America may not have an official religion, but you'd have to be crazy to think that politicians aren't expected to fit in a certain spiritual mold. While there might be a few exceptions, like JFK's Catholicism, Mitt Romney's Mormonism, and Barack Obama's dastardly secret Muslim agenda, if you want to run for president in this country, you usually need to belong to a mainstream branch of Protestantism. And a study by Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans think it is important for the president to have "strong religious beliefs." That's why when Donald Trump entered the political arena, people suddenly started asking for proof that he gave a shit about God.
Painting your ceiling to match the Sistine Chapel doesn't count.
After all, there was plenty of evidence that Trump didn't exactly understand religion. Despite posting his confirmation photo on Facebook as proof he's a part of the club, when it comes to the basics of Christianity, he could really do with a refresher course. There was the time he attended church on the campaign trail and mistakenly put money on the Communion plate, confusing it for the offering one (or maybe his answer to everything is just to throw money at it). When he stopped by Liberty University, he oddly referred to the book of the Bible called Second Corinthians as "Two Corinthians," as if he had never heard it said out loud before. Then there was the time he flippantly called the Communion ritual "my little wine" and "my little cracker." Or the fact that he admits he has never asked forgiveness for his sins, and that his favorite verse of the Bible is the Old Testament's "an eye for an eye" -- a verse that Jesus specifically says not to follow in the New Testament when he says to turn the other cheek (although this would explain some of Trump's business dealings). And when asked by the Christian Broadcasting Network what God meant to him, Trump proceeded to tell a story about buying a golf course.
CBN News/The Brody File
"I made one of the great deals they say ever." -- the Gospel according to Trump
Compared to candidates like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or even Hillary Clinton, whose Christian bona fides were never called into question, it seems like Trump might be doing a little dance for the benefit of the electorate, especially the evangelical voters whom he absolutely needed in order to get elected. However, there is evidence that he isn't an atheist or a lapsed Presbyterian or anything like that, but a devout follower of a very strange branch of Christianity called the Prosperity Gospel or Word of Faith.
While he was introduced to this theology when he was a kid (more on that in a minute), these days, his spiritual adviser is a woman named Paula White. She claims to have brought Trump to Jesus 14 years ago, and has allegedly been flown to Atlantic City numerous times for private Bible study sessions with him, as well as having him appear on her TV show. He was singing her praises on CNN as far back as 2007. White will not only be giving the main prayer at his inauguration, but will also be a part of his administration as the chair of the Evangelical Advisory Board. Oh, and she was investigated by the Senate for three years for her shady fundraising practices, never mind those rumors that she had plastic surgery on her parishioners' dime. She also looks like every blonde Fembot Fox News asks to scream at their cameras until their internal circuitry fries.
Gotta have something pretty to look at during those boring sermons.
The Prosperity Gospel is quintessentially American. One journalist described it as the "religion of winning," so we have to assume Charlie Sheen is onboard too. When Trump was introduced to it as a child, it was through the pastor Norman Vincent Peale. Peale preached about and literally wrote the book on religion as self-esteem in his 1952 bestseller The Power Of Positive Thinking. This was unlike any religion text seen before. This was "applied Christianity," wherein you used God to achieve "a perfected and amazing method of successful living." As that same journalist points out, Peale's words sound a whole like Trump's usual lexicon ("success," "amazing"), in case you were wondering where his odd way of speaking originated. Even in the 1950s, people were calling bullshit on this brand of Christianity, with one theologian saying, "The basic sin of this cult is its egocentricity. It puts 'self' instead of the cross at the center of the picture." But the Trumps loved it. Donald even had Peale officiate his first wedding, and co-hosted his 90th birthday party. Meanwhile, the Prosperity Gospel grew (this is in no way a "fringe" religion -- it's huge), and White teaches a modern version of it today.
Still, looks like it was a bitchin' party.
When you consider what White preaches, you understand why Trump likes it so much. That's because the Word of Faith says that God wants you to be rich and shows favor by making you rich. So if you aren't living on a private island that has rivers flowing with champagne and caviar, God hates you. On the other hand, if you have lots of money, that is literally God pointing you out to the rest of humanity and showing off how great you are. For a billionaire like Trump, even one who inherited his initial wealth, you can see why this is a tempting way to look at things. Mainline Christianity involves guilt and sin and trying to be a better person. But for this guy, who admits to never having asked forgiveness for anything in his life, why should he have to? After all, God isn't mad at him, and his money is proof of that.
It's absolutely bizarre when you think of the Biblical Jesus. This was a man who owned nothing more than the clothes on his back, who relied on strangers for shelter and food, and who in Luke 14:33 says, "Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples." To go from that to "You know what? If I like you, then you get a Mercedes" requires some serious mental gymnastics. But it explains why so many evangelicals were able to forgive things that would usually be negatives for their candidate, like his previous pro-choice stance and his three marriages (strangely, White is also on her third marriage). They believe God has shown Trump's favored position by blessing him with material wealth.
But it gets weirder. Not only do Word of Faith followers believe being wealthy equals being good, they also believe that they are literally God. Picture Donald Trump, then let that fact sink in. Does he make a lot more sense now? No matter how little religious background you have, you probably know that Christianity is kind of, sort of based around the whole "Jesus is the Son of God" thing. It's, like, their main deal. Jesus was God made flesh, who came down here and died for our sins, then got resurrected. That's Christianity in a nutshell. So how can White claim to be a Christian pastor when she says things like Jesus was "not the only begotten Son of God," just the "first fruit"?
But there's more. Since you are a little version of God yourself, anything you speak can become true. Just like how God spoke and made the Earth and Heaven and animals and genital warts for some reason, you can say that you want to be wealthy, and BAM! It will happen (as long as you deserve it, of course). The same goes with your health. If you feel sick, just speak that you want to be better and you will be, even if you still feel like crap. Sure, "doctors" and "science" might say you have cancer, but you said you are well, so now you are. As White put it on her TV show, "If you believe God, you can create anything in your life." Anything bad that is happening to you is your fault, because you are thinking negatively. Hmm, I wonder why this makes total sense to a guy who was completely unqualified to be president, but decided he wanted to be, and then won?
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Oh fuck, he actually won. God, please let me wake from this nightmare.
Those aren't the only ways in which White and the Prosperity Gospel differ from regular Christianity. White rejects the Nicene Creed, a 1,691-year-old bit of orthodoxy that basically every branch of Christianity accepts. It's one of the religion's foundational principles. And in 2007, she told her audience that, "Anyone who tells you to deny yourself is from Satan." Slight problem with that: Jesus was the one who told his followers quite plainly to deny themselves in Matthew 16:24. So you can either listen to Jesus and do the hard thing, or listen to White and do the fun, easy thing. It's no wonder she is as popular and successful as she is. It's Christianity without actually having to be a Christian.
When you add all of that up, it's no surprise that more mainstream Christian groups use words like "heresy" and "blasphemy" when describing White and her form of religion. When it was announced that of the six religious leaders at the inauguration, two would be from this controversial branch (more than any other group), the internet went kind of insane (or at least, the people who care about this sort of thing did). While America may not have an official faith, being asked to pray at the inauguration is an honor. That's why when President Obama invited pastors who had anti-gay agendas, it was very controversial, so much so that one of them dropped out. While this won't be the most important thing that happens that day, it shows the direction our leader thinks religion should take in this country, and the one he is legitimizing and throwing his weight behind. Plus, it gets their churches a whole lot of free advertising dollars, and donations to both their nonprofit and for-profit ventures. All because Trump thinks of himself as an actual god drowning in gold coins.
Regine Mahaux/Getty Images
Seriously, this is not normal.
So when you watch the inauguration and the crazy-eyed blonde lady asks God to "richly bless our extraordinary home, the United States of America," know that she doesn't mean that metaphorically. She literally is telling God to make our country rich, and since she is God herself, she believes speaking those words will make it happen, as long as we deserve it. Just remember that during the next economic downturn: It won't be because of failed fiscal policies, but because of all that premarital sex we're having.
To see the two inexplicably polar opposite muses in Trump's life, check out Donald Trump Is The JFK For Millennials (Seriously, Folks) and How Actual Nazis Are Influencing Trump (More Than He Knows).
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Things could always be much, much worse.
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You've probably never heard of it.