Prayers of the MAGA Faithful - Word&Way

Prayers of the MAGA Faithful

Republican voters in Iowa head to their caucus sites in six days to kick off the voting in the 2024 presidential race. So the candidates are crisscrossing the Hawkeye State and hitting the airwaves with ads. Former Presidential Donald Trump apparently decided on a key last-minute message to help maintain his large poll lead: he’s on a mission from God.

“On June 14, 1946, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God gave us Trump,” a new video declares. “God said, ‘I need somebody who will be strong and courageous, who will not be afraid or terrified of the wolves when they attack, a man who cares for the flock, a shepherd to mankind who will never leave nor forsake them.’”

“‘I need the most diligent worker to follow the path and remain strong in faith and know the belief of God and country, somebody who’s willing to drill, bring back manufacturing and American jobs, farm the lands, secure our borders, build our military, fight the system all day, and finish a hard week’s work by attending church on Sunday. And then his oldest son turns and says, Dad, let’s make America great again; Dad, let’s build back a country to be the envy of the world again.’ So God made Trump,” the video adds.

For more than two-and-a-half minutes, the video lauds Trump, describes him in messianic terms, and makes God out to be a patriotic American. Although not created by his campaign, Trump and several of his top advisors affirmingly shared the video on social media platforms on Friday (Jan. 5). It’s a remake of the old Paul Harvey vignette “God Made a Farmer.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign made their own version in 2022 about how “God Made a Fighter.” But unlike the DeSantis version that put the candidate in an allegedly special category of people, the Trump video baptizes him as uniquely ordained by God.

Some commentators questioned why Trump would see this as helpful. CNN’s Jim Acosta called it “bizarre,” and two legal scholars at a conservative anti-Trump site criticized it as “creepy” and “disturbing.” Yet, the rhetoric in the video isn’t surprising if you’ve been watching Trump campaign rallies (which I assume doctors recommend against doing). Maybe Trump believes the new messianic ad is right because he’s been listening to how pastors and others have been praying for him at his rallies.

People pray during a Trump rally in Sioux Center, Iowa, on Jan. 5, 2024. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

For the hour or two before Trump speaks at his campaign rallies, the crowd is fired up with music and remarks by other politicians. But first, a local pastor or Republican politician starts the rally with a prayer. And these prayers sound a lot like the “God Made Trump” video. So this issue of A Public Witness analyzes two dozen Trump rally prayers to consider key themes and what this means for our current religious-political moment.

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Rallying with Prayer

To consider the religious rhetoric at Trump rallies, I collected 24 prayers from his rallies over the last six months. I only looked at Trump rallies where his campaign controlled who went to the podium, not other events at which he spoke.

Who prays is something the campaign carefully considers. For instance, a Pentecostal minister mentioned before his prayer at a Jan. 6 rally in Newton, Iowa, that he had been asked to pray by Jackson Lane (who works on the Trump campaign as Iowa director of faith outreach). That Pentecostal minister also said Lane asked him as a pastor to publicly endorse Trump, to which the minister agreed. He added he had been told by God four years earlier that he would pray for Trump and so had been waiting in faith for the opportunity.

Those who prayed included Assemblies of God, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, and nondenominational Pentecostal ministers. The two dozen prayers totaled nearly 70 minutes, which I listened to repeatedly to analyze key themes (and then took a shower).

Divinely Chosen.

“We thank you for a man of God, Donald J. Trump, who stands with Israel,” an Assemblies of God minister prayed during an Oct. 16 rally in Adel, Iowa. “I ask this day, O God, that you would be a wall of fire around him in his comings and goings, as he has his enemies and his foes. … I ask that your presence, your anointing would go with him as he travels in his comings and goings.”

“Lord, I ask that you place your good shoulder upon him, and in the unseen realm he may have a secret service, if you will, the angelic host that go with him in the unseen realm to protect him,” he added. “We thank you for his leadership. And, Lord, we thank you like Esther in the Old Testament, who was brought forth ‘for such a time as this,’ we thank you for a man that has been brought forth ‘for such a time as this’ in the world. And as the world is in turmoil, make Donald J. Trump a trumpet in the earth for what you’re about to do.”

That minister wasn’t alone in rhetorically anointing Trump. Many of those who led prayers described Trump as godly and faithful. Several even framed Trump as specifically sent by God to lead the nation.

“Our merciful Heavenly Father, we come here today to hear the words of a man who has done great things. A man we love and respect,” a man prayed during an Oct. 9 rally in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. “And yet, great as his accomplishments are, right now we all have the privilege of talking to you, our Father. And we know that even President Trump would agree that your greatness not only in deeds but in your very essence is higher than his and above any man’s.”

A Baptist pastor who prayed during a Nov. 18 rally in Fort Dodge, Iowa, compared the energy at the Trump rally to that which will come with the second coming of Jesus: “There’s great excitement in this place, Lord, and rightfully so. But this is just a taste of what’s coming when you send your son as King of kings.” He also called Trump a “godly servant” and requested God grant Trump, his family, and his staff “the wisdom of Solomon and the discernment of David as they face the giants who are really in opposition to you, Almighty God.” Similarly, a man declared during an Aug. 8 rally in Windham, New Hampshire: “We pray that you are here with us today. As we gather to hear from President Trump, we pray that you open our hearts to his message and that we will be inspired to follow his lead.”

Multiple pastors described the U.S. as in trouble before adding they are hopeful because God had sent Trump to stand in the gap for the nation. For instance, a Pentecostal minister declared during a Jan. 6 rally in Newton, Iowa: “Ezekiel 22:30 said God looked for a man to stand in the gap, but none was found. God found one in Donald J. Trump. He’s standing in that gap for us right now.” Similarly, a Baptist pastor prayed during an Oct. 7 rally in Waterloo, Iowa: “Thank you for raising up a man to stand in the gap for us. Thank you for one that would rise up ‘for such a time as this.’ We can see your hand of protection upon him. And we would humbly ask that you would continue to protect and uphold President Trump.” He also asked that God would “impart wisdom to our president as he goes forth to stand in our place.”

Numerous pastors prayed for God to help Trump win and to provide divine protection for him during the campaign — both protection in travels and protections from “lies” and “attacks” leveled against the former president. For instance, during a Nov. 8 rally in Hialeah, Florida, a Pentecostal pastor (who previously prayed over Trump on the day the former president was indicted in Miami for mishandling classified documents) prayed, “Father, we thank you for President Trump. We release your angels round about him and his family.”

“We ask you, Holy Spirit, to move upon this rally to protect our future President Donald J. Trump and his future administration and his campaign covered with your anointing and your power. Lead us back to godliness and righteousness as a nation,” a charismatic pastor prayed during a Dec. 13 rally in Coralville, Iowa. “Come fill us up once again with the power of your spirit, fill this nation up and help us to help Donald Trump get reelected. Lord, help us to make America great again, in Jesus’s name.”

Interestingly, a few of those who prayed even cited the Bible to argue God was raising Trump to power — even as they suggested in their prayers that President Joe Biden was unlawfully in authority (raising unanswered questions about whether God messed up in 2020 or why it’s okay for them to ignore the scriptural admonition about Biden). For instance, the charismatic pastor at the Dec. 13 rally spoke before praying to attack Biden for working to “weaponize the entire legal system to try and steal an election and imprison his leading opponent, Donald Trump, despite committing no crime.” Then, after attacking the current president and claiming Trump had actually won the 2020 election, the pastor had the audacity to quote Romans 13.

“We must not lose sight that this election is part of a spiritual battle. There are demonic forces at play. But I want to remind those who have fallen prey to the leadership of such demons, have fallen prey to the diabolic forces, and have become pawns to their schemes. Romans chapter 13, verse one through four. This is the warning: ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist had been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves,’ and judgment is coming,” the pastor declared to shouts of “amen” from the audience. “When Donald Trump becomes the 47th president of the United States, there will be retribution against all those who have promoted evil in this country.”

Similarly, a woman who prayed at an Oct. 1 rally in Ottumwa, Iowa, saw Trump as raised up by God (but apparently not Biden): “Lord God, as you said in Isaiah, that you brought the government down upon your shoulders and you appoint the leaders. So, Father God, I thank you for this next administration coming. Lord, I pray favor upon President Trump and to be the trumpet and also be the wrecking ball to dismantle the corrupt government.”

“And that you will reign and restore the infrastructure of our nation through this next administration and rebuild the foundation of America for your glory,” she added. “Thank you, Lord, for the fulfillment of your word over our nation and this next administration. I thank you for protection and wisdom and kingdom health for President Trump and his family and his advisors.”

Left: Screengrab as a man prays during a Dec. 19 Trump rally in Waterloo, Iowa. Right: Screengrab as Baptist pastor Danny Heeringa prays during a July 1 Trump rally in Pickens, South Carolina.

A Christian Nation.

In addition to believing God had made Trump to be the next president, several of those who prayed connected their support for Trump to their belief that America was intended to be a “Christian” nation. For instance, a man prayed during an Oct. 29 rally in Sioux City, Iowa: “You are our God. We are still a nation under God and we are under your hand. And so we pray your blessings upon our great nation once again, restore our great nation once again.”

A Baptist megachurch pastor (and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention) who prayed during a Nov. 2 rally in Houston, Texas, argued in his prayer that America had been created as a Christian nation but was being torn from that: “We’re here today, Father, asking the question the psalmist asked: ‘What will the righteous do when the foundations are being destroyed?’ The foundations of the United States were framed by godly men holding a pen in one hand and the Bible in the other. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the amendments, based on Judeo-Christian principles. Tragically, we confess that our foundations are being systematically destroyed. May we wake up to the fact that we’re no longer a nation under God.”

“Use us to be light-bearers of your love so America can be restored and reborn. Lord, we have sung ‘God Bless America’ over and over again,” he added. “O Lord our Lord, we want to be awake and not woke. We pray for a great awakening.”

The man who prayed during a Dec. 17 rally in Reno, Nevada, portrayed Trump as the one from God who would help install Christian Nationalism in public schools and public places: “Our wonderful nation that was created so many years ago is in great danger. There are those who would have your name removed from our schools and other places of assembly. There are those in powers that would destroy our very way of life. We ask that you would send us a leader who would stand up and rally against these forces.” Similarly, a charismatic pastor who prayed during a Dec. 13 rally in Coralville, Iowa, said America needed to do two things: “become godly again, submitting ourselves to the scepter of the Most High King” and “reelect President Trump for the third time.”

Some of those who prayed demonstrated their Christian Nationalism by twisting biblical passages to be about the United States. For instance, during an Oct. 28 rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, a man alluded in his prayer to Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5 but made the passage about America instead of God’s followers: “I pray for our country, America, and that you will preserve this country, Lord, because this is the light on top of the hill. Lord, let it shine and continue to shine.” Similarly, the woman who prayed at a Nov. 11 rally in Claremont, New Hampshire, took a passage in Isaiah to make it about America and the U.S. military: “Isaiah 54:17 assures us, ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper.’ We need your protection God upon this beloved country. Guard us against adversity, turn our collective trust in our hearts towards you.”

Left: Screengrab as Assemblies of God minister Al Perez prays during an Oct. 16 Trump rally in Adel, Iowa. Right: Screengrab as Pentecostal minister Dick Green prays during a Jan. 6 Trump rally in Newton, Iowa, after taking off his Trump cap.

The Bible Tells Me So.

As already seen, those who pray at Trump rallies frequently work biblical quotes into their prayers. Often these passages were applied to America or Trump. For instance, the man who prayed at a Jan. 5 rally in Sioux Center, Iowa, switched during his prayer from addressing God to talking to Trump while quoting from Psalm 91: “Mr. President, ‘if we say the Lord is my refuge, and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.’”

While numerous passages show up in at least one prayer, there are a few that are more popular. Psalms was the most popular book, both in terms of different passages cited and the total number of quotations. Isaiah came in second, and the Old Testament far outpaced the New Testament.

As for individual passages, the most popular in the prayers was 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This is a passage often used in patriotic ways that stray from the original context.

The next most popular passages were the verses in Ephesians 6 about “the armor of God” (which is commonly misused in politics today), Isaiah 54:17 about how “no weapon formed against you shall prosper,” Ezekiel 22:30 about someone standing in the gap, and the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 (although usually just partly quoted and not always the same section). A few others that also got repeated usage were Esther 4:14 about “for such a time as this” (which is commonly misused in politics today), Psalm 23, Psalm 122:6 about “praying for the peace of Jerusalem” (with all uses after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas), and Proverbs 29:2 to complain about Biden as wicked (“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, the people groan”).

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Make Christianity Christian Again

Over the past few years, we’ve seen many examples of how the MAGAchurch movement has distorted the gospel. From pastors arrested for participating in the insurrection to people comparing Trump with Jesus to the ReAwaken America worship services and more. The prayers at Trump rallies offer yet another data point of warning. Similarly, the New York Times yesterday profiled Trump backers in Iowa who claim to be evangelical but don’t attend church — including one person who called Trump “the only savior I can see.” That’s a religious belief, but it’s not historically Christian.

Trump took over the Republican Party, pushing out conservatives who opposed him like former Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. He’s also remaking a large swath of Christianity. As a Pentecostal pastor (who is also a state representative) declared before his prayer during an Oct. 7 rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “This is not a time for politics as usual. It’s not a time for religion as usual. It’s not a time for prayers as usual. This is a time for spiritual warriors to arise and to shake the heavens.”

Unfortunately, such religion and prayers are becoming more usual. There’s a lot at stake for American democracy on Nov. 5. There’s also significant risk to our gospel witness this year.

As a public witness,

Brian Kaylor

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