For the better part of three or four decades, the religious right has insisted that it’s standing up for Americans with traditional values who are being bullied by those big, bad liberal elites. Never mind that in a lot of cases, they are the ones doing the bullying.
We’re seeing this play out in real-time. The nation’s so-called moral guardians insist that Russia didn’t hack the election for Donald Trump–God did. Supposedly, the Almighty did so in order to get someone in the White House who would not only make America great again, but make America Christian again. What of those who aren’t of that mind, and recoil at the level of religious right support for Trump? Well, to hear the religious right talk, they feel that way because they’re being played by the devil.
For instance, earlier this spring, a Christian businessman and columnist for Charisma magazine claimed that those who want to hold Trump to account are being driven by “an inquisition spirit.” Never mind that for years, the more hidebound elements of the fundamentalist, charismatic and Pentecostal world have considered even mildly liberal sympathies to be a sign that you don’t have a proper walk with God, and that voting for a Democrat puts your salvation at risk. If that isn’t evidence of Inquisition-style bullying, what is?
Now you’re probably wondering–how could such claptrap make it into a Christian publication? Well, for some time, Charisma’s founder and publisher, Steve Strang, has used Charisma’s platform as the largest Pentecostal/charismatic magazine in the world to carry water for the religious right. It’s led him to engage in a level of alternative facting that would do Trump proud.
This is a man who claims Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was almost derailed by “nickel and dime stuff.” This is a man who claims Trump has been a runaway success despite ample evidence the last two-plus years have been a dumpster fire. And this is a man who believes last winter’s government shutdown was actually a win for Trump even though he was all but forced to take a deal that he rejected earlier in order to reopen the government.
In other words, it’s been amply established that Strang’s desire to defend his new messiah is so great that such little things as facts and basic decency don’t matter. That was made even more clear late last week, when he argued that Trump is the target of a bullying campaign that is eerily reminiscent of the one that supposedly engulfed another general in the Trumpvangelical Army, Jim Bakker.
In an edition of his podcast, “The Strang Report,” Strang recalled a recent appearance on Bakker’s show. Strang and Bakker recalled the federal investigation that ultimately resulted in Bakker being packed off to prison in 1991–and likened it to the current litany of investigations engulfing Trump. Listen here.
Bakker claimed that during the 1980s, it seemed like “every agency of government” was out to get him. To hear him talk, “my enemies wanted me in prison” because he was one of the most–and by some measures, the most–popular televangelists in the country. He saw parallels with Trump, who seemingly had “every agency of government” out to bring him down before he was supposedly “exonerated” by Robert Mueller.
Leaving aside the fact that any claim Trump makes to being exonerated has been debunked several times over, any serious look at Bakker’s past reveals that his claims to being the victim of government bullying are nothing more than hot air. Bakker and his ministry, PTL, were under nearly constant federal scrutiny from 1979 onward due to playing fast and loose with ministry finances. Separate investigations by the FCC and IRS revealed that Bakker funneled staggering amounts of PTL money into his own coffers.
Soon after being pushed out of PTL in the wake of his now-infamous tryst with Jessica Hahn, another investigation revealed that he had sold more “lifetime partnerships” at his Heritage USA Christian retreat in Fort Mill, South Carolina than could ever be accommodated. He actually raised twice the money supposedly needed to buy a luxury hotel, but most of it went straight into Heritage USA’s bank account, and some of it went into his own pocket. As it turned out, he might have been brought down sooner, but Reagan administration officials were afraid of angering their religious right base by going too hard after him.
Under the circumstances, Bakker more than deserved the 45-year sentence that was originally handed down at his 1989 trial. And he would likely still be in prison, if not for a case of diarrhea of the mouth by the presiding judge, Robert Potter, who famously slammed Bakker for making Christians look like “saps for money-grubbing preachers or priests.” An appeals court found that Potter improperly used his own religious beliefs as a factor in Bakker’s sentence and ordered a new hearing. Bakker was ultimately resentenced to eight years and paroled after five.
Looking at Bakker’s past history, one has to wonder–does he really want to liken himself to Trump? After all, Bakker was justly exposed for the con man that he was. And if the government is supposedly “bullying” Trump in the same manner that they bullied Bakker in the 1980s, that doesn’t bode well for Trump–or for the fundies who have bowed down to him.
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