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Image: Federal Election Commission
Federal Election Commission headquarters on Sept. 21, 2018 in Washington.Sarah Silbiger / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Trump-backed FEC chair: 2020 election amounts to a 'spiritual war'

It's inherently problematic when the head of the Federal Elections Commission sees the current election cycle as "a spiritual war."


Lengthy books could be written on Donald Trump's controversial personnel decisions, but some of the president's most provocative choices for powerful governmental posts are not widely recognized by the public.

A few months ago, for example, Senate Republicans confirmed James "Trey" Trainor III, Trump's choice to lead the Federal Elections Commission. Reading this report from the Religion News Service, I'm starting to think he wasn't a great choice for the post.

The head of the Federal Election Commission chastised Catholic bishops during a pair of interviews this week, accusing church hierarchy of "hiding behind" their nonprofit status and declaring that this year's U.S. election amounts to a "spiritual war" that threatens the country's "Christian moral principles." [Trainor] made the remarks during an interview released on Wednesday (Sept. 16) by Church Militant, a controversial conservative Catholic media outlet, and in a separate phone interview with Religion News Service.

Yes, the Republican lawyer who now chairs the Federal Election Commission appears to have quite a few provocative religio-political opinions, including asserting this week that church leaders can endorse candidates for public office, despite federal tax law that requires tax-exempt institutions to remain neutral in political elections.

Trainor went on to describe the separation of church and state -- a bedrock principle of the U.S. system of government -- as "a fallacy," because "every person who comes to the public square has to have an informed conscience in one way or another, and it's either informed by their religion, their tradition or something."

In reality, the principle of church-state separation is about government neutrality in matters of faith.

And then there were his thoughts about a 2020 "spiritual war."

"It was (John) Adams that said the Constitution presupposes a Christian moral people, which means you have to have that underlying principle in order for the Constitution to function and work properly," Trainor said. "What we see going on around the country is complete anarchy in places where the rule of law has been completely abrogated. So it is a spiritual war in that it is striking at the underlying foundations of our constitutional republic. It's getting rid of the Christian moral principles that are the basis of the foundation of the country" he said.

First, John Adams never said the U.S. Constitution presupposes a Christian moral people.

Second, John Adams did sign a treaty in 1797 that said the government of the United States "is not founded in any sense on the Christian religion," which is largely the opposite of what Trainor argued this week.

And third, while Trainor's religious beliefs are clearly a private matter, it's inherently problematic when the head of the Federal Elections Commission sees the current election cycle as "a spiritual war."

His colleague, FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, told the Religion News Service, "Our elections are not spiritual wars. They are not wars at all. Wars have enemies; elections have opponents. We're all Americans and we're all in this together."