice to be president. This ramped up to another level after Trump’s upset victory. The religious right insisted that God, not Russia, hacked the election for Trump. Therefore, opposing Trump borders on blasphemy.
In an environment like that, if you’re even mildly opposed to Trump, it’s probably best that you keep your head down–especially if you live in a state where Trump still walks on water. And that applies even if you generally support Trump, but don’t approve of his unhinged 280-character tirades.
Jentezen Franklin, pastor of Free Chapel in Gainesville, Georgia; recently found this out the hard way. Franklin has been one of Trump’s top spiritual advisers for some time. For the most part, Franklin has been a willing participant in the religious right’s bullying campaign. In January, for instance, he told Todd Starnes that if evangelicals stay home in November, the results could be “tragic.” Earlier, in February 2019, he told Hill.TV’s “Rising” that Trump’s personality doesn’t matter to him as much as his policies.
But Franklin broke ranks on Friday afternoon when he took to Twitter to condemn Trump for warning that those who loot stores could potentially get shot.
While speaking out on the arrest of the Minneapolis cop who suffocated George Floyd to death by placing his knee on Floyd’s neck, Franklin added his voice to those condemning Trump for warning protesters, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter deemed it so incendiary that it hid the tweet from public view and prevented it from being shared.
Franklin called Trump’s tweet “insensitive.” He said that while he “understood the spirit” of what Trump was trying to do–call for “law and order”–he believed Trump needed to use “words that heal and not divide.”
Now who could have a problem with that? Well, Trumpvangelical ministers and conspiracy merchants Chris McDaniel and Mark Taylor had a big problem with it. They unloaded on Franklin during the Monday edition of McDaniel’s podcast, “The Mc Files.” Watch here.
McDaniel devoted his show to attacking “timid pastors” who would dare speak ill of Trump. He then turned the floor over to Taylor, best known as the so-called prophet who claimed he’d gotten a “word from the Lord” about Trump being president.
Taylor said that as a retired firefighter, he understood exactly what Trump was saying. He claimed that at some point, whenever there’s looting, there’s going to be gunplay–either from businessmen, cops, or the looters themselves. While claiming that he wasn’t attacking anyone, he claimed that he’d warned in the past about the “vipers” on Trump’s evangelical advisory board.
As Taylor saw it, Franklin had committed a cardinal sin–never attack someone “when he’s in that foxhole with you.” He believed that Franklin had “exposed himself” as a “viper” for daring to publicly speak out against Trump’s tweet. To Taylor’s mind, Franklin’s tweet was an example of the “political correctness” that is causing the country to burn. McDaniel agreed, wondering why Franklin wasn’t speaking out against the looting. From where McDaniel was sitting, Franklin wasn’t just a “viper,” he was manifesting “the spirit of Antichrist.”
Wait a minute. So when a pro-Trump pastor speaks out against one of Trump’s incendiary tweets, he’s a “viper” who is being influenced by an Antichrist spirit? Gee, I thought that it was a sign that you hadn’t completely lost your sense of decency. Oh, that’s right. The religious right has made clear that Trump can be as boorish as he wants on Twitter, just as long as he continues making the right clucking noises on social issues.
When the history books are written about the Trump era, historians and students alike are probably going to wonder why people who held themselves out as religious were so fanatically loyal to Trump. Well, now we have at least part of our answer. Apparently anything less than unreserved support for Trump makes you a “viper.”
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