As is now well known, millions of evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump and helped lead him to victory on November 8, 2016 in his stunning upset over Hillary Clinton. Besides Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., among the better known evangelicals who have support Mr. Trump are James Robison, host of the TV program Life Today, David Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch in El Cajon, California, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist, Dallas, Texas, and Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist in Prestonwood, Texas.
Until recently, there hasn’t been as much focus on Trump’s more charismatic and prosperity gospel supporters. In fact, many in these circles were convinced to vote for Trump in 2016 because prophets in the movements believed Trump was destined by God to become president as early as 2015.
Two lesser-known charismatics who have been on Trump’s Evangelical council are Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor, Free Chapel Worship Center, Gainesville, Georgia, and Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church, a multi-site megachurch of some 36,000 attenders based in Southlake, Texas, near Fort Worth.
Two prominent supporters, both associated strongly with the prosperity gospel, are Kenneth Copeland and Paula White, both of whom have also been a part of the President’s council. White has had a particularly close pastoral relationship with President Trump, starting years before he took office. And recently, she’s been appointed by Trump to the Office of Public Liaison, which is responsible for communicating and interacting with various interest groups.
On this edition of Quick to Listen, we want to delve more deeply into Trump’s charismatic and properity gospel supporters, and especially Paula White, to better understand the social and political passions and concerns of this religious movement.
Our guest is James A. Beverley, research professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Canada. He is also Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Texas. He has been a contributor Christianity Today, Faith Today, and Charisma magazines. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religion and Religions A to Z, and most recently, Donald Trump, God, and Christian Prophecy: A Guide to the Prophets and Prophecies in the Charismatic-Pentecostal World concerning the 45th President.
This episode of Quick to Listen is brought to you in part by Intensional. D.A. Horton unpacks how God addresses these issues and where to take it from there in his new book Intensional. Go to dahorton.com to learn more about Intensional.
This episode of Quick to Listen is also brought to you by Christianbook.com, your go-to source for everything Christian. Books, Bibles, gifts, music and more, all in one place. And always from people who share your values. Go to Christianbook.com.
This episode of Quick to Listen is also brought to you by Meant for More, a nationwide movement of students sharing the gospel at public school in March 2020. To learn more about how you can help equip students to reach their schools for Christ, visit Meantformore.org.
What is “Quick to Listen”? Read more
Subscribe to Quick to Listen on Apple Podcasts
Follow the podcast on Twitter
Follow our host on Twitter: Morgan Lee
Subscribe to Mark’s newsletter: The Galli Report
Follow our guest on Twitter: Emily Belz
Music by Sweeps
Highlights from Quick to Listen: Episode #186
When did you first notice the affinity that many charismatic Pentecostals and prosperity gospel Christians had for Donald Trump?
James Beverley: It was probably late 2015, but I know by January/February 2016, I was really tracking the prophets. I've studied charismatic and Pentecostal prophecy for probably 30 years, so I was continuing my interest when I picked up all the focus on Donald Trump.
At first, quite a few of the prophets were talking about Ted Cruz as their man. But some of them supported Donald Trump, even when he was not popular among evangelicals or Pentecost or charismatics. After he won the nomination, they really went for him almost totally.
So I've been tracking it now for over three years.
Tell us about some of the main prophecies regarding Donald Trump. When did they start? How widespread were they known in these circles?
James Beverley: Some prophets claim that they knew about Trump as the future president as early as 2012. But I think those ones aren't that accurate; I think they use some misleading argumentation to try to say God told them that early on. The most famous there is Mark Taylor, who had a movie about his prophecies. He says God told him in 2012 that Trump would be the president. Then Trump didn't win, so then he used the hermeneutical maneuver to say it was really for 2016.
But by 2015, you have pretty well-known prophets who are saying that God told them Trump's going to be the president. For some of the big names, you had Lana Vawser in Australia, Jeremiah Johnson in Florida, and Hank Kunneman of One Voice Ministries. By 2015, there is a pretty solid group of prophets who are saying he's the next president.
We're going to be skeptical here and assume that it isn't just the Holy Spirit that's doing this. So while the rest of the world is barely noticing him as a candidate, what do you think made his name come up in these circles?
James Beverley: If you take the prophets who sound the most credible, they believe God told them that Trump would be president. One woman said, "I wasn't really interested in politics, and then God spoke and said Trump will be the new president." I mentioned Lana Vawser in Australia. This sweet, innocent woman makes a prophecy that Trump will be president in 2015. Then she gets slammed, and you can tell she's shocked and she didn't know that her political announcement would create so much anger.
One thing that's interesting about these people is they had it right; you can see it on the internet before Trump is chosen as the Republican candidate. But you don't want to put too much into that because, in 2012, most of the prophets predicted that Romney would be president. These prophets don't claim to be 100% accurate. They believe their gift is like other gifts. There were also a couple of prophecies that said the Republicans would take the House in the 2018 midterm elections, and that didn't happen.
Did any of them prophesy that Hillary Clinton would win in the last election?
James Beverley: No. There's a common pattern among the prophets. They're almost totally pro-Trump. There is a lone voice or two. Like there's a woman who said Trump will be president and it's proof of God's wrath on America, and that he's a sign of God's judgment, not his blessing. But almost everybody else is pro-Trump.
Now, these people aren't dumb. They know that Trump has weaknesses, they know he can be careless in his tweets, and they know there's some question about whether he's really become a Christian. So they're not dumb, but they're definitely pro-Trump.
One thing your listeners from America will know more than me is the country is so divided. There are basically two positions: "I'm for Trump. He's a great guy. Don't criticize God's man in the White House" or "He should be impeached. And this was clear even before he took his vow to the White House." And the prophets are simply the ones who go pro-Trump. They say he's God's man.
Here are the latest prophecies about impeachment: he will not be impeached. God will punish the Democrats if they continue to push for impeachment. And then there's another prophet who says, Trump will win two terms and then Pence will be in two terms.
But one thing to know about the prophets is that you can't lump them all together. They are individuals, they say different things, even if in general, they're united. I only know one of them who said Trump would win two terms and Pence will win two terms, but quite a few of them say Trump's going to win in a year.
Why are they fascinated with Donald Trump? What is it about him that they find compelling, that they want to support him?
James Beverley: Some of it is just standard conservative values. Trump is not in favor of abortion. Trump wants to protect the United States of America. There are concerns about illegal immigration. Also, the prophets don't have a high view of Islam, so they appreciate Trump's concerns about militant Islam.
And the worry that The Left is taking over the world, and Trump is God's person to bring a wrecking ball to the new world order. There's a lot of concern that America's going leftist. It's becoming a hotbed of immorality where conservative values are going to be taken away and Trump as restored the protection to evangelical and other religious groups in America.
How do they reconcile their enthusiasm for Trump with his pretty clear and factual lack of moral character?
James Beverley: The most biblical way they do it is to say that he's Cyrus of Persia for America. Just like Cyrus rescued the Jews, so Donald Trump is being used by God as a bull in the China shop. Yes, he can be rough and tough, but that's what's necessary to take on the Democrats and the powers lined up against America.
The other thing they'd say is, Trump has accepted Jesus as his savior, he's asked for forgiveness of sins, and I guess they might say like all of us, he has to work on some areas of his life.
Let's talk specifically about Paula White. What can you tell us about her history, beliefs, and what she stands for?
James Beverley: With Paula White, she was not raised as a Christian. The most fundamental thing that happens to her as a young girl is that her father committed suicide when she was five. That did a number on her identity.
She had a dramatic conversion quite quickly and wants to be a worker in the church. She knows that a lot of evangelicals don't want women preaching, so it took her a while to get there, but she was under the tutelage of a pastor who said, okay, first you'll clean the toilets and then you'll teach the little kids, and quite quickly she became a dynamic preacher.
She was effective, her ministry caught on, and then she teams up with Randy and they build the famous church in Tampa. And then she goes to a whole new level with her TV show. There's a great quote in the book that goes, "You know you've made it when you're the white preacher on black television."
Along the way, Donald Trump is watching her from Florida, and then he connects with her around 2001 or 2002. Trump calls her and tells her how good she is, invites you to New York to meet them. But she tells him, "I'm wealthy, I don't need your money. I'm well known, I don't need your fame. I'm just here to help you." She has her own world and it doesn't depend on Trump.
The president asked her to come and meet her and pray with her about whether he should run in 2012, and Paula didn't think that was a good idea. And Trump agreed. And then in 2015, he asked her to lead up a movement to help reach out to evangelicals and get them on board with Trump. And that's what happened. Yes, I know she's wealthy and she likes her expensive high heels, but she comes across a person, very concerned about doing the right thing. Fundamentally she's anchored in caring for people.
Some people would say that her very championing of the prosperity gospel is in itself a heresy. What's your take on that?
James Beverley: There are the ones that are so into health and wealth that they say absolutely dangerous and false things that can really crush people. Like telling somebody who's dying of cancer, it's your fault because you didn't walk in victory. That I think is the darkest side of the prosperity movement.
The other thing that they can do is beat a good idea so much in a certain way that it leads to misrepresentation. So for example, if all you talk about is God wants you rich and He wants you healthy. and if you walk in faith, nothing bad will happen to you, you're going to end up either enormously guilty or diluted.
I don't think Paula goes down either of those roads. The biggest thing that I picked up from the book is how much she goes out of her way to care for people. How sacrificial she and Randy were when they started their church. And then after their church becomes successful, they have enormous programs to reach out to the poor. Her own life has enormous suffering, and nowhere does she say It all happened because she didn't claim total victory. She knows people get creamed by reality.
You know the other thing that I picked up from her book is that she's been very disciplined in prayer and fasting. She's been very faithful to a focus on her spiritual life. She records things in a journal, and her new book has accounts of what's going on in her life. Even in the midst of all the fame and the money and the popularity, it's clear that she wants to focus on following Jesus.
I would love to talk to her privately and ask her if her role as Trump's pastor involves some talk, blunt talk, about ways that he could improve.
There's a tremendous amount of anxiety among the large portions of Americans who are aware of who Paula White is, or what they think she stands for, and they're very concerned about her relationship with the president and her being on his advisory council. What do you think is making them worry so much?
James Beverley: Well, Trump's enemies would worry that she's a Trump supporter. That means that she's not to be trusted.
You know, when it was announced that she had this new position at the White House, right away there was major, nasty stuff against her. In The New York Times, for example, they said: "Like Trump, she's thrice-married and lives in a mansion." They're worried about her simply because she's a fan of Trump and they'll accuse her of being a bigot because she's evangelical, but her book shows that she's really good at reaching out to people, and I think she would defend the religious liberty of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.
If Trump loses the next election, despite all this support from the charismatic Pentecostal prosperity world, what does that pretend for the ministries of Paula white and for these other prophets?
James Beverley: Nothing will stop them in terms of their work.
With Paula White, for instance, even if Trump loses, she's a megastar. Her empire won't crumble unless she does something catastrophically stupid or immoral. She may not be on Air Force One, but her ministry will continue worldwide.
With the other prophets, a lot of them are small ministries, but none of them have linked their prophetic integrity to being accurate about Trump. If they're wrong, they admit it or they try to explain it away, but sometimes they're very blunt and okay admitting they are wrong. If Trump loses, I don't think they'll lose in a big way, except in this sense: if the Democrats get power in the House and the Senate and the White House, I think they could distance evangelicals and the prophetic crowd in subtle ways or explicit ways. Because as you know more than me, things can be nasty in Washington.