Trump’s Deceitful God-Talk at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast

He avoided the Vietnam War with five deferments, said that his “ ‘personal Vietnam’ “ was “the danger he faced from getting sexually transmitted diseases,” and that he was “ ‘lucky’ “ not “to have contracted diseases when he was sleeping around . . . with multiple women.”  He added, “ ‘It’s a dangerous world out there.  It’s scary, like Vietnam.  . . . I feel like a great and very brave soldier.’ ” (“Draft-Dodger Trump Said Sleeping Around Was My ‘Personal Vietnam,’” By Tim Mak, www.thedailybeast.com, Feb. 2, 2016)

At the National Prayer Breakfast, before evangelical Christian and other faith and political leaders and foreign dignitaries, he spoke out of the other side of his mouth: “We see the Lord’s grace in the service members who risk their lives for our freedom. “  Also, “Soldiers, sailors, Coast Guardsmen, airmen, and Marines have spent long months away from home defending our great American flag.” [Applause]  And, “Together, as Americans, we are a tireless force for justice and for peace.” (“Remarks by President Trump at the 66thAnnual National Prayer Breakfast,” www.whitehouse.gov, Feb. 8, 2019)

As a presidential candidate, he said “that he would kill the families of terrorists to win the war against ISIS.”  Asserting that “the U.S. is being too ‘politically correct’ in its fight against ISIS,” he declared, “ ‘You have to take out their families . . .  They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself.’ ” (“Donald Trump on Terrorists: ‘Take out their families,’ “ By Tom LoBianco, CNN, Dec. 3, 2015)  (Never mind that ISIS was formed as a reaction to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi family members former president George W. Bush killed in his illegal, falsely-based invasion of Iraq.)

Cause and affect mean nothing to him President Trump.  Nor do contradictions.

As president, his “zero tolerance” policy at the Mexican border has involved the forced separation and traumatizing of legally-motivated asylum-seeking Central American mothers and fathers and their children.  He branded them as “criminals” and “Middle Easterners,” and met them at the border with U.S. military and tear gas, and tore families apart, caging their children — to discourage other Central Americans from exercising their right to seek asylum.

In the face of his brutal policies toward Muslim and non-white children and their families, he stroked his select, applauding National Prayer Breakfast audience with: “As part of our commitment to building a just and loving society, we must build a culture that cherishes the dignity and sanctity of innocent human life.  All children,” he continued, “born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God.” Here, more applause was met with more God-talk: “Thank you.  Every life is sacred, and every soul is a precious gift from Heaven.” (“President Trump Speaks At 2019 National Prayer Breakfast,” complete remarks, posted by Tim Hains, Real Clear Politics, Feb. 7, 2019)  Meaning white “lives” and “souls.”

America was “discovered” by white European Christians, who, armed with a papal document called the “Doctrine of Discovery,” authorized them to possess “the new world.”  (See“Five Hundred Years of Injustice”The Legacy of Fifteenth Century Religious Prejudice,” by Steve Newcomb, nativeweb.org)  They conquered and colonized the Americas on the bones of indigenous peoples and the backs of enslaved black persons.  The European settlers believed that Providence led them to America and was calling them to fulfil their “manifest destiny” of sweeping across and conquering the continent.  The killing, conquering, uprooting, walling in — and conversion — of the “heathen” Indians were part of the Divine design.

Similarly, the oppression of black persons: from slavery to Jim Crow Laws to segregation to continuing discriminatory economic and physical walls maintained by a white-controlled status quo.   A Divine design straight out of the Bible: the white Christians settler fathers and mothers believed that America was biblically ordained to be ”the light of the world – like a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5: 14)

At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump turned up that “light,” while keeping reality in the darkness of denial.  “So today, we praise God for how truly blessed we are as Americans,” he said to applause.  “Across our land, we see the splendor of God‘s creation.  Throughout our history,” he continued, “we see the story of God’s Providence.  And in every city and town, we see the Lord’s grace all around us, through a million acts of kindness, courage and generosity.  We love God.” His concluding God-talk: “As long as we open our eyes to God’s grace and open our hearts to God’s love,” he continued, “then America will forever be the land of the free, the home of the brave, and a light unto all nations.”  (Applause) (“Remarks by President Trump at the 66thAnnual National Prayer Breakfast,” Ibid)

God-talk that becomes palatable if one thinks whiteand evangelical Christian.  “Kindness, courage and generosity” from a narcissistic, psychopathological lying, belittling bully, who mocks women, specializes in name-calling, makes fun of a disabled person, depreciates whole groups of people and countries — and hates “man’s best friend.”  Devoid of empathy, his professing, “We love God” would lead many rational persons to question the “grace” and “love” of his god.

His understanding of religious freedom is also contaminated.  The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees freedom of – and from– religion in declaring, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (“U.S. Constitution: First Amendment,” www.law.cornell.edu)  With him as president, the wall separating Church and State is in danger of being breeched.

In his National Prayer Breakfast speech, he undermined that wall, preaching, “America is a nation of believers, and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer.”  And to him, Americans are not just “believers,” but Christian believers, which he clearly implied in saying, “As the Bible tells us, for we are God’s handiwork, created in Jesus Christ to do good works.”  (“Remarks by President Trump at the 66thAnnual National Prayer Breakfast,” Ibid)

He then issued a veiled appeal to evangelical Christians, for whom “religious freedom” means the freedom to practice their biblically-based discrimination against LGBTQ persons.  His discriminatory dog whistle of religious bigotry was met with applause: “When Americans are able to live by their convictions, to speak openly of their faith, and to teach their children what is right, our families thrive, our communities flourish, and our nation can achieve anything at all. (Applause)” (Ibid)

“Americans areable to live by their convictions, to speak openly of their faith and to teach their hildren what is right” – unless they are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender.   The issue here is not that Bible-believing Christians are being prevented from practicing their faith. They are being prevented from imposing their faith on LGBTQ persons.

The biblically-based faith of many evangelical Christians is actually imperialistic.  If they had the power, LGBTQ persons would not be the only ones they would seek to control, convert and punish.  The late dear comedian George Carlin provides a classic understanding of their imperialistic tendencies: “Religion is like a pair of shoes,” he said.  “Find one that fits you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.” (“George Carlin Quotes,”www.goodreads,com)  If evangelical Christians gained enough political power, they would seek to control a lot more than what people wear. Here one person’s “religious freedom” is another person’s subjugation.  Imperialism by another other name.

His GOP tax plan benefits the wealthiest Americans and corporations at the expense of middle class and poor persons.  A report on poverty under the Trump administration reveals that “the middle class is just scraping by,” that “millions of Americans live in poverty,” that “marginalized populations are hurting the most,” and that “health insurance coverage [is] stagnat[ing].” (“A Closer Look at Poverty Under the Trump administration,” By Dan Lesser and Stephani Becker, Shriver Center, Sept. 20, 2018)

In his National Prayer Breakfast speech, he transformed vicious exploitive oppression into a virtue.  “And,” he moralized, “we see the Lord’s grace in the moms and dads who work two and three jobs to give their chidren the chance for a better and much more prosperous and happier life.” (“Remarks by President Trump at the 66thAnnual National Prayer Breakfast,”, Ibid)  The “grace” of a capitalistic god.

It was as if the two destructive hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico were about him. As reported, “In quick succession, members of Congress, governors and even candidates for election in November ripped Trump for tweeting, without evidence, that “3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico” and that “this was done by the Democrats in order to make him look as bad as possible.” (“Democrats, Puerto Ricans blast Trump’s ‘beyond ridiculous’ Hurricane Maria death toll claims,” by Adam Edelman, Suzanne Gamboa and Nicole Acevedo, www.nbcnews.com, Sept. 13, 2018)  He visited Puerto Rico, and ended up tossing paper towels into a crowd — “the quicker picker uppers,” about as helpful to the flooded Puerto Ricans as his self-absorbing presence.

His National Prayer Breakfast speech also engaged in spiritual malpractice. He used 9-year-old Sophia Marie Campa Peters as a prop to demonstrate the greatness of hisand his audience’s god.  He said that she suffered from a rare disease and strokes, and was told by “doctors . . . that she would not be able to walk.”  Bur she walked, as “millions and millions of people lifted Sophia up in their prayers.”  And, “One of her doctors told her mom . . . ‘This little girl has God on her side.’ “ With this example in hand, Trump said, “We see the power of God’s love at work in our souls, and the power of God’s will to answer all our prayers.” (Ibid)

The intent here is not to minimize the power of prayer or faith in God – nor Sophia’s experience.  As a hospital chaplain for over 20 years, I often witnessed the power of faith and prayer in my work.  I’ve also been with many patients and their loved ones where verbalizing a belief in “the power of God’s will to answer all our prayers” would have been cruel and contrary to their medical reality.

The bottom line here: what all people need – and have a right to –is adequate health coverage and competent medical care.  But for self-glorifying President Trump, “God’s will” is about miracles, not morality.

President Trump is not really heralding the “power of God’s will to answer all our prayers.”  He is manufacturing a Providential Prop to make his own presumed religious belief appear powerful.  Again, it is about him – and secondarily about his assumed audience – not about “God.”

If it were about God, we would have heard these words: “He has shown you, O Mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8)  And these words: “Feed the hungry and visit a sick person, and free the captive, if he is unjustly confined.  Assist any person oppressed, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.” (“35 Inspirational Prophet Muhammad Quotes,” By Asad Meah, awakenthegreatnesswithin.com)  Also these words:

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25: 35)

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Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.

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