'God gave us Trump': Christian media evangelicals preach a messianic message


By Helen Coster

NEW YORK (Reuters) – “This is really a battle between good and evil,” evangelical TV preacher Hank Kunneman says of the slew of criminal charges facing Donald Trump. “There’s something on President Trump that the enemy fears: It’s called the anointing.”

The Nebraska pastor, who was speaking on cable news show “FlashPoint” last summer, is among several voices in Christian media pressing a message of Biblical proportions: The 2024 presidential race is a fight for America’s soul, and a persecuted Trump has God’s protection.

“They’re just trying to bankrupt him. They’re trying to take everything he’s got. They’re trying to put him in prison,” author, media personality and self-proclaimed prophet Lance Wallnau said in October on “The Jim Bakker Show”, an hour-long daily broadcast that focuses on news and revelations about the end times that it says we are living in.

“The hand of God is on him and he cannot be stopped.”

In both the 2016 and 2020 elections, evangelical voters staunchly supported Trump despite claims of adultery and sexual misconduct, which he denied. With Trump now facing dozens of criminal charges as he pursues a second term, some Christian media are bolstering his support by portraying him as an instrument of God’s will who faces persecution by his foes.

While the people making these claims are largely outside the mainstream in Christian media, they have amassed significant online followings and their messages reverberate across radio shows, cable TV and streaming platforms that reach millions of Americans every day.

The claims that Trump benefits from divine help present a jarring counterpoint to the views voiced by his critics, who denounce him as an immoral grifter set on dismantling democracy and point to his inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants in the country illegally and opponents he has threatened to prosecute.

The former president’s myriad legal woes include allegations of sexual abuse and financial chicanery. In May, a jury decided Trump must pay $5 million in damages for sexually abusing a magazine writer in the 1990s and then branding her a liar. He is also facing a criminal trial on charges he covered up hush-money payments to a porn star. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

The barrage of legal actions have broadly served to rev up Trump’s support among Republicans rather than diminish it, according to a July Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The roughly 80 million Americans who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Protestants – about a quarter of the population – have provided the bedrock for his meteoric rise, and their turnout levels this November could prove critical in a tight contest against Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Reuters interviews with 10 experts in faith-based political outreach, political science, media and religion outlined the contours of a Christian media space broadly supportive of Trump and his policies, though offering differing views about any religious mission he might have, and highlighting a shift in the messaging at the fringes in the run-up to this election.

Many conservative Christians have long relied on Christian media to champion political causes tied to their faith, like anti-communism and anti-abortion.

But what’s new about this election cycle is the unabashed support for Trump and the frequency he is depicted as “God’s chosen” leader, said Brian Calfano, a political science and journalism professor at the University of Cincinnati who has researched the proliferation of media-savvy ministers who support Trump.

“Before Trump, there was some hero worship of favored politicians, but the larger philosophical or ideological causes received greater attention.”

Language that casts Trump in messianic terms helps to energize his base, said Paul Djupe, a political scientist at Denison University who specializes in religion and politics.

Wallnau and Kunneman did not respond to Reuters requests for comment for this article, while representatives for FlashPoint host Gene Bailey and Bakker declined to comment. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

SELF-PROCLAIMED PROPHETS

Christian media includes thousands of religious podcasts, radio shows, cable TV and streaming platforms, with a combined monthly audience of more than 140 million Americans, according to the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) association.

Shows like FlashPoint and Bakker’s show are comparatively niche.

FlashPoint for instance pulls in an average monthly cable TV audience of roughly 11,000 households, according to Comscore data, while the Victory Channel it appears on has more than a million followers on YouTube and Facebook combined. Trump participated in six interviews with FlashPoint between 2021 and 2023.

Many preachers ply their own trade and command significant online audiences. For example, Wallnau has his own podcast and more than 1.3 million followers on social media. Kunneman, another self-styled prophet, has close to 250,000.

Many Christian voters credit Trump with a series of policy victories, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to overturn the constitutional right to abortion after he appointed three conservative justices to the court, plus the moving of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“There’s a lot of evangelical conservative Christian voters that have some challenges with some aspects of his personality, but when they look at his policies, what he did, juxtaposed to what we have, and what’s proposed by those on the other side, it’s a no-brainer,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council evangelical advocacy group.

His “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” airs every week day on about 100 Christian TV stations, various streaming channels and 800 radio stations and draws an average monthly cable TV audience of roughly 5,000 households, according to Comscore.

While Perkins, a more mainstream voice in Christian media, steers clear of any messianic messaging, the former Louisiana lawmaker said on his show in December that efforts to kick Trump off the Republican primary ballot were part of a “battle between good and evil”.

“You will hear the fact that we do believe that God calls people to different walks of life, including into the political realm,” Perkins told Reuters in an interview.

Much of the Trump content on Christian media looks at the former president through the lens of the Bible, he added, for example drawing a parallel between him and Cyrus the Great, the pagan ruler of the 6th century BC who liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity and enshrined religious freedom.

On Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian outlet that reaches more than 100 million U.S. households, former Arkansas governor, TV host and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee says Trump should be judged by his deeds.

“He proved to be the most pro-life president in American history, by not just by what he said, but by what he did,” Huckabee said in December.

Huckabee and Trinity Broadcasting Network did not respond to requests for comment.

‘SO GOD GAVE US TRUMP’

It’s difficult to get an exact count of how much of the Christian media is explicitly pro-Trump, because like other aspects of the fragmented media industry, it has ballooned in recent years over TV, radio, podcasts and social media.

NRB President Troy Miller said Christian media was becoming more politically focused, although political programming still represented less than 3% of overall content.

Nevertheless, he added, it is filling a vacuum for conservative evangelicals who feel mainstream media coverage doesn’t reflect their values or fairly cover a candidate who in their eyes understands them and the issues they care about.

“You’re programming for your audience, so Trump’s going to be a major part of that,” he said in an interview.

Miller said the view that Trump has been anointed by God reflects the fringe of Christian media but that the notion of spiritual warfare playing out in the U.S. is more mainstream.

Trump himself has leaned into the battle.

In a speech to an NRB conference last month Trump vowed to defend Christianity and urged Christians to vote for him in the Nov. 5 election, a contest he depicted in religious terms and likened to the great battles of World War Two.

“I know that to achieve victory in this fight, just like in the battles of the past, we still need the hand of our Lord, and the grace of Almighty God,” he told the gathering to applause.

The former president has started some rallies with a messianic video made by social media influencers which opens with the line: “On June 14, 1946, God looked down on his planned paradise and said: I need a caretaker, so God gave us Trump.”

He has also shared on the Truth Social media app a sketch of himself in court, sitting next to what appears to be a rendering of Jesus Christ.

Written above the drawing: “Nobody could have made it this far alone.”

(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York, additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco, editing by Ross Colvin and Pravin Char)



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