On Monday, Donald Trump endorsed reading the Bible in school. Yesterday, his press secretary, Sarah Sanders said on the Christian Broadcasting Network that God “wanted Donald Trump to become President, and that’s why he’s there.” At this rate, can we expect that tomorrow, Trump will part the Potomac or reach into a fish’s mouth and find the money for his Wall?
I’m going to tentatively go with “no.”
But before we dismiss Sanders’ remarks out of hand as simple religious pandering or demagoguery (not least because millions of Americans share the belief she expressed), we should take them seriously. Whether she intended it or not (and given her history and the venue, she likely did), Sanders is actually drawing upon an established Christian doctrine, albeit one that has been subject to various, widely different interpretations over the centuries.
Christianity has been both a conservative and a revolutionary religion. During Jesus’ time, He made His famous statement “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” in response to religious leaders who were trying to frame him as a political subversive or a tax evader (and yes, he did pay his taxes with money from the mouth of a fish – hey, being the Son of God and all is not without its benefits). Yet, once He was eventually arrested, He also refused back away from his claims to divinity or to grovel before the authorities who could either release or crucify Him. And his followers of course followed suit, suffering periodic persecution by the Roman Empire as a result (things eventually got much better for the Church vis-à-vis Rome).
One of those followers was the apostle Paul, who was initially (as Saul) a leading persecutor himself before being converted and eventually suffering the same imprisonment he once inflicted on others. It was this Paul whose letters form most of the books of the New Testament and who articulated many of the more important elements of Christianity. In chapter 13 of his letter to the Romans (fortunately, my emails aren’t usually long enough to be divided into chapters, though I’m not expounding the principles of a new religion, so there’s that), Paul states:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
It seems to be this passage that Press Secretary Sanders was alluding to when she made her statement on CBN. Although she didn’t explicitly reference Romans 13 this time, she has in the past. When then Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 as justification for separating parents and children at the US/Mexico border, Sanders backed up Sessions’ interpretation of the scripture.
Putting aside the specifics of the border issue, it’s useful to ask: does a fair reading of Romans 13 mean that God “wanted Donald Trump to become President?”
Political History! (Still Featuring Christianity)
In medieval Europe, Romans 13 and other scriptures (like the prophet Samuel anointing David as King of Israel in the Old Testament) were used to establish the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings (indeed, the Pope used to anoint the Holy Roman Emperor, for example). After the Reformation, leading Protestants were split on Romans 13: Martin Luther generally called for obedience to governments (even wicked ones), while Calvin used it to justify resistance to unjust rule (in Calvin’s estimation, if all authority is given by God, then lower officials had independent authority that they could use to challenge an unjust superior).
In American history, Romans 13 was used by both proponents and opponents of slavery, and was cited by segregationists and by Martin Luther King, Jr., (a favorite on this site) who was much more willing than his 16th century namesake to disobey civil authority for a moral cause.
Assuming an omnipotent God, logic follows that He allowed Donald Trump to win, but allowing does not necessarily imply endorsement, since humans routinely do all kinds of things that the God of the Bible does not like – remember Adam, Eve and that fruit? – He seemingly allows both things He wants and things He doesn’t want. Finally, to put a Calvinist spin on democracy, if God ordained all authority, and authority within a democracy rests with the people through voting, or whatever procedures are in place to express the population’s will (including possibly impeachment), then the same logic would simultaneously endorse Donald Trump’s current position and justify those seeking to remove him through the agreed upon methods of doing so, i.e. election or impeachment.
Oh, and remember that story of David being anointed king by Samuel. Well, the other part of that story is that there was already a King of Israel, a really tall guy named Saul (no, not the Paul Saul, a different one) who David actually ended up working for (fun fact: during one of his fits of rage, Saul threw a spear at David – is it bad that I don’t think this is totally outside of the realm of possibility in this White House? I guess Twitter serves the same purpose at the moment. ) So, maybe God simply let Trump win the 2016 election, or maybe He really does want Donald Trump in office. But even if this is so, what if He wants Robert Mueller and Nancy Pelosi in their offices, too. And what if He wants Kamala Harris or Mike Pence or Beto O’Rourke or someone else in the Oval Office in 2020?