New Final Chapter From My Book

When the publisher of The Gospel of Self wanted to distribute my book via Counterpoint Press, I was asked to re-write a final chapter more appropriate to the new subtitle: “How Pat Robertson Stole the Soul of the GOP.” Since many of you bought the earlier version, I wanted to share that new chapter with you today. Enjoy

PAT ROBERTSON TODAY

When Pat Robertson interviewed Donald Trump for The 700 Club in July of 2017, the press turned it into a pretty big deal. After all, the President didn’t do sit-down interviews, and while Pat was clearly in Trump’s camp, the press was still trying to figure out how he’d been elected in the first place, so there were hopes that the interview would generate news.  

The Huffington Post asked me to write a piece1 for publication the day after the interview, and the headline they chose was that there was nothing surprising: 

Pat was clearly very much in sync with Trump’s entire vision and government and predicted that he would be easily re-elected if he is able to get health care and taxation under control. He reminded the President that thousands and thousands of Christians are praying for him and will continue to do so. 

Nothing presented here today was surprising or revealing, but it was a strong reminder of how far to the right we’ve moved as a country. Pat Robertson was and always will be a representative of the aristocrats, and he views life through that lens. As such, he has made the beliefs of the ruling class the beliefs of the Gospel of Self, which is a living, breathing dream for the politically conservative. That those farther down the economic scale fully trust their “masters” is the single greatest cultural feat accomplished in the last 100 years or more, and it perplexes those who rely on education and reason. This is why I called the interview today “an important cultural moment,” for if the observers continue to ignore this happening, more surprises will be in store at the polling places of America. 

Pat Robertson’s vision includes building an Evangelical Christian “shadow government” that will eventually take over when the left completely fails. In Donald Trump, Pat has found his leader. 

This wasn’t an interview; it was a reverential hand job. 

Pat Robertson’s view of America under a God-appointed leader requires a willingness to step outside certain realities to embrace, and yet that’s exactly what’s happened since Donald Trump was elected. Evangelicals must force themselves to look the other way, as revelation after revelation about his personal life, false narratives, and management style become clear, and this seems to happen almost daily. Support him they do, and in words and ways that we cannot dismiss, for Pat’s “shadow government” seems to now be coming out into the light. 

President Trump’s highly controversial summit with Valdimir Putin in Helsinki during the summer of 2018 was bashed by Democrats and Republicans alike, but it was Pat Robertson – during that same interview a year earlier – who gave his blessing to the President’s fondness for the former Soviet Union. Here’s the way The Atlantic reporter Vann Newkirk put it after the interview. The article was headlined “Pat Robertson Finally Gives Up On Russia2

Robertson didn’t push Trump at all. There were no questions about evil Russian plots, and relatively few references to nuclear war. He accepted the president’s answers without any serious challenge. 

…If Pat Robertson says Russia isn’t a problem, then it won’t be for thousands of his evangelical followers. A good portion of Trump’s base—and perhaps even some religious folks outside the base who keep up with the 700 Club—might be persuaded that Russia is a non-issue by Robertson’s acceptance. And not only did Robertson accept Trump’s answers, he gave them his blessing as only a televangelist minister could, telling the president that “I want you to know there are thousands of people praying for you and holding you up all the time.” 

The astonishment over this is fully justified, because when I was Pat’s producer, the USSR was evil personified. Russia is widely regarded as the most significant opponent of Israel during the end times of which Pat preached often. He never had anything good to say about the Soviets, so his capitulation to Trump on the subject is highly noteworthy and speaks to the lengths that white evangelicals will go to support their man. 

According to studies by both Gallup3 and Pew4, Republican support for Russia has doubled over the past few years. Ronald Reagan, who tagged the Soviets as “The Evil Empire,” and this pro-Russia activity would not have gone over well with him. This is remarkable, because Pat Robertson loved Ronald Reagan and viewed himself as advancing the Reagan legacy in his 1988 run for President. This is apparently not the case anymore, so long as Pat can have his conservative judges, Israel, and religious freedom. 

And now, with the President’s saber-rattling over a possible war with Iran, these same Christians will again be giving him their complete support. Iran is seen as Israel’s top enemy in the Middle East and represents Biblical Persia in terms of end times prophecy. One of the biggest problems Evangelicals had with Barack Obama was his efforts to deal with Iran as a nuclear power instead of taking a hardline position against the country. President Trump, however, and thanks to the support of Trump Christians, has a green light to even make war against Iran in the name of protecting Israel. 

The Gospel of Self is all over the relationship between the Christian right and Donald Trump. They helped elect a man with thoughts only of themselves and their relationship to the culture. Ignoring the red letters in the Bible, which charge Christ’s followers with care of the poor and the afflicted, these believers embrace the promises of a reprobate in the pursuit of their selfish gain. Pat Robertson was a Virginia aristocrat before he was anything else, and that backdrop forms the core of his politics. In his world, those who exhibit the worldly signs of success and happiness – primarily riches – are the ideal to which everyone should aspire. He preaches a form of good news that concerns believers not only after salvation, one that associates closeness with God to the blessings of possessions and ease in this life. Donald Trump personifies such a man, despite the immorality of his behavior towards women, his divorces, his bankruptcies, his language, his lies, and his overall character. 

But perhaps the biggest attraction that white evangelicals have towards Donald Trump is his willingness to pander to their wishes in turn for their support, especially in the areas of education, Israel, religious liberty, homosexuality, and, of course, the Supreme Court. It should be noted that each of these is a direct path to the Gospel of Self, for nothing the white evangelicals seek regards others; it’s all directed at making life better for those who imagine personal attacks around every corner from the unholy breed known as liberal progressives. “They” must be defeated! 

The Washington Post’s conservative commentator Mark Thiessen wrote5, “Trump has arguably done more in his first year in office to protect life and religious freedom than any modern president.”  

“Little wonder,” he added, “that religious conservatives stick with him despite the (Stormy) Daniels revelations. This is not to say that Christians don’t think a culture of fidelity is important. But the culture of life is important too. So is a culture that is welcoming to religious believers rather than waging war on them.” 

This motivator — the heartfelt belief that the Christian faith is under attack in our current culture — is one of the most important factors in Mr. Trump’s support. So persecuted are white Evangelical Christians by a rotting culture, the thinking goes, that we need to fight back with everything we’ve got politically, rather than just give the nation over to the devil by saying nothing. During his campaign, the President assured a drooling Christian right that “We’re gonna bring it back,” “We’re gonna protect Christianity,” and that “Christianity will have power if I’m President.” 

This issue of whether Christianity is under attack is complex and difficult to understand on every level. The parties involved have obviously differing views, but the arguments never really take place in the same contextual frame. One side argues that America was created as a Christian nation by Christians who came here to colonize in Jesus name, while the other side argues that such a belief doesn’t apply to the United States, because the country’s founders were an eclectic group and wrote documents to protect us from rule by religion. Moreover, the Christian nation argument is irrelevant in modern times, because humankind has come such a long way in the last few centuries. One is a spiritual argument; the other is an argument of reason. One touts Holy Scripture, while the other relies on education and knowledge. One is upstream with the saints of old; the other is downstream in a hundred human tributaries. One believes the Bible is a “living document” while the other sees a certain anti-progressive rigidity in a set of archaic rules. One claims to argue faith; the other claims to argue logic. One argues the Godly essence of justice; the other argues the Godly essence of mercy. These are opposites in human understanding, but the Bible teaches that God is equally both. To us, it’s a zero-sum view, and that is to our shame, for life is much bigger than our human minds can grasp. 

Any reasonable, objective study of early American history makes a convincing case that Christianity was so enmeshed in daily life at the time that one must conclude its governance and institutions were filled with people of faith. Arguing against this requires changing history, although there’s no real reason to do so. When English speaking people landed at Cape Henry Virginia in 1607, their very first act was to plant a cross and claim the land on behalf of their Savior. This act is significant in that everything that follows flows from it, including the documents that recognized the potential for mischief in taking such a proclamation too far. Hence, we have the establishment clause of the First Amendment. However, that doesn’t change the reality that the homes, by-ways, and communities of the colonies were filled with people of faith. Our democracy is based on oaths and promises that we make to each other, and there must be a form of personal punishment ahead for those who violate such, and it must be beyond what the law can provide. Hence, we swear to tell the truth by putting our hand on the Bible in courtrooms. Again, we can argue how effective it has been over the years, but this doesn’t alter the history behind it all. 

Moreover, any fair reading of early documents – including those of the Founding Fathers – can only be done using the language of the time, because the meanings of key words have changed over time. That means one must use the dictionaries of the era, Samuel Johnson’s classic of 1755 and Webster’s of 1828. When that is done, it takes considerable manipulation to conclude anything other than the truth of the claim that Christianity played a significant role in the formation of the U.S. It didn’t need to be specifically spelled out, because it was assumed at the time. This in no way means America was birthed as a theocracy, but rather a country based on the belief that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” meant that those same people were already self-governed through their faith. After all, it was John Wycliffe who first uttered the phrase when, upon completion of the first common English language translation of the Bible, he said, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This is why those same founding fathers saw the need to include the establishment clause in the First Amendment. No single representation of God could never rule a people educated in the truths of the Bible. 

As the country has become more secularized, therefore, it’s been easy for Pat Robertson and other evangelical leaders to stir their followers over the actions of contemporary progressive thinkers. It forms the controversial pot within which the fundamentalists brew their self-serving anger demanding a return to the way it used to be. In this way, they became suckers for the flimflammery of a huckster in the 2016 Presidential election.  

And progressives have played right into this longing for the good old days by visible actions that offer evidence of an alleged conspiracy against Christians. For example, who authorized academia and government to change our most basic calendar headings from BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – year of our Lord) to BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era)? There was no debate. No hearings. No input from others whatsoever. Suddenly, textbooks that our children used to study everything were printed using only BCE and CE, and all devout Christians could do was to loudly cry, “foul.” There are also the matters of School Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the personal politics of gender. Is there a battle underway for the soul of the West? The answer is irrelevant, because the appearance of such a war is enough to make a political difference in the U.S. The fact, too, that progressives don’t feel it necessary to argue the grounds of these complaints is problematic, because the assumption that it’s unnecessary adds to the perceived arrogance that Christian conservatives use to argue their point. 

Like most things in life, this is not black and white, for it involves a great many other cultural considerations. Moreover, the strict “Christian Nation” crowd deserves its own blame for gutting the fatted calf it now wishes to protect. Besides, the more important matter is that even if we agree that America was birthed among people who practiced differing forms of Christianity, what are we to do about it today? The wise answer is nothing. 

Christianity is so divided into subsets that no one speaks on behalf of the whole. It’s just not possible. Each denomination makes a case why theirs is the path to righteousness and an afterlife in heaven. Therefore, there really is no such thing as the “Christian perspective” we used to espouse back in my days at The 700 Club. Is that the Catholic perspective or the Protestant perspective? Is it premillennial or postmillennial? Is it Pentecostal or reformed? Is it liberal or conservative? Black or white? Judeo-Christian or just Christian. You can see the conflict, which is why the establishment clause is there. 

Therefore, by self-division alone, Christianity has lost its influence on the culture, and the voice that’s complaining the loudest is the one that has the money and the resources to be heard, the white Evangelicals, eighty-one percent of whom voted for Donald Trump in the last election. And so Evangelical Christianity is the branch that is trying to drag us all in the direction of the theocracy the founders hoped to avoid. This is the group who has joined forces with the Republican Party – literally stolen the soul of the Republican Party – to “make” things happen that benefit their congregations and their point-of-view. Of course, the GOP of the Reagan era was quite happy to invite this crowd into its midst, never thinking it would produce what we have today.  

Think about it. For these people, God apparently doesn’t need our faith alone; He wants us to be a powerful political voice as well. This is the group that wants a war with Islam, because it leads to their premillennial one thousand years of glory in the name of Jesus. This is the group that needs Republican leadership in Washington to keep them tax free and thriving, so they can recruit support from the mountain top of the one percent. This is the group that wants their prayer to be in public schools, their self-centered gospel to govern programs for the poor, their self-righteousness to dominate human hearts when it comes to personal medical or relationship decisions, their way of life to be the norm and to frame the melting pot, their comfort to be the guiding light regarding who we allow into the pot in the first place, and their music, film, books, and art to be the only choice for all. 

As my friend Jeff Jarvis said, “Sharia Law? That’s nothing compared to Armageddon.” 

If there is but one truth about this particular group of Christians that should make us all wary, it is this: they will never be satisfied with just one victory in the culture wars. You can take that to the bank, and it represents the only tape that must be played out to the end for us to realize that – as a self-governing people – we cannot and must not let our guard down. The history of humankind is littered with the tragedies of those who fell for idolatry, the promise of magic, failure to take care of the poor and afflicted, and the fallibility of human nature. You want civil rights rolled back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want women to return to the status of chattel? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want slavery brought back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want corporal punishment in the public square? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want a culture dominated by fascist fear and bayonets? Say nothing. Do nothing today. 

From an historical perspective, there’s a great difference between a culture being overthrown and one that self-destructs, which is what’s really happening here. If, as the Evangelicals insist, they were the ones who built this country, then its collapse must be birthed in the same womb. You cannot claim leadership for the one without responsibility for the other. This is the major blind spot of those who argue that the devil or the liberals or the communists or members of any other group are at fault. Therefore, positing that Christianity itself is the victim here is utterly self-serving, and it’s also useless in trying to do anything about the evils around us. A slipping culture needs no outside help, if the ruling class within that culture cannot or will not accept responsibility for the slippage. 

The ruling class in America today, we must now conclude, includes certain powerful and vocal elements from within the entire Judeo-Christian Western hegemony. The nobility of yesterday has been replaced by panting thieves for whom license, not liberty, is the desire demanding to be fed. Thinking has been replaced by a mindlessness not found among past generations, who survived and even thrived despite having to solve real problems like slavery, sickness, world wars, and the rights of individuals. 

Those past generations wouldn’t recognize the Christianity that’s “under attack” today, which includes truly remarkable claims and warnings from diehard leaders.  

Author and Christian leader Mary Colbert6He (God) works through the ones he chooses. We don’t choose them. All we have to do is recognize them and when you recognize a chosen one and you have the discernment to know that they’ve been chosen and know that that’s the will of God, then your life will be blessed. And if you come against the chosen one of God, you are bringing upon you and your children and your children’s children curses like you have never seen. It puts a holy fear in me. 

Newsweek7The first Bible study group held for the U.S. Cabinet in at least 100 years is led by a pastor (Ralph Drollinger, a pastor and president of Capitol Ministries: an organization which aims to “evangelize elected officials and lead them toward maturity in Christ.”) who believes homosexuality is “illegitimate,” who doesn’t believe women should preach and has described Catholicism as a “false” religion. 

Prosperity Gospel Evangelist Kenneth Copeland8If Christians don’t support Trump, they are risking the wrath of God. Trump has been chosen by God, and by rejecting him, they are rejecting God. They could be punished with barrenness, poverty, or even having a gay child. 

The press generally doesn’t keep track of statements like these and that doesn’t help. As long as the press keeps religion — especially Evangelical Christianity — in its “Sphere of Deviance,” it will operate within a narrative that does not include the role of religion in the culture. This means the press operates outside the views of those for whom their faith is a working dynamic in their lives. This makes it impossible for reporters and commentators to ever figure out what really happened that put Donald Trump in the White House. They know nothing of the Gospel of Self. They’re willing to discuss issues important to Evangelicals, but they will always underestimate and minimize the importance of the faith’s role in history and especially current events. It’s simply not enough to cite ignorance and apply reason, when reason itself is a proclaimed enemy of the faith. The problem, then, is that both sides in the great American split are debating on different playing fields. It would be like the Dallas Cowboys playing the Philadelphia Eagles with the Cowboys playing in Dallas while the Eagles playing in Philadelphia.  

So important questions are left out of the discussion entirely, such as the matter of whether Donald Trump “belongs” in the White House. Did, as the Evangelicals claim, God put him there? Mr. Trump has been in office two years, and it’s gotten so that the only voices with good things to say about the man come from his own administration, a few extreme right-wing pundits, and the very core of his support, those white Evangelical Christians. He’s made enemies of the press, his own party, and two-thirds of Americans, but to those who practice The Gospel of Self, these are all to be tolerated in the name of a God who has heard the cries of his people and decided to save the country. The response of the press is a shrug and an “oh come on!” In other words, there is no response from those who don’t believe this other than that it’s laughable. By their inability or unwillingness to respond in kind, they are not playing in the same stadium as the Evangelicals. The Gospel of Self has taught Christians that they should be fighting in the political realm today for those who would restore righteousness to America and the world. And so, we go around and around in an endless series of meaningless echo-chamber debates, yelling and screaming. So, let us instead consider an argument that assumes the Evangelicals are right but alter the narrative just a bit. 

Perhaps God actually did put Donald Trump in office. Now, we’ve moved the game to Dallas, where the offenses and defenses of both teams can take the field. 

Sometimes, the most likely and obvious answer to the question of whether something “should” be is its existence, and this forms the essence of the right response to certain Evangelicals regarding the behavior of “their man.” Donald Trump IS the President, and to borrow the language of the faith, he’s there because he’s supposed to be there. 

We must remember that Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians take their cues from the Bible, which they believe instructs them on how to respond to the cultural shifts in front of them. They’re “mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore” when it comes to morality, jobs, taxes, security, safety, freedoms, and education. It’s no coincidence that these were the planks on which Trump campaigned, so it’s easy to understand their excitement with the candidate and now President. However, the Bible is filled with stories of people who stepped outside the will of God and were destroyed as a result. Therefore, let’s frame an argument that begins with an agreement that God put Donald Trump in the White House. The theological question then becomes why did He do that?  

If we can bring ourselves to ask this, it’s completely fair to then ask the question “what could be going on in the realm of the spirit in such a scenario?” The political Evangelicals – the ones who stole the soul of the GOP — think it’s to help them in their quest to fight against “sin” in the culture, to restore things to a time when life was supposedly easier or better. “Make America Great Again” fits this narrative perfectly. But what if the “sin” is within God’s own people? Could God be judging His own people and not the culture? Perhaps God is the One who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. Asking God — in prayer or otherwise — to judge the world can be a dangerous proposition, because God’s judgment, the Bible clearly teaches, begins with the “house of God,” His people. This view is prophetic and in line completely with the teachings of both the old and new testaments. We only need to look at what Ezekiel9 said about Sodom to find prophetic parallels to today: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”  

Life destroys kingdoms that neglect their obligation to the poor and afflicted, and if that doesn’t bring a shudder to your spine, you have no conscience. This is exactly what’s taking place in America with the election of Donald Trump, and his policy decisions in the first two years of his administration prove it. The GOP – under the guidance and direction of white Evangelicals – has devolved us into the overfed, arrogant, and unconcerned culture that always precedes cultural destruction, and this – as Pat Robertson’s former executive producer – is my great fear today. On the other hand, it could be the time when we as a people rise up against it and proclaim a resounding “No!” 

Everyone knows there is a great divide between us in the West, one that life cannot tolerate forever, and perhaps that’s what the Trump presidency is all about. Could our current chaos be the very path for resolving the great divide in our midst? Frankly, if anything, that “divide” is contrary to what life could want from any of us, so again borrowing from the language of the church, perhaps this is what God is trying to show us. After all, how often does life lead us through our own difficulties by forcing us to deal with them over and over until we get it right? If Evangelicals can point to Sodom and its destruction (for homosexuality), then are we not able to use the argument above to refute that? 

The rise of Trump is a false promise to those extreme fundamentalist believers who “just know” that he’s right, because their church, their faith, and their families and friends all say so. It’s a false promise, because truth is one of those things that has a way of surfacing no matter how many times people try to hide it. Life’s way has always been to let humans do what we wish and watch as our efforts collapse. It’s the hard way, but it’s the way we learn as a species. Honestly, there’s no way we can avoid pain and suffering as this split continues. 

Our mistakes matter in our willingness to fulfill the potential of the human race. Could this be one of those times when we’re able to fix some of the big ones? 

Pat Robertson and those of us who labored alongside him in the 1980s nudged the country to the political right in ways that were more brilliant than devious. He sincerely felt and still feels, among other things, that the U.S. would be better off with teacher-led prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments back on public walls, abortion returned to illegal status, overturning the Johnson Amendment (prohibiting political involvement by churches), stopping the inflow of Muslims into America, and tax cuts that would permit the wealthy to give more to charities, including his own.  

In so doing, Robertson wrote the strategy for not only Republicans but also for other white Evangelicals, which is why Christianity’s brand is in so much trouble today. His influence cannot be overstated, because without the foundation laid by Robertson and The 700 Club, Donald Trump would never have been elected and the country wouldn’t be nearly so split as it is right now.   

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