First up from the God Machine this week is a look at Donald Trump's announcement of a new U.S. policy towards Israel, which drew swift criticisms from a wide variety of countries, friend and foe, leading to speculation as to what motivated the Republican president to place such a dangerous bet.
A Wall Street Journal report explained that evangelical Christians and Trump's allies in the religious right movement launched a "sustained push," which "began before he was in office," and which had the intended effect.
Evangelical leaders have urged supporters to email the White House about moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They have advocated on television. And since Mr. Trump took office, they have spoken about it frequently with him and other White House officials, according to multiple evangelical leaders close to Mr. Trump."While this decision was not made exclusively in response to evangelicals, it would not have been made without the evangelical influence," said Johnnie Moore, a member of Mr. Trump's evangelical advisory board.... Mr. Moore said recognizing Jerusalem as the capital has been a frequent topic of conversation when evangelical leaders visit the White House, which under Mr. Trump has been almost daily.
The piece added that the evangelicals who lobbied the president and his team "prize Jerusalem as a holy city, with special status as the place of Christ's death and his awaited return."
Radical TV preacher Pat Robertson seemed to reference this on his television show this week, telling viewers, "The last battle is going to be over Jerusalem ... that is the holy city. You go in favor of breaking up Jerusalem, you're going against the direct word of Jesus, and this is a prophecy that has stood for hundreds of years." Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch pastor and prominent White House ally, added that Jerusalem is the place Jesus “will set foot again on earth at his second coming.”
There's no reason to believe Trump made his controversial decision for theological reasons. Indeed, there's nothing to suggest the president even knows anything about this aspect of the issue.
But while the White House confronts international criticisms for abandoning a delicate U.S. policy, and deals with the regional unrest generated by Trump's announcement, it's worth recognizing who had the administration's ear. And in this case, those who had access and influence with the president's team had a faith-based vision that came to fruition this week.
The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, another close White House ally, added this week that U.S. foreign policy towards Israel "is coming into alignment with biblical truth," at least as the religious right movement sees it.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Eager to take credit for anything he can think of, Donald Trump boasted this week he's brought back Christmas "bigger and better than ever." Really? Ever?
* Referencing data from the Public Religion Research Institute, this Atlantic piece was striking: "White evangelicals are now more tolerant of immoral behavior by elected officials than the average American. 'This is really a sea change in evangelical ethics,' Robert P. Jones, the head of the institute and the author of The End of White Christian America, recently told me."
* And the White House's Hanukkah celebration this week excluded many Jewish guests the president considered political opponents, including members of Congress. Every other modern president has taken a more inclusive, and less partisan, approach. (The event was also held early to accommodate Trump's weekend trip to his Florida golf resort, which is hilariously ironic given his previous whining.)