Calling Trump ‘the chosen one’ is a political act — not a theological statementRoundup
tags: Rick Perry, religious history, evangelicals, Trump
Wallace Best is a professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University.
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry incited controversy recently by saying he believes Donald Trump has been sent by God as “the chosen one” — selected “to rule and judge over us on this planet and our government.” As a historian of American evangelicalism, I see this for the problematic claim that it is, but I also view it in historical perspective.
Perry’s statement about a divinely ordained presidency follows a long tradition of evangelical Christians who consider the commander in chief to have been “sent by God.” It was said of presidents as politically diverse as Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Roosevelt “infused his own simple, literal faith so powerfully into the spirit of the American public that many believed he had been sent by God,” historian Christine Wicker has observed. Now Perry and many other evangelical Christians are attaching that distinction to Trump, who is the least of these presidents and certainly the least “Christian,” in terms of character, stated conviction and outward behavior.
Former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made similar comments about Trump’s presidency in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network last month. When asked by the network’s chief politics strategist, David Brody, what God’s intent was in installing Trump in office, Haley responded by saying that his presidency showed that “everything happens for a reason. … I think God sometimes places people for lessons and sometimes places people for change.”
Haley’s and Perry’s comments show emphatically that Trump has raised anew some important theological questions about God’s providential role in the election of U.S. presidents, and the notion of divine “chosenness.”
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